Lucretius, Symmetry arguments, and fearing death

in Phronesis
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This paper identifies two possible versions of the Epicurean 'Symmetry argument', both of which claim that post mortem non-existence is relevantly like prenatal non-existence and that therefore our attitude to the former should be the same as that towards the latter. One version addresses the fear of the state of being dead by making it equivalent to the state of not yet being born; the other addresses the prospective fear of dying by relating it to our present retrospective attitude to the time before birth. I argue that only the first of these is present in the relevant sections of Lucretius (DRN 3.832-42, 972-5). Therefore, this argument is not aimed at a prospective fear of death, or a fear of 'mortality'. That particular fear is instead addressed by the Epicureans through the additional premise (found in the Letter to Menoeceus 125) that it is irrational to fear in prospect an event which is known to be painless when present. This still leaves unaddressed the related fear of 'premature death', which is to be removed through the acceptance of Epicurean hedonism.

Lucretius, Symmetry arguments, and fearing death

in Phronesis



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