Lucretius on the Cycle of Life and the Fear of Death

Apeiron 36 (1):43 - 65 (2003)
Tim O'Keefe
Georgia State University
In De Rerum Natura III 963-971, Lucretius argues that death should not be feared because it is a necessary part of the natural cycle of life and death. This argument has received little philosophical attention, except by Martha Nussbaum, who asserts it is quite strong. However, Nussbaum's view is unsustainable, and I offer my own reading. I agree with Nussbaum that, as she construes it, the cycle of life argument is quite distinct from the better-known Epicurean arguments: not only does it start from different premises, but it is a completely different type of argument. However, thus construed, it is deeply problematic. It relies on premises that are much more at home in Stoic than in Epicurean ethics, and Lucretius' appeal to nature in this argument contradicts what he says elsewhere in De Rerum Natura. I consider why Lucretius offers what appears to be such a flawed argument, and I propose a reading on which the cycle of life argument could be offered consistently by an Epicurean. The cycle of life argument, unlike the better-known arguments, does not attempt directly to show that death is not a bad thing. Instead, it targets certain destructive attitudes towards one's life that result in one fearing death. By helping relieve the interlocutor of these attitudes, the argument aims at reducing his fear of death.
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DOI 10.1515/APEIRON.2003.36.1.43
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Epicurean Justice.John Armstrong - 1997 - Phronesis 42 (3):324-334.
Epicureanism, Death, and the Good Life.Glenn Braddock - 2000 - Philosophical Inquiry 22 (1-2):47-66.

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