May 21, 2007 by Quincy
Death is a common topic of speculation and frequently anxiety. In the time that Epicurus was laying out his way of life and sharing it with others this was the case. Epicurus, though, claimed that we should not fear death because, “Death, the most frightening of bad things, is nothing to us; since when we exist death is not yet present, and when death is present, then we do not exist” (Letter to Menoeceus, 125). Death is frightening to people for many reasons: they do not know what to expect from death, they fear the punishment of gods, they dread not accomplishing certain things in life, etc. Epicurus argues that when we die we no longer exist. If we no longer exist then this state is not a bad one and if somehow it were, we would not exist to experience it. So, death is not an experience to dread at any point in life.
The strongest arguments that Epicurus makes about death stem from his belief that the soul is material and mortal. This may also be the most contentious argument he makes. As an empiricist, Epicurus relied on his senses to provide him with the information he used to make judgments and evaluations about the world around him. Epicurus believed in the soul and believed that the soul provided locomotion to the body as well as created facial expressions and the like. For the soul to do this, however, the soul must be material. Here is a simplified argument for materialism that would have been in line with Epicurus thinking about the soul:
Soul and body can causally interact only if souls are material Soul and body do causally interact.
Therefore, souls are material.
Epicurus thought that an argument claiming the soul was immaterial, or as he said: “incorporeal,” made little sense because something that was of the void could neither act or be acted upon and the soul both acts and is acted upon (Letter to Herodotus, 67).
This materialistic view of the soul leads Epicurus to his most...