Cupidine Caeci: The Ethics of Perception in Lucretius' De rerum natura IV
This thesis seeks to find a unity in the fourth book of Lucretius’ De rerum natura by considering the relationship between the book’s exposition of the Epicurean perceptual doctrine of simulacra and its concluding indictment of love and sexual desire. I suggest that for Lucretius there is a key reciprocal relationship between accurate perception and ethical disposition. While Lucretius’ physical doctrine in general seems to support his governing ethical project of cultivating tranquility, in Book 4 ethics and physics support each other: mental tranquility requires accurate vision, and accurate vision requires mental tranquility. This relationship is based on Lucretius’ theory of the mind’s interaction with images, which is dynamic rather than static. As such, this interaction depends on a belief in the continuity of nature between perceiving subject and perceived object. In order for the mind to recognize this continuity, it must be ethically disposed to not succumb to the perceptual barriers of fear and desire. In order to perceive properly, the habit of the mind must be trained to pay attention. Without a habit of attention, the mind will be prey to the perceptual delusion that both results in and grows out of irrational fears and desires.