Anxiety and Mediation

“I would not have deprived myself so long of the honour and pleasure of obeying the request of a lady who is the ornament of her sex, in communicating the desired information, if I had not deemed it necessary previously to inform myself thoroughly concerning the subject of your request. . . . Permit me, gracious lady, to justify my proceedings in this matter, inasmuch as it might appear that an erroneous opinion had induced me to credit the various relations concerning it without careful examination. I am not aware that anybody has ever perceived in me an inclination to the marvellous, or a weakness tending to credulity.

So much is certain that, notwithstanding all the narrations of apparitions and visions concerning the spiritual world, of which a great number of the most probable are known to me, I have always considered it to be most in agreement with sound reason to incline to the negative side; not as if I had imagined such a case to be impossible, although we know but very little concerning the nature of a spirit, but because the instances are not in general sufficiently proved. There arise, moreover, from the incomprehensibility and inutility of this sort of phenomena, too many difficulties; and there are, on the other hand, so many proofs of deception, that I have never considered it necessary to suffer fear or dread to come upon me, either in the cemeteries of the dead or in the darkness of the night.

This is the position in which my mind stood for a long time, until the report concerning Swedenborg came to my notice.

Immanuel Kant’s Letter on Swedenborg To Charlotte Von Knobloch, 1756? From Dreams of a Spirit-Seer 1766 p. 155 translated by Emanuel F. Goerwitz 1900

 Kant and Swedenborg
Read about Kant’s investigation into the world of the spirit in his book. Link above.

In one of Grimm’s Fairy Tales there is the story of a youth who went out in search of adventures for the sake of learning what it is to fear or be in dread. We will let that adventurer go his way without troubling ourselves to learn whether in the course of it he encountered the dreadful. On the other hand I would say that learning to know dread is an adventure which every man has to affront if he would not go to perdition either by not having known dread or by sinking under it. He therefore who has learned rightly to be in dread has learned the most important thing.

Kierkegaard, The Concept of Dread Chapter V Lowrie translation

That youth did learn what it is to fear. Yes he did. As soon as he got married. He wanted to find out what fear was in Grimm’s tale but how do I know a spirit or soul exists? How do I know I am a sinner? How do I know I can be forgiven? How do I know I need God? Can I find out I am guilty by myself, through the legal authorities, the police, psychologists, or through the Grace of God?

Kierkegaard concept

Kierkegaard began with his book Either/Or by asking individuals to make a definite Either/Or regarding certain matters. What is this Either/Or and how does it compare with an either/or? When does the individual say “I am …” with passion. Passion isn’t emotional exuberance on display but emotional exuberance hidden in the inner being. Here are a few quotes from Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or 1843.

There are conditions of life in which it would be ludicrous or a kind of derangement to apply an Either/Or, but there are also people whose souls are too dissolute to comprehend the implications of such a dilemma, whose personalities lack the energy to be able to say with pathos: Either/Or.  Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or II p. 157 Hong

What struggle could be more educative than the struggle with the cares about the necessities of life! Life, even in this struggle loses its beauty if one does not will it oneself. How much childlikeness it takes to be able almost to smile  sometimes at the earthly toil and trouble an immortal spirit must have in order to live, how much humility to be content with the little that is gained with difficulty, how much faith to see the governance of a providence also in his life, for it is easy enough to say that God is greatest in the least, but to be able to see him there takes the strongest faith. Either/Or.  Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or II p. 286 Hong

Kierkegaard angst and practic

The word “sin” has been slowly done away with in many countries. It is a concept in Holy Scripture and Kierkegaard thinks it is a mistake to get rid of the concept. He also thinks this concept of sin must be coupled with the concepts of anxiety and forgiveness. Scholars think Kierkegaard spent too much time worrying about sin and not enough time enjoying life. Some life events have been stressed by scholars.

  • Soren’s birth – His father was fifty-seven years old when he was born and he “may” have been conceived while his father was mourning the death of his first wife. His maid, Anna, Soren’s mother, was comforting him.
  • Later Soren found out his father cursed God when he was twelve years old and that he (his father – Michael) feared that God had cursed his family in recompense for his sin.
  • Then, Soren “may” have had sex with a prostitute. (Or maybe Goethe did)
  • Finally, Soren promised to marry Regine Olsen and then changed his mind and broke off the engagement. Regine was comforting Soren because his father had died in 1838.

Soren wasn’t so afraid of sin as he was of the consequences for any individual, like his own father, who at 82 years old couldn’t forget what he had done 70 years earlier, and couldn’t believe he could be forgiven. As far as Regine goes he had good reasons to break off his engagement and explained them in his book Prefaces.

He thinks sin is part of our human nature and to deny that sin exists is to change the natural order of things.

That human nature must be such that it makes sin possible, is, psychologically speaking, perfectly true; but to want to let this possibility of sin become its reality is shocking to ethics and sounds to dogmatics like blasphemy; for freedom is always possible, as soon as it is it is actual, in the same sense in which it has been said by an earlier philosophy that when God’s existence is possible it is necessary.

As soon as sin is really posited, ethics is on the spot and follows every step it takes. How it came into being does not concern ethics, except in so far as it is certain that sin came into the world as sin. But still less than with the genesis of sin is ethics concerned with the still life of its possibility. The Concept of Anxiety, introduction

Freedom’s possibility is not the ability to choose the good or the evil. The possibility is to be able. Concept of Anxiety, Thompte p. 49

What does the ethicist say about sin? Nothing – the ethicist knows only about crime just as the psychologist does. Ethics change throughout time but sin is always sin because sin is “before God” while crime is done before the State. Psychological ideas change also. One day its wrong to do such and such and the next day its right to do it. Kierkegaard thinks we should rely on the inner testimony in our own spirit more than on courts, justices, psychologists, or news anchors.

Concept of anxiety lowrie

The only thing that is truly able to disarm the sophistry of sin is faith, courage to believe that the state itself is a new sin, courage to renounce anxiety without anxiety. Only faith is able to do this, for only in faith is the synthesis eternal and at every moment possible.
Soren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety, Nichol P. 117

Soren Kierkegaard the Christian thinker
Soren Kierkegaard the Christian thinker

We turn now to Soren Kierkegaard. He is regarded on the Continent, according to Brock, as “one of the most remarkable psychologists of all time, in depth, if not in breadth, superior to Nietzsche, and in penetration comparable only to Dostoievski.” The keystone idea in Kierkegaard’s little book on anxiety, published in 1844, is the relation between anxiety and freedom.Kierkegaard held that anxiety is always to be understood as oriented toward freedom.” Freedom is the goal of personality development ; psychologically speaking, “the good is freedom.” Kierkegaard defines freedom as possibility.

Rollo May, The Meaning of Anxiety 1950

Prefaces Light reading for the different Classes at their Time and Leisure June 17, 1844 by Nicolas Notabene (pseudonym)

Regine Olsen: Soren, would you like to go for a walk with me?

Soren: No, I don’t feel like it today.

Regine: Soren, I went for a walk with my friends and guess who I saw?

Soren: Who?

Regine: I saw you walking with Hans Brocher. YOU LIED TO ME!


Soren: Regine, do you want me to read one of my discourses to you?

Regine: No, silly, I want you to pay attention to me and me alone. The pastor says you should love your wife with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind.

Soren: I thought I was supposed to love God with all my heart, soul, and mind.


Soren: Regine, I want to be a writer.

Regine: Ok. But you can only write prefaces to books. Whole books take too much time away from your family.


Writing a preface is like sharpening a scythe, like tuning a guitar, like talking with a child, like spitting out of the window. One does not know how it comes about; the desire comes upon one, the desire to throb fancifully in a productive mood, the desire to write a preface, the desire to do these things in a low whisper as night falls.

Writing a preface is like ringing someone’s doorbell to trick him, like walking by a young lady’s window and gazing at the paving stones; it is like swinging one’s cane in the air to hit the wind, like doffing one’s hat although one is greeting nobody.

Writing a preface is like being aware that one is beginning to fall in love-the soul sweetly restless, the riddle abandoned, every event an intimation of the transfiguration. Writing a preface is like bending aside a branch in a bower of jasmine and seeing her who sits there in secret: my beloved. Oh, this is how it is, this is how it is to write a preface; and the one who writes it, what is he like? 

Soren Kierkegaard Prefaces 1844 p.  5-6

“To be an author when one is a married man,” she says, “is downright unfaithfulness, directly contrary to what the pastor said, since the validity of marriage is in this, that a man is to hold fast to his wife and to no other.” She is by no means at a loss for an answer if I reply that one might almost thing that she was so neglected that she needs to go to confirmation instruction again, that she perhaps was not really listening to what the pastor said, that marriage is a special duty, a specific duty, and that all duties can be divided into the general and the specific and are duties to God, to ourselves, and to the neighbor. Then she will get into no difficulty at all.

The whole thing is declared to be teasing, and “moreover, she has not forgotten what is said about marriage in the catechism, that it is the husband’s duty in particular.” I futilely seek to explain to her that she is in linguistic error, that she is construing the words illogically, ungrammatically, against all principles of exegesis, because this passage is only about the husband’s particular duties with regard to marriage, just as the very next paragraph is about the wife’s particular duties. It is futile. She takes her stand on the preceding, “that to be an author when one is a married man is the worst kind of unfaithfulness.”

Soren Kierkegaard Prefaces 1844 p.  10-12

Michael Kierkegaard: Soren I want you to go to school and become a preacher.

Soren: But dad I don’t have the authority to preach.

Michael: The University will give you the authority.

Soren: I need authority from God to be able to speak for God.

Michael: Then you can be a philosopher.

Soren: I don’t want to spend my whole life mediating the past!


Surely philosophers want to be popular, wants to make itself understandable to all. However unimportant I may be, in all the processions through the course of time I find no place bearing a more precise designation-under the rubric “all” I do indeed fit in. the category “all” makes no petty distinction; it includes all. In addition, philosophy is certainly not a finite power, not a selfish tyrant that wants to fight, but a philanthropic genius that wants to bring all people to knowledge of the truth. I do not rise in rebellion, I guard against that, I seek instruction. The more unimportant I am, the greater is the triumph for philosophy. To that end spare no means; use evil on me or the good, all accordingly as it is found serviceable; it will endure anything, suffer anything, do anything if only I may succeed in becoming initiated.

Only never allow me to say yes to something I do not understand; only do not require of me that I must explain to others what I myself do not comprehend. … There is one thing that I do know quite definitely: it is what I do not understand. There is one thing I desire of my contemporaries: it is an explanation. Consequently I do not deny that Hegel has explained everything; I leave that to the powerful minds who will also explain what is missing. I keep my feet on the ground and say: I have not understood Hegel‘s explanation.

Soren Kierkegaard Prefaces 1844 p. 55-56

Whether now in our day there is a probability that philosophy will explain itself in this or in a similar but even better way, I do not know; it does no good to be on the lookout for trouble. If, however, it continues to become more and more a riddle, more and more difficult in its expression, if along this path it continues to want to achieve its lofty goal of being understood by all, then perhaps my lofty expectation can be fulfilled, my pious wish to become a philosopher. So I trustingly address myself to my contemporaries. I have not doubted everything; I address myself to men who have doubted everything. What a lofty hope! Have they attained certainty about everything? If do not know, but surely on some points they must have attained it. Granted that there is some exaggeration in the great amount of talk that is heard concerning the system-that it should amount to nothing at all would be too frightful a contradiction for my weak head to be able to think it. Now, if only it becomes an original Danish system, a completely domestic product, and if only I am included-even if I became nothing but a courier in this Danish system-I shall then be happy and satisfied.

Soren Kierkegaard Prefaces 1844 p. 65

Professor Hans Martensen: Soren have you finished your assignment yet.

Soren: No, still working on it.

Martensen: When can I see it.

Soren: When I see the system you’re building completed.

University of Copenhagen

Peter Christian Kierkegaard: Soren dad sent you to school so you could preach the word of God in the Church of Denmark.

Soren: I want to preach what I think the people need.

Michael: We have a calendar of service to follow.

Soren: I don’t want to preach, teach, or get married.

Michael: You’re being selfish and selfishness is a sin.

Soren: What is a self?

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