The idea of the immortality of the soul, this is the belief that the soul is a distinct and immortal entity within the body and that it can survive the death of the body and then ascend to the afterlife. Plato was one of the first people to give and extended argument in favour of the immortality of the soul. In his dialogue Phaedo, he sets out a literary dialogue between Socrates and Plato and they are discussing the ideas of death and the immortality of the soul. Socrates gives a number of arguments in favour of the immortality of the soul, “the soul is that which renders the body living”. Therefore, there must be some immortal soul which enters the body at birth and then the soul leaves at death. Plato’s ideas on dualism were developed in Phaedo whereby he developed four arguments for the immortality of the soul. Firstly cyclical, this means everything comes into existence from its opposite and it sets up a cycle for birth and death. Secondly, recollection, Plato believed that the knowledge we acquire is not learnt, but it is remembered, he also believed that the soul existed in a realm before coming into the body and then the knowledge is acquired. Thirdly Plato believed that the body has an affinity with the earth and that the soul has an affinity with the eternal realm of forms, this is because the body is a composite and then at death it is dispersed to the earth. Since the soul is simple it can not be dispersed at death and therefore it returns to the realm of forms where it had an affinity. Finally Plato suggests that since the soul is simple and it can not be destroyed then when death occurs it must be destroyed or retreat, the soul is unable to be destroyed and so it has to retreat and it goes into the realm of the forms. These four arguments which were suggested by Plato were created deductively and therefore they do not rely on empirical and this is the main weakness of the argument.
Renѐ Descartes argues that the existence of the true self can be known through reason, in his book Mediations, he attempts to prove his existence through his argument “I think, therefore I am” (cogito ergo sum). Descartes believes that this is therefore proof of humans as thinking beings, he suggests that we are “thinking things” (res cognitans), this means that knowledge is separate from the body. Therefore we have souls and are not just physical beings, so Descartes separates the body and soul – dualism, this could be interpreted that the soul lives on even if the physical body dies.
Immanuel Kant argued that through the study of Ethics things can be learnt about God as well as human beings, and that the purpose of human beings is to achieve the highest good (Sumum Bonum). The idea of Summum Bonum is not necessarily realistic, because our lives are short and therefore God would surely allow humans the chance to realise this good which Kant is describing. Therefore Kant believes that the soul exists outside the body – dualism and that the soul is immortal, and this is when the high virtues are reached, after death.
These two different ideas about the afterlife show two views on life after death, however it is debated by many philosophers to which is more of a convincing argument. Firstly the idea of resurrection has a number of advantages, such as it has a basic tradition for example it is a major feature of the bible, the resurrection of Jesus is a teaching which is featured in all four gospels, Jesus is said to have risen from the dead, this gives hope to many Christians that there is life after death. Although the resurrection of Jesus is written in the bible, other biblical sources maybe questioned such as Ezekiel and the Valley of dry bones, when God shows Ezekiel a valley of dry bones and says that he is able to “make these live again”. Another advantage of resurrection is that it gives value to the physical body and the connection with the world, which is seen to be a positive thing, but it could be argued that it would be better to exist as a “pure” soul, because the body is subject to disease as well as desire.
The immortality of the soul could be seen as a more convincing argument, because the idea that the soul is united with God is a comforting idea, especially if someone has a terminal illness it would not just be comforting to the suffer, but also to the family if they believe that their soul is immortal. Also some religious experiences, such as near death experiences, people’s testimonies may support this concept. Some testimonies suggest that they look down on their body; therefore this is evidence that the soul is separate from the body. Although there are strengths to the immortality of the soul argument, it does suffer from some significant weaknesses; the idea that the body is separate from the soul could be seen as unnecessary and unscientific as Ryle pointed out. Also this idea lacks a basis in traditional religious teachings, therefore Jews and Christians should be seen to reject it, because resurrection is a key feature of the Christian traditions.
In conclusion, both the immortality of the soul and resurrection of the body are convincing positions, but to some extent, the immortality of the soul is more a convincing idea, this is because although resurrection does play a major role in the bible, Plato, Kant and Descartes all give convincing arguments to dualism. Also resurrection does have major weaknesses, because it is less verifiable than the immortality of the soul, there are many accounts of near death experiences and out of body experiences.