What Philosophical Idea Or Position Do You Find The Scariest?


It’s Halloween, and philosophers everywhere are dressing up as obscure ideas and concepts that they’ll have to spend too much time explaining. Costumes are fun, but let’s not forget the horror, shall we?Philosophy has the power to strike fear into people’s hearts. Even the professionals. So let’s ask:

Which philosophical idea’s truth do you most fear?

(Yes, this question does not specify whether you’re supposed to take the probability of an idea’s truth into account when identifying it as the one you most fear. Such unsettling ambiguities you’ll just have to cope with this Halloween.)

thinker-skeleton

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Alex
Alex
5 years ago

The answer is clear:
“What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence – even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!”
Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus?… Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?” (Nietzsche, The Gay Science)Report

Ryan Lake
5 years ago

Roko’s Basilisk *shudder*Report

Randolph
Randolph
5 years ago

Certain strains of speculative theistic satanism can be scary, if you consider the broader gnostic and Neoplatonic background–from the Ricoeurian point of view about the symbolic power of the sacred. Christianity and atheism can be far scarier of course, but you have to start with theistic satanism to point out just how scary the reality if the sacral dimension of life can be. And finally, proceeding ever out of Halloween, scariness is just a stand in for the emotional registration of the power of reality in its true home of ultimate nothingness or divine beyond-of-being supernacy. The transnatural is always there in our metaphysics, even our self-hating metaphysics where “realism” lacks a transcendental foundation. Ghosts, living and incarnate ghosts, and the great chain of beings proceeding from the sacred, and everything in the wild imagination participates in reality in different ways, and our job as philosophers is to know the ways and how they connect to the way of being.Report

Dustin Locke
5 years ago

The thesis of David Lewis’ “How Many Lives has Schrödinger’s Cat?”Report

Travis Timmerman
Travis Timmerman
5 years ago

AntinatalismReport

J. Neil Otte
5 years ago

FideismReport

CW
CW
5 years ago

Philosophical zombies — they do and say everything we do, but without the “what it feels like” part. Sounds dangerous to me. And, by definition, we can’t tell who they are among us.Report

BB
BB
5 years ago

personal identity doesn’t matterReport

AP Taylor
AP Taylor
5 years ago

Eliminative Materialism.Report

Eric
Eric
5 years ago

I think modal realism is scary once you consider what would be included in the realm of all possible worlds. It would mean that there are universes inhabited by people/beings suffering the worst fates possible.Report

Jason "Halloween Is for Gaelic People Only" Brennan
Jason "Halloween Is for Gaelic People Only" Brennan
5 years ago

I find semiotic/symbolic/expressive arguments for policies and institutions scary. (For example, “We should ban organ sales because organ sales express disrespect for the human body,” or “We should have democracy because democracy expresses respect for people.”)Report

Greg Gauthier
5 years ago

Hands down, the most terrifying philosophical idea, at least in the modern era, has got to be Utilitarianism. A random assortment of “important” people deciding who and what has “utility” relative to their own arbitrary will (more or less), is responsible for more suffering death and destruction just in the 20th century alone, than in all of the rest of human history. If I could erase one bad idea from history, it would be that one.Report

SCM
SCM
Reply to  Greg Gauthier
5 years ago

Really? I’m not entirely sure that Hitler, Stalin, Mao etc. were utilitarians exactly. Maybe I just missed the references to Bentham in the Little Red Book.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Greg Gauthier
5 years ago

Is the idea that we should do good things even worse? Good has been used as an excuse to do everything bad done in the name of utilitarianism and more besides. And what about social justice? Is that a terrible idea? All the communist atrocities were done in the name of social justice, after all. And what about the idea that we should strive to be healthy? That’s been an excuse for eugenic killing. Alternatively, maybe an idea isn’t shown to be an awful idea by awful things being done in its name, since any idea can have awful things done in its name, and the better the idea, the better the idea, the better an excuse it makes to hide behind.Report

Sara L. Uckelman
5 years ago

If it turned out that at no level, object, meta, meta-meta, meta-meta-meta, etc. in no part of the “world” however world is defined, was classical logic the correct logics, I…do not know what I would do.Report

alex
alex
5 years ago

I’m afraid of Parfit’s “repugnant conclusion” being true.Report

Lecturer
Lecturer
5 years ago

One student in my MA was an outright egotist. She honestly claimed ‘if it is good for me, it is good.’ Her position scared me (and others in the program) then. I think she became a lawyer…Report

Ghost
Ghost
Reply to  Lecturer
5 years ago

I think that’s just how entailment works. Did she say that what is good for her is best? Because that would be weird.Report

Animal Fright
Animal Fright
5 years ago

Sosa’s distinction between animal and reflective knowledge. Thinking about what animals might know, and what they could do with their their knowledge is downright horrifying.Report

tttttttttt
tttttttttt
5 years ago

Eternal damnationReport

Perplexed Marketeer
Perplexed Marketeer
Reply to  tttttttttt
5 years ago

The absence of eternal damnation (for those who deserve it)Report

Mark Silcox
Mark Silcox
Reply to  Perplexed Marketeer
1 month ago

Whatever theory of the nature of moral desert leads otherwise cognitively functional people to believe ^this sort of thing.Report

tttttttttt
tttttttttt
5 years ago

much less scary, but still scary… that professional philosophy is basically a grossly self-centered, self-indulgent, immoral profession.Report

Ghost
Ghost
Reply to  tttttttttt
5 years ago

Wait, it’s scary that it’s true? Or it’s scary that people know that?Report

Ned
Ned
Reply to  tttttttttt
5 years ago

…and that’s why I now drive an ambulance.

Your move, academiaReport

Cherif
Cherif
5 years ago

For me, the scariest idea is that suicide can be found rational if one believes life is meaningless.Report

Bertha Alvarez Manninen
Bertha Alvarez Manninen
5 years ago

Scary? – Materialism (though I am starting to think it’s true)

Repugnant? Ethical Egoism or Randian Objectivism (though I hardly consider her a philosopher so….)Report

David Mathers
David Mathers
Reply to  Bertha Alvarez Manninen
5 years ago

What frightens you about materialism? (Genuine, not rhetorical question).Report

Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
5 years ago

The idea that nobody knows much of anything.Report

Socrates
Socrates
Reply to  Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
5 years ago

Word.Report

Andy
Andy
5 years ago

As a meat eater I find the prospect that animals might have a significant moral status pretty scary. I’m not convinced that they do (hence being a meat eater). But the stakes for being wrong are pretty high.Report

Courtney
Courtney
Reply to  Andy
5 years ago

As a vegan I find the prospect that animals might organise themselves into revolt against the species which for longer than they can remember farmed them to extremes of misery with no exception for non-meat eaters, scary.Report

Patrick Lin
5 years ago

Homunculi.Report

abdcdefgodthaab
abdcdefgodthaab
5 years ago

Trivialism, and relatedly, anything that implies trivialism is true: Curry paradoxes, tonk being a genuine connective, classical logic being true.

The block view of time: any and all of the most horrific sufferings never really cease (though the fact that any and all of the most wonderful goods also never cease doesn’t strike me as a consolation for some reason).Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
5 years ago

The Fermi paradox.Report

Nick
Nick
5 years ago

Alethic absolutism. What if the context-insensitive truth sucks?Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
5 years ago

Any version of the correspondence theory of truth being false (incoherent?). I’m not sure what kind of meaningful epistemology or standards of evidence or reasoning we could have if there were no external check on our assertions.Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
Reply to  Urstoff
5 years ago

*All versions, not any versionReport

Damian Melamedoff
Damian Melamedoff
5 years ago

No free will.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

Skepticism. I can see no good reason to believe my senses, nor my cognitive faculties. Brr!Report

Andrew Sepielli
Andrew Sepielli
5 years ago

I find the denial of Mark Johnston’s thesis in Surviving Death the scariest.Report

Peter Alward
Peter Alward
5 years ago

Everything is water. (I have an irrational fear of drowning. On the other hand, if I’m water too …)Report

Jon Light
Jon Light
5 years ago

Anything that ends is -ism.Report

Alan White
Alan White
5 years ago

Emotivism!!Report

SCM
SCM
5 years ago

I feel sure this post is just an elaborate attempt on Justin’s part to get someone to write “BOO!!thius, mwhahhahahaha!”Report

Joshua Blanchard
5 years ago

robust realism about teletubbiesReport

cal
cal
5 years ago

Obviosly Stirner. I don’t think I could handle that many spooks! (or being the creative nothing with the prerogative to control all things which are my property, or the idea that someone else migut think that they have that prerogative themselves)Report

hesperusphosphorus
hesperusphosphorus
5 years ago

natural slaveryReport

Adam Omelianchuk
Adam Omelianchuk
5 years ago

The survival lottery.Report

Epikoureios
Epikoureios
5 years ago

Arch-pessimist that I am, I can think of only a few things more terrifying than some of what our own world actually has on offer, but certainly one of them would be that life has an *intrinsic* meaning imparted by a cosmic arbiter. I would rather live unsupervised in an indifferent and largely deterministic thresher (as in fact I believe I do) than in a world whose familiar structure and content–every horror and form of suffering in every human life–is coextensive with the preventable but intended design of some more powerful agent.Report

Lawmo
Lawmo
5 years ago

PhysicalismReport

YAAGS
YAAGS
5 years ago

Crude hedonism, where well-being is defined solely as pleasurable mental states. (I.e., that we shold aim to end art, culture, and science once we have become technologically advanced enough to put ourselves into a perpetual drug-induced stupor until our sun dies.)

Also, the near-universal prevalence of hedonism as an answer to the Fermi paradox.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

I think that most people have stopped answering the actual, very interesting question in the OP, which is “Which philosophical idea’s truth do you most fear?” and are instead just telling us what philosophical ideas they hate, which is not nearly so interesting.Report

Jean Kazez
Jean Kazez
5 years ago

No Free Will, Anti-Natalism.Report

Ned
Ned
5 years ago

I’ll prefix this by saying I really don’t know what I’m talking about these days, but here’s my two cents.

Functionalism, especially of a computational bent, has some pretty scary implications, when you factor in the substrate neutrality of computation.

There’s the obvious worries about my reality being some sort of simulation (whether that just applies to my own POV or a ‘wider’ reality with other captive agents in it too). Matrix-style stuff. But at least those scenarios have a reasonable chance of enduring, even if for a malign or dubious purpose.

My real worry is that, if my reality just supervenes on some suitably-arranged functional structure, there’s no guarantee it will continue at all. A fleetingly-instantiated configuration of sand grains on a beach might by sheer chance be “just so” allowing a few frames of the simulation to occur in sequence, and then the whole thing might collapse instantaneously. From the inside, you’d never know a damn thing.Report

Philososteve
Philososteve
5 years ago

That the universe is not in some way organized to promote our flourishing.Report

PeterJ
PeterJ
5 years ago

There are many that are easy to hate for the damage they do but none that I fear.Report

Kenny Easwaran
5 years ago

The only philosophy paper I’ve read that has actually scared me while I was reading it is William James, “The Will to Believe”. It’s scary to look out into the abyss and wonder – what if the theists are right, and there really is *evidence* for religious belief, but you’re only able to get it by taking a leap of faith down into that abyss? This seems to have radically skeptical implicationsReport

PeterJ
PeterJ
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
5 years ago

Hi Kenny. Why be scared? According to the reports everybody who looks comes back with good news, although not entirely good for theists. Indiana Jones found there was a magic bridge.Report

textor alector
textor alector
5 years ago

before reading I wagered the answers’d be filled w/ ‘moral relativism’ but then it seems not to even have been mentioned once *chuckle*Report