“Makropulos Case” by Bernard Williams

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In “Makropulos Case”, Bernard Williams argues that death is necessary for life to remain interesting. The starting point of Williams' thoughts is the play “The Makropulos Affair” by Karel ?apek, in which the character, Elina, after drinking an elixir acquires an incredibly long life (342 years and beyond). Endless life led the character not to happiness, but to boredom and a feeling of cold indifference. She does not want to do anything, because the awareness of infinity paralyzes all activity: there is nothing that could not be put off until later. People for Elina become models: after all, any attachment is doomed to collapse. She knows everything in the world and everything is boring. Therefore, Williams in his paper writes about immortal life exhausts the joy of life and constructs the following arguments:

  • First – there are should be categorical desires in a meaningful life (because without them a person is going to live with random desires)
  • Second – by retaining the same character, it is possible that a person will just run out of categorical desires and will become bored
  • Conclusion – eternal life would not be meaningful because you will become bored and cease to be the same person (p. 426)

In this paper, I am going to me explain the conclusion from author’s perspective and provide an objection. However, what is immortality? In my understanding, this is the eternal existence of a person in physical form with personal qualities. Immortality can be appreciated when you are young and healthy. Life itself is unique in its past moments. No matter how short, it pushes people toward self-development, the achievement of goals, makes people strive for more. As soon as a person becomes immortal, the taste for life is immediately lost, the person no longer needs to evolve, because life will be put on repeat. Everything will change, and so a person may lose his mind due to changes.

According to Williams, in the immortal life there is no pleasure. I think that every person is visited by the thoughts: "If I were immortal ..." However, let’s think about what you will be like when you lose loved ones one after another. After a while, there will be someone who will help for a while to forget about that pain, but this is only for a while, because this person will go to another world and to an immortal person, again, they will be lonely, it will not hurt and there will be no sense to live. Immortality will force a person to isolate himself from the whole world, after all, there will be no one and nothing capable of filling that emptiness in the soul, formed during such a long existence on earth. This cannot be called life, because there is no joy from each new day.

A person after death continues to live in the memory of loved ones, in affairs, any teachings and achievements. An example is the people who contributed to our world: writers, historians, musicians, artists, scientists. The kind of people we remember to this day are immortal. They achieved this immortality by their work and diligence. Everywhere there are boundaries of beginning and end, and life is no exception. The end is the achievement of the goal set at the beginning of the path. Why live if there is no end to your life? It makes no sense. You just exist, and why exist, if you have to live?

Let’s back to author’s second argument. It means that if you change drastically enough to form new set of categorical desires, you cease to be the same person. Here, it is possible to make several objections. Williams claims that, if your character changes significantly over time, that it ceases to be YOU. But, Fischer challenges this claim. With the right amount of forgetfulness or change over time, and in the appropriate way, Fischer insists that personal identity would be retained. For instance, consider your beliefs, opinions, goals, dispositions, and so on at the age of 5, and compare them with yourself now. Surely, these things have changed dramatically! But, surely also you and that 5-year-old are one and the same person? What is important is that the change was gradual, and was the result of the right sorts of causal processes that suitably connect your present self to that earlier person. Fischer claims that there is no reason to think that such change could not occur eternally without jeopardizing or erasing your identity

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“Makropulos Case” by Bernard Williams. (2021, Mar 27). Retrieved July 20, 2024 , from

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