Sunday, September 2, 2012

Existential Angst

Each man and woman creates the meaning of his or her life. Meaning is not determined by a supernatural god or any earthly authority. One is free.

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.") 


  1. Replies
    1. And some hardly at all. :) In this case, though, you're right.

  2. Too much philosophy makes men mad.

  3. And of course, if god already knew Adam's choice before he made it, then Adam did not have free will, thus Adam and Eve were punished for doing what god willed them to do.
    It's a fix, a set up, they were framed!

    As for Kierkegaard. What bollocks.

    1. Hmmmm. Not nearly the deep thinking I've come to expect from you. If I know what you are going to do because I can see the future, does that mean I have influenced your actions? Does it mean you did what I wanted you to do?

    2. Of course it was a set-up. Judas was framed too. But this is philosophy, and the moment you begin to question life, you are sick.

    3. Nonsense both could have acted differently.
      They didn't.

    4. Some folks still think too much......

    5. What if Judas had acted differently?

    6. Are you saying God was leaving it up to Judas whether or not His entire plan of salvation would be sacked or used? I think not. It was preordained, not free will.

    7. Illegal interference. S.C.A.P.E.G.O.A.T.

    8. To clarify, to add clarity to my earlier statement.
      If god made Adam and Eve, and gave them free will, then they have the god-given right to make their own decisions.
      Now if we add to that your statement that god knew in advance what choice he would make, then it's implied that the choice was built into him by god. A hardwired decision-making process. Free will only an illusion.
      As god is the creator of the garden of eden, the world, and all that exists, then god is the creator of all things bright and beautiful, but equally of all that is bad and evil.

      God being omnipotent, omniscient, and so on, then of course, Judas is doing god's will, as is Pontius Pilate and the bloke who hammered the nails.
      And Adolf Hitler.

  4. I believe we are all mad, but psychology shows us just a glimmer of insight into WHY.

    It doesn't begin to tap the complexity of my own madness, however.

  5. You're a poet. That's not madness. :)

  6. I disagree with those that think angst comes from fear of having control of one's own actions or, if it is, that's one of the stupidest fears ever. Take frickin' responsibility, why don't you? What, can't you decide anything on your own?

    Of course, I've always thought Adam ate the fruit on his own and then looked for a scapegoat.

    In my opinion, despair is less hopelessness as it is helplessness, that feeling that you have no option, no choice, no power that allows you to do/preserve/save what matters to you. Whether that's the feeling while sitting at the side of your child's or parent's deathbed, the hard facts about whether you can make the house payment after your husband managed to beat back cancer (but not without untold debts). Or, as was in my case, the realization that nothing I did could stop my in-the-process-of-divorce husband from using my daughter as a pawn and attacking any friends who tried to help me through his law enforcement connections.

    I'd always been self-sufficient, confident that I could retrench/rethink and move on no matter what the calamity and was taught, rather painfully, that is not always so. It took more than half a decade to recover any of my self-confidence.

  7. After our Heavenly Father cleared all of the "religious" muck out of the way, I have experienced a great deal of angst (full-blown anguish, actually) over how many would rather believe that He never meant for sin to enter into this world than that it was all part of the plan He set into motion long before He created it. For if it was possible for things to go so horribly wrong before, who is to say that it could not happen again? After all, wouldn't this mean that none of our eternities can be absolutely secure--regardless of how much faith one may have?



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