I am not speaking about our conscious perspective that includes our conscious knowledge of what is rational and what is irrational. I am speaking about the deep perspective that controls our emotions. This example illustrates what i mean by the previous:

The epicurean cure for the fear of death proves that fear of death is irrational:

For Epicureans, including Lucretius, the way out of this psychological conundrum was straightforward. First, we must become aware of our fear of death; then, we must recognize that it is irrational to be afraid of death. After all, the Epicureans argued, bad things can only happen to those capable of sensation. Dead people are devoid of all sensations, just as we all were before we were conceived. *

But our conscious realization of the irrationality of the fear of death is not enough to eliminate death anxiety:

However, Epicurean efforts to eliminate death anxiety on rational grounds have been spectacularly unsuccessful to date. People have not changed all that much in the last three thousand years; they remain steadfastly disinclined to die. *


Seneca wants us to expect that the worst will happen, and then come to terms with it, as it's survivable after all. He wants us to realize that our fear of what might go wrong is irrational. This is what i understood from reading his letters to Lucilius and Marcia.

Seneca survived bankruptcy and eight years of exile in Corsica.

But, is it possible that Seneca could have arrived to this deep perspective without experiencing the worst already?


  • [*]The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life, a book by Jeff Greenberg, Sheldon Solomon, and Tom Pyszczynski.
  • Are you asking if one can have a life changing epiphany based on purely rational reflection? I doubt it but this is a question for psychologists, not philosophers. This said, as Freud put it: "The voice of reason is a soft one, but it does not rest until it has gained a hearing. Finally, after countless succession of rebuffs, it succeeds. This is one of the few points on which one may be optimistic about the future of mankind".
    – Conifold
    Commented Nov 24, 2018 at 0:10
  • Yes, that's what i am after. Commented Nov 24, 2018 at 11:48

2 Answers 2


An aside:

First, I'd point out that the epicurean argument is not a proof; as it presents a false equivalence between Death (which is a transition from one state to another) and Dead People (which is an end state.)

Certainly if you're already in a non-existent state you will not mind remaining non-existent; because you can't. Going from Existing to Not-Existing, however, is a lossy-transition; you are losing something and/or changing by definition and people are often adverse to change.

To your question:

Yes, you could achieve "deep philosophical insight" purely on the basis of reasoned analysis

You are asking a universal question: "Does there exist any singular event in the history (or future) where anyone could ever arrive at a 'deep understanding' without going through immense suffering."

Phrased like that, I imagine you can realize that universals rarely hold and require exceptional evidence to prove that they indeed hold. In this case, it is the burden of the person proposing the claim that requires extreme evidence for their position. You would need to formally prove that no one could ever come up with a deep philosophical position without immense suffering; as well as define all of those terms involved.

Since you are unlikely to define all of those terms and I believe cannot prove that claim, then the claim you have posited must be false; which leads us to the following conclusion:

"There exists (or will exist) at least one instance of someone achieving deep philosophical understanding simply via rational argumentation."

As further evidence, I believe that (if this argument convinces you or any other singular person) it will be self evident that you achieved deep philosophical understanding purely by rational argumentation; which means that this post itself is actually a counter to the claim.

The "deep philosophical understanding" being that you will now probably approach universals differently by virtue of also viewing them from the existential viewpoint; which helps you realize when a universal cannot possibly be true.

  • 1
    If you can quote some specific and relevant references this would strengthen your answer and give the reader a place to go for more information. Welcome to this SE! Commented Nov 24, 2018 at 21:49

As Conifold suggests, I think this is a psychology question, and I am answering it based on psychological insights based upon physiological studies.

From a position like that of LeDoux, once acquired, whether genetically or through experience, responses do not spontaneously extinguish (short of brain damage.) You need exposure to trigger or allude to the event so that you can experience the expected outcome not occurring. The theory is that one part of the brain initiates the emotional response to stimuli, and a different part counterbalances those reactions based upon ordinary memories. The suppressing impulse can become stronger, with the result being vigilance rather than reactivity, but neither effect goes away.

So I am not sure one needs to have experienced 'the worst' in order to handle it with equanimity, but you certainly have to experience a great deal of finding your own anxiety pointless. You can rationally stage that learning experience in meditation or practice, or have someone create it for you. But that is not the same thing as simply rationally choosing to have this deeper knowledge. It is bound up in the physiology of memory, and memory is shaped only by experience.

This is one reason why safety does not make anxious people calm, and may, in fact, make them more reactive. One of the crueler things about anxiety disorders is that they can become far more active when we are safe, so the safety-seeking they inspire, including habits of calming self-talk, can actually prevent them from being resolved. Lack of experience is not the experience of lack. We need feedback in situ about the lack of reality of our inborn or acquired anxieties, or they will simply remain with us.

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