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date: 18 August 2019

(p. vii) Preface

(p. vii) Preface

Peter Ohlin, the philosophy editor at Oxford University Press in New York, had been thinking about the idea of putting together a collection of essays on topics connected with the metaphysics and ethics of death. Oxford had already published several books on these topics. Peter was aware that they were also being addressed in a large and growing body of new work—journal articles, books, book proposals, conferences, and so on. He thought it would be good to put together a collection of the best of these.

The idea was discussed with the editors of the current volume. We were all enthusiastic about working together on the project. We had high hopes, but at the same time, some concerns. We agreed that there would not be much point in reprinting some previously published (and in many cases republished) old papers from the 1970s and 1980s. There are already several very useful collections of that work. Indeed, there is already a fair amount of overlap among those anthologies. We did not have much enthusiasm for creating yet another reshuffling of those papers, however impressive and important they may be. We were much more excited about the idea of putting together a collection of all new papers on these topics.

In recent years it has become increasingly clear that serious philosophical reflection on the nature and value of death essentially involves a number of subtle and sometimes complex topics in metaphysics, axiology, and the philosophy of mind. In addition, there are quite a few concepts that have resisted straightforward analysis. We agreed that we wanted to have papers written by philosophers with the requisite expertise; we wanted authors whose views about death had firm foundations in metaphysics, ethics, conceptual analysis, and philosophy of mind.

Since the publication of some important work several decades ago, critics have pointed out a wide variety of previously unnoticed difficulties and confusions. New puzzles have come to light. We hoped to have original papers in which contributors would deal creatively with these difficulties. We hoped to be able to offer papers that would reflect and advance the current state of the debates about death. We wanted work that would not just report on the history of the debates; we wanted things that would move the debate forward. We recognized that we would not succeed unless we could get papers from truly outstanding philosophers.

Accordingly, we spent a fair amount of time trying to construct a list of possible contributors. We hoped to find people who would be able to produce sophisticated, knowledgeable, creative, new papers. After some discussion, we finally agreed on a list of people to invite. Most invitees had already made significant contributions to (p. viii) the philosophical literature on death, but some were better known for their work in other areas. We were confident that they would make especially valuable contributions even if they had not previously written specifically about death. We sent out our invitations; we explained the sort of collection we were trying to construct. We were thrilled when just about everyone on our list shared our enthusiasm and agreed to participate.

We are very grateful to Peter Ohlin. The idea for this handbook originated with him. We have benefited from his generosity, insight, and steady support throughout the production of the book. He fully understood and appreciated our concerns at every stage. We are also grateful to all the others at Oxford University Press who played a role in bringing the book to fruition. We also benefited from the careful editorial work of Aaron Wolf.

We are especially grateful to the outstanding philosophers who have contributed papers for this collection. These are busy people. They have plenty of projects of their own to pursue. Some of them would otherwise have not thought of writing a paper about philosophical problems about death. But each of them agreed to spend some extra time working on a paper that would fit naturally into our scheme.

One of our contributors deserves special mention. Gary Matthews contributed an interesting and original paper to this volume; of course we are grateful to him for that. But we are grateful to him for far more in addition. Gary was Fred’s colleague at the University of Massachusetts for more than forty years; throughout that time Gary was a steadfast friend and generous commentator. Ben had the good fortune to be able to study with Gary during his (Ben’s) student days at UMass. And Jens also briefly knew Gary during a semester when he (Jens) was visiting Amherst. Though we all came at these questions from different perspectives, Gary’s influence can be seen in all of our work, and indeed in the work of several others who have contributed to this volume. We all benefited from his insight, patience, broad knowledge of the history of philosophy, and tremendously agreeable manner. Gary died before this book was completed; he is sorely missed.

With respect, affection, and gratitude—all still tinged with grief—we dedicate this book to our teacher and colleague, Gary Matthews.