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A Comparison Between Epicurus's Death and Plato’s Views of the Soul

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Table of Contents

  • Plato’s View of the Care of the Soul and the Utmost Good
  • Plato’s Relation Between Caring for the Soul and Death
  • Epicurus’ View of the Care of the Soul and the Utmost Good
  • Epicurus’ Relation Between Caring for the Soul and Death

Plato’s View of the Care of the Soul and the Utmost Good

Plato – through the proxy of the character of Socrates – in both the Apology and the Phaedo, believes that ‘to care for the soul’ means for man to become a thoroughly virtuous human being. The ideal life is lived in purpose towards achieving the most possible good that there can be. The concept of ‘good’ is defined loosely, however, Plato states that the good directly stems from virtue. Virtue, in this instance, means knowledge. The more knowledgeable a man is, the more likely that they will not inflict harm, as no one can do so willingly. No man, if he truly knew what was right or wrong, would willingly impart pain onto another. To remedy all this pain and spread the good, men must become knowledgeable to prevent harm from existing. Man must live in accordance to a virtuous life, to be overwhelmingly moral and knowledgeable, to spread the good.

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Plato’s Relation Between Caring for the Soul and Death

However, to live a virtuous life, man must give up all that tempts him. The vices pollute the very nature of the soul. It becomes impure. That impurity weighs down the soul, muddies the true form that it must attain. The vices muddy the truth. If vices remain, he will never truly be able to ascend towards the most virtuous life. That cannot truly be achieved unless the connection between the soul and the body is severed. The physical form is an impediment to freeing man from vices. Once separated the soul can ascend to its rightful place. By choosing to live a virtuous life, man ensures the soul can become cleansed of all its impurities and exist unburdened from man’s petty squabbles, existing how it was meant to.

Plato view on the relationship between the soul and death is that if the soul truly does live on after man dies, there is nothing to prevent it from being judged because of its impurities and the evils it incurs, except for being as virtuous and overwhelmingly good that it can be while transfixed to a host. Whether the afterlife truly does exist or not, that should not affect whether a man is good, a man is virtuous and ethical. What is good for man is if he lives life adhering to what is virtuous, what is best for all, the one who is most just, most noble. If a man can live that way, without incurring any of the ills of the mind men tend to pick up throughout life, there is nothing that he must worry about in terms of the afterlife. If there is no afterlife, there still was nothing wrong with being a good man. That good man made life pleasurable for others along the way. If there is truly an afterlife, then man can take solace in the fact he was the best he could possibly be. He affected lives in a positive way, and he shall be rewarded when the time comes. There is no fear for the man who is just, as the man who is just is looked at favorably by all.

Epicurus’ View of the Care of the Soul and the Utmost Good

For Epicurus – as seen through his Letter to Menoeceus & Principal Doctrines – to care for one’s soul means that one must live life to its utmost pleasure. Life without worry or anxiety is one that man must encase his soul in. Epicurus believes that in order to live a pleasant life we must avoid pain and maximize our pleasure. However, this comes with a caveat. Epicurus is not, as many falsely make it out to be, advocating for man to live an all-out, modern hedonistic lifestyle. All man should seek for is a life of temperance and knowledge, surrounded by strong relationships with friends, and one without any semblance of fear. Material wealth was not the goal of Epicurus’ view on life. Epicurus believed there to be many desires that lead mankind astray, taking him away from the life he should leave. He broke these desires down into two categories: Vain – caused by an idle imagination – and Natural, which can be further broken down into Necessary – necessities for life – and Merely Natural – those which seem to be necessities but only further distract us from living a pleasant life.

These ‘vices’ as you may call them, inhibit man from living the life he was truly meant to, devoid of pain and fear. He becomes so engrossed in striving to satiate his desire for every single one of those ‘vices’ that he irreparably harms himself. He cannot stop trying to obtain all that he believes will give him pleasure, that he only harms himself when he realizes they are all out of his grasp. Even if he could have each one of those vices, he would not be able to live a peaceful life. He would be wracked with worry over the fact that he could lose all at any given moment that any semblance of pleasure that can be attained is no longer worth it. He cannot bear to lose them, so he spends all his time in a period of consternation, slowly descending into madness. Therefore, Epicurus believes that philosophy is a tool to help remedy those desires. He brings forth a new point of view to help man assuage his fears and live a life without worry by restricting such trivial and unnecessary wants.

Epicurus’ Relation Between Caring for the Soul and Death

Epicurus also believed that there were two big fears that prevented people from living a content life. They both stemmed from man’s fear of dying, with one being the fear of the gods and the other being the fear of missing out on a multitude of possibilities after death. Epicurus concocted his philosophical view with those two tenets in mind, in order to put the minds of men at ease.

Epicurus believed that mankind was so engrossed with fearing death that they are unable to truly live life. Many ancient Greeks lived in a perpetual state of fear, fear that their lives could be smite down at anytime and that their existence depended fully on appeasing those gods. They feared that retribution could be lie ahead for them, that they could burn in Hades for all eternity. So, Epicurus naturally decided that the best course for remedying these fears is to explain the very nature of the natural world. He reasoned that the world is divided up into two sections: atoms and nothingness. Something could not come from nothing he concluded, so there was a finite number of atoms and a finite amount of nothingness. He then broke down the atoms into four different categories. Epicurus argued that the atoms that make up our souls are the same ones that comprise the gods, and that man’s interpretation of what the gods must be like are a futile attempt to project our human nature onto something which we can not truly understand as they are not the same form as us. They have no power as they are made of atoms just like mankind. They cannot manipulate anything because man cannot manipulate anything either. No one has control over atoms. Since they are also divine beings they are not worried about mortals. Who know whether they even known man exists? They live such a blessed life that they do not care about such petty matters. They live the life man’s soul is striving for: one without worry or pain, simply just a pleasant life.

With regards to the fear of missing out part, Epicurus stated that death is where both consciousness and sensation end. Man would be unable to feels any semblance of feeling at all when he passes. There would be no more pain, no more joy, no more sadness. There would just be nothingness. Since man can feel no fear or pain once he passes, it would be inane to run oneself into the ground over the lack of something that man would not even be able to think about. Once man can accept what death means and eradicate that fear, he could truly be able to be happy.

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