Prenatal and Posthumous Nonexistence: Lucretius on the Harmlessness of Death

In Erin Dolgoy, Kimberly Hurd Hale & Bruce Peabody (eds.), Political Theory on Death and Dying. Routledge. pp. 111-120. (2021)
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One of the most fascinating and continually debated arguments in the philosophical literature on the badness of death comes from the work of Lucretius (Titus Lucretius Carus, circa 99-55 BCE). This chapter will focus on Lucretius’s famous Symmetry Argument. I will begin by saying more about what exactly Epicureanism teaches about death — and why Epicureans thought it could not be bad. After that, I will provide the passage from Lucretius’s epic poem that includes his reasons for thinking that death cannot be bad and will show how Lucretius’s passage has been regimented into the Symmetry Argument against the badness of death. Next, I will discuss the lasting influence of Lucretius’s argument, summarizing some common ways of responding. Finally, I will turn to two other passages from Lucretius’s poem, both of which suggest that it is actually good (both for us and for the world) that our lives come to an end, and I will conclude by considering the implications of Lucretius’s thought for political policy.

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Taylor W. Cyr
Samford University


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