Public Lecture: Mary Midgley on Death and the Human Animal

Via the Centre for Medical Humanities blog:

Royal Institute of Philosophy Public Lecture

Mary Midgley – Newcastle University

Death and the Human Animal

Wednesday 19th October 2011, 5pm – 7pm (freshments available from 5pm)
The Henry Dyson room, the college of St Hild and St Bede, Durham.

The abstract’s below the fold.

Abstract: The`New Immortalist’ movement now aims to extend healthy human life indefinitely by medical means, preserving everyone (accidents apart) for ever at whatever stage of life they prefer.

Like other striking `transhumanist’ visions, this idea poses problems about how best to use our imaginations. Some past proposals which seemed unimaginable have turned out quite sane and practical. Others have proved empty or actually disastrous. In envisaging them we have to decide how far to travel from our accustomed world-picture – how to fix the borders of realistic thinking

Immortalism itself looks less impractical today from a purely physical point of view than it would once have done because of recent medical advances. The problem about it is more a difficulty about context – about imagining how the rest of the world would have to be reshaped to fit it. Politically, for instance, the population pressure if people stopped dying would intensify serious current ills. And the problems of distributing this new privilege fairly in a world where inequality is already pernicious are also alarming.. Psychologically too, the attempt to isolate humanity from the rest of nature in this way seems bound to disjoint the background  conceptual framework which we  need to make sense of our lives.

In sum, much though we might like to put off dying we are, after all, mammals, members of a particular primate species..For us, exemption from the universal animal condition might not be a privilege but a nightmare. This attractive proposal needs to be looked at, not on its own but against the background of the whole of life.


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