- phenomenal axis: the experience of acedia in different life stages,12
- evaluative axis: the diagnoses of acedia from different life stages.
2. Acedia in the Christian Tradition
“The demon of ακηδία, also called ‘noonday demon,’ is the most oppressive of all demons. He attacks the monk about the fourth hour and besieges his soul until the eighth hour… [sending] him hatred against the place, against life itself, and against the work of his hands…”17
And so the true Christian athlete20 who desires to strive lawfully in the lists of perfection, should hasten to expel this disease also from the recesses of his soul; and should strive against this most evil spirit of [acedia] in both directions, so that he may neither fall stricken through by the shaft of slumber, nor be driven out from the monastic cloister, even though under some pious excuse or pretext, and depart as a runaway.(Institutes, X.V)
For the tempting vices…some of them go first, like captains, others follow, after the manner of an army. For all faults do not occupy the heart with equal access…For when pride, the queen of sins, has fully possessed a conquered heart, she surrenders it immediately to seven principal sins, as if to some of her generals, to lay it waste. And an army in truth follows these generals, because, doubtless, there spring up from them importunate hosts of sins.(Moralia in Iob, 31.45.87)
3. Extending the Tradition: Acedia in Either/Or
3.1. Volume I
I don’t feel like doing anything. I don’t feel like riding—the motion is too powerful; I don’t feel like walking—it is too tiring; I don’t feel like lying down, for either I would have to stay down, and I don’t feel like doing that, or I would have to get up again, and I don’t feel like doing that, either. Summa Summarum: I don’t feel like doing anything.(EO I, 20)41
Idleness, we are accustomed to say, is the root of all evil. To prevent this evil, work is recommended. But … Idleness as such is by no means a root of evil; on the contrary, it is a truly divine life, if one is not bored. To be sure, idleness may be the occasion of losing one’s property, etc., but the noble nature does not fear such things but does indeed fear being bored. The Olympian gods were not bored; happy they lived in happy idleness.(EO I, 289)
To forget—this is the desire of all people, and when they encounter something unpleasant, they always say: If only I could forget! But to forget is an art that must be practiced in advance. To be able to forget always depends upon how one remembers, but how one remembers depends upon how one experiences actuality.(EO I, 293)
3.2. Volume II
But what does it mean to live [a]esthetically, and what does it mean to live ethically? What is the [a]esthetic in a person, and what is the ethical? To that I would respond: the [a]esthetic in a person is that by which he spontaneously and immediately is what he is; the ethical is that by which he becomes what he becomes.(EO II, 178)
Nero’s nature was [Tungsind]. In our day, it has become somewhat prestigious to be [tungsindig]; as far as that goes, I can well understand that you find this word too lenient; I hold to an ancient doctrine of the Church that classifies [Tungsind] among the cardinal sins.(EO II, 185)
What, then, is [Tungsind]? It is hysteria of the spirit. There comes a moment in a person’s life when immediacy is ripe, so to speak, and when the spirit requires a higher form, when it wants to lay hold of itself as spirit. As immediate spirit, a person is bound up with all the earthly life, and now spirit wants to gather itself together out of this dispersion, so to speak, and to transfigure itself in itself; the personality wants to become conscious in its eternal validity. If this does not happen, if the movement is halted, if it is repressed, then [Tungsindet] sets in.(EO II, 188–89)
4. Synthesizing the Tradition: Acedia in The Sickness Unto Death63
4.1. Unconscious Despair: Despair That Is Ignorant of Being Despair
4.2. Despair of Weakness: In Despair Not to Will to Be Oneself71
4.2.1. Variety 1
4.2.2. Variety 2
a person in this kind of despair will hurl himself into life, perhaps into the diversion of great enterprises; he will become a restless spirit whose life certainly leaves its mark, a restless spirit who wants to forget…Or he will seek oblivion in sensuality, perhaps in dissolute living; in despair he wants to go back to immediacy, but always with the consciousness of the self he does not want to be.(SUD 65–66)
4.3. Defiant Despair: In Despair to Will to Be Oneself
4.4. Demonic Despair: In Despair to Will to Be One’s Own Self87
the [a]esthetic conception of spiritlessness by no means provides the criterion for judging what is despair and what is not, which, incidentally, is quite in order, for if what is spirit cannot be defined [a]esthetically, how can the [a]esthetic answer a question that simply does not exist for it…No, the [a]esthetic category of spiritlessness does not provide the criterion for what is and what is not despair; what must be applied is the ethical-religious category.(SUD 45)
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See (Cassian 1894), Institutes, X.VIII, “…those who will not work are always restless, owing to the fault of idleness.”
The boundaries, as with anything in history, are not well-defined. We have in mind, firstly, Anglican Bishop Francis Paget (1891). About mid-century, there is Josef Pieper (Pieper  1986; Pieper  1952) and Siegfried Wenzel (1960), among others. Acedia has been of interest even to famous literary figures like Aldous Huxley, who discusses a secular form of the vice in his essay “Accidie” (Huxley  1928); Evelyn Waugh, who portrays acedia in religious terms, albeit from the perspective of an agnostic, in his Brideshead Revisited (Waugh  1999); and T. S. Eliot, who, according to Colón (2011), threads the theologically robust form of acedia through his post-conversion works Murder in the Cathedral (Eliot 1935) and Four Quartets (Eliot  1948). As it turns out, T. S. Eliot even wrote the original English translation introduction to Pieper’s (1952).
Discussions of its application in the life of the believer continued during the 14th–15th centuries in practical theological works like confessional instructions, catechetical handbooks, sermons, and encyclopedias for clergy. But even this change in emphasis reveals that theoretical discussions of acedia had long since subsided since the High Scholastic era. Cf. Wenzel (1960, pp. 174–81). Wenzel also sees in this change in acedia’s emphasis a shift to external, particular, confessional “concrete faults, [rather than on] abstract states of mind” (p. 177).
For example, perhaps it is because the vice had characteristic beginnings in the monastic form of life, which itself faded from prominence; or perhaps the earlier Scholastic theoretical treatments had settled the issue (or maybe rather they were too obscure).
This came in a short journal entry in 1839. We will have more to say about this below. Apart from another, even shorter, journal entry in 1849 (NB10: 23 1849, SKS 21, 269), which is more of a mention than a use of the word, in connection with Bonaventure’s work, there is no other significant interaction with the actual term. (We argue, of course, that he was interacting significantly with the concept under different terminology.)
For example, “Kierkegaaard refers to pagan virtues as ‘glittering vices’ (SKS 9, 60; Kierkegaard 1995, WL 53; Kierkegaard 1980, SUD 46). The term, also used by other Church Fathers, is explicated in [Augustine’s] Civitate dei [XIX, 25]” (Puchniak 2008, p. 13). Cf. Kierkegaard Research: Sources, Reception and Resources Volume 4, Kierkegaard and the Patristic and Medieval Traditions (2008) for more.
There is little doubt that a perspectival account of acedia can be offered, perhaps even has been offered (we can only speculate), using different developmental categories, but Kierkegaard’s spheres lend themselves particularly well to showcasing this. As we shall see, it is important not to place too much weight on the stages/spheres as clear categories, as Kierkegaard sometimes lumps them together (SUD 45).
For shorthand, we sometimes will refer to these as “types of acedia”, but to be sure, they are properly speaking a description of the phenomenal experience, or what-it-is-like, to be afflicted with acedia from the perspective of the aesthetic, ethical, and religious spheres, respectively.
Space prohibits the consideration of more, but we think other works within the corpus can support the extension of our thesis: for instance, despair [Fortvivlelse] in Works of Love, the last two ‘anxieties of the heathen’ in Christian Discourses, and, Concept of Anxiety. In a longer version of the project, we propose that the various forms of anxiety discussed in Concept of Anxiety represent manifestations of acedia in the diverse life stages as follows: Anxiety of Spiritlessness (Aesthetic), Anxiety Defined Dialectically as Fate or Guilt (Ethical or Ethical-Religious), and Anxiety about the Good (Religious).
Hierotheos Vlachos (1994) explains the significance of these thoughts, or logismoi: “The Holy Fathers do not talk about concepts (skepsis) but about thoughts (logismoi)… Conceptions are rational suggestions, while thoughts (logismoi) are rational suggestions combined with the appropriate stimuli and images brought in either by sight, by hearing, or by both” (p. 45). As such, “logismoi” taken generally need apply to sinful or bad thoughts, but the context here makes it clear that the Desert Fathers understand these eight logismoi as normatively bad.
Cf. Harmless (2004): Evagrius “calls them ‘thoughts,’ not sins” (p. 312; cf. 218). “[Evagrius’s] list would become, with slight modification, the seven deadly sins and enjoy a venerable place in the spirituality of the Middle Ages… The one who brought Evagrius’s scheme to the Latin West was his disciple, John Cassian, who discussed them at length in two works, The Institutes and The Conferences” (p. 322).
“… quod Græci ἀϰηδίαν vocant, quam nos tædium sive anxietatem cordis possumus nuncupare.”
It is unclear whether Cassian’s Institutes were written originally in Greek or Latin (and one’s answer to this will likely presuppose an answer to the question of who the real Cassian was). According to Migne’s (PL, Tome 49, Migne 1846, pp. 9–11) historico-literary note which precedes Cassian’s opera omnia, some Greek idiomatic phrases show up in Cassian’s writings, making it possible that all of our extant copies are translations of original Greek manuscripts. Yet, while some books of the Institutes are preserved in Greek codices not older than the seventh century, the earliest printed edition was produced in Latin in Venice in 1481 (Tzamalikos 2012, p. 112, cf. 124). Tradition aligns Cassian with the Latin Fathers: note Migne’s placement of his corpus in the series Latina rather than the series Græca.
As in ἀθλητής, or he who competes for a prize. Cf. 1 Cor. 9:24; Acts 20:24; Phil. 3:14; 2 Tim. 4:7–8.
The Romance languages preserve this connection even more clearly: such as divertir (Fr., Sp., Pt.), from divertere (Lat.), which can mean variously “to divert/distract” or “to entertain”; as well as the derived adjectives divertente (It.) and divertissant (Fr.), which mean “entertaining”, “funny”, or “amusing”.
Who had advised that the “main remedy against ακηδία was to keep the cell, to practice endurance, to nourish supernatural hope, and so on” (Wenzel 1960, pp. 21–22).
While Cassian “recommends cultivating fortitude and keeping the cell” in his Conferences, he goes through the whole Institutes “[speaking] only of manual work” (Wenzel 1960, p. 22, emphasis added). This tension is easily explained by examining Cassian’s purpose for writing and the audience he had in mind for each work. “[T]he Collationes [Conferences] treats of the monk’s ‘inner dispositions,’ whereas the Instituta [Institutes] is concerned with the external regulations given to a [cenobitic] monastic community in need of a rule” (Wenzel 1960, p. 22; cf. Conferences, Pt. I preface).
Since there is no model or analogue for such progenies in earlier writers, it is likely that Cassian’s source for these progenies, in the case of acedia, derived from Paul’s epistle to the Thessalonian church, commentary on which Cassian devotes roughly half of Book X (Institutes, X.7–16). The relevant passages are 1 Thess. 4:9–11 and 2 Thess. 3:6–15 An additional source might have been 1 Tim. 5:13, where we get the grouping “idlers, gossipers, and busybodies.” Cf. Wenzel (1960, p. 21).
See Aquinas (1947), STh I.II.35–9. Crucially, acedia also is the name given to a species of tristitia, which, when taken in this sense of a passion, is not necessarily morally bad. Thomas discusses the two in two separate places in the Summa: acedia qua passion in I.II.35.8, and acedia qua sin in II.II.35.
We do not claim that all passions in themselves are morally neutral; rather, we purposely limit the claim to all passions at the level of genus considered apart from any object (to the extent this is possible). Cf. Miner (2009, p. 93) who says, “This Article [I.II.24.4] qualifies any simple view according to which Aquinas regards the passions as neither good nor evil in themselves.” For example, “Envy is a passion that is evil in its species. Defined as sorrow for another’s good, envy is evil per se. It is impossible to suffer envy toward the right person, at the right time, and in the right way.”
“Wherefore sorrow, in itself, calls neither for praise nor for blame: whereas moderate sorrow for evil calls for praise, while sorrow for good, and again immoderate sorrow for evil, call for blame. It is in this sense that sloth [acedia] is said to be a sin” (II.II.35.1.ad1, emphasis added).
Aquinas defines charity as “a certain friendship of man with God, founded upon a sharing of eternal blessedness. Now this sharing is not according to natural goods, but rather according to gifts freely given … So charity can neither be in us naturally, nor by natural powers that are acquired, but only by an infusion of the Holy Spirit, who is the love of the Father and the Son, whose participation in us is created charity itself” (II.II.24.2).
Interestingly, (b) concerns not the object but the mode of sorrow, that is, the way in which it manifests, moderately or immoderately. And while the moderation of sorrow is done by reason, this error is different from (a), which seems to be more properly an error of reason, since it is misidentifying the good object as bad. These both, however, seem to come in degrees (How bad? How immoderate?), which makes it difficult to say how vicious any instance of acedia is (thus our use of “goes awry” as opposed to “becomes vicious”); and whether this degree of badness tracks with the distinction between acedia qua passion that is bad per se because of its object (cf. Miner 2009, p. 93), and acedia qua capital sin. (It is not clear when one becomes the other, but that may be an inherent issue of vagueness.) Perhaps Thomas’s discussion of venial and mortal sin with respect to acedia may be of help here (II.II.35.3.co).
Meaning “weighed down.” Thomas speaks generally of sorrow as metaphorically “weighing down” (I.II.37.2.co), but also two species of tristitia in particular: anxietas / angustia (I.II.35.8.arg3), and acedia (I.II.35.8.co).
This implies that a moderate acedia (qua passion) can be morally good, namely, when the object of moderate acedia is an evil. And a certain reading of Thomas seems to confirm this (cf. II.II.35.1.ad1).
Recall, sadness is fundamentally aversion to anything that presents as evil; in this case, by “the sadness” Thomas is referring to acedia, “a very special kind of such a negative reaction of the appetite…very intimately linked to the deepest roots of man’s affective and volitive life” (Wenzel 1960, p. 55).
In addition, there are certain familiar (albeit partial) aspects or elements of the traditional concept of acedia emphasized here in this work that may or may not be emphasized in Kierkegaard’s other works. Specific to Either/Or, for instance, we see special attention paid to the twofold effects of acedia: laziness/listlessness and restlessness/busyness, especially as it relates to one’s occupation and aversion to work, yet not explicitly how this work relates to God or divinely given vocation.
On the one hand, it is not clear how much of A’s writings are actually known to Wilhelm, and so these letters are not necessarily meant to be understood as replies. On the other hand, Kierkegaard is the origin behind both pseudonyms, so it is not unreasonable to think they are fashioned as a dialectic. Indeed, Kierkegaard removes himself even more by employing a further pseudonym, Victor Eremita, as editor of the whole work, a move which apparently provoked much consternation—cf. (McCarthy 1978, pp. 56–57).
Or scraps of paper written by A, which the editor tells us “could best be regarded as preliminary glimpses into what the longer pieces develop more coherently” (1987a, EO I, 8). Diapsalmata is related to “psalm”, a term roughly meaning “refrain”; it is an overt allusion to Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. Cf. Furtak (2009, pp. 71–72).
As we see later, Judge Wilhelm expressly identifies A’s condition as acedia.
This passage is taken from a longer journal entry which Kierkegaard himself wrote in 1837 (JP (SKS/ KJN) V 5251; Pap. II A 637), which suggests that he may have been wrestling with this very phenomenon. Kierkegaard reveals in a separate journal entry (JP (SKS/ KJN) V 5631; Pap. IV A 221) that even more of his own “aphorisms … could have been used very well.” Cf. the Hongs’ historical introduction in EO I, ix.
“In addition to my other numerous acquaintances, I have one more intimate confidant—my depression [Tungsind]. In the midst of my joy, in the midst of my work, he beckons to me, calls me aside, even though physically I remain on the spot. My depression [Tungsind] is the most faithful mistress I have known—no wonder, then, that I return the love” (EO I, 20). “Wine no longer cheers my heart; a little of it makes me sad—much, depressed [tungsindig]” (EO I, 41).
“I say of my sorrow [Sorg] what the Englishman says of his house: my sorrow is my castle” (EO I, 21).
“How dreadful boredom [Kjedsommelighed] is—how dreadfully boring; I know no stronger expression, no truer one, for like is recognized only by like. Would that there were a loftier, stronger expression, for then there would still be one movement. I lie prostrate, inert; the only thing I see is emptiness, the only thing I live on is emptiness, the only thing I move on is emptiness. I do not even suffer pain” (EO I, 37).
Cappelørn (2008) points out terms that are nearby, himself preferring “spleen”: “The German terms Schwermut and Weltschmertz, the French term ennui, and the English terms “Byronism” and “spleen” are all designations for the world-weariness, aestheticism, and loss of values that were common themes for European romantic writers. And it is in this group of terms that the Danish Tungsind belongs” (p. 133).
On this score, Cappelørn (2008) writes, “if it is a cultural-linguistic fact that no English word is fully equivalent to Tungsind, Hannay’s ‘melancholy’ is nonetheless clearly preferable to the Hongs’ ‘depression’” (p. 132). Cappelørn himself ultimately prefers “spleen” to either of these. We avoid using the Hongs’ translation of Tungsind as “depression”, in part, because of the misleading modern-day connotations associated with that word. And we do not follow Cappelørn all the way in rendering the term as “spleen” because we simply do not use that word in that sense today. For reservations on using “melancholy”, see (Cappelørn 2008, pp. 132–33).
In both volumes of EO in particular, according to Søren Kierkegaards Skrifter (www.sks.dk), “Kjedsommelighed” appears eighteen times, “Kjedsomhed” zero times, and “kjedelig” twice. In fact, “Kjedsomhed” appears only twice in Kierkegaard’s published writings, once in his unpublished writings, and once in his journals.
Or perhaps “boring-ness”, as suggested by Marilyn Piety (p.c.). Each of the three Danish words begins with the root “K(j)ed” and are constructed, in the usual compounding manner of Germanic languages, using various of the following suffixes: “-som” = “-some” (characterized by some specific condition or quality); “-(m)el” = “-al”; “-ig” = “ongoing” as in “-y” (n. to adj.); “-hed” = “-ness” (adj. to abstract n.).
There is of course more one can say about A’s firsthand description of aesthetic acedia, and we shall say more, but in conjunction with later material.
“Forandring raaber Alle, der kjede sig, paa.”
“It may be thought that such conduct leaves unpleasant recollections, that the unpleasantness consists in the diminishing of a relationship from having been something to being nothing. This, however, is a misunderstanding. The unpleasantness is indeed a piquant ingredient in the perverseness of life. Moreover, the same relationship can regain significance in another way” (EO I, 296).
While this seems to contradict A’s previous tip, it seems nevertheless true that one’s attaching great importance to something otherwise insignificant does not entail that one’s experience of that thing would be vivid.
But of course, rather than contraindicate the Christian tradition, this only reaffirms it. Since the Christian tradition predicts that the aesthete, unconcerned with the things of heaven, will not consider spiritual solutions.
“But the person who says that he wants to enjoy life always posits a condition that either lies outside the individual or is within the individual in such a way that it is not there by virtue of the individual himself. I beg you to keep rather fixed the phrases of this last sentence, for they have been carefully chosen” (1987b, EO II, 179; italics in original).
“What in a certain sense is called “spleen” and what the mystics knew by the designation “the arid moments,” the Middle Ages knew as acedia (αχηδια, aridity). Gregoria, Moralia in Job, XIII, 435: Virum solitarium ubique comitatur acedia…. est animi remissio, mentis enervation, neglectus religiosae exercitationis, odium professionis, laudatrix rerum secularium. [Wherever aridity encompasses a solitary man…… there is a lowering of the spirit, a weakening of the mind, a neglect of religious practice, a hatred of profession, a praise of secular things.] That Gregory should emphasize virum solitarium points to experience, since it is a sickness to which the isolated person [is exposed] at his highest pinnacle (the humorous), and the sickness is most accurately described and rightly emphasized as odium professionis and if we consider this symptom in a somewhat ordinary sense (not in the sense of churchly confession of sins, by which we would have to include the indifferent church member as solitarius) of self-expression, experience will not leave us in the lurch if examples are required. 20 July 1839. The ancient moralists show a deep insight into human nature in regarding tristitia among the septem vitia principalia.” (JP (SKS/ KJN) I 739).
Not to mention, the journal entry was written during Kierkegaard’s doctoral studies over two years prior to the publication of Either/Or.
Pieper (Pieper  1986) notes this when he discusses despair, a kind of which (despair of weakness) Pieper argues is acedia. “Today when we speak of despair we are usually referring to a psychological state into which an individual ‘falls’ almost against his will. As it is here used, however, the term describes a decision of the will. Not a mood, but an act of the intellect. Hence not something into which one falls, but something one posits. The despair of which we are speaking is a sin. A sin, moreover, that bears the mark of special gravity and of an intensity of evil.”
“But the person who wants to be eminently endowed will have to tolerate my placing the responsibility upon him and his capacity to be more at fault than other people. If he looks at this in the proper light, he will not see this to be a disparaging of his personality, even though it will teach him to bow in true humility before the eternal power” (EO II, 189).
“Consequently, it is manifest that every [a]esthetic view of life is despair, and that everyone who lives [a]esthetically is in despair, whether he knows it or not” (EO II, 192).
See Gregory (1844, Moralia in Iob, 31.45.88) and Aquinas (1947, STh II.II.35.4). In fact, Thomas’s view seems to imply that despair occupies a central place among the daughter vices of acedia, given that despair is associated with the avoidance of the end (the divine good) rather than with the avoidance of certain means to that end (e.g., precepts and counsel—whose associated daughter vices would be listlessness and pusillanimity, respectively).
We cite the Hong edition (Kierkegaard 1980) as SUD.
Kierkegaard describes Anti-Climacus in his journals as being a “Christian on an extraordinarily high level” (JP(SKS/ KJN) VI 6433). Kierkegaard chose the pseudonym because he did not feel qualified to deliver its message. In a certain sense, Kierkegaard wanted to place himself under the judgment of the book, along with other readers.
In fact, Anti-Climacus begins his explication of the various forms of despair by exploring the crucial aspects of the self that must be related. He claims that the human self is a synthesis in two important dimensions: finitude/infinitude and possibility/necessity. Any time that one of these qualities is emphasized to the exclusion of its opposite, the self will find itself in despair.
Present in the very word despair [“Fortvivlelse”] is the notion of a natural unity being split into two [“tvi”], the self apart from God, which entails the self being split apart from oneself.
Anti-Climacus has two ways of explicating the different forms of despair: according to the “constituents of the synthesis” (pp. 29–42) [see fn. 44]—what can be termed the objective—and according to the level of consciousness of the person in despair (42–74)—what can be termed the subjective. These are not mutually exclusive, but are simply two ways of analyzing what is the same thing. Our discussion prioritizes the latter, since Anti-Climacus devotes more time to it and the parallels with acedia are more visible.
Anti-Climacus acknowledges that this form is, in keeping with common parlance, “not despair in the strict sense” (SUD 13).
At this point, note (again) how Kierkegaard often lumps together categories, such as the “ethical-religious” (SUD 45), from which certain theoretical complications can arise. Hence it is important not to place too much weight on the stages/spheres as clear categories.
In order to be conscious of being in despair, Anti-Climacus thinks that the self needs to know what despair is and needs to have a certain level of self-understanding. Both of these elements of knowledge, however, come in degrees (cf. Evans 1990, p. 78); so one can experience this form of despair without a perfect understanding of despair or of oneself. Anti-Climacus also mentions that this form is more intensive than the preceding form of despair because the self has a higher degree of self-consciousness (SUD 48). Nevertheless, this despair is a step closer to the cure, since it is at least conscious of being in despair.
The reader will notice that this analysis closely parallels that of the judge in Either/Or II.
This apparently contradicts what Anti-Climacus claims earlier (SUD 45), that unconscious despair, “This form of despair (ignorance of it) is the most common in the world.” There are two possible explanations. Either Anti-Climacus is restricting the scope of his later claim (SUD 57) to the kinds of despair that are recognized in common parlance as despair, in which case unconscious despair would be excluded from consideration; or perhaps Anti-Climacus means to include unconscious despair in his later claim, which he characterizes as “Despair over the earthly or over something earthly” (SUD 56).
Here, Anti-Climacus draws our attention to his use of ‘of’ in the phrase “despair of the eternal.” In a footnote, he explains that what we despair over is the occasion that makes us fall into despair and can be any number of things (e.g., a bad investment, a failed marriage, etc.). On the other hand, what we despair of is “that which, rightly understood, releases us from despair: of the eternal, of salvation, of our own strength, etc.” (SUD 61). Part of what makes these lower forms of despair so problematic, says Anti-Climacus, is that a person “so passionately and clearly sees and knows over what he despairs, but of what he despairs evades him” (SUD 61).
In Anti-Climacus’ own words, “this new despair comes from the self, indirectly-directly from the self, as the counter-pressure (reaction), and it thereby differs from defiance, which comes directly from the self” (SUD 62).
The Hongs translate this as “inclosing reserve,” but as Evans has noted it literally means “shut-up-ness”: “Such a person may be outwardly well-adjusted and sociable, but the outwardness is only a ‘false door’ that the true self hides behind” (Evans 1990, pp. 80–81). One wonders whether “becoming withdrawn” might also be an appropriate rendering.
Here, “our man in despair is sufficiently self-inclosed to keep this matter of the self away from anyone who has no business knowing about it—in other words, everyone—while outwardly he looks every bit ‘a real man.’ He is a university graduate, husband, father, even an exceptionally competent public officeholder, a respectable father, pleasant company, very gentle to his wife, solicitude personified to his children. And Christian?—Well, yes, he is that, too, but prefers not to talk about it, although with a certain wistful joy he likes to see that his wife is occupied with religion to her upbuilding” (SUD 63–64).
These branches parallel neatly with acedia’s twofold effect: producing either a restless person, who desires to make some sort of impression or just to forget, or a person who seeks an improper rest in the form of a return to a lower self. Either way, the self here never attains true rest in God (cf. SUD 49).
We see another kind of ethical acedia when the self remains at these crossroads, remains in the ethical sphere. For this self, “who in his inclosing reserve marks time on the spot” (SUD 66) and who “entrenches himself in despair and despairs over his weakness” (SUD 61), there are two possible outcomes. The greatest danger is suicide, for the self isolates itself from others; otherwise, the completely inclosed person may confide his weakness to someone, though suicide still presents a danger (SUD 66). There is yet another connection to acedia here in the unfortunate, perhaps surprising, association between monastic acedia and suicide. As one historian remarks, “A melancholy leading to desperation, and known to theologians under the name of ‘acedia,’ was not uncommon in monasteries, and most of the recorded instances of mediæval suicides in Catholicism were by monks” (Lecky 1869, pp. 55–56).
The robustness of this possibility seems to hinge upon both (a) what one’s theological commitments will permit and (b) just what one makes of the religious sphere (i.e., what is it to definitely turn away from despair?).
No doubt the comparisons are getting more and more complex the higher one goes, but this is no fault of Kierkegaard. This complexity arises from the Christian tradition itself, which, as we discussed in Section 1, identified acedia as a capital vice—associating it with numerous “offspring” vices. Thus, complexity arises in Anti-Climacus’ analysis because going further up the degrees of despair, it is more difficult to tell whether he is describing phenomena the tradition identifies as acedia proper or one of acedia’s daughter vices. So, while Anti-Climacus may in his psychological analysis of despair include these further vices of acedia along with acedia proper within a single kind of despair, we can still conceptually distinguish between them and note that acedia proper serves as the origin for these others. Returning to where we left off, then, it becomes easier to digest how the higher, more willful kinds of despair are still, at their roots, kinds of acedia.
This division into less and more severe defiant despair parallels the preceding tier, despair of weakness, with its division of despairing over the earthly and despairing of the eternal, respectively.
Though it seems less defiant, here the self is being “acted upon” by the temporal because it is more drawn to the eternal. A refusal of the eternal’s help despite this marks this state as more defiant.
Anti-Climacus explains, “But this is also a form of the despair, to be unwilling to hope in the possibility that an earthly need, a temporal cross, can come to an end. The despairing person who in despair wills to be himself is unwilling to do that.” (SUD 70–71).
Otherwise, “if the sin be a mere beginning of sin in the sensuality alone, without attaining to the consent of reason” (II.II.35.3.co), then it is merely a venial sin.
To borrow a locution from Jeff Hanson. Although Anti-Climacus uses the same for this as with the other kinds of defiant despair—”despair to will to be oneself” (SUD 68)—it is clear that he has in mind something quite strong. Instead of “oneself”, abstractly, the self wills to be “himself” concretely (SUD 72).
Curiously, Wenzel points to a common Scholastic pseudo-etymology for acedia which had impact on the tradition: acidus (“sour”), at one time its “standard derivation” (Wenzel 1960, p. 54).
Though we have not addressed it much in this paper, Kierkegaard has much to offer on the topic of the remedies for acedia. We hope to consider this aspect of his view in future work.
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