Philosophical Studies

, Volume 174, Issue 8, pp 2009–2028 | Cite as

Should I choose to never die? Williams, boredom, and the significance of mortality

  • David BeglinEmail author


Bernard Williams’ discussion of immortality in “The Makropulos Case: Reflections on the Tedium of Immortality” has spawned an entire philosophical literature. This literature tends to focus on one of Williams’ central claims: if we were to relinquish our mortality, we would necessarily become alienated from our existence and environment—“bored,” in his terms. Many theorists have defended this claim; many others have challenged it. Even if this claim is false, though, it still isn’t obvious that we should choose to relinquish our mortality, given the option. And this is puzzling. Death is generally regarded as an evil, meriting anxiety, dread, and avoidance. What is it about our mortality that makes us hesitant to relinquish it? In this paper, I aim to explain this hesitancy and to argue in its favor: we should be hesitant to relinquish our mortality. Further, I take my discussion to suggest that most of us probably shouldn’t take this option if we were given it. To make these points, I draw on Williams’ discussion of immortality, developing and extending his thought in order to better understand how mortality shapes the way we relate to our lives, particularly the commitments and values that make them meaningful. Our mortality, it seems, plays a crucial role in our lives standing for something. Relinquishing it thus means risking the loss of this value.


Bernard Williams Immortality Death Boredom Commitment Valuing 



Previous versions of this paper were presented to the Immortality Project's Younger Scholar Workshop and to UC, Riverside's long-standing Agency Workshop. Many thanks to the participants of those discussions. I was also the beneficiary of two particularly encouraging and generous reviewers for Philosophical Studies, to whom I am very thankful for their invaluable feedback. Finally, I owe a special debt of gratitude to John Martin Fischer, Monique Wonderly, Meredith McFadden, and Taylor Cyr, all of whom have provided many encouraging and thoughtful comments in both conversation and on multiple drafts of the paper throughout the entire process of writing it.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CaliforniaRiversideUSA

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