Gods, Old Age and Death #124
Epicurus on trouble in the soul
“Everything in life has an end. Only a sausage has two,” goes an old German joke.
Our very own death, and that of everyone we’ve ever known, is one of the few things in life that are perfectly certain. And still, we manage to get up and out of bed every day, and to live our lives as if they’d last forever. How do we do this? And how can philosophy help us overcome fear, anxiety and depression without the need to employ unprovable assumptions about an afterlife?
This was Epicurus’ question, asked by the Greek philosopher 2300 years ago. His answer is as important today as it was in Epicurus’ time.
The philosophy of atoms
Epicurus (341-270 BC) was, much like we are today, an atomist. Influenced by Democritus (460-370 BC), he believed that everything in the world was composed of material atoms, little bits of matter that combined in various ways to create all the different kinds of things that we see in the world.
Of course, neither Democritus nor Epicurus knew anything about protons or electrons (although, it must be said, the very word “electron” is ancient Greek and means amber: because by rubbing amber against cloth the Greeks could create a static charge that they could experiment with).