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The Nature of Things Summary

The Nature Of Things is a poem by Lucretius on the philosophy of Epicureanism. The original texts of Epicurus lacked beauty and art that is found in this document. Epicurus was born six years before Plato’s death, and like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle – Epicurus was concerned with moral philosophy.

Practical Philosophy

Epicurus despised philosophers who did not try to cure human suffering. Just as medicine is of no use if fails to banish disease, so philosophy is of no use if it does not banish suffering. He would have condemned modest of the modern philosophers and scientists.

Hedonism and Egoism

The Epicureans have been criticized for their hedonism and egoism, but their philosophy of pleasure is closer to asceticism than self-indulgence. Epicurus did not think that increasing one’s means would make them rich but diminishing their desires would.

And what about egoism? It is true that individuals should try to obtain as much pleasure as they can, but although virtue is the means to the end, which is pleasure, it is impossible to have true pleasure without virtue and friendship. In Epicurean ethics, there is no separation between egoism and altruism.

The Fear of Death  

“Avarice and blind lust for status, which drive wretched people to encroach beyond the boundaries of right and sometimes, as accomplices and abettors of crime, to strive night and day with prodigious effort to scale the summit of wealth – these sores of life are nourished in no small degree by dread of death.”

Thousands of years later, the same idea would be echoed in the book The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker. What Epicurus is saying here is that a large part of the motivation for status and wealth is driven by deep fear of death.

It is the same fear that makes people envious of others who posses more power. Some throw away their lives to try to gain status and fame.

“And often, in consequence of dread of death, people are affected by such an intense loathing of lite and the sight of the light that with mournful hearts they sentence themselves to death, forgetting that the source of their sorrows is this very fear, which prompts one person to outrage decency, another to break bonds of friendship, and, in short, to overthrow all sense of natural duty.”

But if people are going to suffer unhappiness and pain in the future, they must exist at a future time for this to be possible. Since death takes away this possibility by preventing their existence, then there is nothing to fear about death. Those who no longer exist cannot become miserable.

There is a sure end to life for mortals. We cannot avoid our appointment with death, and yet people have a perverse passion for life that creates such a feverish existence. But our environment is always the same, there will be no new pleasure by prolonging life.

The problem is that, as long as the object of our desire is missing, it will seem more important than anything else, but when it is ours, we covet something else, and so, an insatiable thirst for life keeps us always open-mouthed. But we cannot tell what the future will bring, what chance will send us, or what end awaits us.

By prolonging life, we do not deduct a single moment from the time of death or diminish its duration. No matter how many generations your life may span, the same eternal death will still await you. The person who died today will remain dead no less long than someone who has perished many years ago.

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"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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