believing that death means nothing to us, since every good and every evil lies in sensation; but death is the privation of sensation. Hence a correct comprehension of the fact that death means nothing to us makes the mortal aspect of life pleasurable, not be conferring on us a boundless period of time but by removing the yearning for deathlessness. There is nothing fearful in living for the person who has really laid hold of the fact that there is nothing fearful in not living. So it is silly for a person to say that he dreads death -- not because it will be painful when it arrives but because it pains him now as a future certainty; for that which makes no trouble for us when it arrives is a meaningless pain when we await it. This, the most horrifying of evils, means nothing to us, then, because so long as we are existent death is not present and whenever it is present we are nonexistent. Thus it is of no concern either to the living or to those who have completed their lives. For the former it is nonexistent, and the latter are themselves nonexistent" (LD, p. 49-50)
These remarks encapsulate Epicurus's views on our attitudes towards death. What argument does he provide for why we should not fear death? What is the ethical purpose of this argument for how we should live our lives? Do you agree with Epicurus's views? Why or why not?
To Epicurus, "death should mean nothing to us" since it is a nonexistent entity in that, with cessation of life, our atoms disintegrate into nothing. As Epicurus more succinctly states (p.53: 1-5; 2): "Death means nothing to us because that which has been broken down into atoms has no sensation and that which has no sensation is no concern of ours." We become non-existent, our mortality subsides. Death, in its essence, is the opposite of life. There is no living, there is no fear, and there is no sensation. Since the essence of death is, therefore, a nothingness, we are rid of fear and all sensation and become a 'nothingness' too. And, consequently, argues Epicurean, we have nothing to fear since we will be reduced to'nothingness'. Epicurus, therefore, urges us to live the 'good life' up to the very end and not to heed the advice of others who counsel the 'good life' for youth whilst urging elderly people to end their life in 'good style.'
Some individuals, as mentioned in the introduction to the argument, erroneously consider Epicurus to be a hedonist. In fact, the colloquialism 'epicurean' is commonly associated with an inclination towards the niceties of life. Nothing could be further from the truth. When Epicurus talks about the 'good life' he refers to pursuit of wisdom that can help us select meaningful pleasure and substantial good. And when he talks about 'good style' he means addiction towards materialism and lavishness that he considers misleading and empty. A close reading of the text indicates that Epicurus inclines towards 'pleasure' but towards an idealistic and utilitarian sort of pleasure -- one that give ultimate meaning and that is guided by philosophy:
When I say that pleasure is the goal of living, I do not mean the pleasure of libertines or the pleasure… By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul. It is not an unbroken succession of drinking-bouts and of revelry, not sexual lust, not the enjoyment of the fish and other delicacies of a luxurious table, which produce a pleasant life; it is sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs through which the greatest tumults take possession of the soul. Of all this beginning and the greatest good is wisdom (p.51).
Epicurean pleasure, therefore, was pursuit of wisdom and careful selection of meaningful pleasure which may mean even preferring "barley bread and water" to that of a lavish meal since the former gives more substantial satisfaction and relish as well as providing us with greater amenities of dealing with life.
It is ironic, therefore, that Epicurus bides us not to contemplate death ("you should accustom yourself to…