People fear the unknown because they do not have any experience and are afraid to do new things which they wonder about what can possibly happen. I also believe, alongside with Socrates, that fear of the unknown is a type of ignorance because it causes us to remain clueless about what we are avoiding.
People also fear the unknown because they fear the ability to learn something new by believing everything has not been experienced is not safe and should not be done. We seem to not know that everything was not meant to be learned at once and that learning is an unlimited process. In the Allegory of the Cave, the situation of the prisoners represents the human life in general. The cave represents the opinions, while the outside of the cave represents the knowledge or ideas, and the prisoners are the philosophers. The outside of the cave is better than the inside because it is based on experience not perception. As for the prisoners, they only know what they have experienced inside the cave, so basically all they know include what is around them and nothing else exists to them; so if another prisoner comes to tell them about the outside world which he or she experiences; they would not believe it. Therefore, fear could also describe as an absent of experience or knowledge.
We should not practice what is not a thing. Also think about not having experience of how the sun looks like and one day someone makes you see the sun or even describe it. You would definitely be angry, for you think they are doing you wrong by showing or telling something unpleasant. Fearing the unknown is avoiding to know more than we already know. As an example, when someone does not want to learn something new, they bring out excuses such as I know it and nod at every details just to get over it. Now, if you were to ask for a decent example you would definitely hear “I understand it, but I just do not know how to explain it properly.” I have learned from Albert Einstein, if you are unable to explain, then you are definitely clueless about it.
How many times do we try to avoid something because we fear it as it was the worst thing that ever exists. In agreement with Socrates, I believe death is an unknown since we have not experienced it. We all learn if we die we either go to heaven or hell, so we are afraid to even experience it because we are clueless about where exactly we will go. How do we really know hell is bad? How do we know it belongs to the devil if we have not experienced it, for knowledge comes from experience? Perhaps, we may want to go to heaven, and yet we are still afraid to die. Fearing death is considering ignorant because we also give it a description without any experience. (Apology 29a). Death is just a transition of the soul from a place to another. It is not disappearing or an award to the wrongdoers as we mostly believe.
How many times do we try to avoid something because we fear it, yet we cannot give a decent reason that fear? Taking example of darkness, most of us fear darkness because we cannot clearly see through it. In my opinion, we fear darkness because it is the absent of light which is known as the positive aspect, but not because we know what darkness is in a definition itself. Just like we fear death because we think living is all that matters, so death should be avoided. Therefore, I do not think we fear the unknown, instead we fear the idea of getting to know the difference that exists between them.
Most importantly, the fear of the unknown comes from the unwillingness of leaving our comfort zone and being limited. We fear to believe because we only feel comfortable winning, while failure contains a lot of lesson or experience that could lead us to a better path and since we fear it, we end up doing the limited thing that we already know our whole lives.
Others believe fear of the unknown is not ignorant instead, it is a part of our genes or psychological aspect. Additionally, fear starts from being a baby which is consider to be a normal brain function. As a baby, everyone is afraid of what we call strangers. For example, if a stranger is trying to catch a baby attention, he or she will run to his or her relative. We tend to believe that safety only comes from those we know not only we expect to know everything and to have everything clear, but also we believe it’s not proper so we end up avoiding it. Then again, Socrates believes avoiding something which you do not know can stop us from experiencing new life. We cannot define the unknown if we only know the known, for definition is more accurate with experience. He stated he should not fear the penalty Meletus assessed against him since he does not know whether it is bad or good.
Growing up as a Haitian child, my parents thought me a lot of things which I needed to avoid. For years over years I did not realize they were not dangerous, but instead they were afraid to let me figure it out as a child. My parents thought me that dreams have meaning and help avoid dangers. For example, if one of my parents had a dream which they consider a bad dream, I am completely forbidden to leave the house. In my opinion, I believe all of those norms and customs are due to fear of the unknown. Just because they do not know either the reality behind a dream or what is really going to happen, so they make me stay home. Although this may be true, how do they know the meaning of it? What makes it true? knowing that no one truly knows the interpretation of dreams. They also taught me to not walk alone in darkness, for the wrongdoers stay in the dark; for this reason, I was scared to even walk from one room to another if it is dark.
Courage is coming across fear. Philosophy requires to know something before being able to define it, with that being said, we should know the unknown in other to consider it bad. Thus, if we want to know the classification of an unknown, we definitely need to get rid of the fear and come across the reality of it which is known as courage. In Apology, Socrates asked question about fearing the unknown in which he is referring to having the courage to experience death before he could actually have fear, for he does “not know whether it is good or bad”. (37c) The lack of courage cause us to be ignorant because we do not have the courage to withstand the unknown; we remain in our cave and refuse to learn from others about the outside world. He also stated wherever we take a position that has been placed by our master, or we believe to be the best, then we must have the courage to face the fear without thinking of death or any other unknown, other than dishonor.
To conclude, Philosophy requires courage because being courageous is also being fearless. Knowing that we should not fear the unknown, we must have the courage to experience the unknown and learn what makes it unique. It is not until the experience; we shall know whether the unknown is good or bad, hence the prisoners should not consider the cave good until they have also experienced the outside of the cave.
- Plato. (2016). Apology. In Plato - five dialogues: Euthyphro, apology, crito, meno, phaedo. New York, NY: LG Classics.
- Plato, & Jowett, B. (1922). Book VII. In The Republic of Plato (3rd ed., Vol. 2, pp. 193-197). Oxford: Clarendon Press.