Chapter 5 – Fear and Confidence

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To turn next to Fear, what follows will show 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 but 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.

From this definition it will follow that fear is caused by whatever we feel has great power of destroying 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; 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.
  • Also fear felt by those who have the power to do something to us, since such persons are sure to be ready to do it.
  • And since most men tend to be bad — slaves to greed, and cowards in danger — it is, as a rule, a terrible thing to be at another man’s mercy; and therefore, if we have done anything horrible, those in the secret terrify us with the thought that they may betray or desert us.
  • And those who can do us wrong are terrible to us when we are liable to be wronged; for as a rule men do wrong to others whenever they have the power to do it.
  • And those who have been wronged, or believe themselves to be wronged, are terrible; for they are always looking out for their opportunity.
  • Also those who have done people wrong, if they possess power, since they stand in fear of retaliation: we have already said that wickedness possessing power is terrible.
  • Again, our rivals for a thing cause us fear when we cannot both have it at once; for we are always at war with such men.
  • We also fear those who are to be feared by stronger people than ourselves: if they can hurt those stronger people, still more can they hurt us; and, for the same reason, we fear those whom those stronger people are actually afraid of.
  • Also those who have destroyed people stronger than we are.
  • Also those who are attacking people weaker than we are: either they are already formidable, or they will be so when they have thus grown stronger.
  • Of those we have wronged, and of our enemies or rivals, it is not the passionate and outspoken whom we have to fear, but the quiet, dissembling, unscrupulous; since we never know when they are upon us, we can never be sure they are at a safe distance.
  • All terrible things are more terrible if they give us no chance of retrieving a blunder — either no chance at all, or only one that depends on our enemies and not ourselves.
  • Those things are also worse which we cannot, or cannot easily, help. Speaking generally, anything causes us to feel fear that when it happens to, or threatens, others cause us to feel pity.

The above are, roughly, the chief things that are terrible and are feared. Let us now describe the conditions under which we ourselves feel fear. If fear is associated with the expectation that something destructive will happen to us, plainly nobody will be afraid who believes nothing can happen to him; we shall not fear things that we believe cannot happen to us, nor people who we believe cannot inflict them upon us; nor shall we be afraid at times when we think ourselves safe from them.

It follows therefore that fear is felt by those who believe something to be likely to happen to them, at the hands of particular persons, in a particular form, and at a particular time.  People do not believe this when they are, or think they a are, in the midst of great prosperity, and are in consequence insolent, contemptuous, and reckless — the kind of character produced by wealth, physical strength, abundance of friends, power: nor yet when they feel they have experienced every kind of horror already and have grown callous about the future, like men who are being flogged and are already nearly dead — if they are to feel the anguish of uncertainty, there must be some faint expectation of escape. This appears from the fact that fear sets us thinking what can be done, which of course nobody does when things are hopeless.

Consequently, when it is advisable that the audience should be frightened, the orator must make them feel that they really are in danger of something, pointing out that it has happened to others who were stronger than they are, and is happening, or has happened, to people like themselves, at the hands of unexpected people, in an unexpected form, and at an unexpected time.

Confidence

Having now seen the nature of fear, and of the things that cause it, and the various states of mind in which it is felt, we can also see what Confidence is, about what things we feel it, and under what conditions. It is the opposite of fear, and what causes it is the opposite of what causes fear; it is, therefore, the expectation associated with a mental picture of the nearness of what keeps us safe and the absence or remoteness of what is terrible: it may be due either to the near presence of what inspires confidence or to the absence of what causes alarm. We feel it if we can take steps — many, or important, or both — to cure or prevent trouble; if we have neither wronged others nor been wronged by them; if we have either no rivals at all or no strong ones; if our rivals who are strong are our friends or have treated us well or been treated well by us; or if those whose interest is the same as ours are the more numerous party, or the stronger, or both.

As for our own state of mind, we feel confidence if:

  • We believe we have often succeeded and never suffered reverses, or have often met danger and escaped it safely. For there are two reasons why human beings face danger calmly: they may have no experience of it, or they may have means to deal with it: thus when in danger at sea people may feel confident about what will happen either because they have no experience of bad weather, or because their experience gives them the means of dealing with it.
  • We also feel confident whenever there is nothing to terrify other people like ourselves, or people weaker than ourselves, or people than whom we believe ourselves to be stronger — and we believe this if we have conquered them, or conquered others who are as strong as they are, or stronger.
  • Also if we believe ourselves superior to our rivals in the number and importance of the advantages that make men formidable — wealth, physical strength, strong bodies of supporters, extensive territory, and the possession of all, or the most important, appliances of war.
  • Also if we have wronged no one, or not many, or not those of whom we are afraid; and generally, if our relations with the gods are satisfactory, as will be shown especially by signs and oracles.
  • The fact is that anger makes us confident — that anger is excited by our knowledge that we are not the wrongers but the wronged, and that the divine power is always supposed to be on the side of the wronged.
  • Also when, at the outset of an enterprise, we believe that we cannot and shall not fail, or that we shall succeed completely.

— So much for the causes of fear and confidence.

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Published on June 26, 2009 at 5:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

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