SK & Possibility

Possibility is a hint from God. You should follow it. Kierkegaard called it the “possibility of an inner history” or “the possibility of openness” in volume 2 of Either/Or. (61, 94, 104-105 Hong) There is something great about making an effort even if the possibility  seems an impossibility because actuality is the highest. But possibility also brings one to a halt because “wherever the essentially Christian is, there is the possibility of offense” because this possibility compels one to choose to believe or be offended. (Works of Love 198-199) Decision is a possibility until it is made, then it’s called a choice.

cropped-strindberg-sk-and-swenson1.jpg“The past is the actual; the future is the possible; eternally, the eternal is the eternal; in time the eternal is the possible, the future. This, of course, is why we call tomorrow the future, be we also call eternal life the future. The possible as such is always a duality, and in possibility the eternal always relates itself equally to its duality.

On the other hand, when a person to whom the possible pertains relates himself equally to the duality of the possible, we say: He expects. To expect contains within itself the same duality that the possible has, and to expect is to relate oneself to the possible purely and simply as such. Then the relationship divides according the way the expecting person chooses.

To relate oneself expectantly to the possibility of the good is to hope, which for that very reason cannot be any temporal expectancy but is an eternal hope. To relate oneself expectantly to the possibility of evil is to fear. But both the one who hopes and the one who fears are expecting. As soon, however, as the choice is made, the possible is changed, because the possibility of the good is the eternal. It is only in the moment of contact that the duality of the possible is equal; therefore, by the decision to choose hope, one decided infinitely more than it seems, because it is an eternal decision”

Soren Kierkegaard, Works of Love, 1847 Hong p. 249-250

The “psychological treatment of the concept of anxiety,” was considered by Kierkegaard in 1844. He says “the mood of psychology is that of discovering anxiety.” But anxiety brings possibility along with it. whereas anxiety is freedom’s actuality as the possibility of possibility. “But he who becomes guilty through anxiety is indeed innocent, for it was not he himself but anxiety, a foreign power that laid hold of him, a power that he did not love but about which he was anxious. And yet he was guilty, for he sank in anxiety, which he nevertheless loved even as he feared it. Anxiety is the enormous nothing of ignorance” Soren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety P. 14-15, 43

Anger sometimes results from this unity of fear and love. “Ethics points to ideality as a task and assumes that every man possesses the requisite conditions” and “proposes to bring ideality into actuality.” But is it such and easy thing to do that? It might be easier to bring possibility into actuality which is the “interest of subjectivity”.  (Concept of Anxiety P. 16, 18)

Kierkegaard says anger and bitterness takes possibility away. The possibility it takes away is the possibility of the good. A coward might end up hoping nothing and that’s the possibility of despair. But the eternal brings the possibility of the good,  a sure hope.

Then there is “possibility and necessity” related together in the imagination. The self is just as possible as it is necessary. Actuality is the unity of these two versions of the self according to Kierkegaard. (Sickness Unto Death, 1849 Swenson – (b). Despair Viewed Under the Aspects of Possibility/Necessity)

cropped-stages-sk2.jpg“Salvation is humanly speaking the most impossible thing of all; but for God all things are possible! This is the fight of faith, which fights madly (if one would so express it) for possibility. For possibility is the only power to save. When one swoons people shout for water, Eau-de-Cologne, Hoffman’s Drops; but when one is about to despair the cry is, Procure me possibility, procure possibility! Possibility is the only saving remedy; given a possibility, and with that the desperate man breathes once more, he revives again; for without possibility a man cannot, as if were, draw breath. Sometimes the inventiveness of a human imagination suffices to procure possibility, but in the last resort, that is, when the point is to believe, the only help is this, that for God all things are possible.” (Sickness Unto Death: (2). The Despair of Necessity is Due to the Lack of Possibility)

Possibility is abstract whereas necessity is concrete. Kierkegaard says an individual who wants to be world-historically famous and must have this possibility will rage against all creation without ever noticing that the trouble being suffered comes from him or her own self and not from the outside.   The possibility of help might never occur to the individual. “For to hope in the possibility of help, not to speak of help by virtue of the absurd, that for God all things are possible — no, that he will not do. And as for seeking help from any other — no, that he will not do for all the world; rather than seek help he would prefer to be himself — with all the tortures of hell, if so it must be.” (Sickness Unto Death: (2) The despair of willing despairingly to be oneself — defiance). This applies to people addicted to something also. Punishment comes into play along with despair. But this punishment can come from two places. Kierkegaard thinks the second in the following is of more importance. “Punishment in the outer is negligible, and far from insisting with esthetic busyness on visible punishments, the ethical proudly says: I shall punish, all right, namely, in the inner, and it is plainly immoral to class punishment in the outer as something comparable to the inner.”  (Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, 1846, Hong Note p. 296-297)

The important step for Kierkegaard is the concept “before God”. This is a Christian concept. He sees this actuality, standing in prayer before God, or becoming contemporary with God, as the highest for any Christian. Here the possibility of the offense is present, and must be ever-present. But here also the possibility of being able to become a believer  is present and is ever present.

“When the sinner despairs of the forgiveness of sins it is almost as if he were directly picking a quarrel with God, it sounds in fact like a rejoinder when he says, “No, there is not any forgiveness of sins, it is an impossibility”; this looks like a hand-to-hand scuffle.” We actually do offend God when we reject the forgiveness he so freely offers. But we also offend God when we fail to give forgiveness to others. (Sickness Unto Death:The Sin of Despairing of (Mark the distinction between despairing over one’s sin, and despairing of the forgiveness of sins.) the Forgiveness of Sins (Offense)

Kierkegaard is concerned with the importance of being earnest. The ability to make a resolution and keep it can be lost. “In life there is not infrequent talk about earnestness. Someone is in earnest about the national debt, another about the categories, and a third about a performance at the theater. Irony discovers that this is the case, and with it has enough to occupy itself, because everyone who becomes earnest at the wrong place is eo ipso comical, even though an equally comical, travestied contemporary age and the opinion of the age may be exceedingly earnest about it. Therefore, there is no measuring rod more accurate for determining the essential worth of an individuality, than what is learned through the individual’s own loquacity or by cunningly extracting from him the secret: What has made him earnest in life? For one may be born with disposition, but no one is born with earnestness.” (The Concept of Anxiety p. 149-150)

This is because God gave more than He got. He bacame the least so that he could reach the least sinner. Kierkegaard says: “That there is an infinite difference of quality between God and man is the possibility of offense which cannot be taken away. Out of love God becomes man; He says, “Look what it is to be a man”; but He adds, “O take heed, for at the same time I am God.” (The Sin of Abandoning Christianity Modo Ponendo, of Declaring It Falsehood)


Artwork by Max Klinger 1857-1920

Kierkegaard thinks the possibility of the highest belongs to everyone.





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