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Topics in Philosophy: Mortality & Immortality


Admission requirements

Required course(s):

  • History of Philosophy


The purpose of Topics in Philosophy courses is to allow students to focus on specific philosophical sub-fields. From year to year, the subtitle can shift as the course addresses different topics. In this particular offering, we will be reading about and discussing some major issues in the philosophy of death. Death is one of those few topics that attract the attention of just about every significant thinker in the history of Western philosophy, from Plato, Aristotle, and Epicurus, to Martin Heidegger, Bernard Williams, and Martha Nussbaum. This attention has resulted in diverse and complex views on death and what it means. For example, while some embrace the idea that death signifies the utter annihilation of a person, others argue that there is reason to hold out hope for an immortal soul that lives on. In conjunction with this sort of grand metaphysical conundrum, the philosophy of death has also come to deal with various practical, ethical, and linguistic problems associated with death, dying, and the dead. This course focuses mostly on questions about the badness of death, the desirability of immortality, and the role of mortality in meaningful life.

Course Objectives

This course aims to investigate philosophical ideas about mortality and immortality by drawing upon important texts from both the history of philosophy and contemporary scholarship. Students will be expected to compare, contrast, and critically discuss the main arguments in the classroom and in their written work. Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:
1. some of the major arguments in contemporary philosophy of death and how they developed;
2. attitudes about death and immortality throughout the history of philosophy.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:
1. formulate their own rational position on the topics covered in this course;
2. critically reflect on and distinguish between key types of philosophical argumentation;
3. exhibit a set of reading, writing, research, and discussion skills that allow them to engage texts and other people in an informed and conscientious manner.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2021-2022 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

Each ordinary meeting of the course will consist of an interactive discussion on the scheduled topic, with reading to be completed prior to the meeting. This course depends heavily on group discussion of significant primary texts. Each class will begin with the instructor introducing the key issues and readings for that day and offering an interpretation of the works being discussed. Students should join in the discussion at any time, asking questions, making suggestions, or making comparisons with other texts we have read. For each meeting, each student should mark out a short passage (1-3 sentences) from the day’s reading that especially stood out.

Assessment Method

  • Participation and attentiveness in class discussions, 19%

  • Short written reflections on the readings (1200-1600 words total), 16%

  • One short answer and/or essay “mid-term” exam (1000 words), 25%

  • One final paper (during reading week), 40%

Reading list

Required readings will be available for free online, primarily through the Leiden University Library website.


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Dr. Adam Buben,