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On Gilmore’s Definition of ‘Dead’

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Gilmore proposes a new definition of ‘dead’ in response to Fred Feldman’s earlier definition in terms of ‘lives’ and ‘dies.’ In this paper, I critically examine Gilmore’s new definition. First, I explain what his definition is and how it is an improvement upon Feldman’s definition. Second, I raise an objection to it by noting that it fails to rule out the possibility of a thing that dies without becoming dead.

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  1. 1.

    Gilmore (2007).

  2. 2.

    Feldman (1992a).

  3. 3.

    See Gilmore (223).

  4. 4.

    See Gilmore (224). See also Feldman (1992a: 108).

  5. 5.

    Putting micro-organisms into a state of suspended animation is routinely done in biology laboratories. See Gilmore (222). See also Feldman (1992b: 169-172) about suspended animation.

  6. 6.

    Gilmore (223).

  7. 7.

    Gilmore (225).

  8. 8.

    Gilmore (225).

  9. 9.

    Gilmore (227).

  10. 10.

    Gilmore (228).

  11. 11.

    Gilmore (228).

  12. 12.

    Gilmore (224).

  13. 13.

    Thanks to an anonymous referee for raising this objection.

  14. 14.

    Gilmore (230).

  15. 15.

    One might suggest that I am committed to the view that necessarily, anything that died is dead now, and thus I am committed to the view that some properties, for instance, ‘being dead,’ are instantiated by non-existent things. One might think also that unlike my definition, Gilmore’s definition is neutral about whether some properties are instantiated by non-existent things, and this can be seen as a virtue of his definition over my definition. But this is mistaken. Even if I contradict the objector and say that (S)** is analytically false, this does not mean that I am committed to the view that necessarily, anything that died is dead now. I certainly leave open the possibility of revitalization, so that a thing which died before could be alive now. Also, Gilmore does say, e.g., that Plato is abiotic now by failing to be present now. In fact, his definitions commit him to saying that some non-existent things are abiotic now or dead now if they satisfy those conditions specified in his definitions. So his definitions are not neutral about whether some properties are instantiated by non-existent things. See Gilmore (227). This worry was raised by an anonymous referee. I thank for this.

  16. 16.

    I thank Eric Chwang, Bradley Monton, and especially Cody Gilmore for helpful comments and discussions. I also thank anonymous referees for helpful suggestions that improved the overall quality of the paper considerably.


  1. Feldman, F. (1992a). Confrontations with the Reaper: A philosophical study of the nature and value of death. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  2. Feldman, F. (1992b). The enigma of death. Philosophia, 21, 163–181.

  3. Gilmore, C. (2007). Defining ‘dead’ in terms of ‘lives’ and ‘dies. Philosophia, 35, 219–231.

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Correspondence to Seahwa Kim.

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Kim, S. On Gilmore’s Definition of ‘Dead’. Philosophia 39, 105–110 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11406-010-9261-x

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  • Dead
  • Dies
  • Lives
  • Abiotic
  • Toxic2 properties
  • In stasis
  • Definition
  • Gilmore
  • Feldman