Philosophical Reflections on Death and Life After Death

One of the philosophical reflections on death that causes the most concern is life after death. discover more about this exciting topic.
Philosophical Reflections on Death and Life After Death

Last update: 28 September, 2023

From Greek thinkers to the present, philosophical reflections on death and life after death stand out among the oldest and most persistent themes in this discipline.

It’s a known fact that religions consider life after death, sustaining that there is a paradisiacal state that transcends the human condition. In the same way, philosophy reflects on this state of immortality and eternity, but from another perspective. Keep reading to learn more!

What does philosophy tell us about death?

For philosophers, the question of human death always involves the question of the soul. In his article for the journal Society, Nikos Kokosalakis points out that philosophical reflections manifest human beings from the beginning as a compound of body and soul or spirit.

The soul, in this branch, has a quasi-religious dimension. Some thinkers maintain that through it, we can know and separate ourselves from the mundane, which doesn’t provide us with any spiritual benefit. In the sections that follow, we’ll investigate the most important philosophical positions on this subject.

Soul and body: Death according to Plato

Plato was perhaps one of the first philosophers who took an interest in reflecting on death. According to his postulates, the human being is composed of body and soul. And the latter is of divine and immortal origin. That is, it lasts through time.

On the other hand, the body is mortal and is considered a prison for the soul. In this regard, death is a process through which the soul frees itself from the bonds of the body.

In this Platonic conception, according to an article in the Revista de Treball Social, death is denied. This is so because, in reality, the only thing that perishes is the body, which, according to this vision, has no value.

Instead, death is life for the soul, to the extent that it can free itself and aspire to a better life. For this reason, there’s a special call to take care of the soul through knowledge and acquire virtues in daily life.

Aristotle and his conception of body, soul, and matter

For Aristotle, all living things are composed of body, soul, and matter. Although both plants, animals, and humans have a soul, that of man is unique.

In addition to being responsible for nutrition and feeling, the human soul has the function of knowing. That is, it’s used for mental activity or thought. However, it also has a poetic and creative part that’s the most important property of the soul. This part is immaterial, immortal, and eternal.

Therefore, death, for Aristotle, is the end of biological life as we know it; this process represents the definitive separation of body and soul. This survives death as a rational entity, as its main function is knowledge and thought.

Death according to Epicurus

As part of his philosophical reflections on death, Epicurus points out that it’s something inescapable. We can’t avoid it. Rather, we should accept it and consider it part of the life of the human being.

But there is a problem: We’re usually afraid of death. According to the philosopher, this is absurd because, while we’re alive, death doesn’t exist. For this reason, he gives us three tips to stop fearing death:

  • Define and prioritize projects
  • Remember daily that we have to die
  • Be clear about what we need at all times

What does he mean by that? By always remembering death, we can get used to it. At the same time, being attentive to our needs causes us to focus on the present and leave the future aside. In the same way, distinguishing and prioritizing life projects focuses us on today.

“Death, the most dreaded of evils, is therefore of no concern to us; for while we exist death is not present, and when death is present we no longer exist.”

– Epicurus –

Seneca and his philosophical reflections on death

According to Seneca, death is one of the few events that we can expect with certainty. From this vision, we must accept it with resignation and even with pleasure, as it allows us to enjoy life without fear. If we don’t worry about our mortal condition, we’ll enjoy the present more intensely.

The philosopher emphasizes that death dignifies human beings to the extent that it represents the end of a life lived. According to this, a person who suffers sorrows and ills doesn’t resign themself to living because they don’t like life but rather because living in poor conditions is not a life worth living.

The experience of death according to Spinoza

As Steven Nadler explains in his article Spinoza’s Guide to Life and Death, a person whose thoughts and actions are under the tutelage of reason, not passion, doesn’t live their life thinking about death.

This is because, among other things, they know that there’s no life after death. There’s no heaven or hell; there’s no pain or salvation. Because nothing exists, there’s no point in spending time or anguish thinking about it.

In this regard, for Spinoza, there’s a denial of immortality. In fact, he believed that one of the reasons the Jewish community subjected him to herem (shunning) was their belief that the soul dies with the body. Therefore, it only makes sense to reflect on life, especially the knowledge of oneself and the place one occupies in nature.

The free man thinks of nothing less than death, and his wisdom is a meditation not on death, but on life.”

– Spinoza –

We live to die, says Martin Heidegger

Another of the philosophical reflections on death is that of Heidegger. He considers that the human being is the only living being aware that at some point they will die. That’s why he considers death as a phenomenon or event of life.

His perspective is, as discussed in Pacific Science Review B: Humanities and Social Sciences, that we’re born or thrown into the world in order to die. Furthermore, our only certainty in this life is that we will eventually die. With the arrival of this event , the existential totality will disappear.

However, Heidegger gives death a positive characteristic because he considers it appropriate. That is, the act of dying belongs to us if we make it our last and supreme act of existence.

Life after death

Is there life after death? It’s perhaps one of the most enigmatic questions that human beings have. Our continuous preoccupation with death forces us to consider the possibility of continuing to live after death. What does philosophy say about it?

The human being, due to his mortal condition, yearns for immortality. For philosophy, this eternal existence has to do with the durability of the soul or spirit that exceeds the limits of life.

What use is an explanation like this? It works in us as a defense mechanism against the fear and anguish that death generates in us. Therefore, we seek to give it some meaning or justification that allows us to endure the reality of this unavoidable event.

Appreciate life and face death with serenity

Thinking about death and life in relation to it is one more act that human beings perform to understand ourselves better. Through these reflections, we learn to appreciate life and face death with more serenity and wisdom.

However, we shouldn’t obsess over this. What’s important is how we live our present lives. Thinking about death from this perspective serves to focus on the now, which is the only thing we have.

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