Philosophers often try to come up with answers to some of the most important questions. Such as: what is the meaning of life and what should we eat for breakfast? We of course hope that they can find some meaningful and positive answers to these questions, for us to feel more secure in our existence. There are, however, several philosophers who have achieved the exact opposite: they make us feel even less secure. In this article I will list the 5 scariest philosophers, based on the extend in which they succeed in creating this insecurity. In case you want to experience some horror by yourself you can try some books of these scary philosophers for free with a free Audible Trial Membership.
Scariest Philosophers #1: Friedrich Nietzsche
Throughout several of his books Friedrich Nietzsche explored an idea called the eternal recurrence. According to this idea time does not move forward linearly, but in a circle, meaning that everything you have ever done, you will continue to do again and again and again, for all of eternity.
The idea of the eternal recurrence is one of the most important bus also one of the scariest ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche. In his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra he even indicated that he himself was scared of this idea “Thus did I speak, and always more softly; for I was afraid of mine own thoughts.” (p.155)
Scariest Philosophers #2: Albert Camus
If living your life over and over again does not sound too bad, how does it sound if the life that you are living is inherently meaningless? This rather scary idea was explored by the philosopher Albert Camus, most notably in his book The Myth of Sisyphus. Albert Camus was one of the most important contributors to the absurdist philosophy. Absurdism is a rather scary philosophy. Its proponents fundamentally argue that life does not have an inherent meaning and that any attempts at finding meaning are doomed to fail in the end.
Albert Camus argued that this is the case because it is simply impossible to know anything for certain: “This heart within me I can feel, and I judge that it exists. This world I can touch, and I likewise judge that it exists. There ends all my knowledge, and the rest is construction.” (p.17)
Scariest Philosophers #3: Arthur Schopenhauer
At least Albert Camus and the absurdist philosophers provided us with two certainties. Arthur Schopenhauer, however, even questioned these two certainties. According to Schopenhauer the world that we observe exists only in our brains i.e., the objective world is created through our subjective world. In his book The World as Will and Idea Schopenhauer argued that this ‘truth’ is the most definite: “For that the objective existence of things is conditioned by a subject whose ideas they are, and consequently that the objective world exists only as an idea, is no hypothesis, and still less a dogma, or even a paradox proposed for the sake of discussion. It is the most certain and the simplest truth.” (p.13)
Even more scary, Arthur Schopenhauer questioned whether the world would even exist if there were no subjects to perceive it: “That the objective world would exist even if there were no conscious being, certainly seems at first sight unquestionable […] For this perceptible and real world is clearly a phenomenon of the brain; hence there is a contradiction in the assumption that as such it ought also to exist independently of all brains.“ (p.14)
Scariest Philosophers #4: Ernest Becker
What if all the things that we do, including writing and reading about philosophy on a blog, are merely our attempts at denying one of the most important facts of our lives: our Mortality?
In his rather scary book, The Denial of Death, the philosopher and cultural anthropologist, Ernest Becker, argued that there exists an important paradox within humanity. On the one hand man exists largely separated from nature and through his consciousness is almost a god. However, on the other hand, man is still merely a mortal animal: “Man is a worm and food for worms. This is the paradox: he is out of nature and hopelessly in it; he is dual, up in the stars and yet housed in a heart-pumping, breath-gasping body that once belonged to a fish and still carries the gill marks to prove it.” (p.26)
Ernest Becker argued that we have created entire religions and societies merely for us to be able to live with this horrible paradox: “Everything that man does in his symbolic world is an attempt to deny and overcome his grotesque fate. He literally drives himself into a blind obliviousness with social games, psychological tricks, personal preoccupations so far removed from the reality of his situation that they are forms of madness.” (p. 27)
Scariest Philosophers #5: Carl Jung
Even though all the scariest philosophers we have discussed up until this point are extremely scary, we at least have a free choice in believing these philosophers. Or do we?
Jordan Peterson often indicated that Carl Jung is one of the scariest philosophers to have ever lived. I believe that this is the case because Carl Jung, particularly in his book Aion, questioned whether we humans possess something called free will.
Jung observed that our own conscious mind, which he also called the ego, is only the tip of the iceberg. Jung called the entirety of our conscious and unconscious personality the self, and within this self, the ego is arguably not the most powerful entity. Instead, it can even be argued that it is under the control of these unconscious forces, such as the shadow, the anima, and the animus. Carl Jung also indicated that there is a hidden inner authority which plays and important role within the decision-making process of every individual. The individual (the ego) is then often merely a spectator within this process.
The Online Cambridge dictionary defined free will as: “The ability to decide what to do independently of any outside influence”. Jung made some compelling arguments indicating that the unconscious forces, from the perspective of the ego, come from the outside, thereby making it feasible to argue that we do not possess the ability to decide what to do independently of any outside influence i.e., we do not possess free will.
Which philosophers would you add to this list of the scariest philosophers of all time?