Fear, Anxiety, and Courage in Philosophy and Film

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Module code


  • Level 3
  • Semester 1
  • 24 places
  • Philosophy - School of Humanities
  • Coursework 100%
  • Evening Module, Mondays 1800-2100


In modernity, anxiety for the first time enters the ranks of the philosophical concept. Relatively late, Martin Heidegger will famously distinguish between fear (that always has an object) and anxiety (that is without concrete object) and argue that the latter - by shattering all certainties - liberates us from our attachments to external objects and to the ordinary course of the world. This experience is so fundamentally disorienting that, in turn, it allows for a new orientation in and toward the world to arise. Anxiety gains the status of a philosophical concept because it is conceptually linked to a potential experience of freedom. Freedom thus, as Heidegger suggests, necessitates a peculiar form of courage, "the courage to be anxious".

After Heidegger, the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, following Sigmund Freud, characterizes anxiety as the only affect that never deceives. Anxiety's peculiar certainty is that there is no fundamental certainty and that we are hence doomed to be free. But, Lacan furthermore specified that anxiety - different from what we fear - for that matter can also not be communicated to others, it breaks with all forms of representation. The module will trace the different conceptualizations of anxiety and its relation to freedom through its modern philosophical history and address the question of its representability. This will also involve discussing artistic productions (inter alia films) that directly deal with the problem of how to represent anxiety and the courage related to it.


Dr Frank Ruda


The module will be assessed as follows:

  • 40% Short Essay (2000 words)

  • 60% Long Essay (3000 words)


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Module Aims

  • To discuss different approaches of how to conceptualize the affect / concept of anxiety and the concept of courage
  • To acquaint students with the most influential theoretical attempts in systematically addressing these concepts, including existentialist and psychoanalytic approaches
  • To enable the students to examine philosophical theories and their understanding of them through the concrete and conceptually instructed analysis of a variety of films
  • To provide the students with the knowledge of different approaches of how to relate philosophical theories to concrete cultural and artistic objects
  • To develop the students’ capacity to engage with works of art or popular culture from a philosophical or psychoanalytic point of view
  • To enable the students’ capacity to critically discuss and systematically evaluate contemporary phenomena as well as contemporary philosophical theories  

Intended learning outcomes

Knowledge and understanding.

  • To provide knowledge and understanding of the concepts of fear, anxiety and courage and of their systematic relation to the concept of freedom.
  • To introduce students to the conceptual exigencies for accounting for either of these concepts.
  • To provide the students with a knowledge of key concepts of modern philosophy and their most influential conceptualizations

Subject-specific practical and intellectual skills and attributes.

  • Familiarity with important philosophical positions from the 19th and 20th century.
  • The capacity to critically examine the scope of philosophical concepts vis-à-vis concrete cultural phenomena and vice versa.
  • Evaluation of different philosophical positions and ability to bring them into a critical discussion with each other

Transferable, employability and enterprise skills and attributes.

Development of the necessary skills to engage with unfamiliar material and applying these to different, even contemporary contexts.

Enhancement of research, discussion and presentation skills.