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Facing Death: Epicurus and His Critics [Hardcover]

James Warren
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

17 Jun 2004 0199252890 978-0199252893
The ancient philosophical school of Epicureanism tried to argue that death is 'nothing to us'. Were they right? James Warren provides a comprehensive study and articulation of the interlocking arguments against the fear of death found not only in the writings of Epicurus himself, but also in Lucretius' poem De rerum natura and in Philodemus' work De morte. These arguments are central to the Epicurean project of providing ataraxia (freedom from anxiety) and therefore central to an understanding of Epicureanism as a whole. They also offer significant resources for modern discussions of the value of death - one which stands at the intersection of metaphysics and ethics. If death is the end of the subject, and the subject can not be benefited nor harmed after death, is it reasonable nevertheless to fear the ceasing-to-be? If the Epicureans are not right to claim that the dead can neither be benefited nor harmed, what alternative models might be offered for understanding the harm done by death and do these alternatives suffer from any further difficulties? The discussion involves consideration of both ethical and metaphysical topics since it requires analysis not only of the nature of a good life but also the nature of personal identity and time. A number of modern philosophers have offered criticisms or defences of the Epicureans' views. Warren explores and evaluates these in the light of a systematic and detailed study of the precise form and intention of the Epicureans' original arguments.
Warren argues that the Epicureans also were interested in showing that mortality is not to be regretted and that premature death is not to be feared. Their arguments for these conclusions are to be found in their positive conception of the nature of a good and complete life, which divorce the completeness of a life as far as possible from considerations of its duration. Later chapters investigate the nature of a life lived without the fear of death and pose serious problems for the Epicureans being able to allow any concern for the post mortem future and being able to offer a positive reason for prolonging a life which is already complete in their terms.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 252 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (17 Jun 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199252890
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199252893
  • Product Dimensions: 22.1 x 16.4 x 1.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,515,323 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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This is an impressive book, blending scholarly resource with sharp discussion, always to the point, always leaving the reader more informed...A must...His conclusion is superb in its precision, and he leaves us with the thought that Epicureanism is no 'quick fix', that, as Antiochus must work on the rational therapy offered by his philosophical counsellor in order to pass the message to his soul, so must we all - a better text for philosophical counselling surely could not be found. (Gerald Rochelle, Practical Philosophy)

...lucidly written... (Y. Michael Barilan, Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics)

This is a very fine book. It blends historical and textual analysis with philosophical discussion in a seamless, illuminating way ... The book is written in a sophisticated and yet clear, uncluttered, and even elegant way. It is thus of potential interest to a wider audience of thoughtful and reflective people interested in this fascinating set of issues. (John Martin Fischer, The Classical Review)

...those who dedicate their research and teaching to questions at the end of life would be well served by this book. (Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics, vol. 28)

This book is what Epicureans and their critics, both hostile and sympathetic, have been waiting for. It is rare, indeed, to find a work that shows both a solid grasp of ancient texts, their proper philological interpretation and appreciation, and is at the same time clearly cognizant of the contemporary philosophical debates on the issues originally raised by our Greek sources. This is such a book and its publication will prove to be a milestone. (Lawrence Jost, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews)

Readers of [Warren's] book will probably not be converted to fully-fledged Epicureanism, but they will find themselves in excellent philosophical company and stimulated to look at death, and therefore life, with fresh eyes. All in all, James Warren has written a scholarly monograph that admirably transcends the normal limitations of that genre. (A. A. Long, Times Literary Supplement)

[Warren] is the first writer to provide a comprehensive analysis of Epicurean reflections on death, with full reference both to their original contexts and to their ethical and metaphysical underpinnings. (A. A. Long, Times Literary Supplement)

Warren offers a sophisticated, nuanced and highly persuasive defense of the Epicurean position that "death is nothing to us". [An] excellent book (James Stacey Taylor, Ethic Theory Moral Practice)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars misses the point 10 Dec 2010
By sanyata
while i dont have anything bad to say about the book per se, the author tries to pull epicuruses arguments through the device of formal logic. the results are not always pretty and such menandering would probably have annoyed epiricurus himself. also, the style is somewhat disjointed
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Facing My Brother's Death 26 Aug 2007
By Sheri Swaner - Published on Amazon.com
My brother, Scott Swaner, was a Professor at the Univ. of Washington, Seattle when he was diagnosed
with terminal Pancreatic Cancer. He was only 38 years old and other than teaching, he devoured philsophy,
wrote poetry, translated Korean literature and poetry and was waiting for his first novel to be published.
He was living a determined and purposeful life.
The shock of the diagnosis, left him befuddled, but he continued to study and write as he always had.
This book-- Facing Death by James Warren, is one of only three books that Scott read, and recommended
for anyone facing their own mortality.
Scott encouraged each and all of his family members and friends to get a copy and read along with him
as he continued to try and make sense of the senseless.
It helped us.
It helped Scott. I will forever be indebted to Mr. Warren for his words and thoughts.
The Book: Facing Death-- helped save my brothers life, even as he was dying.
Scott died December 20, 2006. Only nine months after his diagnosis and three weeks shy of his 39th
We completely recommend this book, for anyone faced with the same situation--
and for anyone who wants to broaden and expand their mind.
Sheri Swaner
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great investigation of Epicurianism, but a bit boring 16 May 2005
A Kid's Review - Published on Amazon.com
Maybe you stumbled on a description of Epicurus' philosophy and were attracted to it, like I was. A review in Skeptic magazine included a quote:

"God should not concern us.

Death is not to be feared.

What is good is easy to obtain.

What is bad is easily avoided."

A nice perspective to have, as the modern world becomes more and more hedonistic, and God seems more and more out of the picture.

I read Warren's book a couple months ago, so please forgive my fuzziness. The first section is very engaging--a wonderful philosopher's breakdown of the conflicts and claims Epicureanism. In particular, it enumerates the many fears one can have regarding death. My purpose, as yours may be, in reading this book was to see how Epicurus claims to deal with these. This first section promised an investigation into these fears (and true enough, the book delivered).

The second section is on the symmetry argument (not existing before birth doesn't bother us, neither should absence after death). This is an interesting argument, but is not convincing (he agrees, and reserves some criticisms for later). However, it is definitely much too long--I almost wish I'd skipped it.

The rest of the book analyzes some other objections to Epicurianism, from the fear of mortality to the unsustainability of their perfect life (nutshell: at every moment you are satisfied with having lived your life. How can you justify preserving it?).

In fact my only objection to his arguments is in the Epicurean Will section (why write a will if you have no care what happens after your death?). It seems obvious to me that you might write a will to appease and comfort those around you (your grandson might be less nice to you in life if you didn't promise to give him your house when you died; thus you'd be more unhappy.)

In the later parts of the book, he digs deeper into the primary texts of the early practicers, trying to get a handle on what Epicurus taught. I was a little disappointed (slightly uplifted later, at the conclusion) that less time was spent analyzing the viability of these teachings--at this point it became too historical for my taste.

The book is obsessively footnoted, so many of the issues he raises (not only with historical interpretations, but also in viability) can be further explored in literature (some online, some not). Many point to dry topics, but undoubtedly some address my objections.

To tell the truth, in the end I was uninterested in a lot of the conclusions. I'd realized that at least one of my particular major objections were not going to be addressed. Still, I think that alot of the issues, examples, and counterpoints he makes are very illuminating. I have benefitted from reading this book, and as soon as I can get around to it, plan to look up some more argumentative modern defenses of Epicurianism.
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