Figure 1  Philosophical Treatments of Fear (Historically in the Western World) 



-R. Michael Fisher, Ph.D.

Every philosopher, theorist, practitioner in any field of inquiry and endeavor ought to eventually come to a time in their life and career where they re-evaluate their work. This year has been a good one for me as a fear critic to assess what has been happening since I joined the stream of thought throughout time that has investigated "fear." I am feeling like there's a big transition, a growing doubt of some of my premises, and a suspicion that my fearwork may have 'taken a wrong turn.' The longer story is yet to be written. But I at least here in this blog want to offer Figure 1 as a preview of my mapping the historical moves and movements of various philosophers that I believe are quite important to Fear Studies in general. The main aspect of Figure 1 shows the "Positivization" of agendas of various thinkers and their movements as they worked to make the concept and experience of "fear" more positive than was the case for the majority (of their times). They all, more or less believe (and rightly) that "fear" has too often been given a negative valuation over it being positive in humanity and Nature. Although, since 1989, I have been aware of this positivization in various discourses on fear, I was never quite taken-up into the enthusiasm of the positivization movement in Fear Studies. Now, I am re-evaluating that choice on my part? My motivation? My insistance that there was a skewing of reality by this positivization, of which I wrote many critiques of what I called the "fear-positivists" (and/or "fear-positivism"), was maybe a good track to take philosophically but in 2022 I am starting to really wonder if my choice was a good one. 

Therefore in Figure 1 you can see that I have put the "Fisherian" camp of fearwork outside of the main field of positivization of fear camp. You probably know that I chose "fearlessness" as the core strength for my study of fear ('fear') and fearlessness. The others in Figure 1, all whom I respect (and other writers are not shown just to keep this diagram less complicated), are distinct in their working with the fear-fearlessness relationship. To be clear, most all of the fear-positivists are anti-fearlessness (except Subba and some of his followers, and except Four Arrows). The main reason for my re-evaluation at this time is that I have re-discovered the work of Sam Gillian Jr.(1939-2016) in recent months and have begun a serious study of his unique Beckerian and Black existentialism that leads into his philosophy and fear-pedagogy--all of which I believe is so uniquely constructed that it deserves the categorization of Gillianism of Fear. Gillian was not aware of the liberalism of fear and fearism of fear and other writers in the list above, but he was aware of existentialism in general and especially he was influenced by Ernest Becker's work. The latter, I greatly admire and have been studying off and on since the early 1980s before I even began the In Search of Fearlessness Project (1989-). 

I've been reflecting on my own path of fearlessness approach to fear. I have made various philosophical moves and created methodological approaches (e.g., fearanalysis) to accomodate my interest to camp more in the fear-negativist discourse but with a good deal of revision of those discourses that come from history. By no means, was I conforming to only making fear negative--yet, I was compelled to construct 'fear' as a postmodern concept, and situate Fear Studies within a "culture of fear" (and/or 'Fear' Matrix) and thus fearlessness as the main approach gave me a decided edge of negativity towards fear and knowledges constructed on fear. I also felt I was somewhat fear-positive and still do, but lately and with the work of Gillian, my critiques have turned on my own work. I do not believe my trajectory has been very effective, and there is a lot of evidence since 1989 to prove to me my work has faltered in having any real impact out there in the world, in the field of Education or anywhere else. The Fearlessness Movement (and this ning under that name) have been luke-warm to non-existent in real impacts and growth of a powerful modeling of fear mangement/education and/or of liberation in general. It's been a sobering reality of watching this non-productivity of my fearlessness-oriented fearwork. I am seeing that fear-negativity still is strong in my work and that must change to be more effective. Gillian especially has argued persuasively that a truly simple and productive fear management begins with fear-positivity and of course, many others have said this too (see Figure 1). Yet, for various reasons, it was the combination of Ernest Becker's philosophy and Terror Management Theory that arose from it; and then the application of the philosophy and pedagogy of Gillian (a Beckerian) that really made the difference. [see the prior FM blog on Samuel N. Gillian for more background]. 

Basically, the fear-positivism camp offers (likely) 'the best' treatment of fear philosophically, theoretically and practically--for where the "populus" and society as a whole is at. My own work is 20 yrs. ahead (i.e., 'out there' in the stratosphere)--and, I have to admit not very useful at the moment. In the end, I envision a more productive fear management education for the world that the fear-positivists will lead, and I can help serve that movement as well but I will always have my biases--and, perhaps, my fearlessness work will in some way hold a larger perspective for all the good of the fear-positivists; perhaps, my work will keep the fear-posiitivists from falling into traps of their own ideology and shadow(?) I can only speculate, my work has been in an important fear-negative camp for a reason and it is not just some personal fettish but only history will "test" that. I really don't know. What I do know is that there is still a good deal of synthesis required, and good critical analysis, to make the fear-positive camp stronger and more effective. And, really there is not a lot of time to waste for this to happen. If I can help out, do let me know. 

I'll leave this introductory confession right here... for discussion, if anyone is interested. There is a whole course I could teach on Figure 1--that would be a fantastic addition to Fear Studies and fearology, etc. Maybe some day, if there is interest. P.S. the International Journal of Fear Studies is homeless right now, but I am working closely with some colleagues (especially, Rayson K. Alex) to re-locate and re-structure the journal (it may be a year or two down the road before it is operating again).


To be sure there are sub-branches of philosophies and thinkers not mentioned in Figure 1, for example, a fascinating movement by Sijin Yan (et al.) on a Levinasianism of Fear and Four Arrows (Wahinkpe Topa) and an Indigenism of Fear, Libertarianism of Fear (Frank Furedi) all could easily be added; and, I suspect there are others I am missing too; note also there are Asian and African variant branches of Fearism of Fear (spurred on by Desh Subba but also some quite independent streams of thought). Also, missing here, is discussion of the role of religion (especially, the Abrahamic traditions) in securing the effective dispositions of a fear-positive theology (e.g., it is good to fear God, Allah, Yahweh)--that these religious discourses are core to cultural development and health is an area for debate. There is also missing here the debate on what a good "pedagogy" re: fear ought to be (?). Typically, the "pedagogy of fear" (e.g., Arie Kizel and others) is always constructed as a fear-negative discourse, for the most part. This really all needs to be unpacked further, and I think Figure 1 offers a larger framework for the evaluation on the nature and role of fear and education (learning) overall. As well, there is the Indigenous (and pre-colonial), post-colonial, Matrixial (feminine), and nondual, pragmatism (Barbara Stengel) and holistic and Integral perspectives (worldviews) that I have left out here--they are not to be taken lightly in their importance for the future development of philosophy of fear (fearlessness). And lastly, I apologize for the largely "Western" slant on this whole discussion and Figure 1 representation. Eastern (and Northern, Southern) perspectives need to map their own field of orienting the major branches of fear-positive and fear-negative discourses. 


1. Fisher, R.M. (2002). On being a 'fear' critic. Technical Paper No. 14. Vancouver, BC: In Search of Fearlessness Research Institute.










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  • One colleague emailed me: Dear Michael,

    "Love Figure 1. 
    You also have some great comments on the blog.
    Re-evaluating oneself is a perennial process. Good work!"


  • Re: comments and/or criticisms of whether I am a fear-negativist more than a fear-positivist have raised my awareness that indeed mostly I have developed primary institutional infrastructures around "Fearlessness" (including the name of the co-founded publishing house and research and educational institute back to 1991 called "In Search of Fearlessness Research Institute") and, that includes the naming and co-founding Fearlessness Movement ning. However, I am now remembering that I have give great valuation to "fear" since the beginning but I only gave it an institutional validation I suppose when I founded The Fearology Institute in 2018. However, more reflection reminds me of my beginning "fearology" and 'Fear' Studies in early 2000 and 2006, respectively, and by 2009-11 I had founded the Department of Integral Fear Studies as part of co-founding CSIIE (Center for Spiritual Inquiry and Integral Education).

  • For Gillian (2002), in order to understand the "mental illness" of our times, at core, "To understand all this, we must learn to distinguish between negative and positive fear in our thinking" (p. 151). 

  • Oh, in 20th century philosophy, add to diagram Figure 1, Martin Heidegger 

  • [Translation (excerpt) from Nicola's Comment] 

    Dear Michael,

     I always read with pleasure your contributions that (I know well) are the result of so much study and experience. Thank you also for the suggestions of authors and essays that in Italy are less considered and that invite me to new readings.

    I agree with you that fear has been a literary and philosophical object considered in a negative way, instead it should be redefined in its positive aspects - it seemed to me that you have done so on many occasions -.

    Nicola T.

  • Thanks Dr Fisher for introducing us to Sam Gillian’s work. While searching for origins and solutions to fears in the healthcare space, I, similar to Gillian was unaware of the liberalism and Fearism of fear but was exposed to its existentialism and further bothered by the resulting adverse effects of not acknowledging its existence and effects on treatment practices in the healthcare sector.
    In life, fears not confronted, become hassles for future generations to tackle. Kudos to you for your tireless efforts on exploring various perspectives on “fear positivism and negativism”.

  • Carissimo Michael,

    leggo sempre con piacere i tuoi contributi che (lo so bene) sono il frutto di tanto studio ed esperienza. Ti ringrazio anche per i suggerimenti di autori e saggi che in Italia sono meno considerati e che mi invitano a nuove letture. 
    Sono d'accordo con te che la paura sia stata un oggetto letterario e filosofico considerato in modo negativo, invece andrebbe ridefinita nei suoi aspetti positivi - mi è parso che tu lo abbia fatto in molte occasioni -.
    In merito alla ricerca sulla paura, anche io ho costruito una suggestione nuova dentro di me, nata in seguito allo scoppio della guerra in Ucraina.
    Fino a oggi, gli europei avevano creduto che la guerra fosse un evento oramai relegato nei meandri del passato ma, adesso, hanno ripensato questa considerazione.
    Dal primo giorno di guerra scrivevo sul nostro blog:

    "[...] sul pianeta la guerra non è mai scomparsa e chi avesse voglia potrebbe andare sul sito della ACLED e verificare la miriade di conflitti e violenze distribuiti sul pianeta. [...] Con una metafora, potremmo dire che l’occidente ha concentrato la propria energia per costruire il suo frigorifero senza rendersi conto che necessitava di essere tenuto pieno – in primis con l’armonia tra i popoli -.
    Stamattina, con i carri armati nel centro di Kiev, ci siamo risvegliati con il fallimento dell’idea dell’internazionalismo liberista, ridimensionata la boria che si possa esportare la democrazia, con la certezza che il secolo breve sia più lungo che mai. Con la fine definitiva della globalizzazione.
    La forza militare si è ripresentata nuovamente quale protagonista in quell’occidente che presumeva di averla se non demonizzata, almeno, trasferita altrove.
    [...] La sirena d'allarme di Kiev ci comunica che è decisamente tramontato il mito col quale le generazioni del dopoguerra sono state educate, l’idea che tutto andrà verso il meglio per cui ci si possa concentrare per il futile. Il terrore e il sangue versato dagli antenati non sono mai sufficiente obolo pagato per garantire il benessere dei posteri, poiché ogni generazione deve costruire cultura, moralità e lungimiranza quali presupposti per una società finalizzata al bene comune".

    In breve, gli europei - e io stesso - stanno scoprendo percezioni nuove, non vissute durante la guerra fredda, né durante il periodo delle stragi terroristiche. Dietro le porte di casa - in linea d'aria, l'Ucraina è a soli mille chilometri da dove vivo - è in atto il sovvertimento del diritto internazionale, il disprezzo per le regole della civiltà, il delirio della ragione. E la paura si affaccia nella banale quotidianità, ammantando con una cappa incolore ogni gesto, ogni pensiero; la paura che impedisce di godere della semplicità vita; la paura che frena la proiezione nel futuro, reso oramai incerto.
    La guerra ci ha messi di fronte alla fine del narcisismo dell'individuo - come lo aveva inteso Becker -, ci ha riportati alle teorie del terrore come inteso da Greenberg and Solomon; ha reso attuale l'interpretazione hobbesiana per la quale la paura diviene il motore della ragione alla ricerca delle vie d'uscita.
    Mi sono accorto che la paura muove gli esseri umani duplicemente: da un verso spinge gli uomini a cercare la pace, dall'altro la paura vuole cancellare sé stessa.
    Sto sperimentando cosa sia la resilienza: è la paura che genera gli anticorpi per indurre all'accettazione di sé stessa, la paura che diventa normale affinché con essa si possa convivere.
    Ultima considerazione, non mi pare al momento che si possa determinare, per l'attuale clima di paura con cui viviamo, quel che dice Jonas, ovvero le premesse per ricostruire le istanze morali dimenticate: legami affettivi e senso di responsabilità.

    Un saluto


  • One colleague emailed me: "Michael,

    For what it is worth, as I read your material, I don’t see so much ‘negativity’ about fear as I see a valiant effort to re-imagine fear as very much including awe/wonder/amazement/overwhelmingness that is vital to the learning process. It is too bad there is not one succinct term that could make that distinction clear and encompass ‘fear’ in that positive sense. But that is what I see you struggling toward, in any case." -DL

  • It is a teaching to see someone who has held a belief in their research focus begin to question their trajectory and possible missteps along the way. Turning the lens of critic on the self through critical research. We all have so many biases and I greatly appreciate this openness to question one's self. This is powerful and refreshing to see a life's work which one has given so much to - to be transformed. I look forward to where this takes you next. And I know it goes hand in hand with an active healing practice that opens up new intelligences. Thank you for posting. May we all continue to heal and break open to new ways of thinking!


  • One colleague wrote me: Dear Michael,

    Very interesting start to a new chapter. The figure is attractive. It clears up much confusion. I read thoroughly.
    You are right, thinkers turn from time to time. It is my experience.
    Okay, I will share this new idea with others. Hope somebody may join in the discussions. 
    Best wishes
    Desh Subba
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