“A logos that increases itself”: response to Burley

Chappell, Timothy (2010). “A logos that increases itself”: response to Burley. Philosophy, 85(1) pp. 105–108.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0031819109990477


[Opening] Mikel Burley says that he thinks that the Makropoulos debate can make no sense unless talk about eternal life makes sense. Here is his most striking argument that it doesn't – that immortality is inconceivable: "...the concepts [of birth, death, and sexual relations] are internally related to the concept of a human being in the sense that they form part of the complex system of interrelated concepts of which 'human being' is a member. To understand what a human being is, and hence to be able to operate competently with that concept, one must also have some understanding of, among many other things, what it means for a human being to be born, to form sexual relationships, and to die." (Burley, 'Immortality and meaning: reflections on the Makropoulos debate', Philosophy 84, 543–5). Here, at first sight, Burley appears to be making no more than some unsurprising true generic claims about humans – that they get born, that they have sex, that they die. Yet from these unsurprising generic claims, Burley apparently infers a very surprising semantic claim: that it would be a grammatical mistake, a piece of nonsense, to speak of particular humans who didn–t die, or who in some way or other lived after their deaths. This inference is simply a non sequitur, just as it would be a non sequitur to infer from the generic premise that sex is part of human life to the semantic conclusion that it is nonsensical to suggest that a particular human might be celibate.

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