Eternal oblivion

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In philosophy and religion, the concept of an eternal oblivion refers for the most part to a state of permanent unconsciousness "existing" after the death of a organism, but also to the philosophical concept and/or the belief that death itself is a complete cessation of consciousness, rather than a continuation of it which is often described by the term "afterlife”.

The belief in oblivion after death is often associated with atheism.[1]


The English word oblivion (late 14c.) comes from the Old French oblivion (13c.) and directly from the Latin oblivionem, meaning “forgetfulness; a being forgotten”, which also comes from the word oblivisci (“to forget”).[2] Oblivion itself means "state of being forgotten".


Thomas W. Clark, the founder and director of the non-profit Center for Naturalism and the creator of the Naturalism.Org website has released a paper titled “Death, Nothingness, and Subjectivity”[3] in which he criticised the widespread misunderstanding of death as a “plunge into oblivion”. The point being that people when imagining their death have the tendency to project their self in a future experience where they are imagining nothingness or oblivion as a silent eternal darkness – which is according to Clark wrong, because unconsciousness entails the absence of consciousness and thus there is no self or conscious subject after death, and as a result there is no awareness of space and its contents and no awareness of the passage of time.

In philosophy[edit]

In the Apology of Socrates (written by Plato), after Socrates is sentenced to death, he addresses the court. He ponders on the nature of death, and summarizes that there are basically two opinions about it. The first is that it is a migration of the soul or consciousness from this existence into another, and that the souls of all previously deceased people will also be there. This excites Socrates, because he will be able to conduct his dialectic inquiries with all of the great heroes and thinkers of the past. The other opinion about death is that it is oblivion, the complete cessation of consciousness, not only unable to feel but a complete lack of awareness, like a man in a deep, dreamless sleep. Socrates says that even this oblivion does not frighten him very much, because while he would be unaware, he would correspondingly be free from any pain or suffering. Indeed, Socrates asks, not even the great King of Persia could say that he ever rested so soundly and peacefully as he did in a dreamless sleep.

Cicero, writing some four centuries later, in his treatise On Old Age similarly discussed the prospects of death (frequently referring to the works of earlier Greek writers). Cicero also concluded that death was either a continuation of consciousness or cessation of it, and that if consciousness continues in some form there is no reason to fear death, while if it is in fact eternal oblivion, he will be free of all worldly miseries, in which case he should also not be deeply troubled by death.

Similar thoughts about death were expressed by the Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius in his first-century BC didactic poem de rerum natura and by the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus in his Letter to Menoeceus, where he writes, "Accustom yourself to believing that death is nothing to us, for good and evil imply the capacity for sensation, and death is the privation of all sentience; therefore a correct understanding that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, not by adding to life a limitless time, but by taking away the yearning after immortality. For life has no terrors for him who has thoroughly understood that there are no terrors for him in ceasing to live. Foolish, therefore, is the man who says that he fears death, not because it will pain when it comes, but because it pains in the prospect. Whatever causes no annoyance when it is present, causes only a groundless pain in the expectation. Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not. It is nothing, then, either to the living or to the dead, for with the living it is not and the dead exist no longer."[4][5]

See also[edit]