Monthly Archives: June 2017

Aristotle On Fear

Without revisiting the last couple blog posts, I know it has been a while since, well, the last post. There has been intense busy-ness (related to business) for almost 2 years now. But this evening a sort of settling down has begun, a getting the house in order, and a time for listening to conversation of others. Adam Smith likened it to appreciation and empathy. It also calls for a return to the grand stretch of human endeavors through decades, centuries, and millennia.

In regards to the settling back down, I have relocated book piles from a rented to an owned space. The book piles span range and time throughout the planet. From the 20th century there is Albert Einstein’s Ideas and Opinions, and from the 21st Gary Shteyngart’s Little Failure: A Memoir. On my lap, in front of me, is a translated volume of The Rhetoric and Poetics of Aristotle. It’s the Modern Library College edition, with the introduction by Edward P.J. Corbett.

In this translation, I flipped through all the pages many years ago I dog-eared. Which also leads to pages I had notation on: I think it was in 1999-2000 that I decided it was more than okay to scribble and add to the text of books. My philosophy went something along the lines of, “Stop with the book fetish. Write in and mark them up. It only adds to the text. That’s a good thing.”

With this work of Aristotle, I flipped to page 103, where he begins with the subsegment of Fear. This is Aristotle’s Book II, Chapter 4. With Fear, he says,

To turn next to Fear, what follows will show the things and persons of which, and the states of mind in which, we feel afraid. Fear may be defined as a pain or disturbance due to a mental picture of some destructive or painful evil in the future. Of destructive or painful evils only; for there are some evils, e.g. wickedness or stupidity, the prospect of which does not frighten us: I mean only such as amount to great pains or losses. And even these only if they appear not remote bus so near as to be imminent: we do not fear things that are a very long way off: for instance, we all know we shall die, but we are not troubled thereby, because death is not close at hand…

…fear is caused by whatever we feel has great power of destroying us, or of harming us in ways that tend to cause us great pain. Hence the very indications of such things are terrible, making us feel that the terrible thing itself is close at hand. (it was at this point that our kitten, Leonard the Lionheart [he’s just over 2 months new to the planet], planted himself between my chest and stomach; Leonard is now purring; I’ll do my best to continue typing) …the approach of what is terrible is just what we mean by ‘danger’. Such indications are the enmity and anger of people who have power to do something to us; for it is plain that they have the will to do it, and so they are on the point of doing it. Also injustice in possession of power; for it is the unjust man’s will to do evil that makes him unjust. Also outraged virtue in possession of power; for it is plain that, when outraged, it always has the will to retaliate, and now it has the power to do so. 

And here is a section that, whenever I read it last, I underlined the following sentence:

And fear felt by those who have the power to do something to us, since such persons are sure to be ready to do it. 

So these remain a few of Aristotle’s thoughts on fear. The old chap, Aristotle, had perspective, both in the micro and macro. It soothes the brain to read this sort of stuff. One kind of thinks that George Lucas channeled the stuff of Aristotle here when conceiving and drafting the character Yoda. Or at least I do on this end. It’s late. I’m tired. Good evening to you.