Monday, January 15, 2024

Phil 417 - Personal Identity

 Questions on Personal Identity

In our modern society, many transactions are based on an individual’s identity. To apply for a car loan, one must provide a social security number, date of birth, mailing address, and other bits of data, all to indicate the identity of a person. Unfortunately, a person’s identity could be stolen and while the actual person would not open a credit line at the local Best Buy, someone else with that data actually could and could commit theft. As frustrating as this can be to a person, other people suffer from a different identity crisis in the form of dissociative identity disorder (DID), which is defined as a person whose identity is disrupted by “two or more distinct personality states” (American Psychiatric Association, 2022, p. 330). One of the most vivid examples of someone who experienced DID was Chris Sizemore, who possessed over twenty different personalities throughout her life (Costner Sizemore & Huber, 1988). These personalities were so fundamentally different from each other that they had differing IQs, tastes, mannerisms, memories, and even religions. After resolving these personalities into a unified self, in a question-and-answer session she said of herself, “On an intellectual level, I am fully aware that I am all of these personalities and that they are me, but on an emotional level, it is as though 22 women used my body for a period of 40 years” (p 59).

What are we to make of these examples of identity? When each of us is asked the question, “Who are you?” how are we to respond? On what basis can we answer such a seemingly basic question, when we are confronted with bewildering examples of people who suffer from mental disorders such as DID? Is our identity related to our body, our memories, our experiences, our survival, or other things? While there are many theories on personal identity, this paper will only review a handful: physical persistence, psychological continuity, and what ultimately matters (Olsen, 2002). After reviewing a few theories, I’ll discuss my opinions on the subject and conclude that there may not be a problem or definition of personal identity, but rather the idea of a personal identity does not exist, or at the very least, there is no simple, straight-forward essence of personal identity.

Physical Persistence

Perhaps the simplest theory of personal identity is to plainly state a person is their body. Certainly, a person is conceived, grouped as cells into an organism, is born and continues to grow and evolve, and then dies. As long as the body is viable, the person’s identity is tied to that body until death, upon which the identity ceases to exist as well. A. J. Ayer asserts this point in his book Language, Truth and Logic (2001), by contending a person may survive a loss of memory or even experience a change in character and survive as the same person, but if he were to lose his body to death, it would be a contradiction to state he survived his death. In sum, Ayer and others who hold to the physical persistence theory of personal identity would state that the defining, consistent feature of a person’s identity is the body. Ayer would state that Chris Sizemore is not multiple identities, but one.

However, while Ayer states that surviving one’s death is contradictory, there is some evidence supporting the claim that an identity does survive a bodily death. Since many have discounted the idea of reincarnation, one doctor decided to apply strict scientific methods to determine the validity of claims of an identity surviving death. Through the course of his lifetime and career, Dr. Ian Stevenson racked up roughly 3000 detailed cases of people who possessed evidence that they had lived a previous life and thus survived death (Bering, 2013). His most detailed work is captured in his book describing cases and analyses of children who make claims of living a previous life (Stevenson, 2016). The common theme in many of these cases is that an identity of a person indeed survives death and lives on in another body. While there is no explanation for how this is possible, there is evidence it does occur.

Psychological Continuity

Another theory of personal identity relates to a person’s ability to retain a memory from moment to moment. As a person is born, grows and experiences life, assuming they have a working memory, they collect sensual and mental states of mind. And while a person’s environment and circumstances and judgements change from moment to moment, there is a causal link between their mental states, such that they are able to have a continuous psychological identity (Olsen, 2002).

To make this theory even clearer, Sydney Shoemaker (2004) proposed a thought experiment in which two people, named Brown and Robinson, underwent operations for brain tumor removals, in which the entire brain of each patient had to be removed from the skull. However, when the time came to re-insert the patients’ brains, by a procedural error, Brown’s brain was placed in Robinson’s skull. The resulting person was dubbed Brownson and retained all of Brown’s memories and mental, psychological states. Upon waking from the surgery, Brown would continue to be Brown. As long as there remains a causal link from one moment to the next, the personal identity of an individual is retained.

Olsen (2002) wonders if personal identity is retained if this thought experiment were slightly changed. Instead of moving the physical brain plus its contents from one skull to another, what if only the mental contents of person 1 were copied, like bits of data, into the brain of person 2 and the original mental contents of person 2 were erased - would this retain the qualifications of psychological continuity? The neural links and aspects of the physical brain would be the same from one moment to the next, but only the mental contents would be different. Interestingly, Olsen notes that some psychological continuity theorists say yes, while others say no. This gray area in the psychological continuity theory leads to a related concern for personal identity: personal survival.

What Matters

One dissertation took a deeper dive into personal identity by reviewing Derek Parfit’s work on this topic. Gromak (2015) summarizes Parfit’s theory by stating identity is not what truly matters, but rather what the individual deeply and ultimately cares about is what matters. More specifically, while Parfit’s theory states that identity does matter to some extent, what genuinely matters for an individual is psychological continuity and connectedness (p. 100). In other words, an individual’s ultimate concern is to simply persist and continue in some form or fashion.

Gromak covers many variations of thought experiments in his paper, but there is one that seems to grasp the subtle nuance of the matter regarding a choice an individual could make about remaining a specific identity or persisting in some form or fashion. A person steps into a machine, pushes a button, after which the machine scans him and creates a replica. During the process, the original person’s heart is damaged and will die in a few days, while the replica version lives. Gromak further elaborates on this thought experiment by changing one factor: the original person will live for 10 years, while the replica version will live for 11 years. In this case, Gromak contends the rational choice is to not push the button and remain as that identity, but Parfit would contend the rational choice is to push the button, die after 10 years, and persist in the replica for an additional year, thus placing emphasis on what truly matters: survival.

Discussion on Personal Identity

Besides those reviewed in this essay, there are many other questions and possible answers surrounding personal identity. As such, I do not think personal identity can be reduced to one or a few factors such as physical persistence or some aspect of psychological continuity. It seems as if every attempt to define personal identity is met with some challenge and therefore perhaps personal identity is undefinable, or perhaps “there are no philosophical problems about identity” (Noonan & Curtis, 2004). An individual person is not an island. He is born into a network, community and social structure. Most people live in an interconnected society and complex ecosystem. To attempt to define the essence of a personal identity is to ignore hundreds, if not thousands of other variables which could define who a person is. While not in the analytical philosophical realm, Buddhism goes so far as to state there is no self and no identity (see section on Non-Self in Siderits, 2011).

If I were to attempt some definition of personal identity, I would argue that every human being is unique and connected with others and his environment at the same time. The thousands of variables that constitute an identity of a person would not be the same from one identity to another. For example, the physical persistence and/or a causal link of psychological continuity of a person could apply and be one or two of the variables in defining personal identity, or not. I would even contend there could be overlapping factors of identities which could account for multiple personalities and reincarnation, which further underscores that personal identity is difficult to reduce to one or two factors.

In sum, while the physical persistence and psychological continuity explanations have merit, I don’t think either one adequately explains any essence of personal identity. I tend to lean towards the concept of a person simply being a part of a whole, not dissimilar to how an aspen tree is a part of a grove; and even that analogy is somewhat inadequate.


In conclusion, this essay briefly reviewed three considerations regarding personal identity: physical persistence, psychological continuity, and the idea that what truly matters is not personal identity, but that a person persists in some form or fashion. While I find these ideas useful in exploring the topic, I lean towards the idea that there is no philosophical problem to solve with personal identity, and if there could be an answer, no definitive, single essence of personal identity could be denoted. 


American Psychiatric Association. (2022). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, text revision DSM-5-TR. (5th ed.). American Psychiatric Association

Ayer, A. J. (2001). Language, Truth And Logic. (eBook). Penguin Books. (Original work published 1936)

Bering, J. (2013, November 2). Ian Stevenson’s Case for the Afterlife: Are We “Skeptics” Really Just Cynics? Scientific American Blog Network. 

Costner Sizemore, C., & Huber, R. J. (1988). The Twenty-Two Faces of Eve. Individual Psychology, 44(1), 53-.

Gromak, J. A. (2015). Personal identity, survival and what matters. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.

Olson, E. T. (2002, August 20). Personal Identity (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

Noonan, H., & Curtis, B. (2004, December 15). Identity (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).  

Shoemaker, S. (2004). Brown-Brownson Revisited. The Monist, 87(4), 573–593.

Siderits, M. (2011). Buddha (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). 

Stevenson, I. (2016). Children Who Remember Previous Lives. McFarland.

Monday, January 1, 2024

Phil 417 - The Metaphysics of Time

Questions on the Ontology of Time

Henry Molaison suffered seizures from his youth until his twenties. In an attempt to cure him of the worsening seizures, his parents took him to numerous doctors, including a neurosurgeon named William Scoville. At the age of 27, Henry underwent an experimental operation to remove parts of his brain. His seizures significantly decreased in temperament and frequency, but at a high cost – he lost the ability to recall and would be stuck in the present moment for the rest of his life (Corkin, 2013). To ponder what it must be like to have no ability to recall would be to ponder what life might be like if one had no concept of time. While Henry would physically change, to him, his life experience would be perpetually stuck in the present moment. For the average person, however, the ability to remember allows her to seemingly experience time and with it the perception that it flows and passes.

Philosophical conversation on time has existed as long as the dialogue of philosophy itself. Some have argued that time flows, while others argue it is a static structure and is not real. Questions relating to the ontology of time are: does it flow, or does it follow some other construct? Do things exist only in the present or can they exist in the future and past? Many philosophers have pondered these questions and have advanced theories to explain time. This paper will review and explain the earliest debates on these questions between Heraclitus and Parmenides to show the long-standing nature of this examination (Bardon & Dyke (Eds.), 2013).  It will then review modern perceptions of time concerning A-Theory and B-Theory as explained by J.M.E McTaggart and how these ideas relate to the ideas of Presentism, Growing Block Theory and Moving Spotlight Theory (A-Theories) and Eternalism (B-Theory) (Markosian, 2002 and Bardon & Dyke (Eds.), 2013).

Ancient Discussions on Time


Flux is a Heraclitan idea. One of his fragments claims all existence is in a constant state of change and that a person cannot step in the same river twice (Graham, 2019). At first glance, the idea of not being able to step into the same river twice is confusing. When a person steps into a stream of water in the morning while on a hike, and then crosses that same stream again, in his mind, he is stepping into the same thing. However, Heraclitus is being more specific in saying that the creek and the water molecules and the way the water flows and the minerals the water molecules have acquired (Bardon & Dyke (Eds.), 2013) – all of those features of the creek have changed between the first time the hiker stepped in it and the second time he crossed it. Precisely speaking, the creek is not the same from one moment to the next.

With this focus on flux and constant change, Heraclitus further noticed that despite the perpetual variation, things seemingly remained constant through cycles. However, he is unambiguous in noting that things do change from one moment to the next and this marking of change denotes time passed. Stated differently, Heraclitus noted the flux of everything both is and is not. This flux of things, if observed long enough, turns out to be opposites: day and night, winter and summer, war and peace, and satiety and hunger (2013, p. 13). In brief, Heraclitus would claim what was past existed and was real, and it changes to the present which also exists and is real and eventually things change again and still be real.


Parmenides took a different tact regarding the explanation of reality and refused to embrace the idea of flux – that existence both is and is not. Rather, he believed that everything just is. He explained this by way of a poem, in which a mortal meets a goddess, and she explains to the mortal the way of truth. She explains that there is one route called “it is” and there is another route called “it is not” and there is even a third route called “it is, and it is not” (2013, p. 17). The second and third routes are dead ends, and there is only one route: it is. This reality of existence does not change, for change is simply the mortal’s perspective. Furthermore, how can something which exists, not exist? This is contradictory and mortals are “deaf and blind at once” (Palmer, 2016) for not admitting and comprehending this contradiction. Parmenides simply concludes there is no flux, but everything simply exists and is the One. To Parmenides, Heraclitus would have been on the second route and his ideas would be contradictory. And since flux does not exist, the passage of time also does not exist and therefore time does not exist – it is simply human misunderstanding.

The philosophical discourse between Heraclitus and Parmenides continues to this day. The manner of looking at reality and time splits into differing factions of thought.

Modern Discussions on Time

Many theories regarding the metaphysics of time fall under two camps: A-Theory and B-Theory. These two theories stem from the philosopher J.M.E. McTaggart who noted two types of series in time and then argued that time does not exist (McDaniel, 2009). In one series, events can be ordered earlier than or later than one event in relation to another; he called these B-series. He also described a second series of events in which one event is noted as the present moment, and this event changes, first by being future, then being present, then being past, as it moves position in a series; he called these events the A-series.

From these two types of series emerge notions of A-Theory and B-Theory. In brief, A-Theory ideas contend time is real, especially the present moment, and that all time is viewed as either past, present, or future. (Bardon & Dyke (Eds.), 2013). However, B-Theory ideas argue that time is not real and that events simply have relations that are either earlier-than or later-than (2013). In a review of the theories of time, one podcaster explained the key difference between the two theories as being the determination of the present either being real (A-Theory) or the present not being real (B-Theory) (Macherla). Also, while A-Theory is committed to the idea of time being linear or growing, B-Theory contends there is simply existence and things only occupy a particular space-time coordinate.

A-Theories: Presentism, Growing Block, and Moving Spotlight

Most peoples’ paradigm of time aligns with A-Theory ideas. Three of these theories are Presentism, Growing Block, and Moving Spotlight. Before describing each one, it may be helpful to frame the idea of time as a block of cheese, and the present moment is represented as a slice of cheese from the block.

In the theory of Presentism, the only thing that is real is the present, viewed as a slice of cheese. Whatever exists now is real, but nothing in the past or future is considered real and therefore, the past and the future do not exist (Markosian, 2002). A comprehensive list of things that exist in the present moment could be produced, but nothing from the past, such as dinosaurs, or nothing from the future, such as a time machine, would be on that list of things in the present, therefore dinosaurs and time machines do not exist and are not real.

In the Growing Block theory, only the past and the present are real, but the future does not exist (2002). An observer might strongly contend that things in the past were just as real as the present. Therefore, time is like a growing block of cheese, where the present moment is the slice of cheese that grows and acts as the edge of time. The future, however, is beyond the block and does not exist.

Lastly is the Moving Spotlight theory, named by C.D. Broad (2002), contends that all past, present, and future are real, but differs from the B-Theory in contending that time exists, and the present is not only real, but also unique since there is a metaphorical light on the present moment. This light constantly moves and illuminates the present, hence there is a sense of flow. All time is laid out, but light only shines on the present moment.

B-Theory: Eternalism

Continuing with the block of cheese example for explaining time, the B-Theory of Eternalism contends that all moments in time equally exist and that the past, present, and future are not real (2002), and all that exists is the block of cheese. The universe simply exists in all time and space, and things only occupy some space-time coordinate. Indeed, things may serially exist before another thing much like page 7 exists at a space-time coordinate which simply precedes page 8 which exists at an adjacent space-time coordinate, but all pages equally exist – there is nothing unique about page 7.

Discussion on Time

While I find the practical nature of time useful, such as being prompt to a meeting or having the ability to recall the anniversary date of my marriage, nevertheless, it is odd that we spend a lot of thought on this subject. By way of relation, I wonder why we don’t spend as much effort on discussing the nature of a kilometer, meter, or centimeter. After all, isn’t time simply an attempt at keeping the score on a change?

After having the opportunity to research and write this essay, I realize I fall in the B-Theory camp and align my views with those of Spinoza. In reviewing Spinoza’s ideas on the metaphysics of time, Waller (2012) offers a clear analogy to explain why the B-Theory makes better sense. Suppose Bob completes the paperwork for a loan at 10:30am and then signs the loan at 10:31am and shakes the hand of the loan officer. However, at 10:35am when Bob receives the loan check, he claims he is not the same Bob who signed the form – that Bob is past Bob, while this Bob is present Bob. This way of thinking is incoherent!  Bob is Bob whether in the past, present, or future. To return to the block of cheese analogy, indeed slices do exist (Bob being a different slice at different times), but a clearer way of comprehending the entirety of the idea is to admit all the slices are the same cheese.


In conclusion, the age-old philosophical discourse on time centers around whether it flows or is static. From Heraclitus and Parmenides to moderns such as McTaggart and Broad, this debate continues today under A-Theory and B-Theory ideas. A-Theory ideas claim time is real to varying degrees, but B-Theory ideas claim time is not real and that there is only existence.


Bardon, A., & Dyke, H. (Eds.). (2013). A companion to the philosophy of time. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.

Corkin, S. (2013). Permanent present tense: The unforgettable life of the amnesic patient, h. m.. Basic Books.

Graham, D. W. (2019, September 3). Heraclitus (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). 

Markosian, N. (2002, November 25). Time (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

Macherla, R. (2021, March 21). Philosophy of Time. In The Human Condition. Spotify for Podcasters.

McDaniel, K. (2009). John M. E. McTaggart (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). 

Palmer, J. (2016). Parmenides (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). 

Waller, J. (2012). Persistence through time in Spinoza. Lexington Books/Fortress Academic.

Saturday, December 9, 2023

Io, Saturnalia! (And the Contemplation of the Eternal Return and the Wisdom Therein)

Saturn with a scythe
Round and round we go. We watch the pendulum swing, back and forth. Sometimes the swing is swift and sometimes the interval takes longer, but always and everywhere it (events, history, life, death, growth, regress, etc.) repeats.

The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius noted this a few times in his Meditations (2014).

"a man of forty with any understanding whatsoever has in a sense seen all the past and all the future" (11.1).

This same translation of Meditations makes a note and commentary on Book 2.14, which is related to this thought. 

"see the same things: The eternal sameness of things is another frequent theme in the Meditations, taking two widely disparate forms. One (as here) derives from the belief of orthodox Stoicism, evidently accepted by Marcus, that from eternity to eternity the world goes through an endless succession of identical cycles (so that all that happens has happened before, and will happen again): see especially 9.28, and also 5.13 (and note), 5.32, 6.37, 8-6, 9.35, 10.7.2, 11.1.2, 12.26. For the doctrine of everlasting recurrence see LS, 52; Sandbach, pp. 78-9. The other is the expression of a world-weary and often dismissive view that 'there is no new thing under the sun' (Ecclesiastes 1:9) in human life, behaviour, and depravity: with a few years' experience (in 7.49 and 11.1.2 Marcus puts it at forty) you have 'seen it all'. See also 4.32, 4.44, 6.46, 7.1, 8.25, 9.14, 9.33, 10.2.7, 12.24 ('monotony and transience')" (2014).

This time of year (December to early January) usually prompts a lot of introspection for me. I reflect on the year, I try to indulge in the festivities, I recall Christmases past and I plan for the future - revisiting and revising plans, taking account of the current situation in life and evaluating options for the future, and then making course corrections as needed.

This year, as part of this introspection, I decided to research and learn a bit more about the Roman festival known as Saturnalia. While I've always known something about it, I searched for meatier content about what it was like and from whence it was formed. For this, the book entitled The Christmas Encyclopedia provides a very adequate explanation and summary.
A pre-Christian harvest and winter solstice celebration held throughout the Roman Empire in honor of Saturn or Saturnus (from the Latin satus, “to sow”), god of agriculture, who reigned during the so-called Golden Age of Rome, a time of peace and prosperity. Originally celebrated for one day on December 17, the festival under the Caesars extended through December 24, in which the spirit of gaiety and frolic prevailed, recalling that Golden Age. All work, businesses, schools, and matters of court were suspended, criminals received reprieves from punishment, war was not waged, and no humans were sacrificed to Saturn; the lighting of numerous candles in his temple symbolized such mercies.

Instead, festivities began with the sacrifice of a young pig in the temple. Each community selected a Magister Ludi (Master of the Games) or a Saturnalicus Princeps (Chief of the Saturnalia), a mock king, who supervised the feasting, revelry, singing, and dancing. He was chosen by lots, sometimes as the one who found the coin hidden in servings of pudding. Masters and slaves traded places, with masters serving their slaves, who could bid the former to perform any task and could exact ludicrous punishments should they fail to execute them. Class distinctions were suspended as well, as a spirit of humanity seized everyone to do good unto his neighbor, including dispensing money to the poor. Transvestism was common and, in keeping with the tradition of masquerades, in northern provinces, Germanic tribes often donned masks in the likenesses of horned beasts and hideous creatures, symbolic of spirits which were believed to inhabit the winter darkness.

Statues of Saturn, as well as homes, were decorated with holly, sacred to this god; with evergreen wreaths, symbolic of the sun; and with evergreen garlands, symbolic of the renewal of life at the approaching winter solstice, December 25 on the Roman or Julian calendar. (In the Christian era, these evergreens would come to symbolize eternal life through Christ.)

At the conclusion of the festival came the exchanging of gifts: signillaria (clay dolls) for the children and strenae (olive branches honoring the woodland goddess Strenia) or cerei (wax tapers or candles) for the adults.

The festivities were essentially repeated for three days at the January Calends, beginning on the first day of the new year (January 1). This was especially the time when the populace presented the emperor with votae(gifts).

Although the Saturnalia was not the sole winter solstice festival of the Roman Empire (among other festivals, a feast on December 15 honored Consus, god of the storeroom; one on December 17 honored his consort, Ops, a mother goddess), it was by far the most important in terms of its traditions and symbols, many of which the early Christian Church adopted into the Christmas season. The lighting of candles, decorating with holly and evergreens, giving of gifts (the Wise Men that visited the manger had no monopoly on gift-giving), holiday charity, and the unrestrained merrymaking all were most recently derived from the Saturnalia.

The basis for these traditions actually originated some 4,000 years before the birth of Christ in the land of Mesopotamia, which included Sumer, later corresponding to Babylonia; through northern and western routes, the customs reached Greece, Rome, and other parts of Europe. The equivalent Sumerian and Babylonian celebrations, respectively, were the Zagmuk (“Beginning of the Year”) and Akitu (“New Year's Festival”). The Sumerian festival was semiannual, held in the fall (month of Tishri) and in the spring (month of Nisan), commemorating the two principal solar points of the year (winter and summer). Akitu, however, occurred only at the first new moon after the spring equinox.

The mythology surrounding Akitu held that as the year drew to a close, the world, created by the supreme Babylonian god Marduk, lay dying. During the festival, it was traditional for the king to perform rituals to atone for any sins of man against Marduk and to assist him in battling the monsters of chaos in the underworld, acts that would restore the world of the living for another year. To begin the rituals, the king entered the temple of Marduk. There, he suffered humiliation as the high priest stripped him of his regal vestments and beat him; then the king swore annual allegiance to Marduk, after which he was reinstated as king. It is likely that the king then symbolically “sacrificed” himself by appointing a mock king in his stead from the ranks of criminals (his mock counterpart is seen in the Master of the Games of the Saturnalia and Archbishop of Fools of the Feast of Fools). This criminal was then arrayed in regal raiment and sacrificed sometime during a 12-day celebration, which consisted of feasting, socializing, and gift-giving (a parallel is seen in the 12 days of Christmas). Wooden images depicting the monsters of chaos were burned to assist Marduk in his battle for life, and such images are believed to be the earliest precursors of the Yule log.

These, then were some of the world's earliest known plans for year-end festivals, which most modern civilizations have since adapted to their own cultures. (Crump, 2013 emphasis added).
Reading the above, I am struck by the switching of roles and parts in those ancient cultures. What must it have been like to be the master of the estate, and then for the better part of a month, turn the reigns and authority over to the servants? One day you're sitting at the top, and the next you're being told what to do by the lowliest of the classes. Would our current overlords (e.g. Prime Ministers, Presidents, Senators, CEOs, business owners, Principals, Mayors, etc.) ever be willing to do the same in today's day and age? It makes for a fascinating thought experiment.  Yet, this is what the ancients did!

While it seems impractical to put this ancient ritual into practice today, there are some aspects about this ritual worth contemplating in the vein of premeditatio malorum. Those in power and those who possessed fortune had those preferred indifferents taken from them during Saturnalia. While they thought they enjoyed sound footing and an unassailable point of advantage, it was taken from them. Do we think we possess a similar position in our lives in 2023? Could the home in which I live, and the job at which I work and the salary I am paid, and the health I enjoy - could one or all of those be taken on a whim? Absolutely. All of it could be taken upon death, or some of it could be taken due to circumstances and events beyond my control.

In fact, returning to what Marcus Aurelius wrote about a man of forty seeing it all, at the age of 47, I too have seen and heard many of these events in the course of my life. I have contemplated what it must have been like for my father's father to watch his entire ranch burn down, forcing the family to practically to start all over. I've read the account of my father's mother holding her young baby, while the doctor listened to his heart slowly stop beating, saying, "now, now, now" indicating when the baby's heart stopped.

I've contemplated the tens of thousands of young men, at the young age of 20 take one step off a boat to storm a beach in some distant land and die in a split second to a bullet to the head. I've wondered what it must have been like for my father who was about to be deployed to the Pacific in 1945, but then to not have to serve because the war ended after two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. I've wondered about the details of the story of my father's mother pleading with the officer in the army to discharge my father to help on the ranch, thus saving him from serving in the Korean War.

I've contemplated a man named Rich O'Conner, who worked for a major corporation for over 30 years, who interviewed me at the beginning of my career, and who just a few weeks before retirement, pulled into his driveway, suffered a major heart attack and died - who never fully enjoyed the fruits of his labor.

I've lived through a global pandemic and watched millions of people both die and suffer from the effects of COVID-19 as well as the effects of the vaccines administered to cure and prevent the virus. I've watched the world and culture fundamentally change in a matter of months and years due to the global lockdown from the pandemic.

I've contemplated my sister-in-law and her husband and how they lost their baby a few months after she was born, and then all the angst and anxiety they had to endure through two more pregnancies and births, wondering if the same fate would happen to those babies. I've contemplated the life of my father-in-law, who retired wealthy, but suffered from bankruptcy due to the housing crisis and great recession of 2008, and then less than a decade later, unexpectedly die at the age of 66. I've contemplated the death of my brother-in-law at the age of 49 - he was at the cusp of greatness in his career as a college professor and researcher, and a loving husband and father of four children.

I've contemplated the religion in which I grew up (Mormonism) and the debris and chaos left in its wake - the abuse they have facilitated and the lack of morals and failure in responsibility to help those women and children who suffered under the church's patriarchy. I've contemplated the unethical nature of the church's leadership in softly and harshly lying about its past and its dogmas. I've contemplated and stand in awe at an organization who preaches the gospel of Jesus regarding mankind cannot love God and Mammon both, yet it has amassed an ungodly amount of capital and assets and cash to the tune of close to $200 billion. I stand all amazed at the selfishness, corruption, egotistical and hypocritical nature of such an organization.

Perhaps I have not seen all of it, but I have seen quite a bit of it. And what do I learn from it? I learn, what I think Saturnalia is attempting to teach: that it repeats and it can happen to anyone including me. One day I could be on the up-and-up, getting ahead in my career, and the next I could be assessed down and earning less. One day I could feel safe and secure in my home, the next I could be robbed and many of my possessions taken.  One day I could be playing basketball quite healthily, the next I could be injured and forced to never play again. One day I could be fast asleep in my bed, the next I could be waking up in the middle of the night receiving a call from the police about an accident or incident my child was involved in.

Saturnalia teaches us our lots can change on a dime. However, what is 'up to us' is our attitude and reaction to said change. Could we lose status, wealth, health, loved ones and still retain our equanimity? Could we still find a way to demonstrate a good moral character despite the "losses?" To me, this seems to be a worthy challenge. We need not be stuck in mourning our losses. Grieve we may and in some cases, we must, but to remain in in such a state does not demonstrate a good moral character. The challenge is to prove to yourself you can take the misfortunes and fortunes of life and retain your equanimity. Saturnalia gave the people a chance to practice this very virtue.

And regardless of misfortune or fortune, there are opportunities to practice a good moral character. Seneca notes this of Socrates, who survived and lived under the Thirty Tyrants. In his essay On Tranquility he wrote,
Can you find any city more wretched in any way than the Athenians’ city when the thirty tyrants tore it apart? They had killed thirteen hundred citizens, all the best men, but did not make an end of it; but their sheer savagery stimulated itself. In a city which held the Areopagus, that most scrupulous of courts, in which there was a senate and a people similar to the senate, the grim college of executioners met each day, and the unhappy senate house was crammed with tyrants: could that state repose in which there were as many tyrants as there were henchmen? Their minds could not even entertain any hope of recovering their freedom, and no scope for a cure appeared against such a powerful force of evils; for how could the poor city find so many Harmodii? Yet Socrates was openly out in public life and comforted the mourning fathers and exhorted men despairing of the state, and reproached wealthy men fearing the consequences of their riches because they came too late to regret the dangers brought on by their greed; he bore himself as a mighty example for those willing to imitate him, walking as a free man among the thirty masters. But Athens herself killed him in jail, and liberty did not tolerate the liberty of the man who had safely provoked the horde of tyrants; you learn from this that even in an oppressed state there is a chance for the wise man to put himself forward, and that in a flourishing and happy state envy and a thousand other evils dominate (2014, p. 191)
Therefore, regardless of any circumstance or event or fortune or misfortune, there are ways and opportunities to practice and live with a high, good moral character (virtue) - one can exercise one's volition to demonstrate excellence.

This is it - this is life. Once you realize this is the ultimate fate we face, Saturnalia can teach you the greater lesson of recurrence. Just as this festival has been around thousands of years in some form or fashion, perhaps we have lived this same life thousands of time before or perhaps we have lived some existence in a different state or status thousands of times before. Just as roles were swapped (status, gender, form, etc.) during Saturnalia, perhaps we have lived thousands (millions?) of different roles or forms previously. And if that is the case, would you act differently with others today?  If one day you were the master of the estate, and the next day during Saturnalia, your servants were master of the estate, would that change the way you act as the master?

Another lesson recurrence and Saturnalia can teach us is the reflex of retreat to sound ground. The moment we are born, we began to die. Through the course of life, we erect layers of knowledge around us, bank accounts, homes, walls, gates, savings, 401Ks; we build our reputations and deposit good acts into our account so we can withdraw from it in times when we face ill repute. However, try as we might, we must give ground. Life advances, misfortune strikes and if our reputation and wealth do not suffer first, then our mind and body will eventually succumb to disease, age and death. Will we anxiously cling to every scrap life takes from us, or will we learn the wisdom of accepting our fate, and retreating to solid ground - the sound logic that informs us the only thing we truly possess and control is our moral character; our virtue.  All else matters not. Anyway, why cling? Saturnalia and recurrence teaches us our fate will change and if we don't like it, soon enough things return to the way they used to be. So, in the meantime - in the present moment - act with justice, wisdom, discipline and courage.

To conclude, Marcus Aurelius eloquently sums these lessons - important ideas to contemplate during this season of Saturnalia.
Even if you were destined to live three thousand years, or ten times that long, nevertheless remember that no one loses any life other than the one he lives, or lives any life other than the one he loses. It follows that the longest and the shortest lives are brought to the same state. The present moment is equal for all; so what is passing is equal also; the loss therefore turns out to be the merest fragment of time. No one can lose either the past or the future - how could anyone be deprived of what he does not possess?
So always remember these two things. First, that all things have been of the same kind from everlasting, coming round and round again, and it makes no difference whether one will see the same things for a hundred years, or two hundred years, or for an infinity of time. Second, that both the longest-lived and the earliest to die suffer the same loss. It is only the present moment of which either stands to be deprived: and if indeed this is all he has, he cannot lose what he does not have (2.14).


Aurelius, M. (2014). Meditations (M. Hammond, Trans.). Penguin Classics, An Imprint Of Penguin Books.

Crump, W. D. (2013). The Christmas Encyclopedia. Mcfarland & Company, Inc., Publishers.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca. (2014). Hardship and Happiness (E. Fantham, H. M. Hine, J. Ker, & G. D. Williams, Trans.). University of Chicago Press.

Monday, July 31, 2023

Rel 411 - Time and Existentialist Creation

Time and Existentialist Creation

On a Thursday in Bangalore India, I sat in a conference room of an engineering firm, listening to a small cadre of managers talk in detail about their manufacturing prowess, when I experienced an epiphanic moment. For a handful of minutes, a vision of sorts flashed in my mind, where I was a therapist sitting in a chair in a quiet room and across from me was a patient. I asked the patient to contemplate the most precious commodity humans possess: time. I told this client that they needed to feel the anxiety of time and to deliberate long and deeply about how they were going to spend the remainder of their time in life. I then turned to an hourglass sitting on a table, turned it over and asked the patient to feel the grains of sand fall from the top and pile at the bottom.

While I have been a student of existentialist philsophy for a number of years, I gained a deeper appreciation for it in this course. In this essay, I’ll focus on three lessons I learned from this class. The first is the pressing urgency of time in the context of living authentically. After having learned of the importance of existence preceding essence, I feel more keenly the need to use my time toward my own “meaning-giving project” (Crowell). Did my boredom in India lead to that epiphany which caused me to consider my own grains of sand? The second lesson I learned from this course was about the need for choice and action on finishing my life project. While the project is en media res, I nonetheless have had a re-kindling of effort to work towards making that creative project into a reality. From Sartre I learned the concept of “bad faith” regarding how being the perpetual dreamer does nothing but whittle away the grains of sand in return for nothing. While dreaming of transcendence is needed, so too is action. The third lesson I learned from this course, via Camus’s Myth of Sisyphus, was that I must always create with no expectation of fame, immortality or any type of reward. As Camus writes, “to work and create ‘for nothing’ … this is the difficult wisdom that the absurd thought sanctions” (Camus 103). The protagonist of the film The Shawshank Redemption fittingly summarizes these three lessons when he said, “get busy living, or get busy dying.”

Did I experience profound boredom in that conference room in India? Possibly. My enlightenment might have been what Heidegger called Augenblick or “a moment of vision” in which I was experiencing such unadulterated dullness that I achieved an awareness of what I am missing in life (Gibbs 602). Indeed, Camus seems to confirm that such moments of brilliant boredom cause one to snap back into existential reality. He writes in Myth of Sisyphus, “Rising, tram, four hours in the office or factory, meal, tram, four hours of work, meal, sleep and one day, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, according to the same rhythm - this path is easily followed most of the time. But one day the 'why' arises and everything begins in that weariness tinged with amazement” (Camus 19). One scholar has noted the worth of boredom in that “it has specific value in awakening our ability to experience meaningfulness, often through its negation; when bored, we may question meaning or, more precisely, lack of meaning by indifference” (Gibbs 603). For me, in that awakening moment in India, a contrasting vision came to me, in which I found myself “taking a stance on being” and I felt the urgency to make progress on what is meaningful to me (607).

The second pivotal lesson I learned from this course is related to action and making progress on my life project. From Sartre, I learned of the concept of bad faith and more specifically, the bad faith of not acknowledging my facticity and only focusing on my pure transcendence – in other words, only wishing for some possibility but never acting (Flynn 74). Like the woman on a date, in Sartre’s example, to not commit to a choice and action in order to become something (i.e. the woman refusing to admit that she is a body who can enjoy the touch of a man and postponing commitment) is living in bad faith (Anderson 6:07). To live in good faith is to admit to myself that my facticity as a human requires making a choice towards transcendence via focused and diligent work in order to change and make dreams into a reality. Good faith requires choice and action.

The third lesson I learned was more of a reminder of a brutal truth. All too often, our life projects aim at more than existence. We strive for lasting fame, status, power or abundant wealth – to overcome and become more than our circumstances. Indeed, Nietzsche wrote much of this with his concept of will to power. I discussed this idea in one of my essays when I quoted Nietzsche, “What is good?—All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man. What is bad?—All that proceeds from weakness.  What is happiness?—The feeling that power increases—that a resistance is overcome” (Wilkerson). However, Camus importantly clarifies that we ought not expect anything in return for our efforts. While the notion of the will to power may spur us to action, we must never forget that ultimately our creative project will be buried by space and time.

In a moving passage from The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus explores the challenging question of whether a person can persistently create with no expectations – to create for no reason other than to create. The point demands the full quote be mentioned.

I want to know whether, accepting a life without appeal, one can also agree to work and create without appeal and what is the way leading to these liberties. I want to liberate my universe of its phantoms and to people it solely with flesh and blood truths whose presence I cannot deny. I can perform absurd work, choose the creative attitude rather than another. But an absurd attitude, if it is to remain so, must remain aware of its gratuitousness (Camus 93).

Taking this absurdist attitude is a revolt against our condition. Too many times, people, including myself, feel the utter despair of casting maximum effort into a project or presentation, only to have it briefly acknowledged and then forgotten about. It is tempting, for me, to assume an attitude of: better to have never loved than to have a broken heart. The “higher fidelity” Camus and Sisyphus teaches us is to not only recognize our absurd condition but to also rebel and create projects despite our strange state of being (111). A scene from the film A River Runs Through It captures this attitude nicely.

The father of the protagonist was also the schoolteacher for his sons. The older son (the main character named Norman) was taught how to write well by his father. In the film, Norman muses, “while my friends spent their days at Missoula Elementary, I stayed home and learned to write the American language.” In the scene, Norman writes an essay and then hands the paper to his father. The father reads it, turns to his son and says, “half as long.” Norman returns to the project, labors over the paper and then walks back to his father to have it graded. The father reads it, pauses and says, “Again, half as long.” Norman drags his feet back to his desk and makes additional edits. Again, he appears before his father, who reads the essay. This time, the father judges the essay acceptable and says, “Good, now throw it away.” Normal wads the paper – representing his work, effort and time – and throws it in the trash bin and runs off to go fishing. We must have that same perspective for our projects – work diligently on them but be perfectly willing to let them go when the next adventure calls. This is to create gratuitously.

In conclusion, I’ve gleaned three lessons from this course. The first is the rekindling of pressing urgency with regards to the use of my time toward my own “meaning-giving project” (Crowell). It would seem boredom has played a role in this rekindling. The second lesson I learned was to be aware of “bad faith” on my part, and to choose and act with good faith towards making my creative project into a reality. Lastly, Camus reminded me that the existential absurdist must always create “for nothing” – I must embrace this perspective and brutal truth, knowing full well the benefit is in the creative process, not the enduring creation (Camus 103). Perhaps Nietzsche captures the spirit of urgency, action and the notion of creating for nothing, when he wrote,

the secret of the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment of existence is: to live dangerously! Build your cities under Vesuvius! Send your ships into uncharted seas! Live at war with your peers and yourselves! Be robbers and conquerors, as long as you cannot be rulers and owners, you lovers of knowledge! Soon the age will be past when you could be satisfied to live like shy deer, hidden in the woods! (Kaufmann 106)

Works Cited

A River Runs through It. Directed by Robert Redford, Columbia Pictures, 1992.

Anderson, Ellie. “Sartre’s Theory of Bad Faith.”, 29 Apr. 2022, Accessed 25 July 2023.

Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus. 1955. Translated by Justin O’Brien, Penguin Books, 1979.

Crowell, Steven. “Existentialism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).”, 9 June 2020,

Flynn, Thomas R. Existentialism : A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2006.

Gibbs, Paul. "The Concept of Profound Boredom: Learning from Moments of Vision." Studies in Philosophy and Education, vol. 30, no. 6, 2011, pp. 601-613. ProQuest,, doi:

Kaufmann, Walter Arnold. Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre. 1956. New York, Meridian Books, 1960.

The Shawshank Redemption. Directed by Frank Darabont, Columbia Pictures, 1994.

Wilkerson, Dale. “Nietzsche, Friedrich | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Rel 411 - Jean-Paul Sartre: Breaking the Mold, Living Authentically

 Jean-Paul Sartre: Breaking the Mold, Living Authentically

Sartre contends existence precedes essence (Sartre). Coming from a Mormon background, I was taught I pre-existed, which simply meant my essence came before my existence (Marshall 197). From the moment I was born, my essence would be defined by others and God. But after 38 years of living Mormonism, I came to realize I was not living authentically – there was a gap between who I intrinsically felt I was and what others (family, religious leaders, neighbors and peers at work) thought I ought to be. The first step was to accept that my existence came prior to my essence. Afterward, I began to reconcile the gap and unify my psyche. This process has taken several years and is still a work in progress. In brief, I recognized I needed to “radically escape bad faith”, and subsequently I realized I had freedom to take steps to break the mold in which I was raised and to begin to live authentically (Detmer 88).

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or more commonly known as the Mormon church, one of the underlying doctrines of the faith is the concept of pre-existence. This dogma is taught to all members from a very young age, and then reinforced throughout their lives. Members of the religion are taught they are “spirit children” of a “Heavenly Mother and Father” (Marshall 197). Before humans’ physical existence, God had laid out a plan for his children, which included daily activities and various milestone rituals and “practices [which] intricately cross sect members’ physical, temporal, and social planes of existence” (197). This plan for each member is the essence of who they are and what they must become. In other words, each member, assuming they remain in the religious fold, never has a chance, from the beginning of their life, to define what their essence is or will become. In short, in the Mormon faith, essence precedes existence. However, as experienced by myself and thousands of other Mormons, placing essence before existence creates problems. One of Jean-Paul Sartre’s pillars of his existential philosophy is to emphasize that existence precedes essence.

In his well-known lecture entitled “Existentialism is a Humanism” Sartre lays out his argument for placing the recognition of one’s existence before defining one’s essence. He uses an analogy of a creator of a book or paper-knife conceiving those objects in his mind. This conception, in the creator’s mind, is the essence of those objects, and before those objects are produced with physical material, one can claim their essence precedes existence. Applying the analogy to God and humankind, theists, like the Mormons, claim that humanity’s essence was conceived by God prior to humans taking mortal form. However, in all of humanity’s existence, it has collectively never agreed or settled on the definition of God, nor has it found proof of God’s existence. While all discussion on God has been conjecture, what is known to humanity is its own existence – we exist. And even if granted the premise of God’s existence, humanity still lacks access to the mind of God in order to ascertain human essence. Thus, Sartre argues “man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards” (Sartre). Given the individual exists first, he is then faced with the prospect of establishing his essence – this is his life project. This project involves blunt honesty with oneself in a perpetual struggle to live with authenticity. To live authentically, one must be on the look-out for “bad faith” actors and paradigms in one’s life.

While the individual’s life project to define his essence remains in flux, he must be alert to outside impositions, self-deceptions and perpetual dreaming with no action (Flynn 72-74). These forms of bad faith span two poles, one which is the “facticity” of the individual and the other is his “transcendence” (74).  Outside imposition (living for others) and self-deception (“dull resignation to one’s fate”) fall under the form of bad faith of facticity, while perpetual dreaming with no action falls under the form of bad faith stemming from transcendence (73).

For me, having been raised in the Mormon faith, I realized I was suffering from bad faith in the form of facticity.  My religious leaders, parents, friends and neighbors sought to impose a specific role on me. They made demands of my life and argued it was my duty and obligation to be Mormon. In a similar vein, Sartre uses an example of “service industry” roles “which [demand] of all persons in the service industry that they give up their status as autonomous human beings and exhaust themselves utterly in serving their social function” (Detmer 79). The other form of bad faith from the facticity pole is resigning oneself to his fate – a lazy argument, in a sense. All too easy for me, and a line of thinking I continually battle today, is to lie to myself by leveraging any and all stories which are “selective and slanted” toward what I think I cannot change about myself (Detmer 81). Overcoming this form of bad faith, for me, is to constantly battle the Mormon “autopilot” programming of my first 38 years of existence (Marshall 205).

The other form of bad faith I must fight is that of “the dreamer” (Flynn 74). Having left the Mormon faith, I was left with a new-found freedom to make myself who I wished and intended to be. Through the course of the last several years, I have dreamed of becoming either a teacher of philosophy, a life coach or a psychoanalyst, despite the fact that I’ve worked in the Information Technology field for over twenty years. While I am prone to making plans and dreaming, I must overcome this bad faith and work towards making those dreams into a reality. While working towards a degree in philosophy is a good first step, I must continue to define my essence as someone who is knowledgeable in philosophy, psychology and their application towards helping others overcome bad faith and define their own essence.

Living authentically means maintaining a tension between the two poles and not “insisting [life is about] either transcendence or facticity” (Flynn 74). Authentic living must emphasize and rely on freedom.  Sartre notes, “the actions of men of good faith have, as their ultimate significance, the quest for freedom itself” (Detmer 138). This simply means that I have the power and the duty to choose who I will be as an individual. I can no longer throw my hands in the air, pointing to God or my religion or any other fact of my existence, and blame them for who I am. Nor can I admire my dreams of who I think I should be, while never acting on them. Indeed, my existential freedom demands I accept my circumstances – my facticity – and to prod myself towards the future by exerting my freedom and will – my transcendence. Between these two poles, “living authentically involves living without regret” (Cox 138). Lastly, living authentically is not a one-and-done choice, rather it is a constant re-commitment through an ever-evolving life. “Authenticity is the continued task of choosing responses that affirm freedom and responsibility … [and] continually resisting the slide into bad faith that threatens every project” (139). It is simply not falling into another pre-defined mold.

In conclusion, Sartre contends existence precedes essence, which frees the individual to life authentically. Living authentically is keeping oneself ever wary of falling into bad faith. The project of life, like a jazz song, jibs, jives and riffs and is ever moving. Sartre’s character in Nausea comes to this realization: “what summits would I not reach if my own life were the subject of the melody?” (Golomb 145). The aim of life is not reaching a destination, but rather one of breaking the mold and creatively improvising off one’s circumstances.

Works Cited

Cox, Gary. Sartre: A Guide for the Perplexed, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2006. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Detmer, David. Sartre Explained : From Bad Faith to Authenticity, Open Court, 2008. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Flynn, Thomas R. Existentialism : A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2006.

Golomb, Jacob. In Search of Authenticity : Existentialism from Kierkegaard to Camus, Taylor & Francis Group, 1995. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Marshall, E. Brooks "The Disenchanted Self: Anthropological Notes on Existential Distress and Ontological Insecurity among Ex-Mormons in Utah." Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, vol. 44, no. 2, 2020, pp. 193-213. ProQuest,, doi:

Sartre, Jean-Paul. “Existentialism Is a Humanism, 1946.”, 2019,

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Phil 320 (Environmental Philosophy) - Piousness as a Deep Ecology Solution to Environmental Challenges

 Piousness as a Deep Ecology Solution to Environmental Challenges

Considering roughly one third of the world is Christian and another fourth is either Muslim or Hindu, one can argue that the majority of the world's multi-billion population is religious (Johnson, Grim 10). And given that individual beliefs yield ethics, one could argue that finding ways in which "the role religion could play as an element in solving current environmental problems" is worthy of discussion and implementation inasmuch as it could be applied to 60% of the world's population (Jackson 11).

Arne Næss – founder of deep ecology philosophy – contends that many who support the deep ecology mindset are "partly motivated by basic philosophical or religious premises and feel that all living beings have intrinsic value” (Næss 239). He further relates this religious premise to the God described by Spinoza. And given this piousness or the love of God as a starting point, one may secure for himself a deep foundation from which he builds a strong belief system which is further tied to love of self and others, including all beings and ecosystems. From this belief system, one’s ethics can be applied in several ways.

One case study from India demonstrates how a religion "emphasizes the harmony of all religions" which bolsters its mission "to help the impoverished populations of India through education, medical service, and helping small villages in the field of rural development" (Jackson 21). While its mission does not directly focus on the environment, its efforts often "co-laterally help the environment" (21). Connecting piousness as a way of life to holistic environmental solutions shows how deep ecology thinking can be applied in a broad-ranging and impactful way throughout the religious world.

The basic premise of deep ecology stems from a reaction to what Næss called the “shallow ecology movement” whose objective was to “fight against pollution and resource depletion” which essentially benefited “the health and affluence of people in developed countries” (Brennan and Lo). Deep ecology, on the other hand, sought to shift the focus away from an anthropomorphic view to an ecocentric and biocentric emphasis, whereby it recognizes the intrinsic value of all living beings and ecosystems. The “deep” aspect of the deep ecology movement is precisely about removing the anthropomorphic view of humans and placing them in a perspective of interconnectedness with all things in the world. The philosophy “asks deeper questions about the place of human life” and strives to enlighten humans to conceive of themselves “as integral threads in the fabric of life” rather than agents endeavoring to dominate the world (Bhandari 810). While Næss took great efforts to explain his philosophy, he simplified his philsophy with what he called the Apron diagram with its four levels, with one of those levels being the 8 point deep ecology platform.

In sum, the Apron diagram is a four-level framework for organizing a discussion around premises, principles, policies and actions. Level 1 represents foundational “ultimate premises, worldviews, and ecosophies” (Næss 107). It is at this level where discussions around God, ontology and other aspects of the aim of life are discussed. Level 2 covers the eight-point deep ecology platform. The first five points emphasize the flourishing of all life and some delineation of human behaviors including the “substantial decrease of the human population” (111). The remaining three points highlight the need for changes in “economic, technological, and ideological structures” and policies which would place a greater emphasis on “life quality” as opposed to increased standards of living (111-112). Given this platform, one then derives “normative or factual hypothesis and polices” at level 3. And from these hypotheses and policies one can ultimately derive “particular rules, decisions, and actions” found at level 4 (107). Returning to level 1 of the diagram, Næss discovered a rich heritage in the ideas on God from Baruch Spinoza.

Næss succinctly explains the essence of Spinoza’s God when he discusses God as “complete” in that God is both “the creative and the created” (Næss 236-237). Spinoza viewed God as one whole. He argued God is “infinite … (self-caused), [and a] unique substance of the universe” and that God is this substance, and all else that exists in the universe is in God (Nadler, “Baruch Spinoza (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)”). Since everything is God, humans and objects in the cosmos are simply modes or affections (Benedictus De Spinoza et al., Ethics, Part 1, proposition 15). Næss later observes God is creativity “intimately interrelated … by particular beings” which have intrinsic value (Næss 238). He notes that “it makes sense to care for these beings for their own sake, as creative beings” (239). The Stoics’ concept of God or Nature was not unlike that of Spinoza. One prominent Stoic, the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote, 

“All things are interwoven, and the bond that unites them is sacred, and hardly anything is alien to any other thing, for they have been ranged together and are jointly ordered to form a common universe. For there is one universe made up of all that is, and one god who pervades all things, and one substance and one law, and one reason common to all intelligent creatures, and one truth” (Book 7, chapter 9).

From these fundamental, deep beliefs, one can derive principles and lived ethics.

If an individual views himself as a part of the Whole – a part of God – then one can not only derive a sense of self-love, but a sense of love for all beings, creatures and entities in the world. Næss observes “love of the immanent God is love of God’s expressions, not of a separable God. A being expresses God’s nature or essence; therefore, love of God cannot be different from love of such a being” (Næss 240). In the caring crossfire of the Whole loving its seemingly infinite parts, one begins to lose the sense of self-distinctiveness and pivots to a paradigm of identifying “I” with “all.” And if the “I” is lost in the “all” then individual actions are only self-serving to all. Returning to Marcus Aurelius, he noted a similar sentiment: “What brings no benefit to the hive brings none to the bee” (Book 6, chapter 54). In sum, piousness towards the Whole produces sound ethics for all.

One Indian religion’s ideology is similar to what Næss encouraged: things, including religions, are part of the Whole and are unified. The religion’s paradigm of “the unity of all religions” is further exemplified with its mission: “to work in service to man and to God” through “education, medical service” and the development of small rural villages (Jackson 21). Two projects which helped develop the villages were an electrification project and a land shaping project.

For the electrification project, the villages usually depended on gas generators for their electrical needs. To secure renewable sources of energy, the mission contracted electricians and engineering experts to procure and install “hundreds of solar home power units” (22). For the land shaping project, the goal was to increase agricultural efficiency while minimizing deforestation. By shaping the land and creating a system of “ponds and uplands” the village saw a 50% increase in crops and wider access to fisheries, thus reducing illegal hunting (22).

When the head monk of the mission was queried about these “environmental projects” he was perplexed (22).  The monk did not see these projects as solely benefiting the environment, but rather he was motivated “to work for one's own salvation, and for the welfare of the world” or in other words to “work for the greater good of humanity in order to better one’s own karma” which in turn is viewed as “honoring God” (23). In sum, this mission and the monk who leads it, did not simply isolate piousness and environmental sustainability, rather, they saw all things interconnected working in a unified effort to help themselves, others and to honor God.

While the vast majority of the world is religious, there is a growing number of populations which are leaning agnostic or atheist (Sherman). Is piousness applicable to this segment of the world? If one applies a traditional religious view of an anthropomorphic God, they may not think piousness is necessarily a good thing. And this is why, perhaps, Næss and the aforementioned Indian religion advocate for a wider pious paradigm. If one can imagine God as all-things, and focus on the interconnectedness of all things, then perhaps one may secure an all-encompassing piousness – an intellectual love of God.

In review, given most of the world’s population is pious, the philsophy of deep ecology can leverage this fundamental premise to form broad coalitions of beliefs across many religions, such as that which the mentioned Indian religion strives for. These coalitions in piousness can then be leveraged to institutionalize best practices which support ecological sustainment in developing countries, such as India. In brief, perhaps all we really do need is love, or as Spinoza wrote, “God’s love of men and the mind’s intellectual love of God are one and the same” (Nadler, Spinoza’s Ethics : An Introduction 273).

Works Cited

Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations. Translated by Robin Hard, Oxford University Press, 2011.

Benedictus De Spinoza, et al. Complete Works. Hackett Pub, 2002.

Bhandari, Rupsingh. “Deep Ecological Consciousness and Interconnectedness in William Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey.” Technium Social Sciences Journal, vol. 27, no. 27, Jan. 2022, pp. 808–14, Accessed 3 Mar. 2022.

Brennan, Andrew, and Yeuk-Sze Lo. “Environmental Ethics (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).”, 3 Dec. 2021,

Jackson, Timothy, and Ba Bs. Deep Ecology in Action: A Cross-Cultural Series of Case Studies on the Conservation Efforts of Monks and Religious Leaders in India, Mongolia, and Thailand. 2009,

Johnson, Todd M., and Brian J. Grim. The World's Religions in Figures : An Introduction to International Religious Demography, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Nadler, Steven M. “Baruch Spinoza (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).”, 2016,

---. Spinoza’s Ethics : An Introduction. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2009.

Næss, Arne. Ecology of Wisdom : Writings by Arne Naess. Edited by Alan R Drengson and Bill Devall, Counterpoint, 2010.

Sherman, Bill. "Report: Atheism Rate Growing Worldwide." McClatchy - Tribune Business News, Aug 25, 2012. ProQuest,

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Rel 411: Friedrich Nietzsche: Saying, “yes, yes!, YES!!” to Your Life

Friedrich Nietzsche: Saying, “yes, yes!, YES!!” to Your Life

Toti se inserens mundo” is how Seneca described someone who lives life to its fullest (Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales Letter 66). Pierre Hadot analyzed this passage from Seneca and translated this phrase as “plunging oneself into the totality of the world” which meant “to go beyond the self, and think and act in unison with universal reason” (Hadot 207-208). In a sense, this is a challenge and a call to the individual who would strive in life, to feel the anxiety and challenge of living the best life he can, and not be timid, but “out of joy [plunges his soul] into chance” (Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra 167). Nietzsche contends that this striving to overcome all is at the root of every human’s desire and is the will to power. He further offers a tantalizing thought experiment, known as the eternal recurrence, which the individual can use to spur himself to constantly question if he is living the best life. If the individual can exclaim “yes” to his fate and his challenges in life, time and time again, then he is overcoming all and exerting his will to power. As Nietzsche writes in The Gay Science, “all in all and on the whole: some day I want only to be a Yes-sayer!” (157).

The concept of the will to power certainly is varied and complex. But there is one thread which is woven throughout Nietzsche’s works: the power to overcome – to exert one’s will. One scholar of Nietzschean philosophy cites The Anti-Christ in explaining what is good or bad in Nietzsche’s philosophy. “What is good?—All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man. What is bad?—All that proceeds from weakness.  What is happiness?—The feeling that power increases—that a resistance is overcome.” (Wilkerson).

The author further explains that exerting one’s will to overcome is as much an effort at self-mastery and is a matter of who the individual obeys and to whom he listens. If one can command oneself, then one exerts his will to power (Wilkerson). This concept of self-mastery is further bolstered by Nietzsche’s ideas on “strict schooling at the proper time” (Nietzsche The Will to Power 516). He is a proponent of a strict education, but also notes that without it, some men are still fortunate to have the school of hard knocks teach them in “the form of a long, lingering illness, which demands the utmost will-power and self-sufficiency; or in the form of a calamity which suddenly befalls him and his wife and child at the same time, forcing him to take action in such a way as to restore his energy and resilience, strengthening his 'moral' fibre and his will to live” (516). In sum, the common theme in the will to power is the idea of the individual assuming radical self-discipline, “to be capable at any time of taking the lead; to prefer danger to comfort,” to say “yes” to any trial or challenge life throws at him and to be the one who both commands himself and obeys himself (516). And while the individual’s will to power relies on self-mastery, one must also recognize his place in the world, a place which Nietzsche calls “a monster of energy, without beginning or end” (585).

This world, according to Nietzsche, waxes and wanes and is “forever changing, forever rolling back, with enormous periods of recurrence” and eternally self-creates and self-destroys and “has no aim if it does not lie in the happiness of the circle” (585). He concludes this passage by explicitly stating “This world is the will to power – and nothing besides! And even you yourselves are this will to power – and nothing besides!” (586). The eternal recurrence is another topic intertwined throughout Nietzsche’s philosophy. In the preceding passage, he connects the idea of the will to power for the individual with the will to power for the world. On another occasion, he uses the idea of eternal recurrence to prod the individual to question whether he is using his will to power to create the best life possible for himself.

Nietzsche describes the “idea of eternal recurrence” as “the highest formula of affirmation that can possibly be attained” (Stolz 188). As described in The Gay Science, he asks the reader to imagine a demon confronting him with the proposition of living his life repeatedly for eternity, in all aspects – “every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unspeakably small or great … in the same succession and sequence” (Nietzsche 194). What would his reaction be? Would he exclaim “Yes!” or would he be “crushed” by the thought (194)? The experiment and one’s reaction to it is meant to spur one to action and evaluate their state of life to the point of affirming they love their life or to the point of making profound changes.

The thought experiment of eternal recurrence is meant to be “the great cultivating thought” which reveals “’what one is’ now (being), and who they could become (becoming)” (Stolz 192). It is meant to be a “weapon” or “hammer” to crack open the shell of the individual raised in “the herd animal status quo” and prompts them to “become strong in character through the revaluation of all values” (192, 197, 193). Much of this work ought to be developed “in a state of solitude” precisely in order to unlearn what one has been taught in school systems and colleges or “sites of student conformity into animal consciousness” (196, 198). Furthermore, as one repeats this thought experiment often through their life, they must apply discerning self-inspection, heeding how they feel about their character, and then committing to discard undesirable qualities and vowing to enhance those they wish to strengthen (195). Through a life-long process, their life becomes a “singular work of immortal art” as a “plan to express their superiority” (194). Their lived philosophy turns into a “YES!!” in response to fate.

In conclusion, Nietzsche contends that striving to overcome all is at the root of every human’s desire and is the will to power. He further offers a provocative thought experiment, known as the eternal recurrence, with which the individual spurs himself to constantly question if he is living the best life. If the individual can exclaim “yes” to his fate and his challenges in life, time and time again, then he is overcoming all and exerting his will to power. He can confidently judge his life thus: 

“Have you ever said Yes to one joy? Oh my friends, then you also said Yes to all pain. All things are enchained, entwined, enamored -

– if you ever wanted one time two times, if you ever said ‘I like you, happiness! Whoosh! Moment!’ then you wanted everything back! 

– Everything anew, everything eternal, everything enchained, entwined, enamored, oh thus you loved the world – 

– you eternal ones, love it eternally and for all time; and say to pain also: refrain, but come back! For all joy wants – eternity!” (Nietzsche Thus Spoke Zarathustra 263). 

Works Cited

Hadot, Pierre. Philosophy as a Way of Life : Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault. Edited by Arnold I Davidson, Translated by Michael Chase, Blackwell Publishing, 2017.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Gay Science. Edited by Bernard Williams, Translated by Josefine Nauckhoff, Cambridge University Press, 2001.

---. The Will to Power : Selections from the Notebooks of the 1880s. Translated by R Kevin Hill and Michael A Scarpitti, Penguin Books, 2017.

--. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Translated by Adrian Del Caro, Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Seneca. “Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales.” (PhiloLogic4), University of Chicago, Accessed 17 June 2023.

Stolz, Steven A. “Nietzsche, Eternal Recurrence and Education: The Role of the Great Cultivating Thought in the Art of Self‐Cultivation (Bildung).” Journal of Philosophy of Education, vol. 55, no. 1, 2021, pp. 186–203,

Wilkerson, Dale. “Nietzsche, Friedrich | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Rel 411: Nietzsche on Slave Morality and Herd Mentality

To understand slave morality, one must understand master morality.

Master morality begins with an aristocrat (someone who possesses power in the form of hereditary monarchy or someone who is in power in government or wealth) and he sees himself as "noble, powerful, and strong" (Kirwin). Thus being in power, possessing nobility, power and strength, is defined as "good" in the master morality code of ethics.  The "bad" of master morality is anything low-class found among the "ill-born masses" (Kirwin).

Slave morality is a reaction against master morality; Nietzsche calls it a "slave revolt in morality" (Lanier). Based in religion, priests lead the revolt and call anything "evil" which the master morality calls "good." And what is "good" in the slave morality is "meek, mild, and servile—qualities which the slave class possess of necessity, but which they now cast as the products of their own free choice" (Kirwin). As a result, the so-called goods of the world (i.e. power, wealth, authority) are not to be obtained in this life, but that ultimate justice will be attained for the slaves in the after-life (Kirwin). What is preached in slave morality is "those who suffer and are oppressed on earth will receive their reward in heaven, while the evil masters will face an eternity of punishment in hell" (Kirwin).

Related to slave morality is herd mentality.  To understand herd mentality, one must understand the two different types of beings Nietzsche categorized: "the higher human beings" and "those who belong to the herd" (Academy of Ideas). The higher human beings strive for creativity and have a "unifying life project" which effects will be felt by humankind long after the higher human being passes away. This creativity and independence of the higher human being demands solitude from the herd.

The individuals of the herd seek "only comfort and contentment" (Academy of Ideas). Parts of the herd also retain a strong resentment of the higher human beings. They are envious of the higher human beings and instead of using that envy to better themselves, they seek to tear down the higher human beings. One form of tearing down the higher human beings is the concept of slave morality, as described above.

Works cited

Academy of Ideas. “Nietzsche and Morality: The Higher Man and the Herd.”, 30 Jan. 2017, Accessed 30 Mar. 2022.

Kirwin, Claire. “Nietzsche’s Ethics | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

Lanier, Anderson R. “Friedrich Nietzsche (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).”, 17 Mar. 2017,

p.s. I though the Academy of Ideas video was so good, I've embedded it here below - it's worth the 13 minutes of time!

Feedback from professor Dr. Achilles Gacis:

Moral reasoning, for Nietzsche, in western cultures is infused with Christian morality which he postulates is inspired by deep resentment from when the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt. When Nietzsche talks about “morality” he is ​referring to Judeo-Christian morality because that​ is the dominant sense of morality in 19th century ​Europe at the time.​ Since we are all trying to assert ourselves in the world, Nietzsche thinks that Judeo-Christian morality is also a “will to power” in much the same way.​ Nietzsche wants to understand the history of morality and how terms like good and evil emerged. ​

On the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche​ draws an analogy. This is how “morality” begins:​

That the lambs dislike the birds of prey does not seem strange: only it gives no ground for reproaching these birds of prey for bearing off little lambs. And if the lambs say among themselves, "These birds of prey are evil, and he who is least like a birds of prey, who is rather its opposite, a lamb,— would he not be good?" There is no reason to find fault with this institution of an ideal, except perhaps that the birds of prey might find it a little ironically and say "We don’t dislike them at all, these good lambs, we even love them: nothing is more tasty than a tender lamb."

By way of analogy, just like the lambs, Judeo-Christian morality is born out of resentment - a desire to enact revenge on the predators, but an inability to directly do so. So they psychological revenge in the form of morality. That's certainly one way to assert one's will-to-power, and Nietzsche admires this clever move.

Nietzsche’s point is that if you were a lamb you could imagine and probably even want a different moral universe. Getting killed by a bird of prey isn’t preferable! But now imagine the moral view of the birds of prey. It seems unlikely that predators would want or even need to imagine a moral universe. They are, after all, just doing what wolves do. Life as a predator is what it is. They don’t dislike the lambs, they are just living out the will-to-power.

The lambs, however, have a very good reason to want a different moral universe. For starters, a world where lambs can just be lambs without having to worry about predators all the time. But since the lambs can’t physically confront the situation the only option is a psychological shift. ​By convincing the birds of prey that predatory behavior was bad wrong, perhaps they’d stop feeding on lambs. But that’s pretty unlikely at this stage, so another option is to convince yourself and other lambs that predator-like behavior is bad and evil. ​This would by default, then show the lambs to be good and moral. Why?  Because they aren’t acting like predators.​ Suddenly, the life of a lamb has much more meaning and worth because they are moral and righteous.​ This, according to Nietzsche, is where the genealogical roots of Christian morality begins.  

Nietzsche is critical of this form of morality because it’s particularly pernicious. It’s pernicious mainly because we are no longer slaves like the ancient Hebrews, and so there’s no need for this type of ‘ressentiment.’ Most importantly, resentment-based morality lacks the capacity for growth and creativity because it’s essential form is to simply be *against* things rather than standing for any particular affirmative values. 

Nietzsche also seems to be stating something about how our moral frameworks embody values themselves. This turns the idea that our morals come from values on its head. Nietzsche thinks some moral frameworks are healthier than others, more capable of being "life affirming" than others.

In this way too, Nietzsche is challenging the idea that moral reasoning can be purely rational and objective in applying moral principles.

Monday, June 12, 2023

Rel 411: Finite and the Infinite

The finite and the infinite are two views of the self.  According to Kierkegaard, the aim is to not be stuck in the finite nor admiring ad nauseum the possibilities of the infinite.  One must find a way to make oneself "concrete" by combining the two. As he writes in The Sickness Unto Death, "The self is the conscious synthesis of infinitude and finitude which relates itself to itself, whose task is to become itself, a task which can be performed only by means of a relationship to God. But to become oneself is to become concrete. But to become concrete means neither to become finite nor infinite, for that which is to become concrete is a synthesis" (chapter 3).

He describes the finite as "narrow-minded and mean-spirited" (chapter 3). To live this way is to be silent in the day-to-day drudgery of life. His colorful language describes a man's will as virtually non-existent and one which dare not cast its gaze into the abyss of infinite possibilities.  He writes of the finite existence: "precisely by losing his self in this way, [he] has gained perfectibility in adjusting himself to business, yea, in making a success in the world. Here there is no hindrance, no difficulty, occasioned by his self and his infinitization, he is ground smooth as a pebble" (chapter 3). To be stuck in the finite is to go about business as usual and don't cause any waves which might cause difficulties. The finite is a life which "occasions no embarrassment but makes one’s life easy and comfortable" (chapter 3).

The infinite, on the other hand is unlimited imagination.  Kierkegaard writes, "The fantastical is doubtless most closely related to fantasy, imagination, but imagination in turn is related to feeling, knowledge, and will, so that a person may have a fantastic feeling, or knowledge, or will. Generally speaking, imagination is the medium of the process of infinitizing entranced by the, wild, endless possibilities" (chapter 3).  While thrilling, one can become dizzy and distracted about all the things he could do. And if he spends all his time in imagination, he will forget to live and strive to make any of these possibilities a reality.

The aim, therefore, is to "synthesize" the two into the "concrete." In other words, one must choose from the infinite possibilities and escape the silent business-as-usual life and then make that possibility into a reality. He writes, "The man’s concrete self, or his concretion, has in fact necessity and limitations, it is this perfectly definite thing, with these faculties, dispositions, etc." (chapter 3).

Work cited

Kierkegaard, Sören. “The Sickness unto Death – Religion Online.” Religion Online, Princeton University Press, 1941, Accessed 12 June 2023.

reply from Dr. Achilles Gacis:

It’s easy to see how Kierkegaard's existential philosophy is influenced by Socrates and the idea of the examined life.

As an existentialist, Kierkegaard sees the primary problem of philosophy the problem of being... the problem of being human. Kierkegaard thinks that the tools of philosophy are important not so much for knowledge in general, but for sorting out how to be, how to live one's life. The descriptives offered by Soren are indeed eloquent, yet articulation and terminology is limited when it comes to experiential and even subjective knowledge that is sought after in the spiritual and/or holistic.           

If we look at Kierkegaard as the created (human) questioning the creator (God) as God being the author of being, then where does any notion of “free will” and “self-determination” come in? How fulfilled can one be merely using their own consciousness? How can the created that operates within a finite dimension define the creator, who is infinite and without limitation? 

One can delve further, but this is not an exercise to invalidate Kierkegaard but just to understand how we can maximize our own approach of a holistic existentialism.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Phil 416: Søren Kierkegaard: Confronting “the Possibility of Freedom”

Søren Kierkegaard: Confronting “the Possibility of Freedom”

The starving, young boy, Michael Kierkegaard, was watching over sheep in the bitter cold. He must have resented his lot in life, and in a defiant act “stood on a hilltop and cursed God” (Carlisle). However, he would regret this act and come to believe that in response to his impiousness, God had cursed him and would take “the lives of all seven of his children before they reached the age of 34 (the age of Jesus Christ at his crucifixion)” (McDonald). All but two of his children (Peter and Søren) indeed died before the age of 34. Being fully aware of this perceived curse, Søren Kierkegaard’s own anxiety would strike him like a whip and drive him, from a young age, to find his purpose in life and become accomplished, before the age of 34 (McDonald). While many people may not be anxiously pursued by a perceived god-curse, they still suffer a similar angst in endeavoring to understand their place in life. Thankfully because of Søren Kierkegaard’s suffering and his quest to be the Christian Socrates, those who read his works may find answers in their pursuit to grow through anxiety and onward to the “possibility of freedom” (Kierkegaard 196).

Born on May 5, 1813, in Copenhagen, Kierkegaard’s unease grew strong as a young boy. He “looked up at his stern father with fear and trembling,” and one time he observed “the anxiety with which my father filled my soul, his own frightful melancholy, the many things in this connection that I cannot even write down” (Carlisle). By the age of 17, he entered the university at Copenhagen, and for the next eleven years would laboriously study, anxiously seek his meaning in life, waffle back and forth with marriage and then finally defend his dissertation in 1841 (McDonald). It was during these years his anxiety deepened, especially regarding his securing his true aim in life. He wrote,

What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act. What matters is to find a purpose, to see what it really is that God wills I shall do; the crucial thing is to find a truth that is true for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die” (Carlisle).

In the final year of university, he proposed to Regine Olsen, and she consented. However, in his search to find his purpose in life, he came to realize that he could not marry Regine. While there appears to be no explicit reason for backing out of the proposal, there does seem to be some indication that the calling of becoming “the Socrates of Christendom” had a stronger sway on him, and in that role, he could “not subject Regine” to the life of his “philosophical task” (Carlisle).

For the next fourteen years until his death on November 11, 1855, Kierkegaard would write profusely and leverage various writing methods such as pseudonyms, “irony, parody, satire, humor, and deconstructive techniques” in order to awaken Christians out of their intellectual ruts and routines (McDonald). Like an unremitting horsefly, Kierkegaard “constantly [irritated] his contemporaries with discomforting thoughts” to force them “to take individual responsibility for knowing who they are and for knowing where they stand on the existential, ethical and religious issues” (McDonald). This discomfort was the initial stage of prodding his readers and fellow-Christians into a state of anxiety.

Anxiety is the soil for growth and possibility. “Kierkegaard sees man as the creature who is continually beckoned by possibility, who conceives of possibility, visualizes it, and by creative activity carries it into actuality” (May 39). In this mindset of possibility, man experiences more anxiety. But in order to achieve freedom, the individual must “confront that anxiety and move ahead despite it” (41). Yet in that moment of intending to “move ahead,” the individual “at the same time wishes not” to move ahead (42). The choice to press on is the hallmark of a healthy individual, while the unhealthy person remains “shut-in” (42). Another obstacle for a person to overcome is the “belief in fate” (44).

Regarding fate, Kierkegaard wrote that it “is the unity of necessity and the accidental” (Kierkegaard 96). Consequently, when one accepts the belief of fate, “the full meaning of anxiety and guilt are not felt” (May 44). And because of the lack of anxiety, “fate sets limits on creativity” and for the “creative genius” to attain success, he must move “through anxiety and guilt” (44). Indeed, one must embrace the anxiety one feels and treat it like a painful prescription from a doctor.

By having an open mind and welcoming possibilities, one must view anxiety as medical treatment that is painful. To achieve what one imagines, one must pay the price to be healed. This dreadful remedy reveals to him his existence, and his “human situation … [and] the fact of death” (46). However, one must not shirk the procedure. Kierkegaard reminds us to be like Socrates, who, when faced with the hemlock did so “as a patient [who] says to the surgeon when a painful operation is about to begin, ‘Now I am ready.’ Then anxiety enters his soul and searches it thoroughly, constraining out of him all the finite and petty, and leading him hence whither he would go” (46).

In conclusion, Kierkegaard’s life, from his childhood to his lived experience, to his voluminous writings, was a life of educational angst. While his father and his momentary fiancé provided him much consternation, he nonetheless confronted these and all his anxieties – including searching and securing his true aim in life: becoming the Christian Socrates. Once secure in his unique objective in life, he leveraged many techniques to induce discomfort and anxiety in his readers. And if his readers embrace this anxiety, as did Kierkegaard, then their obstacle becomes the path toward the possibility of freedom and meaning. In sum, anxiety is “an adventure that every human being must go through – to learn to be anxious so that he may not perish either by never having been in anxiety, or by succumbing in anxiety” (Kierkegaard 155). 

Works Cited

Carlisle, Clare. Philosopher of the Heart. E-book ed., Penguin UK, 2019.

Kierkegaard, Søren. The Concept of Anxiety : A Simple Psychologically Orienting Deliberation on the Dogmatic Issue of Hereditary Sin. Translated by Reidar Thomte and Albert Anderson, Princeton University Press, 1980.

May, Ph.D., Rollo. The Meaning Of Anxiety, Hauraki Publishing, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central,

McDonald, William. “Søren Kierkegaard (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).”, 2017,