The Concept of Anxiety

by Andrea Elizabeth

Now onto what many consider the companion piece to The Sickness Unto Death: The Concept of Anxiety, A simple psychologically orienting deliberation on the dogmatic issue of hereditary sin, by Soren Kierkegaard, edited and translated with introduction and notes by Reidar Thomte in collaboration with Albert B. Anderson.

From the end of the Historical Introduction:

Kierkegaard’s concepts of the self and of anxiety are basic to Reinhold Niebuhr’s doctrine of man [The Nature and Destiny of Man, 1947]. Man stands at the juncture of nature and spirit; he is involved both in freedom and necessity; he is both limited and limitless. “Anxiety is the inevitable concomitant of freedom and finiteness in which man is involved…. It is the inevitable spiritual state of man, standing in the paradoxical situation of freedom and finiteness.” Anxiety is the permanent internal preconditioning of sin as well as of creativity.

Similarly, Rollo May emphasizes that anxiety is not an affect among other affects, such as pleasure and sadness. It is an ontological characteristic of man, rooted  in his very existence. Fear is a threat to the periphery of one’s existence and can be studied as an affect among other affects. Anxiety is a threat to the foundation and center of one’s existence. It is ontological and can be understood only as a threat to Daesen. If the individual did not have some measure of freedom, there could be no experience of anxiety.

Hence the reason for Dostoevsky’s “Grand Inquisitor”. People don’t like the anxiety that freedom produces. They’d rather believe in determinism, victimization, and be ruled autocratically. The possibility of choosing wrongly produces anxiety, manifested by doubt, deliberation, insecurity, etc., which are not fun, but are part of having a gnomic will that has a limited scope.