Defend or attack one of Epicurus' arguments that "death is nothing to us," or one of Lucretius' arguments that there is nothing in death to fear. interpret and explain and defend your...

Defend or attack one of Epicurus' arguments that "death is nothing to us," or one of Lucretius' arguments that there is nothing in death to fear.

  • interpret and explain and defend your interpretation. if you choose one of Epicurus' two arguments, you should begin by explaining what you think he means when he concludes that "death is nothing to us."
  • explain the doctrine of hedonism and how it relates to the reasoning in the argument (if you chose Epicurus)

If you attack, you should argue that at least one of its assumptions is false or implausible, or that the logic of the argument is flawed.

If you defend, you need to argue that certain key assumptions in the argument are true or plausible, or that the logic of the argument is flawless. another thing you could do is reply to objections that might be raised against the argument.

Expert Answers
kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Perhaps few figures from ancient history have been as misunderstood as Epicurus (341 B.C-270 B.C.), for whom the concept or philosophy of Epicureanism is named.  Oft-cited by atheists and hedonists, he was, in fact, neither, both believing in the existence of the gods, and recognizing certain constraints or parameters on the pursuit of pleasure.  If one had to categorize Epicurus’s religious beliefs, one might well consider him an agnostic, in that he accepted the existence of gods but rejected the notion that they sit above mankind rendering judgment and manipulating outcomes.  In one of the most frequently quoted passages attributed (possibly improperly) to Epicurus, he questions the nature of God in a world in which suffering and pain most definitely exist:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. 
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. 
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? 
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” 

And, in another frequently cited quote, Epicurus observed that, “If the gods listened to the prayers of men, all humankind would quickly perish since they constantly pray for many evils to befall one another.” 

Clearly the basis exists to suggest that Epicurus was an agnostic who believed that mankind was expected to find its own way through life and that the pursuit of pleasure, defined within specific parameters, was essential for one’s well-being.  While not an atheist, he was ambivalent about the concept of God.  As he wrote in his Letter to Menoeceus,

“It were better, indeed, to accept the legends of the gods than to bow beneath that yoke of destiny which the natural philosophers have imposed. The one holds out some faint hope that we may escape if we honor the gods, while the necessity of the naturalists is deaf to all entreaties."

Furthermore, rejection of the notion of an afterlife and a firm commitment to knowledge attained through scientific means were at the core of his philosophy regarding life.  Among his quotes germane to this discussion are the following:

Death is nothing to us; for that which has been dissolved into its elements experiences no sensations, and that which has no sensation is nothing to us.

It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and honorably and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and honorably and justly without living pleasantly. Whenever any one of these is lacking, when, for instance, the man is not able to live wisely, though he lives honorably and justly, it is impossible for him to live a pleasant life.

No pleasure is a bad thing in itself, but the things which produce certain pleasures entail disturbances many times greater than the pleasures themselves.

His belief that fealty to gods served little or no practical purpose in the average life, and that concern about an afterlife served only to impede one’s ability to experience pleasure (again, not in a hedonistic sense of the word) is a prominent theme throughout his writings, including the following:

"There is no advantage to obtaining protection from other men so long as we are alarmed by events above or below the earth or in general by whatever happens in the boundless universe."

Finally, the notion that Epicurus viewed the importance of pleasure in an immoral or amoral manner is refuted in the following quote:

“It is impossible for a man who secretly violates the terms of the agreement not to harm or be harmed to feel confident that he will remain undiscovered, even if he has already escaped ten thousand times; for until his death he is never sure that he will not be detected.”

Hedonism is routinely equated with unbridled pleasures of the flesh and of unquenchable materialism.  Neither defines Epicurus.  He was a moral philosopher who eschewed excess, and believed that a preoccupation with meeting the requirements of a good afterlife interfered with the earthly pleasures, including the absence of pain, that should constitute mankind’s main goal.  As a philosopher who believed fervently in the distinction between knowledge attained through observation and other scientific means and beliefs predicated upon faith, with the concept of an afterlife clearly falling into the latter category, Epicurus’s comment that “death is nothing to us” simply suggests that ‘dead is dead,’ and an obsession with what goes on after we die is self-defeating.  Live a moral life on earth, and let the rest take care of itself.  It is relatively to easy to defend or side-with the scientific perspective precisely because it is, by definition, provable.  The other side of the equation, faith, is just that: faith.  Debates regarding the efficacy of Biblical prophesies have been around since the Bible’s multitude of Books.  One need look no further than the Scopes Monkey Trial for the classic disputation on evolution versus creationism.  The distinction between science and faith is clear; it’s all a matter of what one believes, and there are plenty of partisans on both sides.

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