The Immortality Project Awards Second Essay Prize

Recipient is NYU Professor Samuel Scheffler for New York Times article about the afterlife

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The Immortality Project awards its second essay prize to NYU philosophy professor.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — The Immortality Project at the University of California, Riverside has announced that its second essay prize will be awarded to Samuel Scheffler of New York University for his article that appeared Sept. 13 in the New York Times, “The Importance of the Afterlife. Seriously.“

Scheffler argues that we care even more about the continuation of the human species than we do about our own individual immortality, said John Martin Fischer, distinguished professor of philosophy at UCR and the principal investigator of The Immortality Project. The three-year project is funded by a $5 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation awarded in 2012.

“He is quite convinced that he as an individual will not continue to exist as a conscious entity after his own death,” Fischer explained. “This does not disturb him nearly as much as the (hypothetical) thought that other human beings would not live on after his own death.”

One goal of The Immortality Project is to advance discussion of the project themes in popular venues by offering essay prizes of $3,000 each. The first essay prize was given to Stephen Cave, a writer based in Berlin, Germany. A majority of the grant will be awarded to scientists, theologians and philosophers conducting research related to immortality.

Scheffler, a professor of philosophy and law at NYU, explores some of the consequences of finding out that all human beings would die and cease to exist a month after one’s own death.

“He contends that this sort of discovery would undercut a common, but little noticed, assumption that underlies our attitudes regarding the meaning and worth of our own lives,” Fischer said. “One normally assumes that there is an afterlife — in the sense that humankind will live on after one’s own death. If this assumption does not hold, Scheffler argues, then one would no longer take one’s life to have the meaning and value it otherwise would have.”

For example, pursuing a cure for cancer is widely considered to be a worthwhile and meaningful pursuit. But, Scheffler argues, the discovery that humankind will become extinct a month after one dies would seem to undercut the worth and meaning of this pursuit. “It is doubtful that one will discover the cure in one’s own lifetime, and, even if one did, it would have little impact, at best. To take another example, the kind of discovery under consideration would seem to undercut the point of having children,” Fischer added. “The article suggests what might be a very surprising conclusion: There is a sense in which the lives of others matter more to us than our own lives.”

The article is a short version of Scheffler’s newly published book, “Death and the Afterlife” (with Oxford University Press).  He is the author of four previous books (all with Oxford University Press): “The Rejection of Consequentialism,” “Human Morality,” “Boundaries and Allegiances,” and “Equality and Tradition.”  He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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