Lucretius Today Podcast Episode 46 – Conclusion of the Argument that the Mind and Soul Cannot Survive Death

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Welcome to Episode Forty-Six of Lucretius Today. I am your host Cassius, and together with my panelists from the forum, we’ll walk you through the six books of Lucretius’ poem, and discuss how Epicurean philosophy can apply to you today. Be aware that none of us are professional philosophers, and everyone here is a self-taught Epicurean. We encourage you to study Epicurus for yourself, and we suggest the best place to start is the book, “Epicurus and His Philosophy” by Canadian professor Norman DeWitt.

For anyone who is not familiar with our podcast, please check back to Episode One for a discussion of our goals and our ground rules. If you have any question about that, please be sure to contact us at for more information. In today’s episode, we will cover roughly lines 741- 829 from the latin text, and the topic will be the conclusion of our argument that the mind and soul cannot survive death.

Browne 1743:

Besides, why does fierce rage affect the sullen breed of lions? Why is craft derived to the fox, and flight to stags, from their sires, and paternal fear give wings to all their limbs? Whence comes other passions of this kind? Why do they belong to all creatures from their tender age, and seem born with them, if the peculiar powers of the soul were not produced from peculiar seeds in ever particular kind, and did not grow up together with the whole body? But were the soul immortal and used to change her body, creatures would be strangely confused in their dispositions and qualities; the fierce dog of Hircanian breed would fly the attack of the horned stag, and the fearful hawk would tremble in the air at the approach of a dove; men would be void of reason like brutes, and the savage race of beasts might become philosophers. But what is said in this case is supported by false reasoning, that the immortal soul is changed according to the different body it is united with, for what is changed is dissolved, and therefore dies, the parts are transposed, and vary in their situation. It follows therefore that the principles of it may be dissolved through the limbs, and may all perish together with the body. But they cry that the souls always pass into bodies of the same kind, the souls of men into the bodies of men. Then I would ask why a soul from being wise should become a fool, and a child is not made a privy counselor? And why a young colt has not the paces of a full-grown horse? If the peculiar powers of the soul were not produced from peculiar seeds in every particular kind, and did they not grow up together with the whole body? They’ll say perhaps that the mind becomes equally weak in a tender body; if so, they must allow the soul to be mortal because, when infused into the body it is so much changed it loses the life and sense it enjoyed before. And why should the powers of the soul desire passionately to grow and attain to a full maturity of age together with the body if it were not a companion with it from the very beginning? And why is she fond of flying away out of old decaying limbs? Is she afraid of being confined a close prisoner in a rotten body, and lest her old tabernacle, worn out by time and age, should all and crush her to pieces? But no danger can affect a nature that is immortal.

Besides, it is ridiculous to suppose that a flock of souls are ready hovering about, whilst brutes are in the act of lust, and drop their young, that they, immortal as they are, should attend upon perishing bodies, in troops without number, hurrying and coming to blows as it were, which first should get possession and enter in; unless perhaps they rather choose to agree among themselves that the first come should be first served, and there should be no further dispute about it.

Again, there are no trees in the sky, no clouds can be in the deep sea, nor can fish live in the fields, nor can there be blood in wood nor moisture in stones. It is fixed and established where every thing should grow and subsist. The soul therefore cannot come into being alone without the body, nor can she exist separately without the nerves and the blood; if this could be, the powers of the soul you would rather feel sometimes in the head or shoulders, or even in the very bottom of the feet, or in any other part of the body, and so you would perceive it diffusing itself through the whole body, as water poured into a vessel first covers one part, then spreads over the whole. Since therefore there is a proper and determinate place in this body of ours for the mind and soul distinctly to be and increase in, we have the more reason to deny that they can continue or be born without it; and consequently when the body dies, the soul, diffused through the whole body, must be allowed to die likewise. And then to join a mortal nature to an immortal, and to think that they can agree together, and mutually unite in their operations, is folly and nonsense. For what can be conceived more absurd, what can be more impracticable in itself, more disagreeing to reason, than a mortal nature joined to one eternal and immortal, and so united as to be liable to all the pains and distresses of human life?

Besides, whatever is immortal must be so either because it is solid, and cannot be affected by blows, so that nothing can pierce it, and break through the close union of its parts (such are the first seeds of matter, as we proved before) or it is eternal, and lasts forever, because it is free from stroke, as a void is, which is not liable to touch, nor affected by the force of blows; or lastly, because there is no space any way about it into which its broken parts can be dispersed, (in this sense the universe is eternal; beyond which there is no place where its parts may retire, nor any bodies to fall upon it, and dissolve and break it to pieces by mighty blows from without). But, as I said, the nature of the mind is not solid, because there is empty space in all compound beings; nor yet is it a void, nor are there wanting bodies forever beating upon it from without, and driving the whole frame of this mind by impetuous force into utter dissolution, or to distress it any other way with extremest danger; nor is there any want of place or space where the seeds of the soul may be dispersed, or where they may be dissolved by any violence whatsoever. The gate of death therefore is not barred against the soul.

But if you think she may rather be pronounced immortal, because she is placed secure from things that may destroy her being, or that things opposite to her safety never come out of her, or if they do, they are diverted by some cause before you perceive they have done her any signal injury, this is a great mistake, and far from the truth. For, not to mention how she sickens with the diseases of the body, how something happens that torments her about future events, how she is disordered by fear, and vexed by cares, and how the conscience of crimes past, many years ago, pierces her through; consider the peculiar distraction that affects the mind, how she forgets everything, and is overwhelmed by the black waves of a lethargy.