Why does imagining absence at a funeral cause you to imagine being there?


Source: p 22, Chapter 4 entitled 'The Garden Path [line break] EPICURUS'A Little History of Philosophy (2011 ed; but Reprint ed, 2012 extant) by Nigel Warburton PhD in Philosophy (Cambridge)

Imagine your funeral. What will it be like? Who’ll be there? What will they say? What you are imagining must be from your own perspective. It’s as if you are still there watching events from a particular place, perhaps from above, or from a seat among the mourners. Now, some people do believe that that is a serious possibility, that after death we can survive outside a physical body as a kind of spirit that might even be able to see what’s going on in this world. But for those of us who believe death is final, there is a real problem. [1.] Every time we try and imagine not being there we have to do it by imagining that we are there, watching what is happening when we’re not there.

My challenge of 1 means my misunderstanding of it: Why is 1 true? Please see this question's title.

Suppose that you despise the notion of, and so wish to imagine your absence at, your own funeral. Then you can cease thinking about anything resembling your funeral as follows, for example: As soon as you imagine a funeral home, church, or crematorium or cemetery chapel, you can stop yourself by thinking instead of anything joyous (like the kind people here at Philosophy SE).
Does the above disprove 1?


Posted 2016-03-29T20:01:17.157

Reputation: 1

I think the point is more subtle. Every time you imagine something, you cannot remove yourself from the image, as you are the observer. So it's not exactly that you imagine yourself being there, but you imagine yourself watching the event from a god-like point of view. – Eliran – 2016-05-04T23:51:25.480



There is a difference between 'imagining not being there' and 'not imagining being there', these are dual modes of the same event, not the same thing. To not imagine something is not the same as imagining its not being. The latter of these is a 'box-ish' operator, with a very narrow semantics, and the former is a 'diamond-ish' operator, with a broad latitude, in the normal presentation of modal logic.

To conflate the two is a logical fallacy akin to removing the distinction between "what one should not do", and "what one is not obligated to do", and acting as if each of these properties implied the other reciprocally. They don't. Only non-modal realities allow for the opposite of an opposite to come back to the same original.

It is easy to never imagine being there by simply never imagining what is going on there. But it is impossible to imagine the scene taking place without you, without first imagining what is going on, and you can only describe what is going on by taking the role of a present observer. You can then amend that thought so that the observer is someone else. But you have not managed to avoid the illogical middle-step where you have observed as yourself.


Posted 2016-03-29T20:01:17.157


To me, the key point is: if you are imagining the funeral at all, you are imagining /from/ a particular vantage point. That puts "you" (in some liberal sense) at or near the event. – Dave – 2016-05-05T18:11:57.093

That point is implicit in the statement "taking the role of a present observer' But I don't see how it becomes "key". – None – 2016-05-06T19:53:19.600


Sentence [1] is false because it is not making a distinction between imagining (now), and being "there" (at the funeral, in the future).

As long as you are alive, you can imagine anything, no matter how weird or illogical it might be. However, when you die, you will not be able to imagine anything, specially if death turns out to be final.


Posted 2016-03-29T20:01:17.157

Reputation: 1 686


I would like to challenge the notion that imagining an event necessarily includes the observer. Suppose a time traveler gave you a photo of your own funeral.

You watch the photo and contemplate. Does looking at the photo create any problem of being there? Intuitively I do not see such problem.

now suppose this time traveler doesn't just bring a photo but a virtual reality recording of the event. In what sense does that technology create a different problem?

suppose you get a virtual reality helmet with a live feed from a remote event. Does the problem of being there arise?

granted there is little difference between imagining you are participating or just observing an event. But it is an important difference. In one you imagine you are part of the event and in the other you imagine that you are not there.

prima facie it seems enough.


Posted 2016-03-29T20:01:17.157

Reputation: 4 231