On The Journey Inward The Spirit Is Pulled In Two Directions At Once


Existentialism And Mysticism continued
Jan. `78

Kierkegaard’s Stages of Life and Heidegger’s They-Self
The first stage—aesthetic stage:

According to Kierkegaard (I’m paraphrasing here)–when an
individual–for the purpose of laying hold of something great outside
himself in the world– abandoned himself to immediate sense
gratification, his enthusiasm was aesthetic. When, on the other hand,
the individual gave up everything to save himself, when he chose to
live according to universal principles instead of temporary pleasures,
then his enthusiasm was ethical. An ethical relationship was an
absolute relationship belonging to the individual while the aesthetic
relationship took the form of a relative relationship belonging to the

Both of these relationships, for Kierkegaard, represented “stages in
life,” stages that were not just journeyed through, but lived right
now in what Kierkegaard called a “synthesis.” Depending on how a
person chose to live out his life, one or the other of these stages
would dominate. As different as these stages were, however, they had
something in common. They both were accompanied by an unwelcome
phenomenon. Because the stages pulled the individual’s spirit in two
directions at once, dissatisfaction was always the result. The
individual, by giving a disproportionate weight to one stage, lived
life in tension. That tension, that angst, haunted experience. To make
matters worse, it was impossible to live an ethical life free from the
aesthetic. Doom and gloom resulted for those people who tried and
failed. According to Kierkegaard, nobody possessed enough strength to
live totally ethically. Aesthetic attraction was just too powerful.

The aesthetic life could be, and for the most part was, lived within
the categories of agreeable/disagreeable. Living within the pressures
of outward circumstance was full of dissatisfactions. For instance, we
(humanity as type) wished for privileges that we did not have–to be
famous, rich, and in love, to be happy and content. In short, we did
not want to be who we were. We wanted to be someone else.
Unconsciously, we despaired over “not wanting to be who we were.” The
“surface of existence” where momentary happiness was found, would
never overcome the discontent built into Kierkegaard’s aesthetic stage
of life.

Like Kierkegaard’s aesthetic despair, Heidegger’s Dasein was first
caught in the temporal, worldly, environment of the they-self—it’s own
thrownness. In that environment publicness—idle talk, leveling down,
and a false sense of security,–closed Dasein off from knowing the
world in a deeply subjective way. Dasein knew everything in the
they-self, except what needed to be known, and without that knowledge,
Dasein could not escape the they-self. But, when Dasein’s false sense
of security collided with bad times, turbulence arose, and Dasein was
able to see things differently. Specifically, it began to see the
difference between “not knowing,” and “the knowing of not knowing,”
and with that kind of understanding, eventually, Dasein was able to
see through the they-self, into a deeper, more meaningful subjective


About bwinwnbwi

About me: Marvin Gaye’s song, "What’s Going On" was playing on the jukebox when I went up to the counter and bought another cup of coffee. When I got back, the painting on the wall next to where I was sitting jumped out at me, the same way it had done many times before. On it was written a diatribe on creativity. It was the quote at the bottom, though, that brought me back to this seat time after time. The quote had to do with infinity; it went something like this: Think of yourself as being in that place where infinity comes together in a point; where the infinite past and the infinite future meet, where you are at right now. The quote was attributed to Hermann Hesse, but I didn’t remember reading it in any of the books that I had read by him, so I went out and bought Hesse’s last novel, Magister Ludi. I haven’t found the quote yet, but I haven't tired of looking for it either.
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2 Responses to On The Journey Inward The Spirit Is Pulled In Two Directions At Once

  1. ElizOF says:

    I promise i had not seen this post before I wrote my latest post. I love Kierkegaard and his writings. TY! 🙂

    • bwinwnbwi says:

      Your post on K is great. For those of us who like K, the more recognition he gets the better. Actually, I wish my K posts would/could inspire more k posts.
      Thanks so much for the comment. Take care!

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