Speak with the vulgar.

Think with me.

The possibility of resurrection

with 5 comments

Say next week I am utterly destroyed, body and mind. There is no immortal trace of me that survives the destruction (at least in the short term). Could God, even so, raise me up at the last day? Certainly in the distant future he could make a person who was like me in various respects, but could he ensure that the person he made then was really me? Here’s a story about how this might be, given three controversial premises.

  1. The concept person is an ethical concept. To be the same person as X is, roughly, to be responsible for X’s actions, to have a special stake in what happens to X, to have special obligations and rights in how you treat X.

  2. Ethical value is grounded in God’s evaluative attitudes. In broad strokes, to be good is to be loved by God. More complicated ethical concepts similarly come down to God’s attitudes in suitably complicated ways.

These two imply that for X and Y to be the same person amounts to God having the right evaluative attitudes—for short, it amounts to God regarding X and Y as the same person. Then the final premise is that God’s attitudes are not unduly constrained:

  1. It is possible for God to regard X and Y as the same person, even if X is destroyed long before Y is created.

It’s clear how the conclusion follows.

You can count me among the skeptics of the second premise, but I think there’s something interesting here even if we give it up. If personhood is answerable to questions of value, then it isn’t clear why traditional metaphysical issues like physical or causal continuity would be relevant to survival. If those connections are severed, then the conceptual obstacles to resurrection seem much less threatening.


Written by Jeff

February 24, 2009 at 1:50 pm

5 Responses

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  1. This sounds related to the problem with Star Trek’s transporter machine. If you are destroyed and recreated by God and it really is you, what makes it you?

    I don’t think we want to merely say that God’s regarding it as you is what makes it you. Sure, he might regard it as you precisely because it really is you, but why?

    It might require God to cause temporal anomalies. If we have to persist in space and time in order to be the same people, then perhaps we will continue to exist non-stop. God re-creates us and from our own perspective it is like we never died at all. We merely blinked and saw God at the end of the universe.

    James Gray

    February 26, 2009 at 1:18 am

  2. Thanks for stopping by, James.

    Yeah, this is definitely connected to other problems of personal identity.

    I don’t really want to say that God’s attitudes are what makes it me, either—because I’m skeptical of the 2nd (Euthyphro) premise. But if the 1st premise is right, then whatever the reasons there are for or against regarding me as the same person as X have to be ethically relevant. And I have a hard time seeing how something like spatio-temporal continuity would fit the bill.

    (Also, I suspect that grounding personal identity in “personal time” the way you suggest won’t work for other reasons. A plausible story about what personal time is seems like it would come after cross-time-identity, not before. But that’s just my suspicion.)


    March 2, 2009 at 9:01 pm

  3. You are right that I didn’t fully solve the problem and I don’t know if anyone can.

    My understanding: Ethical relevance requires (1) that we really are the right person to praise or blame and (2) that we are “responsible” for certain actions.

    We are only the right person to praise and blame if we are tied to various causal connections. The idea of spatio-temporal connection hints that causal connections are necessary, even if it doesn’t sufficiently explain what gives us this special kind of identity. We do need some kind of metaphysical self involved as well. If it’s not really you who did a crime because of metaphysical transformation, then we can’t properly blame you.

    James Gray

    March 3, 2009 at 7:30 pm

  4. Two things are unclear to me. First, won’t you need an account of how a person can be held morally accountable for her actions, especially in light of God’s omniscience? Here’s what I’m thinking: if God’s omniscient and knows about all of a person’s actions, then the person couldn’t possibly have done anything other than she did. So, God and the person would be indistinguishable if person is an ethical concept.

    Second, aren’t their counterexamples to 1? What about people who have sacrificed themselves or acted in complete disregard for their own safety? The claim would then seem to be that a person who has sacrificed himself is distinct from the resurrected self.


    March 4, 2009 at 12:09 am

  5. It looks like this thread has been done for a while. But just so it’s on record:

    There might be a way to run this line of thought without premise 2. I find it kind of plausible that we’re who were are because of how others regard us, especially others who are in loving relationships with us. So if I were to vanish, and there were some person that all my family and friends loved in right ways, then it doesn’t seem completely crazy to say that that person could be me. if something like this were true, we could have personal identity without and strong causal or temporal continuity. And if we individuate loving relationships in the right way (or relied on the right sort of relationships – which could include God’s love), it could make room for the possibility of personal resurrection.

    Colin Marshall

    May 15, 2009 at 10:41 am

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