In childhood we are all told legends and myths about different heroes. Most of the time they are portrayed as fearless characters who doesn’t fear anything and sacrifice themselves for their people and society. But does this type of “fearless” person correspond to reality? How can a person who has no fear of external or internal factors can be helpful and useful to society.

By external factors I mean the fear of God, morality, the constitution, state institutions, people or even the family. By ignoring the fear arising from external factors, a person returns to human’s first stage and their behavior becomes immoral and harmful to today's society.

By internal factors I mean the fear of death which is at the same time human’s main instinct. When a person overcomes the fear of death they basically lose their most important instinct that helps and gives them the ability to live. So person’s “life” who doesn’t fear death is not useful for today’s society.

So should people fear at least something to be productive for our society?

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    You are trying to relate lack of fear with group risk in a single direct relationship, which is a fallacy. The relationships are multiple and indirect. For example, lack of fear might cause temerity, which might cause personal harm, which might cause medical expenses, which might be negative for the group and so, represent a risk to the whole group. In addition, such relationships are not even certain, but probabilistic. You see? Any attempt to formulate a direct link is necessary fallacious (any yes/no answer will be admitting the fallacy). See the fallacy cum hoc ergo propter hoc.
    – RodolfoAP
    Mar 30 at 3:49
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    Morality which is based on fear is useless. Instead morality which is based on principles is way more robust and long-lasting. To see the first argument, consider that if one simply conforms because of fear, when this fear is lacking or can be by-passed (and this is very often the case) there is no obstacle to criminal behavior. Instead principle is understood and respected for its merits.
    – Nikos M.
    Mar 31 at 11:51

4 Answers 4


„Fear is an intensely unpleasant emotion in response to perceiving or recognizing a danger or threat“, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fear

Towards internal factors: The capability of sensing fear is fuseful for the individual human being. At first, the loss of fear is a threat to the individual himself, not to society. But in general the loss of fear is linked with a series of other undesirable consequences in social behaviour.

Towards external factors: If the relations between an individual and the social institutions and cultural practices of his society are characterized by fear, that does not seem a desirable state of affairs. Social institutions and cultural practices are not governed by laws of nature. Instead they are changeable conventions and should be established and followed on the basis of insight – not on the basis of fear.


There is a dialectic of socio-psychological growth in play here that's worth reflecting on. Whenever an established group — a culture, a society, a company or organization, the allegorical bowling league — obtains a new member, it has to train that member into the rules, customs, habits, and institutions of the group. Fear is one of the standard tools used in that training, usually in a carrot-stick combination: do as we do and gain rewards, don't and gain punishments. Most people exposed to that (often gentle) pressure are happy to go along with it. They learn to do what's 'right' and avoid doing what's 'wrong', and they get along well with their new neighbors. Some people refuse to accede — they don't respond to the implicit threat with fear — and often end up on the criminal side of the spectrum, flouting or breaking rules. That's a form of fearlessness that we often see in adolescence. Adolescents have a sense of invulnerability combined with a myopic egotism which leads them to think that anything they do is justified and no one can really stop them or punish them for doing what they want to do.

Sometimes we find that adolescent attitude extended late into life: Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Donald Trump, and a host of other powerful people with pre-conventional moral stances. As the last would say: "Sad..!"

However, even people who have acceded to the conventional moral world of the group — who play well with others, and understand the value of group cohesion — will often see the failures and limitations of that moral world. Hypocrisy, inconsistency, brutality, abuse of the rules, selfish legalism, callous indifference... all of these things are obvious within every group, even to those who really believe in the essence of the group itself. For such people, the strands of fear that helped them acclimate into the group now inhibit them from transforming the group. And then (once in a while) one of these people will lose their fear of the punishments of conventional society and will stand up against the failures and limitations of the moral world. Adopting that post-conventional moral worldview is one of the features of heroism. The Supermans and Wonder Women of the world necessarily embody an ideal of morality beyond that carried within society. A heroic soldier is willing to risk his life because by embodying the principle he is fighting for he advances and perpetuates that principle, even if he himself dies.

Pre-conventional morality aggrandizes the self, conventional morality aggrandizes the group, post-conventional morality aggrandizes the principle. But it's hard for someone in the first category to understand the second, or for those in the second to understand the third.

Fear is useful when it stops us from doing wrong; fear is inhibitive when it stops us from doing right. That won't mean anything to those who cannot easily distinguish right from wrong, but for those who can fear is a useless emotion.

  • In which sense do you use the terms 'right' and 'wrong' in your answer?
    – Jo Wehler
    Mar 30 at 16:12
  • @JoWehler: Where I've scare-quoted the word, I mean 'right' and 'wrong' as determined by the conventional moral worldview of a group. Where I've use the word without scare-quotes, i mean the product of moral reasoning. that last one might be a bit of a puzzler, but it would be a huge tangent to spell it out explicitly. Mar 30 at 16:54
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    Your answer sounds plausible and well differentiated. Could you please add some references from the literature to support your diagnosis?
    – Jo Wehler
    Mar 30 at 17:48

Willingness to sacrifice oneself for other people you aren't related to, or for ideas, is a distinctive feature of complex intelligence, which has allowed groups to achieve far more than individuals or families could. You could reasonably argue this is the point at which memes, like culture, came to be as important as genes, in understanding humans. We can relate this behaviour to eusociality.

Whether a person does or doesn't do something, or whether they show fear, are poor guides to whether they felt fear. What we tend to care about, is whether someone could be coerced by threats, or pain, or death, into not doing something good or valuable for others, or the opposite, coerced into doing something bad.

Stoic philosophy provides a 'recipe' for not being coerced, and illustrates a major method of philosophy in doing so, reframing our experiences.

“Under no circumstances ever say ‘I lost something,’ only ‘I returned it.’ DId a child of yours die? No, it was returned. Your wife died? No, it was returned…Why concern yourself with the means by which the original giver effects its return? As long as he entrusts it to you, look after it as something yours to enjoy only for a time – the way a traveller regards a hotel.” - Epictetus

Does that sound dangerous?

Socrates did not fear death, it is widely considered that he could have accepted exile or lesser punishments, instead of execution. Exactly that lack of fear, unwillingness to be coerced and 'fit in' were the issues he was prosecuted for: What did Socrates teach which lead to his conviction that he spoiled youth and taught other Gods? And I would argue this willingness to live up to his intellectual ideals, to accept 'martyrdom' for them, is exactly what made Socrates paradigmatic in defining what philosophy is: Is Socrates' wisdom intrinsically valuable?

Wisdom is exactly about the process or cultivation of what allows us to not be coerced, by bias or impulse or fear, and instead to act from the integrated centre of our concerns, in facing character tests understood to be above all as solving dilemmas or difficult choices well. Discussed here: Wisdom and John Vervaeke's awakening from the meaning crises?

So in short, a fearless person can be good for society by being wise, by cultivating wisdom.

You say

When a person overcomes the fear of death they basically lose their most important instinct that helps and gives them the ability to live.

But, that loss of fear allows them to sacrifice themselves for others, or for ideas. So we need education, and public discourse, that challenges bad ideas, and cultivates wise thinking.

And you say

By ignoring the fear arising from external factors, a person returns to human’s first stage and their behavior becomes immoral and harmful to today's society.

Today's society. But what about service to, tomorrow's society? Nietzsche said:

"Man's maturity: to have regained the seriousness that he had as a child at play" -in Beyond Good and Evil

A recognition that society can be otherwise, that people can behave differently, and a simple demand for fairness, are what the eyes of a child sees. I suggest fearlessness in enacting that, is crucial to a better human future.


Should people fear at least something to be productive for our society?

Not necessary. Some great 'sanyasis' fear nothing. Fear comes from duality. There are people who experience (or living in) non-duality. So we cannot say fearless people are always a threat to society. A little fear of something is good in the early stages of our life. Otherwise nothing or nobody can control him/her until some mishap occurs. But that fear need not necessarily be an object or a controller (eg: God, as some believe). It may be a wrong idea (eg: immorality).

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