Bernard Williams' Paper The Makropulos Case

Bernard Williams' Paper The Makropulos Case

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In his paper “The Makropulos case: reflections on the tedium of immortality” Bernard Williams asserts his central claim that when immortality is feasible it is intolerable; further, it is reasonable to regard death as an evil. He argues his position by utilization of The Makropulos case, or the case of E.M. This character and circumstance is derived from a play by Karel Capek. E.M. is a woman of three hundred and forty two years. She has survived so long due to an immortality draught concocted by her father, a physician, long before the play’s action. E.M. explains her problem with immortality is that her unending life has become incredibly dull, her emotions have become cold and indifferent. She feels that in the end, everything has happened before and life has become unsatisfying. She stops taking the immortality draught and death overtakes her. This invokes the optimistic thought that immortality may be rewarding, if certain desires continue to be satisfied. Williams expands on the idea of these desires, called categorical desires and inherent motivation, but first we should confirm the views of death that make the conversation of immortality desirable.
E.M.’s feelings about her life suggest that death is not a terrible thing not only in the obvious cases - where death ends pain and suffering. Death can be viewed positively in that it prevents life from continuing for too long. This implies two views of death that can refute its being inherently bad: the first being that death is not evil because it is the end of only one life and the beginning of another, a spiritual idea. The second view being that death is not evil because it is an absolute end to life. The second view, utter annihilation, appeals to the Epi...

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...g that has an existence that could be ended is counterintuitive. Under this umbrella my atomic disintegration position is refuted. However, as a human being myself I am largely incapable of imagining an existence that the seemingly limitless forces of the universe could not undo. I refute the rebuttal to my claim by positing that there are universal laws that atomic structures abide by. If the atomic structure cannot be killed by anything other than disintegration then I would have to invent an appellative appropriate for things such as planets (which do not have fuel determined lifespans like stars) and immortals, which are not destroyed unless acted upon by extreme universal powers.

Williams, B. (1973). The Makropulos Case: Reflections on the Tedium of Immortality. B. Williams, Problems of the Self. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

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