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Death

Death

By William R Thomas

Question: I was wondering if I could get a response on the Objectivist views of death and whether or not there is life after death.

Answer: Objectivism holds that there is no "supernatural" world. For more on this, see our Q&A on Religion and our Q&A on metaphysics. Objectivists are atheists; we recognize that there is no rational argument for God or gods, and indeed we point out that most religions today have an incoherent idea of what "God" is supposed to be. We don't accept any claims about reality except those that can appeal at root to observable facts, either through direct observation or through inference from direct observation. For example, Objectivists accept that there are sub-atomic particles (or "wavicles," if you like) because these are known through a rational process of observation from fact, confirmed through rigorous scientific testing and amply proved through practical application. But we don't accept that there are ghosts, because such evidence does not exist for the claims most people make about ghosts.
 
In general, there is no such evidence for "life after death" as most religious traditions conceive of it. There is no evidence of a supernatural world (be it a heaven, a Valhalla, or a nirvana) in which one might "live" on. Nor is there any evidence that human beings are reincarnated as the Hindus--and by extension some Buddhists--believe.
 
Most life-after-death traditions envision the continued life of the soul or spirit after the body has deceased. This derives from a fallacious view that the human mind is fundamentally detached from physical reality. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are biological, unified beings with mental and physical abilities. Severely damage the body--and most especially the brain, of course--and the mind is no more.
 
As there is no supernatural reality other than this reality, there is no life other than this life. Immortality is a fantasy. At best, immortality might be seen as an idealized goal that we can work towards with advances in medicine and biology.
 
Objectivism holds that life--real life in the real world--is the ultimate value in ethics. Life is a precious opportunity for each of us to achieve happiness. To hold anything else as the moral ideal is to embrace a fantasy at the cost of what is real.
Asked about her own impending demise when she was late in life, Ayn Rand remarked that she had no fear of death. In death, after all, one does not exist as a living being, and so one has neither fear, nor pain, nor hope. She remarked that death would mean the end of the world for her.
 
I believe you can find her reflections on this in one of the interviews she recorded in the 1970s, such as the Donohue show interviews.
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William R Thomas has written on topics in politics, ethics, and epistemology, and has spoken internationally on the theory of individual rights and Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. His works include Radical for Capitalism, and, as editor, The Literary Art of Ayn Rand. He is the director of programs for The Atlas Society. Thomas is currently a lecturer in the Department of Economics of the University at Albany.