It occurred to me some time ago that fear is the result of a lack of control, and try as I might I cannot conceive fear existing without this vacancy. Looked at from the other direction, in a situation where you feel completely in control is it possible to still be afraid?
Furthermore, a lack of control is not always accompanied by fear. Fear appears to be a secondary, distinct response that may or may not occur as a result of a lack of control. We must be able to say this because there are a great many situations where people experience a lack of control but do not exhibit a fear response.
Lastly remains what one does when one loses control. Quite logically, most of us try to remedy it by gaining control, whether through fleeing the situation ("flight") or action ("fight"). I suppose no response (completely breaking down in fear) is also a possibility. I thus propose the following model of fear:
lack of control → desire for control [+/- fear] → action
I haven't really taken this model to any depth yet, though. Which philosopher's have written about fear? Where would be a good start to read about the philosophy of fear?
It seems to me that the concept of fear is intimately connected with the concept of causal determinism. Lack of control is caused by uncertainty, and uncertainty comes when you are concerned that things may not go the way you want them to.
I have been trying to think of other ways fear might come about in an organism, but no despite my efforts they all seem to boil down to uncertainty about the future.
A King Cobra is 3 feet from me. I am afraid. Why? Because I may or may not survive the next few moments of my life. In other words, my future is uncertain.
I am doing my first solo parachute dive. I am slightly anxious (anxiousness is categorically the same as fear in psychology; in general usage, "to be anxious" is just to be "slightly fearful"). Why am I anxious? Because maybe this one time my parachute will not open properly and I'll fall to my death. My future, thus, is uncertain.
It is not merely a coincidence that you often here the saying "Mankind has always feared what it does not understand". Not understanding something is uncertainty; when that uncertainty potentially could have a negative impact on your future, that can lead to fear. Note that I said "can lead to fear", and not "always leads to fear". It is, as I mentioned, possible to not be afraid when you encounter an uncertain future. But it does not seem possible to me that—when you actually are afraid—your fear is being caused by anything else than an uncertain future (feel free to try and think of a working counter-example!).
Since—in a causal system—the future is very much determined, theoretically it is foreknowledge which grants feelings of security. That is, people who aren't afraid are either:
- certain that their future will go the way they want (or falsely certain)
- somehow have psychologically overcome their need to exhibit a fear response
- i.e. through not placing any "superficial" ("special") value on their existence
- and other techniques (See Buddhism, Stoicism, REBT)
These ideas I bring up here, they are very much philosophical, but for a relatively in-depth look at the neurobiology behind it, Edit my post and look into the HTML comment I placed their originally. I left it out of my post because it's not useful at this level of investigation, but some people might be curious.