Lucretius' Writing on the Fear of Death

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At the most basic level of subconscious thought, every living animal possesses a desire to stay alive. Usually, this instinct lays dormant, although in dire situations, we can be led to do unexpected things. In addition to this subconscious drive, there is a socially constructed motivation for fearing death. Thanks to the pervasive nature of religion throughout history, much of humanity has, at some point or another, feared the prospect of eternal damnation and torture during one’s life after death. Although not every religion has a negative aspect of the afterlife, or even any semblance of an afterlife at all, those religions which do contain some such construct receive much more attention in this regard. Throughout history, many academics have countered people’s irrational fear of the unknown by noting that there is no definitive evidence to prove the existence of such a postmortem experience. According to Lucretius, this fundamental fear of death is completely speculative, and wholly illogical; he argues that we have no reason to fear death because there is nothing after death. What makes Lucretius’ argument so significant, is not how he counters religion, but how he bases it upon his own revision of atomism. It is because of this foundation of logical thought that Lucretius’ writing on the nature of death can still be thought of as a sound hypothesis. Although atomism certainly was not a new philosophy by the time Lucretius wrote, or even by the time of Rome’s ascension to power, the original propositions regarding the nature of matter were not enough to construct a philosophy similar to that presented by Lucretius. Over time, atomism had evolved from a binary view that the world consisted solely of atoms and void, ... ... middle of paper ... ...hysically present. Although this seems daunting, it should not be discomforting; it is merely a reminder of the fleeting nature of life, and that no one can avoid death. In addition to describing how and why the soul leaves a body at the time of death, Lucretius argues that the soul only arrives and is bonded to the body at the time of birth. Although this seems like somewhat circuitous logic out of context, it is merely a condensed conclusion to his prior argument. The basis for this portion of his argument is derived, once again, from the central tenet of atomism. Because nothing is created or destroyed, the atoms which make up one’s soul must have existed before birth, although the joining of the two only occurs upon entering the world. Only by understanding the ephemeral nature of both the soul and body, Lucretius says, may we come to accept the inevitable.

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