Death Education: Shelly Kagan, Yale University
Death Education Lecture 1: “The Nature of Persons: Dualism vs. Physicalism”
Shelly Kagan’s class, simply called “Death” has gained interest and popularity worldwide, as a great resource on learning views surrounding the objective side of death. There has recently been a rapid increase of death education and death and dying courses that are being offered at schools of higher education all across the country. As a professor of philosophy at Yale University, Shelly focuses on normative ethics, and has numerous publications, including Death, Yale (2012).
Signature Funerals and Cremation wants to gain a better understanding of ourselves and how we feel about death. Ultimately, the goal is to translate this knowledge to the care we provide to the families we serve. We are following along with Shelly’s death class and posting thoughts and impressions from his lectures to both our website as well as our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Signature-Funerals/127041617363494?ref=br_tf
In the beginning of his first death education class, Shelly points out that he will not attempt to cover some of the following aspects of the death and dying realm. Stages of grief or the process of grieving, and funeral industry ethics, will not be introduced in this course. The class covers topics related to metaphysics and philosophies surrounding death, including questions like “Do we have immaterial souls?” and “If death is the end, is it bad?”. Also to note; the last couple of lectures will focus on views surrounding rationality and morality as it relates to suicide. This is a sensitive topic to so many of us.
Find Shelly’s first full lecture below, and continue to follow our blog for future lecture postings on death education.
To me, the nature of this lecture dives into one of the first questions that Shelly asks, which is “Could I survive my own death?”
If we are to go by the definition of death by the book being “the cessation of life” then the answer would be a a simple no. But this is where metaphysics comes into play. Religious views aside, there are many who believe that we as humans are composed of more than a structure of materials. They feel that we also have a soul. This view would fall under the definition of “dualism” in which the mind and the body work together to make us who we are individually. There are also two different sides to dualism as well, Shelly describes. The first is that one can believe that the soul and the physical body work together as a unit, and that if the body dies so does the soul. The other beliefs dualists hold is that if the soul is immaterial, than it can not be destroyed by a material process (death of a body). This, in a sense is s general idea of forms of dualism.
A physicalist, however will argue that the human body is strictly made from materials. We are really well formed materials that can think, reason, and feel, but materials nonetheless.
Which view do you lean towards as you read these comments? And if you do believe in dualism, do you think that the soul can survive the body? The goal is to answer from a philosophical standpoint. Do you feel like you could benefit from more death education?
To view Shelly Kagan’s credentials, follow the link
Death Education Summary by Jill Badell
Jane V. Clemons, 98, of Prairie Village, KS, died on November 10, 2014 after a long illness. Jane is survived by her daughters, Nelle Garrecht (Robert) of Kirkwood, MO and Ann Sutherland (Will) of Toronto, ON; her son, James Clemons (Carolyn) of Leawood, KS; nine grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren. The family will hold a graveside service in Lincoln at a later date.
Despite living in Kansas for the last 18 years, Jane maintained her loyalty to Nebraska and her lifelong conviction that anything anywhere else had, Lincoln or Omaha had first, or better. The family thanks the staff at Somerset Health Center for the outstanding care they gave Jane for many years. Memorial contributions are suggested to Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) (casaforchildren.org), the National Parkinson Foundation (parkinson.org), or the charity of your choice.
Elizabeth (Betty) O’Brien, 93, of Kansas City, MO, died peacefully at home,
October 16, 2014. Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11:00 a.m.
Tuesday, October 21, at Holy Spirit Catholic Church, 1800 SW State Route
150, Lee’s Summit, MO. Visitation will be from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. at the church.
Betty was born November 18, 1920, the firstborn child of John W. Quirk and
Aileen Livers Quirk. She grew up in Kansas City with brothers Mickey, Paul
and Bill Quirk, attended St. Louis Catholic School and graduated from Paseo High
School. During her teen years, Betty was active in Catholic Youth Organization (CYO)
social and musical activities, once starring in an operetta presented at the Kansas City
Music Hall. A devout Catholic and mother of eight children, Betty was a member of
St. Catherine’s Parish for many years, and with husband Larry, a founding
member of Holy Spirit in Lee’s Summit. She belonged to the Ladies of Charity of
Metropolitan Kansas City, volunteered at the Seton Center, and was a board member of
St. Joseph Medical Center when it moved to south Kansas City.
Always cheerful, enthusiastic, and welcoming, Betty loved to entertain family and
friends at the family home, Windy Hill. She loved Irish music, books, puzzles, cards and phone calls.
She was a member of book clubs and bridge clubs throughout her life, most recently part of a lively bridge group at John Knox Village.
She especially enjoyed playing card and board games with her children and grandchildren at home and at the Red Cabin.
Betty is survived by her husband of 68 years, Larry W. O’Brien, and six children:
Don O’Brien and wife Catherine, sons Terry and Tim O’Brien, daughter Eileen Dupuy and husband Rich, William O’Brien and wife Ava, and Bob O’Brien and wife Yvonne.
Betty also leaves 15 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren that she loved dearly, along with a very large extended family.
Betty was preceded in death by son L. Patrick O’Brien and daughter Marian O’Brien White; by granddaughter Tara Aileen Cable; by great-grandsons Brandon James and Bennett Carney Dickey;
by brothers John Jr., Mickey, Paul and Bill Quirk;
and by her first husband, USNR Lt. Don E. Carney, deceased June, 1944.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions to the Seton Center of Kansas City,
or to Kansas City Hospice and Palliative Care, whose exceptional caregivers
daily provide kind and invaluable support to area families.
Assistance by Funeral Advocates, LLC.
Arguments for the existence of the soul ~
Physicalism vs. Dualism
In the following, Shelly dives into exactly what it means to be a physicalist as a opposed to a dualist as it corresponds to the idea that a soul exists; whether it be dissolved at the time of death or continue to exist even after death.
Watch Shelly Kagan’s Death Education for death philosophies below:
Shelly describes the physicalist view as being quite similar to what an inanimate object would be like (car, a piece of chaulk, or a chair) except that the body is “P” functioning which means that it’s able to think and act by being controlled with the mind. Most physicalists will agree that there should be nothing to0 mysterious about a death. The body is either broken or damaged by outside sources until it can no longer function, and thus shuts down, or it lives out it’s longevity and starts breaking down on it’s own.
One of the biggest questions in the lecture: “Should we believe in the existence of the soul?” or in other words. Is there a good reason for us to believe in the existence of the soul?
Dualists would say yes, orfcourse.
The dualist view will argue its existence based on the fact that there are no proven theories to show otherwise. We have developed pretty decent theories in other realms, and yet, a theory about the existence of the soul has not yet been developed. (He gives the example of how we believe in atoms, because of the Atomic Theory.) Another main reason for a dualist view is the belief in free will, and how humans must have something outside of ourselves controlling the body, because we as human beings do think, feel and act in ways no other material can.
Do you feel like you can prove, or disprove that we have a soul? How would one start putting a theory in place to argue for it’s existence?
T his documentary is filmed over the course of 12 years and follows a gentleman by the name of Stephen Jenkinson who is a Harvard grad as well as a palliative care counselor for families. The film explores the questions about life and death, and what it means to embrace both for a healthy spirit. Jenkinson is a man of philosophy and nature and is often shown appreciating the world as he paddles through waters in a canoe he built himself, while gazing and commenting on the beauty he sees.
One of my favorite quotes from Mr. Jenkinson is as follows: “The cradle of your love of life, is the fact that it ends.” Jenkinson also touches on Western culture and some of the fears of death that many of us have in our society today. He is often shown giving lectures at the university and they are often centered on being in tune to one’s own death.
I would recommend Griefwalker to anyone as an inspiring, thoughtful film for those who struggle with their own thoughts and feelings about death and dying. While watching this, be prepared to encounter life changing questions without necessarily finding all the answers.
See the trailer for Griefwalker below:
8 pieces of advice to help you with this huge loss in your life.
Losing a friend can be just as sorrowful as losing a close family member. But how do we express this? Below are some key ways to cope with the loss of a special friend in your life. (From PBS’s Next Avenue, on July 16th, 2014)
Ensemble closes season with a thoughtful meditation on dying
There are many approaches to the concept of mortality, from John Donne’s “Death Be Not Proud” to Dylan Thomas’ exhortation to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
At the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend, the Kansas City Chorale presented a viewpoint of meditative introspection and gentle release. This multiple Grammy Award-winning ensemble, conducted by artistic director Charles Bruffy, ended its 31st season on Friday evening with a concert in Helzberg Hall.
The performance utilized the hall’s magnificent Casavant organ. Jan Kraybill, who is conservator of the instrument and therefore particularly familiar with it, opened with Marcel Dupré’s virtuosic solo Prelude and Fugue in G minor, Op. 7, No. 3.
The work began pianissimo, with muted yet continuously complex lines under a sustained melody played on the pedals. There was a hint of foreboding density, and she unleashed the pipes during the fugue, ending with an awesome final cadence.
The remainder of the program consisted of works for chorus and organ from 20th-century composers who looked to sacred and historical traditions for their inspiration. The ensemble was in the choir loft for the first two pieces, under the impressive backdrop of the organ’s pipes.
Arvo Pärt’s “The Beatitudes” had a quiet, almost treacherous, opening, with a deceptively simple melody of repeated intervals and resonant dissonances. The low, sustained tones of the organ accompaniment broke into a joyful coda after the chorus’s climactic “amen.”
Benjamin Britten set the work of 18th-century poet Christopher Smart, written while he was in an insane asylum for religious mania, for “Rejoice in the Lamb.” A variety of emotions and personalities emerged in the piece, ranging from jubilant to plaintive, rousing to pensive, aided by the soloists’ sincere interpretations.
The final portion of the concert featured Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem. He based the work on the chants of the Gregorian Requiem Mass but combined these with polyphonic techniques, lustrous, shimmering harmonies and long, elegant stresses on the text.
The ensemble presented the work beautifully, especially the Sanctus and Lux Aeterna. Bryan Taylor and Julia Scozzafava offered passionate, pleading solos.
The work, while dramatic in moments, avoided a traumatic treatment to the Day of Judgment, instead offering a contemplative approach by considering death as eternal rest, not punishment.
Following in this theme, the performance ended with an encore of René Clausen’s “Set Me As a Seal,” emphasizing the text “love is strong as death,” an encouraging send-off sentiment.
Reposted from the KC Spaces March 2013 issue
My father died very unexpectedly when I was a senior in college. He was 54, which seemed old then but now strikes me as shockingly young. On the evening following his death, my six siblings and I were at the dinner table with our newly widowed mother, sundry relatives and friends. The phone rang. The room fell silent as my mom answered: a telephone solicitor, asking for my dad. In her perkiest, most cordial (think Sue Ann Nivens) tone, my mom replied “He’s dead at the moment.”
That rejoinder is now a piece of family lore, and an example of how our clan, like many others, uses humor to manage sadness.
Of course, the joking didn’t mean we weren’t heartbroken. But it made everyone feel better. At such times only the nearest to the departed are allowed any sort of jest. Attempts at humor would have been tasteless coming from any of the sundry relatives and friends.
Here are some ways to be truly helpful when there is a death in the immediate family of a close friend.
Listening is Job One
Never under any circumstances say “he is in a better place” or “at least she didn’t suffer.” You will not provide comfort, only trivialize the loss. In the direct aftermath of a death, your job as a friend is first to utter a heartfelt “I’m so sorry” and then fermez la bouche. Your bereaved friend may want you simply to listen to his or her expressions of shock or grief or memories of the loved one. It’s helpful to come mentally prepared with a few positive memories of your own to share, if it seems appropriate within the conversation. This can be of particular value if your friend is preparing the eulogy.
Step Up to the Plate
The most thoughtful thing you can do, other than listen, is help your friend prepare for the onslaught of condolence visitors and out-of-town family. You will likely hear nothing if you issue an empty “let me know if I can do anything to help.” If you sincerely want to assist, offer something specific. The list of possibilities is endless. Volunteer for airport runs. Make your guest room available for visitors from out of town. Hire the Merry Maids to spiff up your friend’s house. Take her or him shopping for attractive funeral attire. Provide transportation to the service for elderly family members.
Never think that the bereaved are too grief-stricken to notice who attends to such duties. They notice.
“She Would Have Wanted Everybody to Eat”
Post-funeral gatherings can be wonderful, bittersweet affairs, full of tears, laughter, memory-sharing. But the immediate family often is not in an event-planning state of mind. Responsibility rests with friends and family who have a talent for such things to put together a gathering that feels intimate and hospitable, that honors the deceased and will be comforting to the bereaved family in the difficult months ahead. If you are a good planner, this is your time to discreetly step up and help organize the provision of ample food and drink.
Friends and neighbors likely will bring lovingly prepared food, which might be used for a potluck-style funeral repast but may need to be held back for the family, who will need sustenance in the days ahead. (In the sidebar above I have ideas for easy-to-freeze casseroles and meals that will provide solace to grieving families.)
You could consider serving carry-in barbecue, having the meal fully catered, or presenting a buffet featuring the warehouse club’s finest. When my sweet mother-in-law died several years ago, we hosted the post-funeral repast at our house. I called Party Personnel (913-451-0218, partypersonnelkc.com), who supplied an extremely capable bartender and two waiters. We served a HoneyBaked Ham and an assortment of salads, sides and sweets from Costco, presented on my prettiest platters.
Host a Dinner for Out-of-Towners
When my husband’s sister Claudine died last fall, a contingent of my St. Louis family came to Kansas City for the funeral, an enormous comfort to Jim and me. After the service, burial, post-funeral reception at a restaurant on the Plaza, and post-reception reception at our house, some dear friends hosted a casual pizza dinner for my family—the entire rowdy lot of us—at their home, an invitation deeply appreciated by all. This is the sort of gesture one never forgets.
I don’t, by the way, recommend a restaurant for a post-funeral gathering, as it is not an ideal backdrop for the bursts of feeling that such occasions produce. Laughter through tears may be your favorite emotion, but better to display it in a private home than a public establishment.
Thank You, Mark Zuckerberg
Say what you will about Facebook and what a time-waster it is, but FB has helped me learn of several deaths about which I might not otherwise have known. When I lost my precious mom last January, I posted a link to her St. Louis Post Dispatch obituary on my Facebook page; it felt like an okay thing to do. I felt genuinely consoled by the empathetic comments that immediately popped up from people who don’t know me well enough to send me a note through the post. And I was touched when a few friends shared the obit on their Facebook pages. I felt like it honored my mom’s memory.
Always send a handwritten note when a true friend (as distinct from an FB friend) loses a loved one.
Bring it Up
Sometimes people don’t know what to say, so they say nothing. An “I was so sorry to hear of your loss” is always appropriate. My friends who have gone through the agony of losing a child would tell you they love to talk about their child, to hear his or her name spoken, to keep their baby’s memory alive. But people tiptoe around the topic of the child, afraid to be hurtful. Never hesitate to share a positive memory, and let them know you would love to hear theirs.
“If we really want to love, we must learn to forgive” -Mother Theresa
Moving Through the Stages to Forgiveness
Forgiveness: Stories of Our Time focuses on violent, sudden losses. But any loss of a loved one requires forgiveness. When a dearly loved friend or family member passes away, we often feel anger toward God, or the universe, even toward the doctors and nurses who failed to perform miracles, and very often a great deal of anger is focused toward the person who left us through no control of their own.
This is a normal part of grief but knowing that makes it no easier to pass through this difficult time. Lunn’s documentary can help others who have lived through the loss of a loved one. This deep and rich film can help those experiencing these feelings of loss, grief, and abandonment.
Even a person who has never experienced a loss through death certainly has the need to learn to forgive in order to live a serene, happy life. If the subjects featured in Forgiveness can truly forgive those who have taken their loved ones, it becomes much easier to contemplate forgiving minor wrongs which may have been festering inside us into hate and animosity.
If you have experienced the loss of a loved one, whether expected or sudden, or know someone who has, this documentary from Alive Mind Media will provide a great deal of comfort in letting the person know that there is life after the loss. The exceptional cinematography creates magnificent scenes helping create sensitive settings for the subject matter.
Editor Michael Greenwood, Sound Recordists Alex Salter and Harvey Hyslop, as well as Producers Kent Martin along with Johanna Lunn deserve accolades for their work on this emotional, moving documentary, Forgiveness: Stories of Our Time. This is truly a documentary for our time and our world today.
To learn more, visit > Forgiveness: Stories of Our Time