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Rationality and the Fear of Death in Epicurean Philosophy
Rationality and the Fear of Death in Epicurean Philosophy

Author(s): Voula Tsouna
Subject(s): Philosophy
Published by: Издателство »Изток-Запад«
Keywords: rational; irrational; passions; emotions; non-perception argument; non-identity argument; symmetry argument; premature death; dying; mortality; happiness; Epicurus; Philodemus

Summary/Abstract: This paper outlines the Epicurean conception of rationality and then tries to assess the merits of the notorious contention of the Epicurean philosophers that it is irrational to fear death. At the outset, I talk about the nature of harmful emotions or passions, of which the fear of death is an outstanding example: their dependence on one‘s disposition, their cognitive and non-cognitive components, the ways in which these elements may be related to each other, and the healthy counterparts of the passions, namely the ‚bites‘. Next, I distinguish different kinds of fears involving the thought of death and I examine the Epicurean arguments against each one of them: fears about the state of being dead, others about dying prematurely, yet others concerning the dying process and especially the moment when the soul leaves the body and, finally,the fear that we must die sometime. Much of the discussion focuses on the writings of Philodemus (a near contemporary of Lucretius and the head of an Epicurean school in Southern Italy in the 1st century BC). Philodemus offers the most sustained discussion of the fear of premature death and of the fear of dying that survive in the Epicurean literature. In addition, in the peroration of his treatise On Death, he gives a brilliant example of how we can reconcile ourselves with the fact that we shall die sometime and accept our own mortality. My provisional conclusion is that although the Epicurean philosophers often succeed in appeasing our fears about death, for the most part they fail to prove that these fears are irrational.

  • Issue Year: III/2006
  • Issue No: 1
  • Page Range: 79-117
  • Page Count: 39
  • Language: English