It is an old philosophical idea that if the future self is literally different from the current self, one should be less concerned with the death of the future self (Parfit, 1984). This paper examines the relation between attitudes about death and the self among Hindus, Westerners, and three Buddhist populations (Lay Tibetan, Lay Bhutanese, and monastic Tibetans). Compared with other groups, monastic Tibetans gave particularly strong denials of the continuity of self, across several measures. We predicted that the denial of self would be associated with a lower fear of death and greater generosity toward others. To our surprise, we found the opposite. Monastic Tibetan Buddhists showed significantly greater fear of death than any other group. The monastics were also less generous than any other group about the prospect of giving up a slightly longer life in order to extend the life of another.
Self, Personal identity, Death, Buddhism, Parfit
0364-0213 print / 1551-6709 online
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Nichols, Shaun; Strohminger, Nina; Rai, Arun; and Garfield, Jay L., "Death and the Self" (2018). Philosophy: Faculty Publications, Smith College, Northampton, MA.