Losing our fear of an afterlife: the second of five, very short, morning reflections on the philosophy of Epicurus for BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

 Talk 2—Losing our fear of an afterlife

(Hear the talk for a limited period of time at this link. The piece starts 21 minutes 50 seconds into the programme and finishes three minutes later.)

In the 3rd century BCE, the Greek philosopher Epicurus developed a philosophy, the ultimate goal of which was a kind of peace of mind or tranquility that he called “ataraxia”. To achieve this he believed at least three common fears needed to be addressed and removed: fear of the gods, fear of an afterlife, and fear of death. 

Today we’ll consider the fear of an afterlife.

Epicurus saw in his own age, as we see in our own, that many people believed after death there will be for them another life. Uncertainties about what this will be like, and the miseries it might bring a person were, and still are, the cause of great anxiety, and this has always seriously mitigated against achieving a tranquil and fulfilling life in this world.

But Epicurus had an antidote to the fear of an afterlife. His close study of the natural world led him to the, then, radical conclusion that everything (including the gods and ourselves) was made of atoms — although today we might prefer to say the flow and flux of matter in constant motion. This means that at our death who we are is simply folded back into this same continuous material flow and flux, and it was this realization that assured Epicurus there could be no such thing as another life for us after our own death nor, of course, any afterlife about which we need to be afraid.

And, whilst it is true that followers of Epicurus firmly believe there is no other world, in a poetically sensitive way they do, in fact, see another world, namely, this natural world seen through the eyes of reason and science rather than through the eyes of ancient superstition.

The first talk can be found at this link.

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