1st Edition

Living with the Dead On Death, the Dead, and Immortality

By J. Jeremy Wisnewski Copyright 2023

    This book explores the moral place of the dead in our lives and in our afterlives. It argues that our lives are saturated by the past intentions and values of the dead, and that we offer the dead a form of modest immortality by fulfilling our obligations to remember them.

    In the first part of the book, the author examines the scope and limits of our obligations to the dead. Our obligations to respect the wishes of the dead are more substantial than commonly acknowledged, but they can be overridden in a range of cases when they conflict with the vital interests of the living, such as in organ donation and wealth inheritance. By contrast, the author contends that the obligation to remember, at least collectively, cannot be completely overridden. In the second part of the book, the author argues that tradition offers the dead a form of modest immortality—the dead live on insofar as we enact those intentional states with which they most identified. He draws on the Confucian view of ritual to argue that ritual absorption "reincarnates" the dead in the actions of the living. Finally, the author defends a Jamesian account of a pluralistic self that is consistent with the view that we have obligations to the individual dead and that the selves of the dead are pragmatic constructions.

    Living with the Dead will appeal to scholars and students interested in the philosophy of death, ethics, and cross-cultural philosophy.

    Part 1: The Dead Among Us

    1. Introduction

    2. An Encounter with the Corpse

    3. Promises and Respecting the Ends of the Dead: An Arm-twisting Argument and a Kantian Framework for Respect

    4. Disturbing Bodies: Art, Science, and Exhumation

    5. Human Resources: The Cases of Cannibalism and Organ Harvesting

    6. Memento Mortuis: The Obligation to Remember the Dead

    7. Dialogues with the Dead: Memorials, Monuments, and the Duties of History 

    Part 2: The Immortal Dead 

    8. The Argument for Modest Immortality 

    9. Is the Immortal Life Worth Living?

    10. Ars moriendi: Learning to Live with Death and the Dead


    J. Jeremy Wisnewski is Professor of Philosophy at Hartwick College in upstate New York. His previous books include The Politics of Agency (Routledge, 2016), Heidegger (2013), Understanding Torture (2010), and Wittgenstein and Ethical Inquiry (2007).

    "Wisnewski does a remarkable job of addressing a number of central issues in the philosophy of death in the course of presenting a clever, creative, and cross-traditional argument for a modest form of immortality. This book is an invaluable addition to the literature on this topic."

    Adam Buben, Leiden University, The Netherlands