Is there a philosophical term for fear of the unknown, other than xenophobia?

If such a term doesn't exist, can you think of a philosopher who discussed the phenomenon?


I should probably define "unknown." I'm including things we simply have no knowledge of; for example, what lies beyond the borders of the universe? It could also include questions like what is death, or what's going to happen to me after I die?

The unknown could thus include things we are vaguely aware of but which we don't fully understand.

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    I'd only be slightly joking if I said we call it "fear." – Cort Ammon May 20 '18 at 7:03
  • I don't understand the joke; there are plenty of KNOWN things that people are afraid of, from guns to tornadoes to climate change. I asked about fear of the UNKNOWN. – David Blomstrom May 20 '18 at 7:06
  • Are you asking about things we (know we) can't know? Or does, for example, the fear of somebody hiding in a cave when we enter it counts too, for you? – ttnphns May 20 '18 at 7:58
  • Good question; kind of hard to answer, actually. I suppose I should accept that example, since we wouldn't know WHO is hiding in the cave, WHY he's hiding or WHAT his motives are. But I'm primarily interested in things that are difficult for most people to really understand - like biochemical weapons the government might be working on, the consequences of climate change or GMO, etc. – David Blomstrom May 20 '18 at 8:11
  • My experience is that people's fear is always rooted in the unknown, but they may project it onto the known. Few people are actually afraid of guns, but there are plenty who are afraid of dying, which is something guns can cause. Some even argue that the fear of death is the only true fear. – Cort Ammon May 20 '18 at 16:33

AGNOSTOPHOBIA - fear of the unknown : agnostos = unknown; phobia = fear.

Oxford English Dictionary - complete version.

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    That sounds like a good fit. I wish there was a more user-friendly synonym, though; agnostophobia sounds like "the fear of agnostics." ;) – David Blomstrom May 20 '18 at 8:12
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    Unfortunately any alternatives are unknown to me ;)- Best : GT – Geoffrey Thomas May 20 '18 at 8:19

Angst is a key concept for existentialism and the foreign word has been adopted for lack of a good translation. It apperas to have the advantage of not presupposing that the unknown is some object but could be an extraordinary event or just anything unthinkable. Locus classicus and source of the name is a book by Kirkegaard translated with the title The Concept of Anxiety or The Concept of Dread. The French word 'angoisse', popular with the local existentialists, fits rather well the definition "fear of unknown".

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  • Interesting. Merriam-Webster says angst is of Danish/German origin, and the book you cited was written by a Danish philosopher. M-W doesn't even list agnostophobia. I was hoping to find out if the two words might be somehow related; they look somewhat similar. – David Blomstrom May 20 '18 at 14:52
  • Actually, agnostophobia appears to have a Greek origin -- phobia.wikia.com/wiki/Agnostophobia Still, I wonder if angst might be a Danish interpretation of the Greek word. – David Blomstrom May 20 '18 at 14:53
  • Wikipedia gives an IE root for angst while the Greek word is a privative (a-gnosis); what's more 'agnostophobia' looks like an artificial word coined probably a few hundred years ago and rarely used, if at all. – sand1 May 20 '18 at 19:52
  • I'm really not sure which one to choose as the right answer. I think I'm going to stick with agnostophobia because the suffix (phobia) clearly identifies it as a word meaning fear of something. – David Blomstrom May 21 '18 at 2:29

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