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Ethics and Religion: Questioning Life and Death


Admission requirements

A satisfying knowledge of the history of philosophy, particularly of moral philosophy, is required and indispensable.


A year after the celebration of Charles Darwin’s bicentenary, questions of life and death are more relevant than ever before. As the essence of life is closely related to death, life and death cannot be discussed separately. Unravelling mysteries of the one will inevitably shed a light on the other, and dealing with both seems a prerequisite for any moral reflection today that does not want to restrict itself to making superficial statements.
Death is as big a mystery as life. Not only has the life question not been sufficiently solved by the ‘mere’ discovery of DNA, reports about so-called ‘near death experiences’ complicate the predominantly biologico-materialistic explanations of death as well.
In this seminar, we will focus on several facets of death, e.g. the moribund’s perspective, mortality and immortality, the uninterrupted chain between life and death, (un)willingness to die, and the God question. These topics tend to be neglected in current philosophical, let alone medico-biological debates.
The metaphysical frameworks in which these topics are placed will be tested by a final confrontation with the case of voluntary death.

Course objectives

  • getting an overview of end-of-life related philosophical problems

  • thorough ethical assessment of current concepts of ‘death’

  • reflection upon the several possible attitudes as from which positions on death questions are taken (i.e. observationalist, patient’s, engaged, poetic, meditative, rationalist, political)


Tuesday, 1-3pm. First meeting September 7th 2010.
Time Table Religious Studies

Mode of instruction

Semi-lecture semi-tutorial. The course instructor gives a thorough introduction to each week’s text readings. Apart from doing philosophical text reading, students will be asked to prepare a text-related assignment every one or two weeks.

Assessment method

Weekly participation in and preparation for the courses is indispensable. The seminar has to be concluded by a written paper, containing 5 pages. Deadline January 31st, 2011. The paper will have to be centered on some crucial or telling passage taken from one of the texts discussed. This passage will have to be considered and commented upon scrupulously. These are the criteria of evaluation: 1. originality and consistency of the argument
2. attested capability of integrating elements from the other texts into the argument
3. attested capability of actualizing the argument by referring to existing discussions and burning issues of today

Seminar: 4 ects. Paper: 1 ects.


Reading list

  • Rousseau, Julie ou la nouvelle Héloïse. Trans. Julie, or the New Heloise: Letters of Two Lovers Who Live in a Small Town at the Foot of the Alps, Works. Vol. 6. Dartmouth 1997

  • Schelling, Clara. Zusammenhang der Natur mit der Geisterwelt. In: Werke, Stuttgart 1976ff. Trans. Clara: Or, on Nature’s Connection to the Spirit World SUNY 2002.

  • Ludwig Klages, Der Geist als Widersacher der Seele, Bonn, Bouvier Verlag, 2008 (1929-1932). ISBN-10: 3416031466, ISBN-13: 978-3416031462 (Sämtliche Werke Bd. I-II) Many copies available on NB: Ludwig Klages, Der Geist als Widersacher der Seele, Studienausgabe. 2010. 1600 Seiten. Kartoniert. 978-3-416-03146-2 € 39.90, information: Boekhandel Atleest, Kort Rapenburg 12a, 2311 GC Leiden – Nederland, tel. 071 512.50.39. PS the link contains the pdf-file of the German text (8Mb).

  • Hans Driesch, Wirklichkeitslehre. Ein metaphysischer Versuch, Leipzig : Emmanuel Reinicke, 1930 (1917) UB: 3596 A 15. For an English review see here or here. Easily available in antiquarian bookshops, e.g. here or here or here.

  • Hans Jonas, Metaphysische Untersuchungen und Vermutungen, Frankfurt, Insel, 1992. If you don’t read German use this book: The Phenomenon of Life: Toward a Philosophical Biology, Northwestern University Press, 2001.


Via uSis.
Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Contact information

Please register with Dr. H.W. Sneller before subscription in Usis


Although texts may be available on the internet, students may wish to procure one or more books themselves. For antiquarian books, see , , or New: .

course overview