Fischer, John Martin. Our Stories: Essays on Life, Death, and Free Will.
The next two essays deal with immortality. Fischer's main interlocutor here is Bernard Williams, whose essay "The Makropulos Case" argues that immortality would necessarily be unattractive. Two conditions would have to be met for an endless life to be desirable to me. It would have to be the life of someone I can recognize as identical to me, and it would have to be enjoyable--not endlessly painful, for example. Williams claims that these conditions cannot both be met. In an endless life, my character would either remain constant, in which case my experiences would eventually become boring and cease to be enjoyable; or it would change radically, in which case I would no longer be me. Fischer disagrees with Williams, claiming that we can imagine an endless life that is varied enough to prevent boredom. He also argues that Williams misunderstands pleasure and that not all pleasures must wear out over time--even infinite time.
The last three essays explore the links among free will, narrative, and the meaning of life. Fischer has argued elsewhere that the value we attach to freedom is "a kind of aesthetic value ... When I act freely, I 'make a statement,' and the value of my free action is the value of writing a sentence in the book of my life" (p. 145). Our Stories expands on this idea. Fischer claims that, other things being equal, we want our lives to be structured in the ways good stories are. We value lives with fitting endings, lives in which success results from hard work rather than chance, and so on. Our lives have a distinct dimension of value, narrative value, that is not reducible to any amount of momentary well being. Fischer ties this insight to his work on death and immortality-arguing, for example, that an endless life might nevertheless possess narrative structure and narrative value. He also applies it, quite instructively, to ethical debates about the end of life.
Our Stories is a stimulating book that makes important contributions to several fields. Particularly valuable is its injection of the topic of narrative into debates over free will and the value of life. Regrettably, Fischer's understanding of narrative seems to come from just a few sources--chiefly two essays by David Velleman. It would be fascinating to see how his position could be enriched through an engagement with philosophers who have explored narrative more deeply: Alasdair MacIntyre and Paul Ricoeur, for example. Perhaps Fischer's story will change in his next book.--Robert Piercey, Campion College, University of Regina.
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|Publication:||The Review of Metaphysics|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2009|
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