Last modified on 7 September 2014, at 14:45

The Concept of Anxiety

Begrebet Angest (The Concept of Anxiety) is a philosophical work written by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard in 1844.


The Concept of Anxiety, trans. Thompte
  • Each generation has its own task and need not trouble itself unduly by being everything to previous and succeeding generations. Just as each day’s trouble is sufficient for the day, so each individual in a generation has enough to do in taking care of himself and does not need to embrace the whole contemporary age with his paternal solicitude or assume that era and epoch begin with his book, and still less with the New Year’s torch of his promise or with the intimations of his farseeing promises or with the referral of his reassurance to a currency of doubtful value. Not everyone who is stoop-shouldered is an Atlas, nor did he become such by supporting a world. Not everyone who says Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven. Not everyone who offers himself as surety for the whole contemporary age proves by such action that he is reliable and can vouch for himself. Not everyone who shouts Bravo, schwere, Noth, Gottblitz, bravissimo has therefore understood himself and his admiration.
    • P. 7: Preface
  • In logic, no movement must come about, for logic is, and whatever is logical only is. The external expression for the logical is what the Eleatics through a misunderstanding transferred to existence: nothing comes into being, everything is.
    • Note p. 13: Introduction
  • Corresponding to the concept of sin is earnestness. Now ethics should be a science in which sin might be expected to find a place. But here there is a great difficulty. Ethics is still an ideal science, and not only in the sense that every science is ideal. Ethics proposes to bring ideality into actuality. On the other hand, it is not the nature of its movement to raise actuality up into ideality. Ethics points to ideality as a task and assumes that every man possesses the requisite conditions. Thus ethics develops a contradiction, inasmuch as it makes clear both the difficulty and the impossibility. What is said of the law is also true of ethics: it is a disciplinarian that demands, and by its demands only judges but does not bring forth life.
    • P. 16: Introduction

Anxiety as the Presupposition of Hereditary Sin and as Explaining Hereditary Sin Retrogressively in Terms of its OriginEdit

  • The Genesis story presents the only dialectically consistent view. Its whole content is really concentrated in one statement: Sin came into the world by a sin. Were this not so, sin would have come into the world as something accidental, which one would do well not to explain. The difficulty for the understanding is precisely the triumph of the explanation and its profound consequence, namely, that sin presupposes itself, that sin comes into the world in such a way by the fact that it is, it is presupposed. Thus sin comes into the world as a sudden, as a leap; but this leap also posits the quality, and since the quality is posited, the leap in that very moment is turned into the quality and is presupposed by the quality and the quality by the leap. To the understanding this is an offense; ergo it is a myth. As a compensation, the understanding invents its own myth, which denies the leap and explains the circle as a straight line, and now everything proceed quite naturally.
    • P. 32

Anxiety as Explaining Hereditary Sin ProgressivelyEdit

  • One who has properly occupied himself with psychology and psychological observation acquires a general human flexibility that enables him at once to construct his example which even though it lacks factual authority nevertheless has an authority of a different kind. The psychological observer ought to be more nimble than a tightrope dancer in order to incline and band himself to other people and imitate their attitudes, and his silence in the moment of confidence should be seductive and voluptuous, so that what is hidden may find satisfaction in slipping out to chat with itself in the artificially constructed nonobservance and silence.
    • P. 55
  • The concept of race is too abstract to allow the positing of so concrete a category as sin, which is posited precisely in that the single individual himself, as the single individual, posits it. Thus sinfulness in the race becomes only a quantitative approximation.
    • P. 57
  • Anxiety may be compared with dizziness. He whose eye happens to look down the yawning abyss becomes dizzy. But what is the reason for this? It is just as much in his own eye as in the abyss, for suppose he had not looked down. Hence, anxiety is the dizziness of freedom, which emerges when the spirit wants to posit the synthesis and freedom looks down into its own possibility, laying hold of finiteness to support itself. Freedom succumbs to dizziness. Further than this, psychology cannot and will not go. In that very moment everything is changed, and freedom, when it again rises, sees that it is guilty. Between these two moments lies the leap, which no science has explained and which no science can explain. He who becomes guilty in anxiety becomes as ambiguously guilty as it is possible to become.
    • Original Danish: Angest kan man sammenligne med Svimmelhed. Den, hvis Øie kommer til at skue ned i et svælgende Dyb, han bliver svimmel. Men hvad er Grunden, det er ligesaa meget hans Øie som afgrunden; thi hvis han ikke havde stirret ned. Saaledes er Angest den Frihedens Svimlen, der opkommer, idet Aanden vil sætte Synthesen, og Friheden nu skuer ned i sin gegen Mulighed, og da griber Endeligheden at holde sig ved. I denne Svimlen segner Friheden. Videre kan Psychologien ikke komme og vil det ikke. I samme Øieblik er Alt forandret, og idet Friheden igjen reiser sig op, seer den, at den er skyldig. Imellem disse tvende Øieblikke ligger Springet, som ingen Videnskab har forklaret eller kan forklare. Den, der bliver skyldig i Angest, han bliver saa tvetydig skyldig som mulig.
    • P. 61
  • If a person does not first make clear to himself the meaning of “self,” it is of no use to say of sin that it is selfishness. Only when the concept of the particular is given can there be any talk of selfishness, however, no science can say what the self is without stating it quite generally. And this is the wonder of life, that each man who is mindful of himself knows what no science knows, since he knows who he himself is, and this is the profundity of the Greek saying know yourself, which too long has been understood in the German way as pure self-consciousness, the airiness of idealism. It is about time to seek to understand it in the Greek way, and then again as the Greeks would have understood it if they had possessed Christian presuppositions. However, the real “self” is posited only by the qualitative leap. In the prior state there can be no question about it. Therefore, when sin is explained by selfishness, one becomes entangled in indistinctness because, on the contrary, it is by sin and in sin that selfishness comes into being.
    • P. 78-79

Anxiety as the Consequence of that Sin which is Absence of the Consciousness of SinEdit

  • Man is a synthesis of psyche and body, but he is also a synthesis of the temporal and the eternal. In the former, the two factors are psyche and body, and spirit is the third, yet in such a way that one can speak of a synthesis only when the spirit is posited. The latter synthesis has only two factors, the temporal and the eternal. Where is the third factor? And if there is no third factor, there really is no synthesis, for a synthesis that is a contradiction cannot be completed as a synthesis without a third factor, because the fact that the synthesis is a contradiction asserts that it is not. What, then, is the temporal?
    • p. 85
  • Spiritlessness can say exactly the same thing that the richest spirit has said, but it does not say it by virtue of spirit. Man qualified as spiritless has become a talking machine, and there is nothing to prevent him from repeating by rote a philosophical rigmarole, a confession of faith, or a political recitation. Is it not remarkable that the only ironist and the greatest humorist joined forces in saying what seems the simplest of all, namely, that a person must distinguish between what he understands and what he does not understand.
    • p. 85, cited in: Ulrich Knappe (2004) Theory and Practice in Kant and Kierkegaard, p. 142
  • There is only one proof of spirit and that is the spirit’s proof within oneself. Whoever demands something else may get proofs in superabundance, but he is already characterized at spiritless.
    • P. 95; cited in: Peter Fenves, ‎Peter David Fenves (1993) "Chatter": Language and History in Kierkegaard. p. 97
  • Life offers sufficient phenomena in which the individual in anxiety gazes almost desirously at guilt and yet fears it. Guilt has for the eye of the spirit the fascinating power of the serpent’s glance.
    • P. 104
  • Only by itself can freedom come to know whether it is freedom or whether guilt is posited. Therefore nothing is more ridiculous than to assume that the question of whether one is a sinner or guilty belongs under the rubric: lesson to be memorized. The relation of freedom to guilt is anxiety, because freedom and guilt are still only possibilities.
    • P. 109

Anxiety of Sin or Anxiety as the Consequence of Sin in the Single IndividualEdit

  • The history of the individual life proceeds in a movement from state to state. Every state is posited by a leap. As sin entered into the world, so it continues to enter into the world if it is not halted. Nevertheless, every such repetition is not a simple consequence but a new leap. Every such leap is preceded by a state as the closest psychological approximation. This state is the object of psychology. To the extent that in every state possibility is present, anxiety is also present. Such is the case after sin is posited, for only in the good is there a unity of state and transition.
    • P. 113
  • Nay, truth—which abhors also this untruth of aspiring after broad dissemination as the one aim—is not nimble on its feet. In the first place it cannot work by means of the fantastical means of the press, which is the untruth; the communicator of the truth can only be a solitary individual. And again the communication of it can only be addressed to the individual.
    • P. 116
  • The demonstration of the existence of God is something with which one learnedly and metaphysically occupies oneself only on occasion, but the thought of God forces itself upon a man on every occasion. What is it that such an individuality lacks? Inwardness.
    • p. 140
  • Some deny the eternal in man. He may continue to deny the eternal as long as he wants, but in so doing he will not be able to kill the eternal entirely. Nowadays, the various governments live in fear of restless disturbers; there are altogether too many individualities who live in fear of one restless disturber that nevertheless is the true rest-eternity. So they preach the moment, and just as the road to hell is paved with good intentions, so eternity is best annihilated by mere moments. But why do people rush around in such a terrible haste? If there is no eternity, the moment is just as long as if there were. But anxiety about the eternal turns the moment into an abstraction.
    • p. 152

Anxiety as Saving through FaithEdit

  • If a human being were a beast or an angel, he could not be in anxiety. Because he is a synthesis, he can be in anxiety; and the more profoundly he is in anxiety, the greater is the man—yet not in the sense usually understood, in which anxiety is about something external, about something outside a person, but in the sense that he himself produces the anxiety. Only in this sense can the words be understood when it is said of Christ that he was anxious unto death, as well as the words spoken by Christ to Judas: What you are going to do, do quickly. Not even the terrifying verse that made even Luther anxious when preaching on it—“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me”—not even these words express suffering so profoundly. For the latter signify a condition in which Christ finds himself. And the former signify the relation to the condition that is not.
    • p. 155

Quotes about The Concept of AnxietyEdit

  • It may be judged how important is The Concept of Dread from the fact that besides the German translation there are two translations in French and one in Spanish. It is the first time I have had the pleasure of comparing four translations with the original text. It is hard on the eyes to keep five texts in view when I am making my translation, but it is interesting. I soon discovered to my chagrin that the Spanish translation was made, not from the Danish, but from Schrempf’s translation, and therefore could be discarded. The translator had not emulated the noble example of Don Miguel de Unamuno, who said in one of his essays, “I learned the language for the sake of reading Ibsen and was rewarded by reading Kierkegaard.” Because this translator was only a hack hired by a publisher, his name is not given. But of the French translations, which were both published in 1935 and are therefore entirely independent, it would be churlish of me to say that they are not very good, seeing that I have profited much by both of them.
    • Walter Lowrie, Translator’s Preface to The Concept of Dread, p. vii 1944, 1957 Princeton University Press

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