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Lucretius' Writing On The Fear Of Death

1161 words - 5 pages

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, to a more comprehensive and varied picture. According to Leucippean and Democritean atomism, matter is comprised of indeterminately small particles which constantly arrange and rearrange themselves, allowing for more complex structures, like humans, to exist. In On the Nature of Things, Lucretius argues that not only is the whole of the human body (both tangible parts, like organs, and intangible concepts, like the soul) created from distinct types of atoms, but that this is the basis upon which an afterlife may be disproved.
One of the principle tenets of atomism is that the atoms people are comprised of provide the basis for physical sensations we might experience, such as heat, touch, smell, et cetera. Lucretius provides the corollary to this view by noting that without some mechanism for processing these input data, we would not smell things, or might burn our hands in a fire. This cognition of external stimuli is one of the key functions of the soul atoms which permeate our bodies. The soul, Lucretius says, is comprised of four distinct types of atoms: breath, heat, air, and a fourth, unnamed variety, which is more mobile than the other three (3.231). The presence of these soul atoms can be proved by...

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