Friday, March 20, 2015

All fear is bad? You're kidding

Religion, since it has its source in terror, has dignified certain kinds of fear, and made people think them not disgraceful. In this it has done mankind a great disservice: all fear is bad, and ought to be overcome not by fairy tales, but by courage and rational reflection.- Bertrand Russell


Really? Fear is what saves my life when I am in the street, and a car is coming. 


Consider Monty Python's famous song of Sir Robin:



Bravely bold Sir Robin
Rode forth from Camelot.
He was not afraid to die,
Oh brave Sir Robin.
He was not at all afraid
To be killed in nasty ways.
Brave, brave, brave, brave Sir Robin.
He was not in the least bit scared
To be mashed into a pulp.
Or to have his eyes gouged out,
And his elbows broken.
To have his kneecaps split
And his body burned away,
And his limbs all hacked and mangled
Brave Sir Robin.
His head smashed in
And his heart cut out
And his liver removed
And his bowels unplugged
And his nostrils raped
And his bottom burnt off
And his pen--
"That's... that's enough music for now lads,
*** looks like there's dirty work afoot*** ???."
Brave Sir Robin ran away.
("No!")
Bravely ran away away.
("I didn't!")
When danger reared it's ugly head,
He bravely turned his tail and fled.
("no!")
Yes, brave Sir Robin turned about
("I didn't!")
And gallantly he chickened out.
****Bravely**** taking ("I never did!") to his feet,
He beat a very brave retreat.
("all lies!")
Bravest of the braaaave, Sir Robin!
("I never!")


We all agree that the actual Robin is a coward, and that the song is false. But what about the Robin of the song. According to the popular definition of courage, one is courageous if one either lacks fear or ignores danger, and certainly the Robin of the song satisfies that requirement. However, Aristotle's definition of courage suggests that a courageous person lacks (or fails to act upon) fear, or ignores danger, to the extent that it is rational to do so. This courage in facing danger can be defective, in which case the person is cowardly, on the mean, in which case the person is courageous, or excessively, in which case the person is foolhardy, and hence does not possess the virtue of courage.

Notice also that it is possible for someone to "bravely run away," if we accept Aristotle's account of courage, however paradoxical that may seem. The reason Sir Robin is a coward is because the three-headed monster is bickering with itself, and hence cannot possibly be as dangerous as it might appear to be at first. Robin doesn't think long enough to figure that out, instead he "turned his tail and fled."


Here is a discussion of Russell on fear. 

2 comments:

msgrx said...

"However, Aristotle's definition of courage suggests that a courageous person lacks (or fails to act upon) fear, or ignores danger, to the extent that it is rational to do so."

Similarly, Plato in his Republic suggested that the mark of a courageous man is that he fears only that which ought to be feared.

B. Prokop said...

"The only thing we have to fear... is fear itself!"