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Lucretius' Writing on the Fear of Death Essay

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At the most basic level of subconscious thought, every living animal possesses a desire to stay alive. Usually, this instinct lays dormant, although in dire situations, we can be led to do unexpected things. In addition to this subconscious drive, there is a socially constructed motivation for fearing death. Thanks to the pervasive nature of religion throughout history, much of humanity has, at some point or another, feared the prospect of eternal damnation and torture during one’s life after death. Although not every religion has a negative aspect of the afterlife, or even any semblance of an afterlife at all, those religions which do contain some such construct receive much more attention in this regard. Throughout history, many…show more content…
In On the Nature of Things, Lucretius argues that not only is the whole of the human body (both tangible parts, like organs, and intangible concepts, like the soul) created from distinct types of atoms, but that this is the basis upon which an afterlife may be disproved. One of the principle tenets of atomism is that the atoms people are comprised of provide the basis for physical sensations we might experience, such as heat, touch, smell, et cetera. Lucretius provides the corollary to this view by noting that without some mechanism for processing these input data, we would not smell things, or might burn our hands in a fire. This cognition of external stimuli is one of the key functions of the soul atoms which permeate our bodies. The soul, Lucretius says, is comprised of four distinct types of atoms: breath, heat, air, and a fourth, unnamed variety, which is more mobile than the other three (3.231). The presence of these soul atoms can be proved by observing a person’s reactions to various ailments; sickness afflicts both the body and the mind, for example, demonstrating that they are intrinsically linked. In addition, because sensation may occur at any point in or on the body, the soul must be distributed completely and evenly throughout oneself. Atomism says that no atoms are ever created or destroyed,
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