Prenatal and Posthumous Nonexistence: Lucretius on the Harmlessness of Death

In Erin Dolgoy, Kimberly Hurd Hale & Bruce Peabody (eds.), Political Theory on Death and Dying. Routledge. pp. 111-120. (2021)


One of the most fascinating and continually debated arguments in the philosophical literature on the badness of death comes from the work of Lucretius (Titus Lucretius Carus, circa 99-55 BCE). This chapter will focus on Lucretius’s famous Symmetry Argument. I will begin by saying more about what exactly Epicureanism teaches about death — and why Epicureans thought it could not be bad. After that, I will provide the passage from Lucretius’s epic poem that includes his reasons for thinking that death cannot be bad and will show how Lucretius’s passage has been regimented into the Symmetry Argument against the badness of death. Next, I will discuss the lasting influence of Lucretius’s argument, summarizing some common ways of responding. Finally, I will turn to two other passages from Lucretius’s poem, both of which suggest that it is actually good (both for us and for the world) that our lives come to an end, and I will conclude by considering the implications of Lucretius’s thought for political policy.

Download options


External links

  • This entry has no external links. Add one.
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library


Added to PP

56 (#206,734)

6 months
56 (#14,286)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

Taylor W. Cyr
Samford University

References found in this work

Reasons and Persons.Derek Parfit - 1984 - Oxford University Press.
Death.Thomas Nagel - 1970 - Noûs 4 (1):73-80.
Some Puzzles About the Evil of Death.Fred Feldman - 1991 - Philosophical Review 100 (2):205-227.
Why is Death Bad?Anthony L. Brueckner & John Martin Fischer - 1986 - Philosophical Studies 50 (2):213-221.
Immortality and Boredom.John Martin Fischer & Benjamin Mitchell-Yellin - 2014 - The Journal of Ethics 18 (4):353-372.

View all 11 references / Add more references

Citations of this work

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Brueckner and Fischer on the Evil of Death.Huiyuhl Yi - 2012 - Philosophia 40 (2):295-303.
Asymmetry and Incoherence: A Reply to Cyr.Jens Johansson - 2017 - The Journal of Ethics 21 (2):215-221.
Death and Nonexistence. [REVIEW]Neil Feit - forthcoming - Mind:fzaa044.
Death’s Badness and Time-Relativity: A Reply to Purves.Taylor Cyr - 2016 - The Journal of Ethics 20 (4):435-444.
Can Death Be a Harm to the Person Who Dies?W. Glannon - 2004 - Journal of Medical Ethics 30 (6):e3-e3.