Monday, August 31

Trust is in the eyes of a tiny babe

Is trust an innate evolved feature of humanity as a virtue or is it as if we are born to a clean slate, only to  arise as a consequence of subsequent experiences. Up until fairly recently it was thought trust was only as  as a consequence of subsequent social plays and the forces that shape that environment to self-hood and maturity. But recent research suggests we are born with a moral compass, barring trauma of one kind or another.

That means parents are best seen as continuing to support that innate trait that has the capacity to blossom into adulthood. Bad  behaviour involving undesirable attention getting moves,  can of course,  corrupt that progress alongside a negative environment.        

Saturday, August 29

How do we know?


Knowing as a privileged representation of reality and logic.

The question about knowing leads us back to the slippery state of our consciousness. That isn’t properly understood just as there is uncertainty about reality. But that need not act as a barrier to ponder such a question although a conclusion may prove to be elusive. It also brings into focus the differing offing’s in terms of eastern and western cultures.

The huge volume of writings in connection with the subject means I must take a highly subjective selection to support discussions. Progressively the rational way of thinking gathered steam beginning with the first known formal system of logic developed by Aristotle of practical syllogisms.

It was given impetus by the enlightenment philosophers. They likened the mind to a mirror of reflected reality from privileged sensory perceptions. Hence, a belief tool root that specialised knowledge could only be discerned through philosophy, under the heading of epistemology. However, in tandem, with epistemological considerations, one cannot ignore the role of new discoveries in the overall scheme of things that largely lay outside of this paper except for a minor insertion, since they had a material impact on the subsequent philosophical thought thereafter.        

Brief history of epistemology

In the west the principal exponent of epistemology was John Locke, followed by René Descartes. These schools of thinking could be roughly divided into the empiricists such as John Locke, David Hume, and George Berkeley and the rationalists such as René Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, and Gottfried Leibniz. In a religious sense the debate became engrossed as to how far one can go in terms of seeking reasonable evidence or justifications in support of one’s beliefs.

They debated such questions as whether knowing came from sensory experience or mostly did it involve rational enquiry. Kant subsequently proposed his transcendental idealism.

As the east meets the west Buddhism increasingly becomes of interest to those in the west. The general attraction was it takes nothing on faith for granted and doesn’t like metaphysical speculations. The ultimate reality, according to Buddha is Nirvana, a changeless existence of a dimension beyond the sensory experiences. It is outside of the laws of physical and mental phenomena that make up our existence. Karma provides a natural and universal law in respect to the moral and psychological causes and effects. So there is bad, good and neutral. There are various stages of the steps to be taken in the path to enlightenment.  

In Hindu a physical universe of sense-perception existence is not considered reality, rather it is the Brahman- the Infinite Being or in other references:  Cosmic Mind, Universal Consciousness or Absolute. The universe and mind are finite manifestations of the Universal Mind and our worldly interactions are linked to this Ultimate Reality which is the basis of our consciousness.

Both of these references are inadequate of course and here are links to more comprehensive narratives.

The traditional views of knowing tied to epistemology began to be questioned in the west and were eventually abandoned, spearheaded by Richard Rorty in his ‘Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature’.

In a nutshell he contends we must reference such things as only useful tools and not as ends unto themselves. Hence philosophical enquiring can call upon these analytical tools, intuition and the expanded narrative to continue to make possible insightful commentary.

A philosopher’s guide to Knowing.   

Therefore, having established an appropriate basis on which to provide a more modern narrative I will continue in that spirit to attempt to shed some light on the subject.

What I thought might be an interesting approach to facilitate discussion would be to consider a starting point as our birth. From there I aim to invite discussions on intuitive thinking and materialism, to talks about ‘being in the world’ from ancient Greece to modernity. 

I will seek to demonstrate our life experiences and cry out for an existential ‘why’ and therein the thirst for knowledge as in ‘how we know’ must always be a work in progress. That ongoing work in progress will be a mixture of intuitive and learned knowledge, but predominantly just a reflection of being in the world and the existential narrative that entails. Within my conclusion I believe there is ample scope for the rational, mystical and contemplative way of knowing to be seen ultimately as all being inextricably entwined. That would encapsulate both eastern and western cultures.    

The miracle of birth 

Not only might we say birth is miraculous but life itself and that one has reached such a point of one’s evolutionary journey that we have the privilege of asking that question ‘how do we know’. For anyone witnessing a new born there is that jubilant moment as new life enters the world, an amalgam of joy, relief or grief when trauma ensues. 

One usually can observe the present emotional bonding to the mother (assumed in the absence of trauma within or outside the womb) just as the seeing eye of the infant adjusts instinctively to being in the world. 

It doesn’t seem to me we can say much more about that as I am not persuaded of a mind that is a blank template to receive sensory impressions that translates into knowing. Rather I think the infant has basic instinctive feelings and over time one might reasonably infer a mother's love for the child is innate, although not to be assumed given trauma of one kind or another.        

Of course such a phenomenon of sensory perceptions may be integral to ongoing existence, along with other factors in line with the Seeing Eye.

Abstract thinking and learning –by rational theory or intuition?  

Within this context one can talk about the idea of knowing that is intuitive and in that sense, it is in common with all mystics, to offer the opportunity of sharing in those gifts to the extent we choose to exercise our freedom. But that is not to say we have mystical experiences which we can rationally refer to at any time or that mysticism is a method to potentially override other valid methods of acquiring future valuable knowledge.

Rather we might feel energized to allow us to gain new knowledge without the restraint or imposition of ideologies presupposing necessary outcomes. A way of quiet reflection. 

One can find mysticism as embraced by the Australian aborigines.  This is resplendent in the origins of mysticism thought to reside in their dream-time creation where all living things were believed to be made co-dependent and reactive to one another in one inseparable land

Turning to intuitively learning and talking about an abstract subject such as maths, one student might already see the answer intuitively without being able to articulate reasoning. That student might fail the test because of that inability to explain how that learned methodology calculates the correct result. Yet both approaches arrive at the same answer. Harking back to Descartes we find the idea of calculus came to him while following a fly buzzing around in the room around midday- since he was very fond of sleeping in and just thinking. He rather obviously could articulate both but the idea first arose intuitively and its subsequent equations followed on.  

Scientific contribution to knowledge and knowing.   

Newton was the first of the great Scientists to show the larger scale laws of science are indeed universal laws that effect everything. For Newton and many of his contemporaries GOD was the architect of it all. Newton even went on to say God was a "hands on” architect who might interfere from "time to time". John Gibbon- Science A History -1543-2001.

Those that followed included Linnaeus expanded the botanical horizons by providing descriptions of 7,700 species of plants and most species of animal known in Europe then. Linnaeus's belief was that man belonged in the same genus as the apes, a belief validated in the 98 % correlation between the DNA of humans, chimpanzees and gorillas.
It was only because of Linnaeus’s fear of incurring the wrath of the theologians that "Homo Sapiens" sit in unique and isolated splendor as the sole member of a genus. 

Linnaeus believed his work was uncovering GOD's handiwork, but made no room for evolution.   

Turning to Charles Darwin we can see a good deal of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection remains in place today and his theory is generally accepted within modern theology except for fundamentalist sectors who loosely describe themselves as “Creationists”. It also prompted more interest in Pantheism in which GOD is seen to be in all things as creation continues.
In 1905 Albert Einstein's special theory of relativity was published. The foundation stone was the constancy of the speed of light and it was the only absolute truth that nothing exceeds the speed of light. By the time he developed his theory, there was experimental evidence that the measured speed of light is just about always the same, irrespective of how the person undertaking the measuring is moving. 

He went on to develop the general theory of relativity, which was of concern for many: was everything relative? 

In the earlier part of the 20th century just about all of the famous physicists — Einstein, Niels Bohr, Schrödinger and Werner Heisenberg were debating the philosophical issues associated with their discoveries in relativity and quantum mechanics. Einstein's contribution was by way of his original thesis with such diverse references as neo-Kantianism, conventionalism and logical empiricism.      


One might argue that debates by the materialists, ‘there can only be a rational basis in itself’, is just an expression of their own intuitive thinking, i.e. it is true in relation to the material neuronal world that is the subject of their study. Like a cave dweller or occupier of a windowless room conducting an elaborate study of everything within his occupied space, who can only talk about what is in the room, but not the outside world which can’t yet be seen.    

Being in the world – the journey continues    

Of course we can say it is no less important to apply the same principles of rational discernment to intuitive knowledge. We see remnants of early awakenings to our limitations in respect to defining what knowledge is and in the beginnings of phenomenology in the ancient Athenian Greek context.

Beginning with Socrates and his disciple Theaetetus, there is recording a series of refutations as to what knowledge is not, to be identified as perception, from beliefs or from sensory perceptions or logic. Finally, no credible answer can be found and that conclusion is accepted.       

The framework from which to talk about knowledge and its importance was also a key issue for Plato who introduced the idea of living the good life, which involves a virtuous life. So far so good. So, to lead the good life one needs knowledge or more to the point to acquire knowledge. But what is that knowledge and when we have it how do we apply it?

Herein we quickly run into trouble as his approach overlooks the distinction between the knowing and the knowing how- integral to the knowing. In practice Plato believed that youth needed to serve an apprenticeship under somebody who was virtuous to learn how to live in that manner on attaining adulthood. That seems like a good idea, but instructing someone about living a virtuous life doesn’t mean they will elect to take that advice.

You cannot say categorically that virtue arises out of knowledge, even though instructing one on the advantages of being a good person has merit.   

Aristotle's approach was amplified within his Nicomachean Ethics, attempting to liken the application of virtuous knowledge as in ethics to a scientific skill, a set of rules or criteria.  He does however broach the idea of phenomenology which was of interest to Heidegger and others.  He also compiled the first formal paper on meta-physics, a term used then to describe our state of being outside of physics whose ideas remain firmly etched into our societal framework.  

His ideas remained virtually unchallenged for over a thousand years, remaining relevant in the Christian, Muslim and Jewish religions from a religious philosophical perspective.

Aristotle was a major influence on the Abrahamic Religions, particularly during the 12th & 13th century when they became available in Latin.  He was also a major Influence on Aquinas (1225-74) in respect to his idea that knowledge is gained from the reports of the senses.

Starting out with Kierkegaard we have his idea of being that we know to be in balance in the world and avoid falling into despair. The later period existential thinking started to question the validity of talking about subjects and objects. As a side issue, the anxiety arising from living today under Coved 19 could find no better source than to turn to Kierkegaard, who turned anxiety into a positive that enables one to seek a deeper understanding of who we are as in the self and to lift ourselves out of despair. 

Heidegger talked about a way of being through a latch key idea to open the door into the world. In other words we don’t have to think about opening the latch key in the world for most things which reasonably can be attributed to outside of our consciousness as they become instinctive. That involves dealing with all of the equipment that makes up the materialistic world we inhabit, except when we run into to a problem outside the fields of normality. When that happens, the importance of being one ones authentic self then emerges. Alternatively we can retreat to imitate conformity as being in the world.    

Jean Paul Sartre was profoundly influenced by Heidegger and talked about the idea that existence precedes essence as in essence representing who we are - encapsulating the radical idea of freedom as he sees it.

Thus we can say that being in the world is something that mostly is not at the conscious level except when we encounter a deficit outside of normality or shared public practices. 

Individual interactions will all be different as there is inherent freedom, presupposing there are no boundaries, other than those we choose to impose on ourselves. Those experiences will change according to what we endure in the world.   

That means, in humility, we can turn to the ancient myths, allegorical references and stories that help shine a light on understanding how to live within needing to rationally explain what is ineffable. It means we can accommodate easily both east and western ideas on living and be respectful of their different ways of being. Ultimately they all rest on the idea of having an unconditional commitment to a cause. That defines the reason we live and ensures we have the courage to deal with the how and whatever fate has in store for us.


How we know these things comes from our life experiences that cry out for an existential ‘why’ and therein the thirst for knowledge. How we know is a necessary work in progress in finding meaning to our existence. That in turn will be a mixture of intuitive and learned knowledge, but predominantly just a reflection of being in the world which in itself will be its best representation. Within my conclusion I believe there is ample scope for the rational, mystical and contemplative way of knowing to be seen ultimately as all being inextricably entwined


Wednesday, August 19

Nietzsche, Dostoevsky and Kierkegaard.compared


All three were of that same era and there existed a high degree of commonality in their concern for what they saw, with remarkable accuracy, the inevitable descent into nihilism. The events being played out then were the rapid adoption of post enlightenment thinking in Western Europe and to usher in the new scientific age that had been gathering pace over the past few hundred years. That sudden jolt was to become even more pronounced in Russia which was only just emerging from serfdom. 

These titanic like forces were already exerting their forces on the traditional values and societal chemistry that were to be challenged in the ensuing chaos, possibly to be seen as a manifestation of the hostilities that involved the First World War

Each was to exhibit a high degree of consistency in their overarching theme as to how one finds meaning in life, even to find that meaning in suffering, which was to afflict all of them in different ways. 

Early childhood and youthful influences  

All three might be regarded as having a privileged background as it is suffice to say they all received a good education and went on to become prodigious writers and philosophers, principally concerned with demonstrating how to live a meaningful life in their respective narratives. But, suffering was to be their constant companion, particularly that of Nietzsche's persistent nausea, stomach complaints and migraines. Dostoevsky suffered from epilepsy and Kierkegaard from melancholy, as did his father. 

Like father, like son applies to some degree, to possibly their ongoing afflictions, as Nietzsche's father may have died from a brain tumour and that could possibly have been responsible for his son’s condition, but this remains purely speculative. Certainly Kierkegaard, writing in 1846, talks about his melancholy, to discern he had inherited that affliction from his father. The early influence for Nietzsche was Schopenhauer whose work was contained in his work, 'The World as Will and Representation'. 

Hegel influenced  Kierkegaard and Belinsky was the early mentor for Dostoevsky. In common to all, that youthful attachment and admiration gave way in maturity to a critical analysis that rejected their conclusions to make way for their own philosophy. 

Differences in their approach.

Dostoevsky differs markedly from the other two in that it is only through his epic novels that he speaks to us

Philosophically and even then only one ‘The Underground’ could be considered an existential novel. Rather, we see his embrace of the ideals of the Russian Orthodox Church that he wants to retain as the redemptive power over the encroachment of Nihilism. This idea of retaining the sacred is evident in the characters of the 'Brothers. This approach is in marked contrast to Nietzsche's idea, because of the decadent nature of the Judeo Christian in the way it has become under enslavement, the only way forward is to adopt revised trans values resplendent in the superman or overman as exemplified in 'Thus spoke Zarathustra'.  Contrasting the previous two is Kierkegaard and his synthesis that provides a recipe to living a balanced life, to become the father of the existentialist movement.

A summary of the principal differences is as follows:

u Free will – Nietzsche talks about eternal occurrence which is thought experiment inclusive of determinism.

u All against Hegel – that part of the thinking spirit that he talks about as  purely rational   

u Kierkegaard & Dostoevsky- want to retain Christianity or the Russian Orthodox Church whilst Nietzsche talks about a new ideal resplendent in the Overman.       

u Nihilism –Nietzsche extends to aspects of Christianity as practised then  

u Perspectives- Nietzsche & Kierkegaard postulate we are to become who you are.

u Dostoevsky-and Kierkegaard faith over doubt.

u Modern day applications – Kierkegaard is evident in existential psychology. Nietzsche &  Dostoevsky – evident in Freud & Carl Jung as in the archetypes.   

Monday, August 17

Well What do we know

 Who knows where the road goes, but only time will tell?

The more one knows the more we realize what we don’t know.     

But what can we say we know and how can we know for sure? – As the song says in answer -only time will tell!! -Enya 

Who can say where the road goes
Where the day flows, only time
And who can say if your love grows
As your heart chose, only time

So I will just start from a point in time to throw you back some ideas.   

What do we know?   

One might say it doesn’t help us much to talk about things we don’t know, although exploring the mysterious fascinating world of quantum mechanics might make us aware, at this most basic level, we haven’t got any idea of what reality is. That is, other than a few probability theories, we are in the dark so to speak. Of course you can shine some light on it but it’s a highly technical subject that some folk might not like to discuss.  But on the more positive side that might also prompt us to remain humble about the vast amount of knowledge we rather obviously aren’t aware of. That is as it seemingly exists unrecognizable on the other side of the physics coin, not so influenced unless things either go very, very fast or are equally very small. Maybe one day there will emerge a credible quantum general theory of relativity amongst the thousands of attempts that infiltrate the internet today.   

No doubt knowledge will accelerate in line with our journey into space, but herein there remains the question of being in the world. What do we know about this?  Starting out with Kierkegaard we have his idea of being that we know to be in balance in the world and avoid falling despair. The later period existential thinking questioned the validity of talking about subjects and objects.  But is this the wrong philosophical approach? How do we know? - Jumping ahead, Richard Rorty in his ground-breaking ‘Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature’ suggests to us we now know both analytical philosophy, theories of knowledge, all privileged representations and epistemological considerations are all flawed concepts. How would we know this?  – Mostly from common sense? There is no special knowledge you can gain from just philosophy as such, but you can get a better appreciation from an expanded narrative and through intuition and interpretation.     

He therefore posits the future of philosophy and religion lies in introspection or intuition and the expanded narrative.

My own view is I think there is an elegance of thinking about life as in the Heidegger’s idea of just opening the latchkey to being in the world. How do we know this?  – because we know we are trapped in this world or universe as no one has as yet returned from some other world!  So we know that it is a valid way of looking at our existence through the latch key idea. 

In other words we don’t have to think about opening the latch key in the world which involves dealing with all of the equipment that makes up the materialistic world we inhabit, since, by inference, the balance revolves around just being in the world.

This we know that being in the world must be a spiritual or sacred experimental world that we inhabit but can't see but rather can only be experienced. We know our Individual interactions will all be different as there are no boundaries other than those we chose to impose, by necessity, as mortal human beings, as they relate to one's mind's representations. This is almost like the world of quantum mechanics that we can’t see properly, but it is no less real. We know it is real but we don't have any real knowledge of it other than some surface observations.  

So, summing up, there will be similar experiences we can all share, which will be our ongoing work in progress so to speak, but we can’t ever know for sure what is going on in another's mind or even our own. Consider what is now known - roughly 2 billion decisions made virtually all for us within that complicated circuitry of the brain and emanating from the subconscious.  

So we know we can express this in our ongoing narrative which underpins a meaningful existence. 

Not that I wish to express all of this in a negative way, but rather to contend we know that it is only a misty, glassy like grip that we have on reality. That means, in humility, we turn to the ancient myths, allegorical references and stories that help shine a light on understanding how to live within this entrapment. As a side issue, the anxiety arising from living today under Coved 19 could find no better source than to turn to Kierkegaard, who turned anxiety into a positive that enables one to seek a deeper understanding of who we are as in the self and to lift ourselves out of despair. 

It means the future of philosophy and religion must increasingly rely on introspection to become more intuitive, since the redeemer lives on but in the modern day context of spiritual experiences now. Thus anxiety might be seen as a good thing, within reason, not to be excessive, but for the opportunity to experience that whooshing feeling on daily walks, to be uplifted by that spiritual experience. In the beginning was the word which was the logos that became our reality to become flesh so we have to deal with being in the world as best we can. That is just as we always have done with varying degrees of new found expression that give rise to the full range of emotions. We know they tell us the truth about ourselves but not the truth as such to which some degree of subjectivity forever holds sway.  

So, as we open the latch key to possibly uncover the essence of deep space and take a few pictures they remain just mental representations. We know the same mirror image of nature, which sees things in varying ways, also exists just as we co-exist with her. We know every invention was already present in one form or another almost identical form already resplendent in nature. But we know we can’t talk about consciousness in any meaningful philosophical way because we don’t understand it. We could talk about that though. 

Hence we don’t have to be tied down to rationality, we can turn to listen and contemplate the mystics, whether they be of eastern, western or indigenous origins.

Depending upon our culture we find resonance maybe with Sufi/Christian wisdom streams, all incorporated within the framework of our philosophical or religious underpinnings. In that respect I need to try and define it a bit by noting that mysticism potentially is a method of knowing separate to the knowledge or the knower in question. Aligning that idea to something more tangible one might posit the idea of a mystical experience can be the actuation of our various gifts to discern how we feel about something deep within us, which applies universally to everyone. 

Within this context one can talk about the idea of knowing that is intuitive and in that sense, it is in common with all mystics, to offers the opportunity of sharing in those gifts to the extent we choose to exercise our freedom. But that is not to say we have mystical experiences which we can rationally refer to at any time or that mysticism is a method to potentially override other valid methods of acquiring future valuable knowledge.

Rather we might feel energized or mindful as in ‘Mindfulness’ that allows us to gain new knowledge without the restraint or imposition of ideologies presupposing necessary outcomes. A way of quiet reflection.   

One can find mysticism as embraced by the Australian aborigines.  That is resplendent in the origins of mysticism thought to reside in their dream-time creation where all living things were believed to be made co-dependent and reactive to one another in one inseparable land.

In conclusion I tentatively agree with Richard Rorty, the future direction of philosophy depends mostly upon introspection or intuition and the expanded narrative. That intuitive way of knowing is no less valuable than rational streams and in fact the 2 might see as inextricably linked.

Hence the philosopher’s self-image, the foundational type thinking and the idea of any privileged representations just melt into the vast cooking pot of ideas. That means we can have interesting conversations about these things without feeling obliged to come up with definitive answers.

Saturday, August 1

Notes on Soren Kierkegaard -1813-1855

Kierkegaard was a highly influential philosopher, and Theologian, whose ideas underpin existential psychology as practised today. He was also a literary critic and author of devotional literature. He is regarded as the father of the existential movement because of his emphasis on the freedom of the individual and we see his ideas permeate agnostic philosophers who see great merit in his ideas once you substitute the word cause in lieu of GOD in his synthesis.  The unconditional commitment in a balanced way to a cause or GOD is central to his ideas of how we can avoid falling into existential despair.  There were many pseudonymous works as he preferred the indirect method of communications.          

Early Life

Kierkegaard mostly stayed in Copenhagen, with only occasional visits to Germany and Sweden.

By courtesy of wealthy parents he was educated at a prestigious boys’ school, then to Copenhagen University. He was the last of 7 children of a deeply religious family, but only one of his siblings was to reach adulthood which had a profound negative affect on his outlook on life.

Introduction to his thinking

Initially Kierkegaard was influenced by the ideas of Hegel contained in the works entitled ‘The Philosophy of Religion’.

Little, Daniel, "Philosophy of History", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.

Hegel's philosophy of history is perhaps the most fully developed philosophical theory of history that attempts to discover meaning or direction in history (1824a, 1824b, 1857). Hegel regards history as an intelligible process moving towards a specific condition—the realization of human freedom. “The question at issue is therefore the ultimate end of mankind, the end which the spirit sets itself in the world” (1857: 63). Hegel incorporates a deeper historicism into his philosophical theories than his predecessors or successors. He regards the relationship between “objective” history and the subjective development of the individual consciousness (“spirit”) as an intimate one; this is a central thesis in his Phenomenology of Spirit (1807). And he views it to be a central task for philosophy to comprehend its place in the unfolding of history. “History is the process whereby the spirit discovers itself and its own concept” (1857: 62). 

But Kierkegaard later found reasons to abandon Hegel’s thinking in favour of a more basic Christianity into the Christendom of his era. He did not agree with the idea of Hegel that placed undue emphasis on Hegel spirit of thinking and it’s over reliance on rationality.    

In that respect, he believes each moment involves a judgment to go forward from a prior period of repetition and recurrence in a reference to the platonic soul. But that moment always entails a judgment and Kierkegaard poses an interesting idea in relation to freedom. He talks about the risk as many desist or are uncomfortable with accepting that freedom to make that judgment.  Hence immoral practices are given breathing space so that over time they gather momentum and acceptability.       


Kierkegaard concluded ethics can only be demonstrated in your action and are a nullity if confined to just desired courses of action. He felt uncomfortable telling people what they should do and favored a process of drawing out of them desired ethical outcomes. An example might be a returned soldier whose aggression and war torn character traits need to be drawn out of him in order he is able to adjust to civilian life.


Possibly his most impressive accomplishment from Sickness unto Death was his synthesis that found a solution to Christendom's merger of Greek rationalism with the Jewish mysticism.

 In Part I.A., Kierkegaard talks about human beings as a synthesis of the "infinite and finite," "temporal and eternal," and "freedom and necessity."

Each one of these requires an explanation that I will elaborate on in the future but suffice to say Kierkegaard is arguing human beings (self) are both physical and spiritual. Being in the world means we relate to material things and physical forces- a world of causes and effects. But the self, according to Kierkegaard is both is a spiritual identity that feels as though it is free and is free to  make choices and a physical body involving this complex relationship with itself-the self. Kierkegaard uses very difficult phrasing as he talks about a relation (the relation of spirit and body) that relates itself (spirit/body) to itself (spirit/body).

Kierkegaard's idea of despair is based on this account of what is a human being- to argue despair arises when this relationship gets out of balance. In a similar vein to Nietzsche he argues despair can be a defiance of what a human being either doesn't want to be what it is, or wants to be something it is not. Nietzsche simply says be who you are, but the inference if not the same, is very similar.   

Thus, not wanting to be what it is (self) in the relationship must be as a consequence of some imbalances - to neglect some aspect of its spirit/body relationship.

Kierkegaard's understanding of despair is his assertion, once it takes hold, it is very difficult to overcome. But he concludes human beings are responsible and that appearances of frustration in existence are in fact an indication of frustration within oneself. Individuals can overcome despair, but it requires tremendous effort and commitment.

But when it came to moral matters Kierkegaard concluded there was nothing specific to communicate, so that mostly his writing is under pseudonyms. He developed an indirect communication’, aimed at drawing people into a more vibrant and authentic relationship with themselves as in the self.   

Gordon Marino is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Hong Kierkegaard Library at St Olaf College and his article in Philosophy Now provides plenty of food for thought for us to all talk about.    

He outlines the defining characteristics of existentialism with its enormous accent placed on action and the perils of procrastination.

Kierkegaard, the original existentialist, emphasized that when we don’t act on our convictions, we don’t understand them. He writes, “Precisely this is the profound untruth in all modern teaching, that there is no notion at all of how thought is influenced by the fact that the one presenting it does not dare to express it in action” (Journals and Papers, Vol. 1). By not expressing ideas through action, “the power of the thought disappears.” So his project involves prodding people into moral action, not just thought. Here I want to look at how this relates to procrastination.

Procrastination & Self-Deception

The perils of procrastination are inherent in going with the flow so to speak until such time as the original thought that something is immoral is numbed into acceptance. From there the downslope into a kind of spiritual sickness he equates to a condition of despair. This becomes a form of self-deception  Marino puts it this way “If a person does not do what is right at the very second he knows it – then knowing simmers down. Next comes the question of how willing appraises what is known. Willing is dialectical and has under it the entire lower nature of man. If willing does not agree with what is known, then it does not necessarily follow that willing goes ahead and does the opposite of what willing understood… rather willing allows some time to elapse, an interim called: ‘We shall look at it tomorrow’. During all this, knowing becomes more and more obscure, and the lower nature gains the upper hand more and more; alas, for the good must be done immediately, as soon as it is known… the lower nature’s power lies in stretching things out… And when knowing has become duly obscured, knowing and willing can better understand each other; eventually they agree completely, for now knowing has come over to the side of willing and admits that what [willing] wants is absolutely right.”

Death & Time

In his powerful discourse ‘At a Graveside’ (1845), Kierkegaard emphasizes the existential importance of coming to a first-person understanding of our mortality. It might seem anachronistic but, to listen to Kierkegaard, earnestness (alvorlige) as opposed to happiness ought to be the ultimate aim in life. He writes, “Earnestness is that you think of death, and that you are thinking it as your lot.” He then explains a number of ways in which people go wrong in trying to walk over their own grave, for example, by thinking of death as a ‘rest’, or as a ‘great equalizer’, or by putting yourself outside of death with rote memorized phrases such as, “Where I am death is not, and where death is I am not”. However, when we achieve the bone-deep understanding that it is certain that at some uncertain time it will be over for us that understanding will give a force to life and help us avoid the temptation to procrastinate. The individual for whom the day receives high worth as being limited is not going to be inclined to procrastinate, to put off decisions with palliatives such as “I’ll sleep on it.” As Kierkegaard writes:

“Indeed, time also is good. If a person were able to produce a scarcity in the external world, yes, then he would be busy. The merchant is correct in saying that the commodity certainly has its price, but the price still depends very much on the advantageous circumstances at the time – and when there is a scarcity, the merchant profits … With the thought of death the earnest person is able to create a scarcity [of time] so that the year and the day receive infinite worth.”


Both Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky have very similar views to embrace a non- rational type of faith that involves an unconditional commitment, which is term underpins meaning to existence. The existentialist views of Kierkegaard are more easily translated into existerntional psychology which remains highly relevant today.