Philosophic Resignation: Living beyond Hope and Fear
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The two accounts of the eternal and infinite that conclude Lucretius’s exposition of his materialist physics point toward the insignificance and impermanence of our world. Lucretius next brings this cosmic teaching to bear on the human soul in the central portion of the poem. More specifically, these two books reveal the reaction of the soul to the question and nature of the eternal. In the syllabus, we were told that what is most needed to live well is a n account of the composition of the mind and soul and an explanation of the images of the souls of the dead that terrify our minds when “laboring under disease, or buried in sleep” (I, 127–135). What Book I unites will be taken up separately in Books III and IV. Through an account of the material composition of the mind and soul, Book III seeks to free us of our fear of death, and by way of an account of the operations of our senses both physical and mental, Book IV explains why it is we believe we perceive that which cannot be. Liberation from the terror of the mind would therefore appear to require more than a material account of the soul. Such liberation will have to contend with the unwillingness of the reader to trust the senses and not be swayed by what Lucretius will call “the hazy additives of the mind” produced by our cares, fears, and hopes.
KeywordsHuman Soul Material Account Philosophic Life Unreasonable Expectation Bodily Pleasure
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- 2.See James Nichols, Epicurean Political Philosophy: The De Rerum Natura of Lucretius (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1976), 75.Google Scholar
- 3.Leo Strauss, Liberalism Ancient and Modern (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1989), 85.Google Scholar
- 6.Bailey, Lucretius: De Rerum Natura, vol. 2 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1947), 1038–1039.Google Scholar
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- David Furley, “Nothing to Us?” The Norms of Nature, ed. Schofield and Striker (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).Google Scholar
- 26.Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995), Vol. 2, 647.Google Scholar
- 34.Compare Aristotle, “Prophe sying By Dreams,” The Basic Works of Aristotle, ed. Richard McKeon (New York: Random House, 1941), 463a 22–32. Aristotle suggests that not only does our waking concern influence our dreams but in turn such dreams may then determine our waking interests and actions.Google Scholar
- See also Robert D. Brown, Lucretius on Love and Sex (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1987), 63.Google Scholar
- 39.Martha Nussbaum argues that Lucretius wishes to lead his reader beyond erotic frenzy where he may see his beloved more clearly and with genuine affection. Nussbaum argues that Lucretius is engaged in delivering to his readers erotic “therapy.” However, she claims that Lucretius ultimately has not seen his therapy through to its end as Lucretius has failed to see the beauty in our neediness and vulnerability; “In other words, Lucretius fails to ask whether there might not be intense excitement and beauty precisely in being needy and vulnerable before a person one loves.” How far this notion is from Lucretius will be made apparent in what follows. It is not that Lucretius fails to see what Nussbaum accuses him of: the account is largely a warning against what Nussbaum contends is beautiful. Our vulnerability and neediness are not, for Lucretius, a cause for celebration. See Martha Nussbaum, The Therapy of Desire (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994), 190.Google Scholar
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- See also Victor Brochard, “The Theory of Pleasure According to Epicurus,” Interpretation 37, no. 1 (Fall 2009): 81.Google Scholar