Last updated: September 8, 2019
Topic: ArtBooks
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The concepts of death and the fear of death
are tackled by philosophers Lucretius and Epicurus, who both believed that
death should not be feared. Lucretius’ view is that since we do not experience consciousness
before life, we won’t experience it after life (death), and thus there is
nothing to fear at all. On the other hand, Epicurus bases his belief on the
fact that we should not fear that which does not inflict suffering. I will
examine both Epicurus’ and Lucretius’ view on death and argue why I feel Lucretius’
view on death is more advanced than Epicurus’.

Lucretius’ presents two arguments on his idea
of death (that it is meaningless). The first is the Epicurean concept, based on
the soul and its physics, and the second is an argument of symmetry. This first
argument, based off of Epicurus’, states that death is not to be feared because
death is the end of life, nothing more, and nothing less. Death, he argues, is
when the body decays after the loss of its soul, which is defined to be the
life-force of humans. Both Epicurus and Lucretius believed in the theory of atoms,
that things are composed of invisible components. They believed that the soul
was composed of atoms, just like the body was, and that the head was
interconnected to the soul. From these ideas, Lucretius formulated that when we
die, our soul (our life-force that gives concept of self) dies as well, and
thus without a concept of self and consciousness, death is meaningless to us
because we are unable to put meaning to it by definition of death itself. In
other words, death is the end of awareness, and thus is not to be feared, just
as birth is not to be feared (introduction to awareness). This idea is right
along Epicurean thought.

Lucretius’ poem, De Rerum Natura, is separated into 6 untitled books. Fear of death
is discussed primarily in Book III of the poem. Lucretius writes, “therefore death
is nothing to is, it matters not one jot, since the nature of the mind is
understood to be mortal” (Book III, lines 830-831). He uses psychology in his arguments
to show that humans dislike the idea that they are mortal, even though they
recognize that they are in fact mortal. He argues that if we know we will die,
there is no reason to act as if we won’t one day die, and that we must accept
the fact we are not divine immortals.

The second argument of symmetry Lucretius
proposes, is a deviation of Epicurean thought and is accepted as uniquely
Lucretius’. This argument more clearly compares the events of birth and death,
and our understanding of existence in relation to them. Lucretius argues that
since we were not concerned of non-existence before our birth, we should
likewise be not concerned of our non-existence after death. He asks his readers
to “consider how the endless ages that elapsed before we were born are nothing
to us. Thus nature shows us this as a mirror of the time that will be after we
have finally died” (Lucretius 3.972ff). He shows the parallel of birth and
death, and focuses on the human behavior of fixation of the future of existence,
with no regard of our past of existence. His symmetry argument proposes that if
we did not feel the event of coming into existence at our birth, we will not
feel the event of leaving existence at our death. He views death as a “return
to sleep and rest,” in the idea that pre-birth and post-death are the same
state in terms of consciousness, awareness, and sense of self. Lucretius
also says “to none is life given in
freehold; to all on lease” (Book III, line 971), concluding the idea that we
are all mortal beings, and to think otherwise is wrong.  

In his works, Epicurus introduces his unique
views on death. He argues that death should not be feared if suffering and
death are mutually exclusive. In other words, if there is no suffering during
time of death, then there is no reason to fear death. This argument comes from
the idea that death in itself does not cause suffering to living nor dead
humans. He says that death does not cause the experience of suffering (Epicurus 26-28). Under
this ideology, fear should stem from the experience of suffering alone. since
one does not experience suffering during death, then death should not be feared.      

Both philosophers agree that death is part of human
nature, is meaningless, leads to non-existence, and should not be feared.

However, when compared, it is evident that Lucretius’ view of death is more
credible than Epicurus’ because Lucretius proposes 2 arguments, one along
Epicurean thought, and one of symmetry. Lucretius draws more conclusive
evidence and proposes more logic, whereas Epicurus’ argument is more basic and fails
to answer many questions Lucretius addresses.