Epicurus and the Afterlife

Epicurean Notions of Death

The arguments for Epicurus's claim in the passage for this assignment that "death is nothing to us" (Epicurus) involve a fairly simple dichotomy that render them lucid. That dichotomy involves a nothing associated with death, based on the notion that all sensations and conceptions of good and evil effectively cease. The other end of that dichotomy is that death's opposite is life, which is completely unrelated to anything pertaining to death because there are sensations and notions of good and evil. Therefore, the crux of the author's argument is that life involves everything related to the human experience, whereas death is a complete denial or obliteration of that experience. Based on this premise, the author of this particular passage has concluded that "death is nothing" (Epicurus).

Interestingly enough, there is another implicit dichotomy that the author of this passage refers to which helps to bolster the aforementioned premise and lead to the conclusion. That dichotomy is that found between the notions of heaven and hell, which are alluded to more than once in this passage and have been dichotomized with contrasting imagery throughout literature (Blake). When the author of the quotation states that "good and evil imply the capacity for sensation" (Epicurus), he is actually referring to the sort of sensation accorded to an afterlife existence in either heaven or hell. Yet in this particular context, the author is stating that there is a definite lack of sensation that death provides which is "the privation of all sentience" (Epicurus) that renders the feeling of any sort of good or evil (found in the afterlife in heaven or hell) impossible. In such a way, he is propagating the notion that there is an absence of sensation which makes the notion of an afterlife obsolete -- which is the fundamental principle of his dichotomy that death is the opposite of life and is akin to nothing.

As previously denoted, the opposite end of that dichotomy on which death rests is life. Due to that opposition, the author is stating that life is everything. It is quite clear that this valuation of life is ascribed to its relationship to death, which is why the author writes that an "understanding" of death's lack of anything (or its nothingness) that renders the "mortality of life enjoyable" (Epicurus). Notice that there is a definite sort of sensation imputed to life in this statement, since the fact that it is enjoyable means that people are able to feel and experience its joys. It is also important to understand the reason that the author believes that life is so enjoyable. That reason again harps on his implicit dichotomy of heaven and hell. The author writes that death creates a joy in life because it effectively subtracts "the yearning after immortality" (Epicurus). That desire for immortality, of course, is another thinly veiled reference to the "limitless time" (Epicurus) of the afterlife. Thus, the dichotomy that life provides everything for human experience is directly contrasted with the opposite end of that dichotomy -- death and its eternal void of sensation (or anything else, for that matter). Life provides enjoyment in part because it is a transient state after which there will be no other (which is what the author thinks death is, nothing). This valuation of life in the face of a death that was valued as nothing is a central component of Epicurean philosophy (Turner 351).

Both the dichotomy of heaven and hell and the dichotomy between life and death are alluded to in the subsequent lines in this passage. More importantly, perhaps, the enjoyment of life at the expense of the lack of enjoyment death provides is accompanied by a dearth of "terror" (Epicurus) of death. The author is posing the notion that the principle point of horror regarding living life is that, based on how one lives, one might have to endure a terrible afterlife in the form of hell. This notion even applies to heaven, since people would…