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Philosophy of Death


Admission requirements

Admission to one of the following programmes is required:

  • MA Philosophy 60 EC: specialisation Philosophical Anthropology and Philosophy of Culture

  • MA Philosophy 120 EC: specialisation Philosophy of Humanities


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 provides a foundation in the history of philosophy’s engagement with death before moving on to consider the major topics in contemporary philosophy of death. These topics include the badness of death, the symmetry argument, the possibility of posthumous harm (and the related timing problem), the justifiability of suicide, the desirability of immortality, and the role of death in the meaning of life.

Course objectives

This course aims to investigate philosophical ideas about death 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:

  • the major arguments in contemporary philosophy of death and how they developed;

  • attitudes about death throughout the history of philosophy.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • distinguish between major arguments in the philosophy of death;

  • formulate their own rational position on the topics covered in this course;

  • critically reflect on and distinguish between key types of philosophical argumentation;

  • 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.


The timetable is available on the MA Philosophy 60 EC website and the MA Philosophy 120 EC website

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours

  • Attending seminars: 13 x 3 hours = 39 hours.

  • Time for studying the compulsory literature: 100 hours.

  • Time for preparation of paper proposal (including reading/research): 40 hours.

  • Time to write a paper (including reading/research): 101 hours.

Assessment method


  • Class participation (15%)

  • Paper proposal (15%)

  • Final paper (70%)


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of several subtests (class participation, paper proposal, final paper). A subtest can be graded as unsatisfactory. Class preparation and attendance are required and are conditions for submission of the paper.


The resit will consist of one examination, a paper. The mark will replace all previously earned marks for subtests. No separate resits will be offered for mid-term tests. Class preparation and attendance are required and are conditions for submission of the paper for the resit. Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examination(s) cannot take the resit.

Exam review

Discussion of the paper is by appointment.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • posting of instructions or texts;

  • discussion

  • uploading assignments and the conclusive essay (through Turnitin).

Reading list

Students are required to purchase the main primary text:

  • Fischer, John. M. (ed.). The Metaphysics of Death (Stanford University Press, 1993).

Other required readings can be found online.

Suggested texts

  • Buben, A. Meaning and Mortality in Kierkegaard and Heidegger: Origins of the Existential Philosophy of Death (Northwestern University Press, 2016).

  • Cholbi, M. (ed.). Immortality and the Philosophy of Death (Rowman and Littlefield, 2015).


Enrolment for courses and exams through uSis is mandatory.

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetables for courses and exams.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. A.J. Buben


Not applicable.