Why a Roman Philosopher’s Views on the Fear of Death Matter as Coronavirus SpreadsRoundup
tags: philosophy, classics, coronavirus
Thomas Nail is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Denver.
With the global spread of the new coronavirus, fears about illness and death weigh heavily on the minds of many.
Such fears can often result in a disregard for the welfare of others. All over the world, for example, essential items such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer have been sold out, with many people stockpiling them.
A first-century B.C. Roman poet and philosopher, Lucretius was worried that our fear of death could lead to irrational beliefs and actions that could harm society. As a philosopher who has just published a book on Lucretius’ ethical theory, I cannot help but notice how his predictions have come true.
Lucretius was a materialist who did not believe in gods or souls. He thought that all of nature was made of continually changing matter.
Since nothing in nature is static, everything eventually passes away. Death, for Lucretius, allowed for new life to emerge from the old.
When there is no immediate danger of dying, people are less afraid of death, Lucretius says in “The Nature of Things.” But when illness or danger strike, people get scared and begin to think of what comes after death.
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