Reincarnation and the Lack of Imagination in Philosophy


  • Mikel Burley University of Leeds


reincarnation, rebirth, imagination, religion, ethnography, Phillips D. Z., Wittgenstein Ludwig


It has been observed, by D. Z. Phillips among others, that philosophy suffers from a “lack of imagination”. That is, philosophers often fail to see possibilities of sense in forms of life and discourse due to narrow habits of thinking. This is especially problematic in the philosophy of religion, not least when cross-cultural modes of inquiry are called for. This article examines the problem in relation to the philosophical investigation of reincarnation beliefs in particular. As a remedial strategy, I argue for increased attention both to ethnographic sources and to the articulation of distinctively religious moral visions that reincarnation-talk facilitates.

Author Biography

Mikel Burley, University of Leeds

Mikel Burley is Associate Professor of Religion and Philosophy at the University of Leeds. His research interests include the relationship between philosophy and anthropology, with Wittgensteinian approaches to philosophy of religion as a key point of intersection. His recent publications include: Contemplating Religious Forms of Life: Wittgenstein and D. Z. Phillips (Continuum 2012); “Contemplating Evil”, Nordic Wittgenstein Review 1, no. 1 (2012): 35–54; “Karma, Morality, and Evil”, Philosophy Compass, 9, no. 6 (2014): 415–30; and Rebirth and the Stream of Life: A Philosophical Study of Reincarnation, Karma and Ethics (Bloomsbury 2016). He is also a co-editor of Language, Ethics and Animal Life: Wittgenstein and Beyond (Bloomsbury 2012).


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