Can We Conquer The Fear Of Death? First Degree Essay

1789 words - 8 pages

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Can we conquer the fear of death?
Fear is a very strong, primitive, and fundamentally obstructive emotion, leading human
behaviour into sometimes deviant, self-destructive directions and bringing anxieties or
pain into the psyche. It comes as no surprise, then, that dealing with different kinds of
fears has constituted a central preoccupation of human beings since the beginning of
mankind, through unconscious individual acts, psychological approaches or philosophical
strategies. Fear of heights, of darkness, of flight, of spiders - they all have both a
rational and an irrational component, combination that comes across as a non-breakable
pair. And yet people manage to conquer such phobias all the time, mostly by employing
their reason. Even if there is a chance my plane will crash, and so my fear is, to a
degree, justifiable, I know that the chance of it crashing is infinitesimal, and I can use
my rationality to internalise this. By the same token, the fear of death, arguably the
most daunting horror imaginable, is no less conquerable. If anything, in fact, it should
be more easily conquerable because, according to the Epicureans, it has no rational
ground at all. In this essay, I will first offer an overview of the Epicurean account of
death by looking at the concept’s centrality in the Epicurean philosophy and explaining
the Epicurean view that we do not have reasons to fear death; then I will go on to
briefly present a number of objections to this view, such as the painfulness, unknown,
and afterlife punishment objections, clarifying why these objections are weak and
perfectly unthreatening to the Epicurean philosophy. I will then turn to what I consider
to be perhaps the only serious criticism to Epicurean death, proposed by Thomas Nagel
in his 1970 essay “Death”, which I call the deprivation objection. I will examine Nagel’s
arguments and try to challenge two main ideas of his essay: one, that more pleasure is
always better, so a longer life would be better than a shorter one because it would
involve more pleasure, and two, that even if I do not seek infinite duration of my life, I
am still entitled to wish for some extra time to complete certain stages of it. The
responses I bring to Nagel’s claims lead me to the conclusion that, ultimately, we indeed
have no reason to fear death - and therefore we can easily conquer it.
I will look at Epicurus’ conception of death through four key features of Epicurean
philosophy: intellectualism, hedonism, atomism, and naturalism. There is, in Epicurean
teachings, an insistence on conquering the fear of death, insistence stemming from the
conviction that the fear of death is the source of all evils: “nothing dreadful in life for
the man who has truly comprehended that there’s nothing terrible about not
living” (Epicurus, Letter to Monoeceus). He is an intellectualist about emotions - for
him, soul-plaguing thanatophobia rests on a set of mistaken beliefs and corrupting social
practices...

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