Existence of Fear Precedes Essence -Desh Subba

Jean Paul Sartre, "Existence precedes essence."

Desh Subba, "Existence of fear precedes essence."

-Desh Subba

The ontological relationship of essence to existence is one of the controversial big topics in philosophical history. What is their right relationship? Is it merely a joke? Or is it a serious challenge in the human quest for truth?  

In my experience, readers mostly don't want to enter into very serious thought of the inner core part of philosophy’s debates, and with essence and existence this is also the case. They usually either comment from a surface reaction or a mocking smile. It is a characteristic of mass general readers to not engage deeper into such queries because they read for the sake of reading itself. After reading, they do nothing. They are free in their choice, duty and responsibility, no pressure to go further because they are independent reader. Few readers have the deeper interest. They might think once about these two sayings above. I hope they will think beyond a mere blind belief of classical existentialism (e.g., Sartre). Erecting beliefs upon the Eifel Tower of Old Existentialism, cannot penetrate unveiling new logic, no, not even hammering with a new logical hammer will be enough. So to see through original existentialism’s beliefs we need to throw provocative light upon the old shadows of Existentialism and philosophy itself.  

I think an example of a challenging question for them is the case of the Mad Man.

In original existentialism belief (e.g., Jean Paul Sartre) says existence precedes essence. It is a breath of Existentialist or Existentialism via their Land Mark? If existentialists are surviving in the philosophical world; Reason is their trusty Land Mark. But I think an example of a challenging question for them is the case of the Mad Man.  

Why a Mad Man doesn't precede essence? He is an existence and he has consciousness. Existence of insane is like essence vice versa. In practical terms, Existence doesn't directly precede essence. If we accept it then, why existence of Mad Man doesn't precede essence? 

My conclusion is: Only existence of fear precedes essence. Exploring for food, shelter and practicing a worship of nature was not because of existence, it was because of existence of fear. Existence itself is virtually a senseless entity or state of being. It cannot activate towards essence without motivational drive(s); activation towards essence is made due to fear. Even Mad Man has some sense though he/she cannot precede any essence. We can take another example of an infant. Existence of Infant doesn’t precede essence because their consciousness, sense and knowledge are not ready to explorer essence. Until they don't know themselves whether they are stone or man, how one can precede to essence. Condition of the infant and insane is more or less the same. In their condition existence precedes essence or essence precedes existence; it doesn't make a difference to them.  

Later Kant mixed up empiricist and rationalist and developed critical philosophy.

First existence is like nominal sense. Nominal means in the sense equal to infant and insane.  Nominal sense processes towards more consciousness. Sense, step by step separates into consciousness and knowledge. Many philosophers have worked out how knowledge comes after consciousness(?). Later Kant mixed up empiricist and rationalist and developed critical philosophy. I have given a map of understanding life-consciousness-knowledge-fear as developmental. This knowledge is acquired from sense organs, incident, environment, necessity and conditional reflex in the stage of unconsciousness, semi-consciousness and consciousness accordingly. When it comes to age of knowledge, first stage is fear of existence. Fear of existence changes into existence of fear. Existence of fear precedes essence. Existence of fear means knowledge of fear. Knowledge of fear precedes essence. Thus existence of fear precedes essence not only existence precedes to essence.

Article is edited by R. Michael Fisher


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    • Nice reflections for us PS. I am an integralist, with great appreciation for existentialist positions (vast and varied as they are). I tend to look for corrections too in philosophie over the ages and up to today. It seems every branch of philosophy tries to correct the past branches, and/or just 'flies' off on a whole new tangent. 

      Okay, just want to pick up on one point of epistemological and ontological importance. I am not sure what you'd say to this position (a la integralist). You wrote, "There is a path that starts with Kant and ends with Jaspers, in which we have to consider that we cannot reach the objective Truth, so we should start to focus on reaching a subjective truth." First, I ask in a critical sense who is the "we" who cannot reach objective Truth? I am concerned in your claim and the philosophers of that ilk that they are rather over-assuming they (mostly Eurocentric) have the last say on Truth--even objective Truth. There is lots of brilliant thinking and wisdom before Kant on Truth, and objective and subjective truths--that served societies well before the Enlightenment (albeit, no such 'system' is perfect). As an integralist I would challenge that we have to abandon as contemporary philosophers (or as general seekers from any discipline) that just because there is some subjectivist aspects to all knowledge production (which I can accept on one level)--there is a lot more to be troubled that objective truth(s) (small o, and small t) are not always co-forming and evolving to what subjective truth(s) have to reveal. Maybe you agree. However, your written statement tends to be a bit too extreme and I think perhaps is based on a fallacy pursuit that somehow that objective "Truth" is even the right direction to go, so if it is not, as I am claiming, then why go for it at all and then when it disappoints us in being impossible to reach we head off (or some do) in search of the Subjective realm for truth and Truth? If you can follow my rambling, I am merely suggesting an elegant potency to not rejecting one end of the continuum of ontology-epistemology and falling into the road down to a radical subjectivism (as ideology, with its own rigid problems that the ideology of objectivism has)-- something like that. 

      Regarding Fear Studies as I have proposed since early 2000, the integralist position would take in a 4 quadrant basic model of knowledge and knowing in order to 'best' understand fear (and 'fear')-- that is, (1) Subjective trajectory, (2) Objective trajectory, (3) Individualist trajectory and (4) Communalist trajectory -- it is all 4, with no one quadrant of knowing or methodological approach is to dominate for any phenomenon under investigation. Thus, I propose a integral fear studies approach--and, it gets more complex than that but this is the Wilberian way I find more satisfying and elegant than playing along the 'old' road of philosophies battling over existence vs. essence,  objectivism vs. subjectivism, or absolutism vs. relativism... I guess, I'm still asking questions about all this. 


    • Thank you for your feedback! I am not sure to understand all of your points, but I'll try my best (we have also to consider that probably we use different languages, and sadly my english vocabulary is not that wide). You're right when you say that the progress in the history of philosophy is always focused on correcting past branches. It seems that in order to exist a new philosophy must correct an old philosophy (I hate this philosophical tendency of finding a way just destroying or refusing other thoughts. I think this is a big limit of continental philosophy), but many times it is just a theoretical correction that does not involve some concrete changes, as you all already said. I would just add that there are some central problems that are always present in philosophy, but they are approached in different ways from the different sensibilities that we can find in the history of thought (the History of Philosophy should be the subject that studies this evolution of the concepts and the ideas).

      About my use of the "we", I was referring to the whole mankind, it was a "we" as "we humans". I agree that philosophical eurocentrism is a real problem (but I fear many thinkers and scientists have this problem, not only in Europe). I don't think there is a philosophy or a geographical part that owns Being and Truth more than others. I would rather say that there are different ways of thinking that move from different experiences, different sensibilities, different traditions, and all this different philosophical traditions enrich us with a new light on some particular aspects/modes of Being. For example, after having studied the continental philosophical approach to Being for some years, now I'm going to study the oriental approach, which moves from the creativity of not-Being.

      I don't want to abandon or reject old philosophies and all the old examples of brilliant thinking and wisdom. I just say that the path from Kant to Jaspers (a path between the others, which is useful in my researches and in this discussion) states that all the philosophical ways are subjectives searches for Truth and there is not a philosophy that can own Being. If a single philosophy could own Being, philosophy and freedom would end (we all would have to say "yes", once in front of the Truth).

      I would be glad if you can clear the reason why you say my statements are extreme... I think to go in the opposite direction, so probably I didn't explain my points in the right way.

      The relation between objective Truth and human research is quite complex. I think that searching for objective Truth is human and probably we could not reach existence without aiming to objective Truth; but, on the other side, we have to know that we cannot reach an objective Truth, and we must respect different subjective ways towards objective Truth. You make your way towards the Truth, and sooner or later you see that you have not reached it, but, along your your path, you have got your existence (I would say that man needs an absolute exigence of Truth AND an absolute responsibility/selfconsciousness, in order to always remember his position. But I know that those reasonings would need much more explanation). Now you will probably say that this is another form of radical subjectivism... this is a common critic to existentialism in general (maybe they would rather say "irrationalism"). Honestly, I disagree and I have never understood the sense of this critic of irrationalism. The impossibility of reaching objective Truth does not immediately involve irrationalism, subjectivism, relativism. There are still chief-values and good principles that can give an orientation (I give just few examples: incarnating ideas in facts, being tolerant while incarnating one's existence, never ending the existential dialetic towards existential progress). I find way more rational enlightening some limits without renouncing to bring forth one's research, rather than reducing or hiding those limits with rationality, in order to feel safer. Searching for Truth is still important, scientific progress (from ALL the sciences) comes from this, but we have to remember that science can enhance a material progress, a better knowledge of the world and better living conditions. But science cannot teach us how to use this better condition in order to build a better existence (this is the point where man has to start to take care of the subjective truth of existence). In this path, ontology, epistemology and all the other fields are essential, because every field somehow leads to the human progress. But every field must remember its role and its part in the whole: the real "ideology" belongs to the part that pretends to the be the whole.

      I don't know this 4 quadrant basic model, but I agree with you that we have to leave the old road of philosophies (I guess that this road is still present) battling over two opposite terms. There must be a positive dialectic between the terms: "Life is not always black and white, it's a million shades of grey"! I appreciate Bergson, when he says that human progress does not go from a void space to a full space, but rather from a determined space to a more determined space. Well, Kantian Criticism (which rejects the empiricism vs rationalism path) moves in this direction!

    • PS, thanks for taking time to respond to my challenge. Overall, I feel a bit more clear as to your 'attitude' to knowledge and diverse philosophies and perspectives, so I feel less a conviction that you are taking or bouncing off extremes in your proposals for philosophical inquiry. And, so great to hear you are turning to the East (i.e., oriental approaches) re: Being ... as I have always since my 20s gone into those other ways and, more of late have gone into Indigenous-based (pre-agricultural) ways and natural social philosophies that do not intellectually pose (or get hung up on) Objective vs. Subjective and learn their philosophy (in large part) from non-humans (or as some Indigenous scholars today say, 'greater-than-human')... I think you still use "we" in your response and statements as rhetoric and as discourse in what strikes me as overly-humanistic (within an ideology of humanism) for e.g., you write, "we have to know that we cannot reach an objective Truth" etc. I am merely asking you to 'check-up' on that hegemony of you speaking for all of humanity, across time, geographies, perspectives... I find it a troubling discourse, even if I myself will get caught in it as well. That said, I agree Truth is more a process of truthing, ongoing, endless. 

      You do raise another issue re: existentialism as having a tendency to "radical subjectivism" (if not "relativism")... I am probably hinting at in my initial critique of your ways of saying some things (also, I agree with you words are always a problem in texts and digital communications is even worse)... anyways, I do not equate any radical subjectivism (sometimes called radical constructivism in postmodern schools) with "irrationalism" --also, I agree "chief-values and good principles" can still be ethically valid in even the most subjectivist schools of thought and practices. Okay, sorry I cannot devote more time to this, I have priorities to get back to. It was fun dipping in a little here with you... 


    • As you say, the rethoric "we" is something really unpleasant. I will never pretend to speak for all of humanity, I just want to find a common way with the people I dialogue with, that's my - probably not proper - use of "we". But yes, accepting challenges and dipping in is always funny, so thank you!

  • I appreciate this erudite explication, and my brief researches on "fearlessness" in Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism indicate what some religious scholars have named "gift of fearlessness" (abhaya dana) ethic as foundational to any healthy society and/or individual and their relations. I like that. I've been disturbed and fascinated how the W. has been almost antipathetic towards fearlessness, and modern psychology calls it a "pathology" of which is very reductionistic and not informed well. I also think your point that even with much of the fearlessness teachings (dharma), but not all, there is not a focus on "using fear to navigate through life"--and, this is an even more important notion today because of the accumulation of fear/hurt/trauma over the ages since those ancient philosophies and theologies were developed. In my own work, I argue for a postmodern (and post-postmodern) critical literacy of fear and fearlessness --as on the way to Love. 

  • Dr. Jha, I believe what you are saying is "fear" as experience in its phenomenological impact remained (mostly) at the periphery of philosophical theories (and the understanding and theories of history as well)... I wonder if this was both in East and West? 

    • Yes, I think that both eastern and western worlds haven't focused on fear as Mr. Subba and believers of fearlessness movement have.  However, eastern philosophy (especially hindu spiritual philosophy) has dealt with it, in depth and breadth, but from a different perspective. 

      Since later Vedic Age (1000 BCE - 500 BCE), a number of hindu scriptures and topics in hindu spiritual philosophy have dealt with, debated and discussed on fear and fearlessness. However, It focuses on becoming fearless rather than using fear to navigate through life.

      Hindu spiritual philosophers have linked fearlessness with dharma (way of life). An important hindu scripture, Atharva Veda contains many hymns on fearlessness. One of the most important hymns in Atharva Veda prays for fearlessness from the entire cosmos. Important philosophical discourses, dualism and non-dualism deal with different ways of becoming fearless. Non-dualism has established that one who realises that the human soul and supreme soul are the One, conquers fear and becomes fearless.

  • Fearism has potential to demolish many historical philosophical theories. How did 'Fear' remained at the periphery of philosophical discourse ? It's an important intervention in the history of Philosophy by Mr Desh Subba. Fearism seems to be hope of 21st century. 

    I, repeat thoughts of respected R Michael Fischer ' Unless, one really takes this Subbaian move in deeply and integrates it with their own thinking, and transforms their own thinking about fear (i.e., their own fear imaginary), and expands their theories and philosophies, I believe they will miss the core potency of Subba's philosophy and offering to the world.'

    There are ample instances in history and mythology which reminds us about the Philosophy of Fearism. Case studies may further solidify this Philosophy. 

  • True Subba! Your assertion that existence of fear precedes essence is an offshoot of Sartre’s famous dictum. Fear starts existing along with existence itself as existence itself is insecure and uncertain. Insecurity triggers fear about existence in space and uncertainty in time. Consequently fear of existence ratifies the existence of fear that in turn precedes essence. 

    This conception, in my view, will be able to put forth serious, yet practical explanations for how and why some individuals become of what they aspire for and some not. Sartre clarifies that an individual first exists and then defines through choices and decisions as to what he or she is. Sometimes, an individual is unable to exercise choices and is forced by the circumstances to remain as what he or she has become of. Lack of ability to exercise choices is due to fear itself. If fear is managed well, freedom triumphs and choices are intentional. If not, freedom is still a distant dream and  choices become forced. As Fisher says that there will be fearlessness when fear arises, freedom ought to look for fearlessness so that choices can be decided out of free will and therefore an individual can break open from nothing to usher in something while defining himself or herself.

  • Desh, with his characteristic creative critique based on a philosophy of fearism,  has offered this very intriguing philosophical disruption to any essence-based philosophy (a la Plato, Aristotle etc.). If existentialism (e.g., Sartre) pushed the barriers beyond essence in the nature and order of things (including "humans"), then Subba purports to a view of another extension required beyond existentialism to his fearism and the argument he begins in this blog for "existence of fear precedes essence" as a type of position that could be Subba's own phenomenological-existential (what I would coin as a) fearential referent behind his philosophy, and of which he believes will be useful to humankind in the present and future to help solve our worst problems.

    This fearential referent is very radical historically and within philosophy, and that is what I love about his thinking. It is so unique. I hope he continues to develop this philosophical thesis more rigorously and succinctly and creates more debate around what he is saying. It is one of the most powerful parts of his teaching. Essence and existence are so fundamental to how humans make sense of the world. I believe his philosophy of fearism is a powerful tool that can critique and co-create a better philosophy of fear (e.g., Kalu, Eneyo, Svendsen) than what we have today, and that is just because of all the philosophers of fear so far, Subba steps beyond and out of the narrow-minded thinking of essence-based philosophy, even beyond existential-based philosophy and provokes and invokes with a message that needs to be heard. 

    So to be clear, my quick take on his view of life/reality/truth, philosophically and theologically (if one wants to add this, which Subba is not inclined to do himself)--is that by locating fear as an a priori  (fearential -- like essential, or like existential) referent for reality as lived experience, he is in a way making fear an essence of all things (or, at least of living things)--this, expanded referential move on Subba's part is easily seen in his earlier writing in his 2014 tome Philosophy of Fearism with his unlimited expressions (i.e., definitions, meanings) of Fear in the opening chapter where there are some 21 "definitions" (conceptualizations) of fear. No one has made this kind of radical move, that I know of. It cracks open the narrow-rigid philosophies, theologies, and psychologies that predominate discourse--it peels back layers of ignore-ance and arrogance--it frees the way for fear to take its proper place in history. What a great fear imaginary and treasure he has conceptualized. Subba places fear at the core of existence, making it a kind of essence of all--of everything. One could say this is Subba's own fearological theory of everything--no different in kind is his theory than from any unity-scheming physicist (e.g., Einstein) who might attempt to find a unifying basis for understanding all reality (Reality itself).

    Unless, one really takes this Subbaian move in deeply and integrates it with their own thinking, and transforms their own thinking about fear (i.e., their own fear imaginary), and expands their theories and philosophies, I believe they will miss the core potency of Subba's philosophy and offering to the world.

    It has taken me five years to be able to write this blog right now and be so clear of my view of the importance of Subba's work, his life commitment and project--he is a great philosopher for our times, and a truly unique one that will often (nearly always) be only understood by those who seriously engage his work for a number of years to see its scope and potentiality. This fearential referent comes most clear in this blog he has written: existence of fear precedes essence. No philosophy East or West, North or South has this kind of recognition, realization, and awareness for getting down to the truth--to stripping away the illusions of humankind and its ways of carrying on that lead humans astray--and worse, lead to great suffering. Subba's philosophy of fearism is a liberation philosophy--a theory of everything. I found this quote on "Why Existentialism?" [1] which could easily be applied to "Why Fearism?" (a la Subba): 

    "At no time perhaps more than at the present is it necessary for people to strip away the illusions [i.e., reductionistic fear imaginary] they live by and examine themselves and their motives realistically. With the fragmentation of human experience and the impossibility of finding support in traditional beliefs, the individual inevitably is thrown back upon himself [sic]. Existential [fearential] literature indicates that man cannot escape his self, and that in confronting the very self [i.e., a self/fear unit as fearential referent of existence] he often tries to disguise, he may find a kind of tentative peace [liberation]. The response must come from within; there is no room for deception, no place for the protective mask of illusions [i.e., fear-based disguises/illusions]." 

    Be it a secularist, marxist, existentialist discourse of this kind of confrontation with real reality--or a Subbaian fearism confrontation--I see this is a chain of thinking attempting to unlock human philosophy (and theology) from an essence-based approach [2]. We need to really understand essentialist thinking, then existentialist, and then fearentialist in that order of an unfolding evolution towards the really real--of what Subba (and I) are working on by placing fear as central--not just placing fear as a factor, in the latter case where one builds a (Christian and/or Buddhist doctrinal spiritualized) philosophy of fear or philosophy of love--and just adds in fear as supplementary. Philosophy of fearism is way beyond that kind of move, a move I see in many philosophers today working with fear and working with including some of a philosophy of fearism. Subba's work demands that philosophy itself has to transform--because fear(ism) (a la Subba) is not merely being studied by philosophy as a topic--no, fear(ism) is studying and critiquing philosophy itself. Fear(ism) is reconfiguring the very nature of reality but also of philosophy that tries to know reality, and tries to know truth. For Subba, philosophy has missed the mark to a large degree, and not been as helpful in a full way to humanity's growth and health, because it has not seen through the illusions that go with an essence-based philosophy. Subba's asking us to re-work and re-imagine the very nature and role of philosophy--a philosophy that is post-fearism, is another way to put it. He wants a philosophy based on a fearential referent, and so do I [3]. He, like myself, are no longer interested in essence-based philosophies of abstractions, metaphysics and such that posit that "Love" is the essence of human kind, or the theological-referent for a particular worldview.

    That's just one example, of a critique from a philosophy of fear(ism) that moves to the surface, "Love" is too easily set-in a priori in essence philosophies [4] and thus creates a meta-narrative that may be only partially true, and may be missing the more important component--perhaps, it is fear argues Subba which is core and which is manifest in "existence of fear precedes essence"--and, thus from this new critical standpoint a new philosophy is born(?). Of course, it is very early yet in the development of fearism to know what will be all its fruits in the future. 


    1. From front matter of The Existential Imagination (eds., F. R. Karl & L. Hamalian, 1963, Greenwich, CN: Fawcett Publications, Inc.). 

    2. "In philosophy, essence is the property or set of properties that make an entity or substance what it fundamentally is, and which it has by necessity, and without which it loses its identity. Essence is contrasted with accident: a property that the entity or substance has contingently, without which the substance can still retain its identity. The concept originates rigorously with Aristotle (although it can also be found in Plato)" [excerpt from Wikipedia]

    3. My own fearlessness philosophy, if that's a referent applicable, works through and with a philosophy of fearism--and, I have variations of significantly different findings at times than Subba's approach. My own philosophy (fearology, as transdisciplinary) tends to much more emphasize a need to reconstruct a new epistemology of fear (and 'fear') than does Subba's work--albeit, he is, more or less, in support of my direction in this regard (e.g., see Fisher, 2016 p. 107, in Fisher & Subba, 2016). Fisher, R. M. (2016). Chapter Four, Towards a Theory of Fearism, in R. M. Fisher & D. Subba, Philosophy of Fearism: A First East-West Dialogue. Australia: Xlibris.)

    4. I have recently been crafting a critique of the philosophy of fear and philosophy of love in Christian writers (e.g., Kalu, Eneyo) who give great credence to the nature and role of fear but they underplay the existential critique of essence-based philosophies, and take things in somewhat a different direction (especially, Eneyo). For e.g., in Michael Eneyo's (2018), (2019) books, Philosophy of Fear, and Philosophy of Unity [Love], he tends to create a human potential discourse, a spiritualized discourse and teaching where "Love" is central (what I call a "lovist" perspective in contradistinction to a "fearist" perspective as in Subba and my own work) and thus you'll see rare engagement with the term "existentialism" in Eneyo and Sartre, Nietzsche, Camus, Heidegger etc. are not even mentioned in this two books (a similar short-coming in Osinakachi Akuma Kalu's books on fear and fearology, as well). In Fisher & Subba (2016), if one looks in the Index, there are many pages (entries) on "existential(ism)(ist)" and "existentialists" because we link the philosophy of fearism as a new branch (maybe, a new tree) with roots in existential philosophy and we take that ancestry as important--at least, I certainly do, and Subba's latest blog above shows me why he does find it useful to integrate the best of existentialism in building fearism. I applaud that effort. 


    Philosophy (from Greek φιλοσοφία, philosophia, literally "love of wisdom") is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowled…
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