Sunday, September 2, 2012
So say the existentialists. Nietzsche, Sarte, et al.
According to them, this freedom to choose ones own way, this "free will" gives rise to anxiety or dread when life-decisions are made, and this feeling of "angst" can be overwhelming when you realize your choice can kill you and nobody will stop you or even care.
The Danish philosopher, writer on existentialism, Soren Kierkegaard gives the example of a person standing on the edge of a high cliff. Of course he feels the instinctual fear of falling off, but there is also the fear that he might throw himself off. No one would stop him from doing so. This "anxiety of free will" lasts only a second before he steps back, but the thought that he is alone with his choices brings on that moment of dread. This dread arises form the individuals brief encounter with true freedom of choice, and the gut-wrenching realization that no one will interfere with that choice.
Angst is more than just fear. In regular fear, one can take steps to remove the object of the fear. Angst is the fear of what you might do, if you so chose.
I never said Nietsche or Jean-Paul Sarte made sense.
Anyway, with this in mind, I now consider Adam and whether he experienced angst before he took a bite of the apple. I think it was "forbidden fruit", not "apple." If there were any angst it would not arise from a concept of good and evil, since Adam had no such knowledge yet. Any angst would have simply come from the perceived consequence of disobeying a being he felt great respect for, such as a child contemplating disobeying his parent. It was only after his first bite that he realized he had done something wrong. This is rather a complex thing to sort out. Add to this the realization that God KNEW what choice Adam was going to make, it boggles the mind even more. This "free will" thing is pretty hard for me to understand.
After talking about the angst of true free will, Kierkegaard went on to consider the concept of "despair". Despair is loss of hope, and ensues when the prime motivation for happiness in your life, your driving force, is taken from you. If a famous singer has built her entire life around being able to sing beautifully, and then suddenly she loses that ability, she feels despair if she has nothing to fall back on. Imagine the feeling which a long-time fan of The Heart of Midlothian must feel. That is true despair. Utter hopelessness. I think it was Nietsche who gave that particular example.
"Let each one learn what he can; both of us can learn that a person’s unhappiness never lies in his lack of control over external conditions, since this would only make him completely unhappy." (Kierkegaard: "Either/Or".)
"When the God-forsaken worldliness of earthly life shuts itself in complacency, the confined air develops poison, the moment gets stuck and stands still, the prospect is lost, a need is felt for a refreshing, enlivening breeze to cleanse the air and dispel the poisonous vapors lest we suffocate in worldliness. ... Lovingly to hope all things is the opposite of despairingly to hope nothing at all. Love hopes all things – yet is never put to shame. To relate oneself expectantly to the possibility of the good is to hope. To relate oneself expectantly to the possibility of evil is to fear. By the decision to choose hope one decides infinitely more than it seems, because it is an eternal decision." (Kierkegaard: "Works of Love.")