chapter  7
21 Pages

From PSR to Eternity

Eternal life: nice (perhaps), if you can get it. But is there anything you can do to get it? It is a fundamental tenet of many forms of Christianity that there is something one can do to achieve eternality, a kind of existence-perhaps separate from the body-in which one reaps rewards (or perhaps punishments) for the kind of life one lived prior to death. The belief in some kind of eternality was not nearly so central to Judaism as it has always been to Christianity; nonetheless, there is a significant strand in the Jewish tradition that accepts the immortality of the soul and that endorses the notion of some kind of post-mortem reward for a virtuous earthly life. As I mentioned in Chapter 1, in seventeenth-century Amsterdam the Jewish community engaged in a turbulent debate about the kind of immortalityif any-that the soul enjoyed. Uriel da Costa’s denial of the immortality of the soul was certainly one of the factors that precipitated the bans against him in the 1620s and 1630s. As I also mentioned in Chapter 1, Spinoza’s own convictions about immortality may also have been part of what was behind his excommunication in 1656. But does Spinoza deny that we can be immortal? It seems that he

does not. Although Spinoza does not often use the term “immortality”, he does say that “The human mind cannot be absolutely destroyed with the body, but something of it remains which is eternal” (5p23).1 Nonetheless, the kind of eternal existence Spinoza envisages for us is rather different from the kind of eternal existence endorsed in traditional accounts. I would like to focus on three rather important differences.