So, to return to the question that Epicurus asked, why shouldn’t you fear death? ...

So, to return to the question that Epicurus asked, why shouldn’t you fear death? One reason is that you won’t experience it. Your death won’t be something that happens to you. When it happens you won’t be there. The twentieth-century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein echoed this view when he wrote in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, “Death is not an event in life”. The idea here is that events are things that we experience, but our own death is the removal of the possibility of experience, not something further that we could be conscious of and somehow live through.

When we imagine our own death, Epicurus suggested, most of us make the mistake of thinking there will be something of us left to feel whatever happens to the dead body. But this is a misunderstanding about what we are. We are tied to our particular bodies, our particular flesh and bone. Epicurus’ view was that we consist of atoms (though what he meant by this term was a bit different from what modern scientists mean by it). Once these atoms come apart at death we no longer exist as individuals capable of consciousness. Even if someone could carefully put all the bits back together again later, and breathe life back into this reconstructed body, it wouldn’t be anything to do with me. The new living body wouldn’t be me, despite looking like me. I wouldn’t feel its pains, because once the body ceases to function nothing can bring it back to life. The chain of identity would have been broken.

Another way Epicurus thought he could cure his followers of their fear of death was by pointing out the difference between what we feel about the future and what we feel about the past. We care about one but not the order. Think about the time before your birth. There was all that time that you didn’t exist. Not just the weeks when you were in your mother’s womb when you might have been born early, or even the point before you were conceived but were just a possibility for your parents, but rather the trillions of years before you came along. We don’t usually worry about not existing for all those millennia before our birth. Why should anyone care about all that time that they didn’t exist? But then, if that’s true, why should we care so much about all those aeons of non-existence after death? Our thought is asymmetrical. We’re very biased towards worrying about the time after our death rather than the time before our birth. But Epicurus thought this was a mistake. Once you see this, you should start thinking of the time after your death in the same sort of way that you do the time before it. Then it won’t be a big concern.


Fuente: A Little History of Philosophy. Nigel Warburton. Yale University Press. London. 2012.


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