The Nature of Death

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Human beings often have preconceived notions or fears regarding the abstract idea of death. Two Hellenistic philosophers Epicurus and Epictetus take very different approaches to prove that death is insignificant and nothing to worry about. Epicurus argues that death is the unequivocal end of our existence, and Epictetus claims it is something that we have no control over. Both examine the nature of death in an attempt to achieve ataraxia or a tranquil state of mind. However, Epicurus and Epictetus fail to address the true emotional nature of death and its impact on the human psyche. Accepting these philosophies requires an inherent selfishness that cannot possibly lead to achieving a tranquil and essentially good life.

Epicurus argues all good and bad things derive from a sensation of pleasure or pain. He advocated the absence of pain and the attainment of a happy, tranquil life. Achieving this state of mind includes expelling the fear of death, which he attempted to philosophically refute. According to Epicurus, “Death is nothing to us. For what has been dissolved has no sense experience, and what has no sense-experience is nothing to us.” (32) He asserts that death robs us of our senses so we cannot possibly fear it, for we do not exist at all. This also asserts that we fear the anticipation of death rather than death itself. When we are dead we are not afraid, for it is a state of unconsciousness and the end to any and all sensation, therefore there is neither pleasure nor pain. He explains that we fear death because we incorrectly assume that there is awareness during death. Epicurus logically explains, “Since when we exist, death is not yet present, and when death is present, then we do not exist” (29). When addressing a sen...

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...dressed when mentioning the nature of death. If sacrificing one’s own morals and inherent nature is Epicurus’ and Epictetus’ route to achieving ataraxia it is not worth it, nor is it possible. Ataraxia is a state of tranquility or happiness, something that cannot exist without others. If we are to have this emotion it implies that we must feel, which is something dependent upon others. These emotions and connections are what make us human, and happiness can exist even alongside the fear of death. We need other human beings to prevent us from fixating upon this mysterious phenomenon that still has yet to be fully understood.

Works Cited

Inwood, Brad, and Lloyd P. Gerson. The Epicurus reader: selected writings and testimonia. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994. Print.

White, Nicholas P.. Handbook of Epictetus . Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub. Co., 1983. Print.
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