Up@dawn 2.0

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Section 10 Installment 1: Epicurus and the Fear of Death

Trevor Hutchens

Dr. Oliver

PHIL 1030

24 Apr 2017

Is Death Worth Fearing About?

           Everyday, people think about death.  It is a taboo subject for some, and is a strong predecessor to an even bigger question: afterlife.  Some people believe there is no afterlife, which can make people fear death even more.  Others that do believe in some form of afterlife look at their current lives as a temporary fixture until they go into another dimension eternally.  As it says in A Little History of Philosophy, “It seems quite natural to be at least a little afraid of not existing” (23).  Death is immanent, and is feared by almost everyone on the planet, except for one.  Epicurus (341-270 BC) was an Ancient Greek Philosopher who challenged this habit of fearing death.  He believed that it was “a waste of time and based on bad logic”.  To most people’s surprise, he had a point.  If one spends so much time fearing about death, their time on earth that they are alive is wasted.  In other words, might as well just enjoy your time while you have it!  This mindset is a huge roadblock for some, and once it is overcome, it is easier to enjoy life. 
            The Greek Philosopher looked at people around him, analyzing how they try to stay happy.  People try to avoid pain at all costs, and always try to seek pleasure.  This is a driving force for all of us.  Consequently, Epicurus devised a simple formula to having a happy life: keep your lifestyle simplistic, be kind and slow to anger, and surround yourself in a positive community.  Everyone wants to be happy, and in my personal opinion, the people you surround yourself with and affiliate with will define who you are as a person.
            Although this philosopher taught to simplify one’s life and alleviate his students’ mental pain, his name is quite ironic to the point that it is means almost an opposite definition.  The word “epicure” defines a person who lives a life of luxury. This is someone who eats expensive food, and looks for pleasure in materialistic things. Needless to say, Epicurus practiced and taught just the opposite idea.  However, some may think by lowering your expectations, won’t you be limiting your fullest potential?  The answer is yes and no.  His idea of limiting one’s greedy appetites allows people to be happier with what they have, rather than wanting what they do not. Although, by not pursuing to be the best your field, it is not necessarily bad.  It depends on your perspective of success.
            Returning to the “big picture” question: why should you not fear death?  For Epicurus, the answer is simple.  When you die, you simply will not be there. Wait, what? Technically speaking, our death is not an event we will experience in life.  This is because death is the removal of life; we will not be conscious in the event of death.  But I digress; death is feared amongst many people because of the fear of the unknown. When will we die? How will we die?  Will we say a formal departure to our loved ones before we die?  Although these questions can never be answered with 100% accuracy, we can make the best of our time here on earth making relationships, building communities, and leaving an impact in one way or another.





  1. Death is uncomfortable to talk about for many people - you are so right about that!
    Thoughts on death can also be very different from person to person, and not just because of differing faith or belief. Sometimes, it can be the proximity or exposure to death that creates a different point of view. I cared for seniors in an assisted living community for several years, and eventually, I would see many I cared for pass away. I found, and promptly made plans for a different profession, that as time went on, my thoughts on death and it's meaning changed, and not to the cheeriest of perspectives. I started feel detached and unaffected by it. Perhaps it was a little less taboo in my mind, just because of the repetitive experience.

  2. Well, as you said we don't know what happens at death or thereafter for that matter. Often times, whenever there is someone who is extremely sick or is suffering here on earth, it is wrong to say, but we think that it's best if they passed away and moved on. We usually got accustomed to saying "they moved on to a better place." We do not really know that for sure, but we do know that they were suffering here, and for them to die was the right call; putting them out of their misery.
    Just something more to think about...
    what about suicide? those ones that take their own life. They may not be in the right mind, or whatever the case. But they are aware that they will die. Do they not fear death like other people? We do know one thing for certain. We are 100% sure that death is inevitable and you can not by any means postpone the inevitable!

  3. In my family, it's fairly difficult to find someone who was brought up with any religious beliefs and it occurs to me every so often that we are comfortable with death. Saying we're comfortable with death sounds morbid, but by that I mean, for example, my grandparents have sat us down at holiday gatherings and laid out their plans for us after they die. After that conversation, it looked like a wave of relief washed over them that has continued to this day. Accepting our eventual death is liberation from worrying about how much time we have left.

  4. "Some people believe there is no afterlife, which can make people fear death even more." Or less. That was the Epicurean view, and Epicurus was/is not alone.

    "keep your lifestyle simplistic" - simple is not simpistic

    "leaving an impact" - or striving to leave one, since most of us will never know how impactful we've been. But we must try. The effort itself can be profoundly meaningful and rewarding.