- Paperback: 303 pages
- Publisher: The Continuum Publishing Company; Fifth edition (September 1, 1990)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0804463778
- ISBN-13: 978-0804463775
- Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.5 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,052,330 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Illusion of Immortality Fifth Edition
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"Extraordinarily complete and well informed...worthy of the serious attention of all thoughtful persons." --John Dewey
From the Back Cover
In clear and unflinching language, Dr. Corliss Lamont states the case for human mortality--the finality of death. But, he argues, the illusion of immortality is an affirmative vision, not a negative one.
"Extraordinarily complete and well informed...worthy of the serious attention of all thoughtful persons."
Born in Englewood, New Jersey, in 1902, Dr. Lamont graduated first from Phillips Exeter Academy in 1920, then magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1924. He did graduate work at Oxford and at Columbia, where he received his Ph.D. in philosophy in 1932.
He was director of the American Civil Liberties Union from 1932 to 1954, and is currently chairman of the national Emergency Civil Liberties Committee. A leading proponent of the individual's rights under the Constitution, he has won famous court decisions over Senator Joseph McCarthy, the CIA, and in 1965 a Supreme Court ruling against censorship of incoming mail by the U.S. Postmaster General.
Dr. Lamont has long been associated with Humanism, and authored the standard text on the subject, The Philosophy of Humanism, in 1949. He taught at Columbia, Cornell, and Harvard Universities, and at the New School for Social Research. Corliss Lamont is currently honorary president of the American Humanist Association.
Top customer reviews
Corliss is the great-uncle of Ned, and was a very wealthy man, inheriting a fortune from his father, Tom Lamont, who was the Chairman of JP Morgan and Co. His father used to take his yacht down the Hudson every morning and tie up near Wall Street to get to the office.
Corliss got a great education (Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard), and then decided he was a philosophical leftist and Marxist. In fact in 1952 he wrote a book entitled "The Myth of Soviet Aggression" (this book probably didn't sell very well in places like Hungary or Poland). However, he said he wasn't a communist and never joined the communist party in the U.S. I suppose it's worth remembering that in the 30's, 40's and 50's, it was pretty trendy to be a Leftist and a Marxist.
He was also quite a philanthropist, giving away large sums of money. Lamont was also a big supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), serving in a variety of capacities in the ACLU.
On to his book - "The Illusion of Immortality" is an expansion of his doctoral thesis. The point of the book is that we have only one life and we are living it right now, in the flesh. Immortality is wishful thinking, "an intellectual anachronism," although he admits that it is a long-held belief in many cultures throughout history.
Here is the heart of Corliss' argument: We have a body, and we also have a personality, or what some would call a soul. However our personality is inextricably bound up with our bodies, and when our bodies are dead and rotting, well, that's got to be the end of our personality!
Unfortunately for me, since I read the whole book, Corliss stretches out this argument for 278 pages. And he never really addresses the serious arguments that can be made against this simplistic view. Rather, he simply dismisses them.
Now the book was first written in 1935, so much of it is dated - for example his arguing against "spiritualists" and asking rhetorical question like why "Immortalists neglect" answering questions like "Will negroes be black in heaven." (P. 144)
Don't get me wrong, Lamont is not nasty in his writing - in the way many avowed atheists are today - he is not an angry man. In one of the prefaces (page vii) he says "I would heartily welcome any concrete evidence... tending to establish man's immortality."
But he's not wishy-washy about his conclusions - not agnostic, saying we can't prove it one way or another. He is dogmatic: he can prove there is no immortality for humankind, in the same way he can prove there is no God.
Corliss really makes the best you can of a bad argument. He puts forth his thesis, constructs a straw man opponent, and then doesn't really answer the objections to his world view. The horror of this book is that he stretches it out for 278 pages, offering redundant arguments against his straw man.
The book should have been 40% shorter, which is why I gave it two stars instead of three. As is, it's a fine non-pharmacological substitute for Ambien. I can't believe I read the whole thing.
This book was originally published in 1935; he wrote in the Preface to the Fourth  edition, "I present this fourth edition with the continuing conviction that the issue of personal existence after death remains one of the most significant of all problems for religion and philosophy. No man can work through to a mature philosophy of life without coming to grips with this agelong question. I still believe that the probabilities against a future life for the individual are so overwhelming that I am fully justiried in calling immortality an illusion." (Pg. vii)
He suggests, "If, however, one must be a dualist, it may be more intelligent to be a MATERIALISTIC dualist. For if we ask WHERE the soul is at any moment, we must admit that it is where the body is." (Pg. 99)
He notes, "It is sometimes argued that the existence of telepathy, which has by no means been proved scientifically, would in and of itself create a presumption in favor of personal survival on the ground that mind was transcending so remarkably its ordinary powers. But this would seem on a par with stating that the existence of wireless telegraphy radio communication creates a presumption in favor of the hypothesis of an interchange of long-distance messages without proper and thoroughly material sending and receiving sets." (Pg. 155)
He contends, "what many people really want is BELIEF in immortality rather than immortality itself." (Pg. 221) He adds, "the ordinary citizen, even if he were able to achieve the aristocratic ideal immortality, would not be much interested. He would regard it as a rather wretched substitute for the good substantial after-existence he had once been guaranteed." (Pg. 251)
This book remains one of the most famous largely-philosophical critiques of immortality, and will be of continuing interest to anyone studying the matter.
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The Illusion of Immortality
(New York: Philosophical Library, 1959) 303 pages
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