LUCRETIUS - The Nature Of The Universe - BOOK III

November 2 2017


This is the most philosophical section of the book and the greatest homage to Epicurus. It should be noted that Lucretius sees the mind and the soul as two different things. The mind is a physical entity, while the soul is its essence.

“The mind is part of a man.”

The intellect needs a body, but not a healthy one. It is fixed in place, ‘harmony’ is not required.

“There is a vital spirit in our limbs.”

The body does not require sentience, there is a vital breath and heat in our limbs instead. (He appears to talk about muscles and their movement through the brain here.)

“Mind and spirit are interconnected.”

Lucretius believes that the ‘intellect’ or spirit sits in the heart (a common belief at the time), the mind, he says, is what controls the movements and impulses of the body.

“Mind and spirit are both composed of matter.”

Lucretius has a very easy reason for this assumption: The body reacts to things and reactions come from the mind, thus the mind must be made of matter.

“The mind is made of very fine texture and composed of minute particles.”

The mind comprehends quicker than events unfold. Clearly, Lucretius observes, that means that the mind is made of spherical atoms to work so quickly. His examples involve the observations of the fluidity of water and the viscosity of honey. He also concludes that the weight of the mind must be exceptionally light, for upon a person’s death, the mind cannot be weighed.

“The composition of the mind is three-fold. There is also a fourth element.”

Life = Warmth + Wind + Air + ‘Vital Spirit’

  • It is not entirely clear (to me) what the “vital spirit” represents to Lucretius. The closest guess is the soul, which is much harder to disrupt and damage than the body or the mind.

“How are the four components intermixed and where do their powers come from?”

Lucretius chickens out a little on this question. He concludes that it depends on the individual how much passion and rage (heat), fear (wind) or calm and steadiness (air) someone possesses.

“The vital spirit is present in the whole body.”

One needs a body and a mind to feel any sensation and both of those are intertwined with the soul. It appears that Lucretius is subscribing to a version of neutral monism here. There is only one kind of thing that makes all the other things (atoms). His idea that the vital spirit can be found all over the body, stems from the conclusion that its removal is fatal (or at least impossible). In current times, we might relate to this idea by thinking of an injured or disabled person being a “vegetable”. If a person suffers from a loss of bodily awareness, she or he will barely be considered much more than a “shell”.

“The atoms of the spirit are less in magnitude and number to those composing the flesh.”

It has already been said that our mind is quick in understanding events unfolding in our environment. Our body however, does not notice everything and thus the matter compromising our bodies must be denser and more numerous than that matter of our minds.

“The mind, more than the spirit keeps us alive.”

We are not spirited without a working mind.

“The minds and spirits of living things are neither birthless nor deathless.”

This assertion is a confusing one. It seems that he switches from a form of neutral monism to a form of anomalous monism. When the body dies, Lucretius asserts, the mind-spirit (which he now mentions are so intertwined that there must be regarded as one), dies. Thus the mind is the foundation of the body and the spirit is insparately connected to both.

“Death is nothing to us.”

Nothing will stir us upon death because our mind is mortal and so nothing needs to be feared. Lucretius takes a short but interesting detour here, by expressing his view that even if our bodies would be disassembled and reassembled there after, we need not worry for about our mind-spirit, because this too had been disassembled and consequently died. Our reassembled selves are new. It appears Lucretius ended up making an accidental contribution to the metaphysical problem of teleportation.

“All torments are not of hell but of the present.”

People are tormented all the time and to fear the torments of hell upon death is to create hell on earth. Upon death, there is nothing, thus nothing needs to be feared. Lucretius wisely realizes that to be afeared means to run away from oneself and that to accept that the reason for all fear and uncertainty is a fear of death, is to accept that life is finite and thus death need not to be feared at all.