Digital Souls: A Philosophy of Online Death

Social media is full of dead people. Untold millions of dead users haunt the online world where we increasingly live our lives. What do we do with all these digital souls? Can we simply delete them, or do they have a right to persist? Philosophers have been almost entirely silent on the topic, despite their perennial focus on death as a unique dimension of human existence. Until now. 

Drawing on ongoing philosophical debates, Digital Souls claims that the digital dead are objects that should be treated with loving regard and that we have a moral duty towards. Modern technology helps them to persist in various ways, while also making them vulnerable to new forms of exploitation and abuse. This provocative book explores a range of questions about the nature of death, identity, grief, the moral status of digital remains and the threat posed by AI-driven avatars of dead people. In the digital era, it seems we must all re-learn how to live with the dead.

Published by Bloomsbury, February 2021

“Eloquently written, choc-a-bloc with piquant stories of tech history, and combined with the penetrating philosophical analysis we have come to associate with the author, Digital Souls is a rigorous and yet accessible mediation on the perennial question of personal identity as it intersects with our evolving cyber self-personifications. It is a rare feat, but there is enough history of philosophy in these pages to satisfy scholars without losing non-academic readers. In sum, the smart move would be to put away your Smartphones for an hour or three to digest this wise and entertaining reflection on how new-technologies of the self are molding our understanding of personal immortality and alas, what it means to be a self.” –  Gordon Marino, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, St. Olaf College, USA

Digital Souls is a little gem of applied philosophy, and Stokes’ erudition is undiminished by the lightness and accessibility with which he presents it. Scholars and general readers alike will have their assumptions constructively disrupted by this book, and it’s certainly been a long time since I was this enjoyably provoked.” –  Elaine Kasket, author of “All the Ghosts in the Machine”

“Online technologies have allowed us to extend ourselves ever further in space, time and memory. But have they thereby allowed us to ‘cheat death’? Digital Souls is a seminal investigation of this possibility and the ethical quandaries it raises for all who live in a digitalized social world.” –  Michael Cholbi, Professor of Philosophy, University of Edinburgh, UK

“This is a fascinating exploration of how online sites and resources represent, and, in some ways, transform death. The book is written in a lively and accessible style. It helps us to understand our attitudes toward death in a new and illuminating way. Highly recommended!” –  John Martin Fischer, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, University of California, Riverside, USA