23 Philosophical Quotes on Death (With References)

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This page contains a collection of philosophical quotes on death, arranged in roughly chronological order. These quotes are all genuine and details about the author, book, chapter number, and translation are included where applicable. Quotes that begin with a section of bold text are my personal favourites. Without further ado, here are 23 philosophical quotes on death:

Fear of death is indeed the pretence of wisdom, and not real wisdom, being a pretence of knowing the unknown; and no one knows whether death, which men in their fear apprehend to be the greatest evil, may not be the greatest good.

– Socrates as quoted in Plato, Apology, 28B, trans. Benjamin Jowett

The difficulty, my friends, is not to avoid death, but to avoid unrighteousness; for that runs faster than death.

– Socrates as quoted in Plato, Apology, 39A, trans. Benjamin Jowett

There is great reason to hope that death is a good; for one of two things—either death is a state of nothingness and utter unconsciousness, or, as men say, there is a change and migration of the soul from this world to another. Now if you suppose that there is no consciousness, but a sleep like the sleep of him who is undisturbed even by dreams, death will be an unspeakable gain. For if a person were to select the night in which his sleep was undisturbed even by dreams, and were to compare with this the other days and nights of his life, and then were to tell us how many days and nights he had passed in the course of his life better and more pleasantly than this one, I think that any man, I will not say a private man, but even the great king will not find many such days or nights, when compared with the others. Now if death be of such a nature, I say that to die is gain; for eternity is then only a single night. But if death is the journey to another place, and there, as men say, all the dead abide, what good, O my friends and judges, can be greater than this? . . . What would not a man give if he might converse with Orpheus and Musaeus and Hesiod and Homer? . . . What infinite delight would there be in conversing with them and asking them questions! In another world they do not put a man to death for asking questions: assuredly not. For besides being happier than we are, they will be immortal, if what is said is true.

Wherefore, O judges, be of good cheer about death, and know of a certainty, that no evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death.

– Socrates as quoted in Plato, Apology, 42B, trans. Benjamin Jowett

Now death is the most terrible of all things; for it is the end, and nothing is thought to be any longer either good or bad for the dead.

– Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1115a27, trans. W. D. Ross

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.

– Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus, trans. Robert Drew Hicks

When the body has died, we must admit that the soul has perished, wrenched away throughout the body. To link forsooth a mortal thing with an everlasting and suppose that they can have sense in common and can be reciprocally acted upon, is sheer folly; for what can be conceived more incongruous, more discordant and inconsistent with itself, than a thing which is mortal, linked with an immortal and everlasting thing, trying in such union to weather furious storms?

– Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, III, trans. H. A. J. Munro

The whole life of a philosopher is . . . a meditation on death.

– Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, I, 30, trans. C. D. Yonge

Away, then, with those follies, which are little better than the old women’s dreams, such as that it is miserable to die before our time. What time do you mean? That of nature? But she has only lent you life, as she might lend you money, without fixing any certain time for its repayment. Have you any grounds of complaint, then, that she recalls it at her pleasure?

– Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, I, 30, trans. C. D. Yonge

What is death? Either a transition or an end. I am not afraid of coming to an end, this being the same as never having begun, nor of transition, for I shall never be in confinement quite so cramped anywhere else as I am here.

– Seneca, Letters from a Stoic, 65, trans. Robin Campbell

As it is with a play, so it is with life – what matters is not how long the acting lasts, but how good it is. It is not important at what point you stop. Stop wherever you will – only make sure that you round it off with a good ending.

– Seneca, Letters from a Stoic, 77, trans. Robin Campbell

Always observe how ephemeral and worthless human things are, and what was yesterday a little mucus to-morrow will be a mummy or ashes. Pass then through this little space of time conformably to nature, and end thy journey in content, just as an olive falls off when it is ripe, blessing nature who produced it, and thanking the tree on which it grew.

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, IV, 48, trans. George Long

It is uncertain where death awaits us; let us await it everywhere. Premeditation of death is premeditation of freedom. He who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave. Knowing how to die frees us from all subjection and constraint. There is nothing evil in life for the man who has thoroughly grasped the fact that to be deprived of life is not an evil.

– Michel de Montaigne, Essays, I, 20, That to Philosophize, trans. Donald Frame

What does it matter when it comes, since it is inevitable? To the man who told Socrates, “The thirty tyrants have condemned you to death.” he replied: “And nature them.”

– Michel de Montaigne, Essays, I, 20, That to Philosophize, trans. Donald Frame

Nature forces us to it. Go out of this world she says, as you entered it. The same passage that you made from death to life, without feeling or fright, make it again from life to death. Your death is a part of the order of the universe; it is a part of the life of the world.

– Michel de Montaigne, Essays, I, 20, That to Philosophize, trans. Donald Frame

Men fear death, as children fear to go in the dark; and as that natural fear in children, is increased with tales, so is the other.

– Francis Bacon, Of Death

As men are not able to fight against death, misery, ignorance, they have taken it into their heads, in order to be happy, not to think of them at all.

Despite these miseries, man wishes to be happy, and only wishes to be happy, and cannot wish not to be so. But how will he set about it? To be happy he would have to make himself immortal; but, not being able to do so, it has occurred to him to prevent himself from thinking of death.

– Blaise Pascal, Pensées, II, 168-169, trans. W. F. Trotter

We are fools to depend upon the society of our fellow-men. Wretched as we are, powerless as we are, they will not aid us; we shall die alone.

– Blaise Pascal, Pensées, III, 211, trans. W. F. Trotter

It matters not how a man dies, but how he lives. The act of dying is not of importance, it lasts so short a time.

– Samuel Johnson as quoted in Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson

If we were immortal we should all be miserable; no doubt it is hard to die, but it is sweet to think that we shall not live for ever, and that a better life will put an end to the sorrows of this world. If we had the offer of immortality here below, who would accept the sorrowful gift?

– Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, II, trans. Barbara Foxley

He who pretends to face death without fright, lies. Every man fears death; that is the great law of sensible beings, without which every mortal species would soon be destroyed.

– Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Julie, Or, The New Heloise, trans. Philip Stewart and Jean Vaché

Memento mori—remember death! These are important words. If we kept in mind that we will soon inevitably die, our lives would be completely different. If a person knows that he will die in a half hour, he certainly will not bother doing trivial, stupid, or, especially, bad things during this half hour. Perhaps you have half a century before you die—what makes this any different from a half hour?

– Leo Tolstoy, The Path of Life, trans. Maureen Cote

Our own death is indeed unimaginable, and whenever we make the attempt to imagine it we can perceive that we really survive as spectators. Hence the psychoanalytic school could venture on the assertion that at bottom no one believes in his own death, or to put the same thing in another way, in the unconscious every one of us is convinced of his own immortality.

– Sigmund Freud, Thoughts on War and Death, trans. E. Colburn Mayne

Immortality, or a state without death, would be meaningless, I shall suggest; so, in a sense, death gives meaning to life.

– Bernard Williams, ‘The Makropulos Case’, Problems of the Self

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