There’s been a gap of some weeks since I last posted in a series of very close commentaries on Søren Kierkegaard’s 1844 The Concept of Anxiety, published under the pseudonym of Vigilius Haufniensis. The aim is to get to the end of the book, but in 8 posts I’d only covered opening material and the first four paragraphs of the Introduction. I hope to speed up so that posting on the whole book becomes a more contained project, and not a life time labour. The fifth paragraph of the Introduction is a lot less intense. Kierkegaard; simply suggesting that the preceding paragraphs are too complicated for the book, which is certainly supported by my posts attempting to untangle them. The justification offered for them is that what applies in a greater realm applies in the lesser realm where mistakes are also damaging. This may be a reference to Kierkegaard’s focus on subjectivity rather than the nature of reality as a whole, and in that case may have some irony about it. Kierkegaard clearly believed that subjectivity is the starting point of philosophy and theology, and perhaps we should regard the ‘lesser’ realm as more important than the ‘greater’ realm. Kierkegaard presumably recognised the validity of investigations of the nature of the universe, of reality as a whole, but does not show much sign of regarding it as essential to philosophy.
In the sixth paragraph, Kierkegaard states the aim of the book, clear from its contents page, of examining anxiety in the context of hereditary sin (as in the original sin which Christians believe afflicts humanity since the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. However, he also states the problem that sin does not belong within the scope of psychology, and that to bring sin out of its place is to subject it to ‘a nonessential refraction of reflection’. The alternation in the concept changes the mood associated with the concept, so that false moods arise. Sin properly speaking is ‘something to be overcome’, but displaced from its proper location into the esthetic (suggesting both for Kierkegaard the realm of the senses, and the artistic sphere), that it becomes a contradiction, which is treated with amusement or melancholy, that becomes comedy of tragedy. The right mood for sin is earnestness, not comedy or tragedy.
The seventh paragraph mentions the danger of dealing with sin through metaphysics, where the mood is one of dialectical uniformity and disinterestedness, and thin of sin as if it is weak before thought. While sin is to be overcome, it is something that thought can give life to, and which is of concern to all humans. The eighth paragraph suggests that psychology gives sin a mood of persistent observation, but a mood of earnestness leaving sin. As a concept sin becomes a state, but sin is not a state. The idea of sin is that it is constantly annulled. It is actuality, not potentiality (a probable reference to Aristotle). The mood of psychology is antipathetic curiosity (curiosity without empathic effect in the curious individual). The mood of psychology is also that of a discovering anxiety. Psychology is in anxiety over its portrayal of sin and that anxiety enters its portrayal of sin. Sin becomes stronger in this way, and can become stronger because psychology is feminine (presumably passive and weak) in relation to sin. The state of sin (does Kierkegaard mean the state of sin after psychological examination) is near universal before the ethical appears.
In the eighth paragraph, Kierkegaard suggests that the correctness of the concept of sin can be determined through the mood in which the issue is treated. Discussing sin as disease, abnormality, poison or disharmony shows incorrectness. So presumably what concerns Kierkegaard is bring terms of medicine, physical states, deviation and non-unity into the discussion of sin. Does Kierkegaard complete exclude all of these from sin? He did write The Sickness unto Death.
The ninth paragraph assets that sin belongs to a sermon not science, and that a sermon is the single individual speaking as the single individual to the single individual. This is an emphasis on one of Kierkegaard’s key term, maybe his most important term, Enkelte, translated here as single individual, though individual is presumably the most average or ‘natural’ translation. The emphasis on the sermon as an experience of pure individuation, including the experience of the other person as the single individual, is a distinctive way of describing a sermon which is a social event, and one of the basic social events for any society where religious observance is widespread. Presumably the sermon is the kind of social event which makes us most aware of our individuality.
The sermon has been debased by the misunderstanding of the modern pastor who regards himself as a clerk. Kierkegaard now shifts into Pagan antiquity, putting forward Socrates as the model. Kierkegaard finds it necessary to explain that he is not arguing for members of the audience to answer the sermon, and start a dialogue. Socrates’ capacity for dialogue is itself the expression for a capacity for ‘appropriation’, Tilegnelsen. The Danish word, as far as I can see with my very feeble understanding of the language, has more concrete connotations than ‘appropriation’ in English, including senses of dedicating a book, and acquiring a language (so what I need to do to be a better commentator on Kierkegaard). Kierkegaard is certainly using it in a philosophical context, but without defining it. The connotations of Tilegnelsen include gaining knowledge, and Kierkegaard appears to mean that the sermonising-Socratic form of communication is a gathering of knowledge, even then there is no response. There can be a monologue based on openness to knowledge, as well as the deep individuation of speaker and listener.