Illusions of immortality

Jonardon Ganeri

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This essay argues that a special type of illusion is what explains the grip of the idea of immortality. Throughout one’s lifetime one is aware of being alive, and so it seems as if one is always alive, even when, at the moment of death, the door of life is closed. You think the light of life is always shining; i.e., that you are immortal. Yet this is to forget that it is living which turns on the light of life. From the fact that for as long as we are alive we are conscious of being so, it does not follow that there is a similar consciousness even when we are no longer alive. This essay looks at responses to the illusion of immortality in two thinkers widely separated in time and space: the fifth century Theravada Buddhist philosopher, Buddhaghosa, and the twentieth century Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. It discovers some profound and surprising affinities between these two thinkers, and suggests that each can be read in a way that helps to illuminate the thought of the other.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationImaginations of Death and the Beyond in India and Europe
PublisherSpringer Singapore
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)9789811067075
ISBN (Print)9789811067068
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018


  • Buddhaghosa
  • Fernando Pessoa
  • Illusion
  • Immortality
  • Mental time travel

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences
  • General Arts and Humanities


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