Fear of the Past

Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming)
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A widespread (and often tacit) assumption is that fear is an anticipatory emotion and, as such, inherently future-oriented. Prima facie, such an assumption is threatened by cases where we seem to be afraid of things in the past: if it is possible to fear the past, then fear entertains no special relation with the future—or so some have argued. This seems to force us to choose between an account of fear as an anticipatory emotion (supported by pre-theoretical intuitions as well as empirical research in psychology) and admitting cases of past-oriented fear. In this paper, we argue for a proposal that dissolves this dilemma. Our claim is: with the right account in place, the future-orientation of fear can be made compatible with, and is actually explanatory of, cases where we are genuinely afraid of something in the past. So, there is no need to choose: fear is still future-oriented, even when we are genuinely afraid of things in the past. The key is a correct understanding of what fear’s temporal orientation amounts to, and the framework we offer here provides us with such an understanding.

Author Profiles

Davide Bordini
Université de Fribourg
Giuliano Torrengo
Università degli Studi di Milano


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