Wednesday, September 21, 2011

False fear

And someone often pictures himself losing a large amount of money and experiencing many pains as a result. And also he contemplates himself in this internal picture taking particular pain in the situation. (After Plato, Philebus 40a9–12). 
I’ve wondered before whether there can be false pains. And it seems to me that Plato would think that there can be, even though he is more regularly noted as holding the view that there are false pleasures. In the Philebus, Socrates makes ‘hope’ one of two species of anticipation. In 32b9–c2 Socrates asserts that the anticipation (prosdokēma) in the soul alone of a pathos of pleasure is itself pleasant and that the anticipation of something frightening and painful is itself distressing. The most reasonable way to read this and the examples that follow, it seems to me, is that in Socrates’ view hope is an expectation of a future pleasure and therefore itself pleasant, while fear is an expectation of a future pain and is therefore itself painful. 

Further, it is clear from 36c10–11 (cf. 40e2–4) that Socrates thinks there can be true and false fears, alongside true and false opinions and anticipations (prosdokiai: this latter may here be being used for what he earlier classified as hopes, which alongside fears are one of the two species of anticipations, or else is just standing for the whole class). We can therefore infer that there are false pains of anticipation as well as false pleasures, although it is only the pleasures that Socrates wants to examine in depth as part of his account of a good life. 

So I wonder whether Socrates would think it better to have true or false pains of anticipation in one’s life. Here we come across the familiar problem of deciding just what is false about the false pleasures of anticipation he does consider, whether what is false is that the hoped-for event (getting lots of money) does not in fact occur or whether when it occurs it is not enjoyed as it was expected to be. Leaving that unresolved, we can wonder about false fears: Is it better to take pain in the expectation of things that either do not occur as expected or are not as painful as expected (false pains of anticipation)? Or is it better to take pains in the expectations of things that do occur as expected or are as painful as expected (true pains of anticipation)? I think it is clear that, of the two, the second would be preferable for Socrates, even if he would prefer not to have any pains of anticipation at all even to this option. Why? I suppose because the true pains of anticipation are experienced by someone who (depending on the preferred interpretation of the cause of the falsehood) either is capable of predicting accurately what painful things will occur (he can accurately predict losing his money) or is capable of predicting accurately what things that will occur will be painful (he can accurately predict that losing his money will be painful).

What's more, I suppose that the very same capacity or trait of character that is responsible for an agent being free from the mistake that generates false pleasures of anticipation will make the same agent free from the mistake that generates false pains of anticipation.  When this person takes pleasure in anticipating some future experience, we can be sure that that future experience will be pleasant as anticipated.  And when this person is pained in anticipating some future experience, we can be sure likewise that that future experience will be painful as anticipated.

1 comment:

The Modesto Kid said...

An exchange from Saramago's The Cave (which have you read it? I should think it would be highly interesting to a student of Plato, beyond being a fantastic novel in its own right): "We have to live with what is, not with what could be or might have been, That's a wonderfully accepting philosophy, Well, I'm sorry I can't come up with anything better, No, I can't either, but I was born with a mind that suffers from the incurable disease of worrying precisely about what could or might have been."