Free Will, Death, and Immortality: The Role of Narrative

  • John Martin Fischer


In this paper I explore in a preliminary way the interconnections among narrative explanation, narrative value, free will, and immortality. I build on the fascinating and suggestive work of David Velleman. I offer the hypothesis that our acting freely is what gives our lives a distinctive kind of value--narrative value. Free Will, then, is connected to the capacity to lead a meaningful life in a quite specific way: it is the ingredient which, when added to others, endows us with a meaning over and above the cumulative value derived from adding together levels of momentary welfare. In acting freely, we are writing a sentence in the story of our lives, and the value of acting freely is thus a species of the value of artistic creativity or self-expression (understood appropriately). Finally, I contend that the fact that our lives are stories need not entail that they have endings, or that immortality would necessarily be unimaginable or essentially different from ordinary, finite human life. Yes, a certain sort of narrative understanding of our lives as a whole would be impossible in the context of immortality; but much of what we care about, and value, in our stories might remain.

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eISSN: 0556-8641