Friday, 1 January 2021

Søren Kierkegaard. Fear and Trembling. Dialectical Lyric by Johannes de silentio (1843). 4. Problems 1 and 2. John Lippitt and Anthony Stadlen conduct Inner Circle Seminar 268 (23 May 2021)

Søren Kierkegaard
Fear and Trembling
Dialectical Lyric by Johannes de silentio (1843)
A close reading: Fourth seminar
Problem 1. Teleological Suspension of the Ethical?
Problem 2. Absolute Duty to God?

John Lippitt   Anthony Stadlen
Inner Circle Seminar No. 268
23 May 2021
10 a.m. to 1 p.m.   2 p.m. to 4 p.m.   9 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Søren Kierkegaard   
Abraham and Isaac

Fear and Trembling: A Dialectical Lyric by ‘Johannes de silentio’ was published in Copenhagen on 16 October 1843, together with two other books, Repetition: An Essay in Experimental Psychology by Constantin Constantinus’ and Three Upbuilding Discourses by Søren KierkegaardOur seminars on this extraordinary event in publishing history started on 14 October 2018, celebrating these three books’ hundred and seventy-fifth anniversary.

The author of all three books was in fact Kierkegaard (5 May 1813 – 11 November 1855), as he acknowledged in A First and Last Declaration’, the further postscript that he, in his own name, added to Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Crumbs (1846), itself purportedly written by his pseudonym Johannes Climacus.

We are exploring this in two series of seminars: one (Søren Kierkegaard: Fear and Trembling) a close reading of this text; the other (Kierkegaard: 16 October 1843) a detailed study of its context.

Professor John Lippitt is a world authority and author of many books and papers on Kierkegaard, including the pellucid and comprehensive Routledge Guide to Fear and Trembling (second edition, 2016). He has already guided us brilliantly through two of three seminars on the text. Today, in the fourth seminar,  he will focus on the region of maximal tension and anxiety: Problem 1: Is there a teleological suspension of the ethical? and Problem 2: Is there an absolute duty to God?

Fear and Trembling focusses with terrible intensity on the dialectic between Abrahams love and awe for God and love for his son Isaac. It is a ‘dialectical lyric’ on the Akedah, the Biblical account of Abraham’s ‘binding’ of his beloved son Isaac (Genesis, 22:1-19), fundamental for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The meaning of the Akedah has been debated and disputed for thousands of years by Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and (more recently) atheist thinkers. (The Qur’an does not name the son, and there has been debate in Islam as to whether it was Ishmael or Isaac, though today it is generally held to have been Ishmael.) The Akedah is chanted from the Torah scroll in synagogues at the New Year, with great precision, though there is no official interpretation of its meaning; in Christianity it is held to prefigure the crucifixion of Jesus; and in Islam animals are sacrificed round the world on Eid al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice) to commemorate Abrahams sacrifice of a ram instead of his son. The Akedah has been the basis of many great works of art, music, drama, and poetry.

Also, during the first half of 2021, we are setting the context for Fear and Trembling, in five satellite seminars, again conducted by world authorities, including George PattisonMarilyn PietyC. Stephen Evans, and Mariam al-Attar, on Kierkegaards pseudonyms; the two other works (Three Upbuilding Discourses and Repetitionpublished with Fear and Trembling on 18 October 1843and the interpretations of the Akedah and divine command theory in Kierkegaard, the Hasidic masters, and Islam.

Kierkegaard insisted:
... if it should occur to anyone to want to quote a particular passage from the books, it is my wish, my prayer, that he will do me the kindness of citing the respective pseudonymous author’s name, not mine.
Johannes de silentioJohannes Climacus, and the other pseudonyms are like characters in a drama written by Kierkegaard. He called it ‘indirect communication’, a dialectic of perspectives which invites the reader to work out his or her own point of view. Much commentary on Fear and Trembling and the other pseudonymous works is misleading, because it ignores Kierkegaard’s urgent request that their pseudonymous nature should be respected.

However, the problem of the pseudonyms is complex and subtle, as Professor George Pattison will explain in the first seminar in the subseries on the context,  Inner Circle Seminar No. 263 on 14 February.

Kierkegaard, sometimes through a pseudonym (with the left hand’), sometimes in his own name (with the right hand’), introduced the word existential’ to convey thinking with all one’s being, as an ‘existing’ thinker: not constructing a ‘theory’ or ‘system’, which his pseudonym Anti-Climacus in The Sickness Unto Death (1849) said was like building a house in which one does not live.

Ludwig Feuerbach also used ‘existence’ in this sense, but he wanted to secularise religious thinking, whereas Kierkegaard affirmed authentic religion as irreducible to social ethics.

Kierkegaard’s idea of authentic religion differed from everybody else’s. He had utter contempt for the Danish Church and for ‘Christendom’, as he called it. For him, religion was radically individual. But his vision of the individual was the antithesis of an encapsulated, isolated, unsocial, worldless, reified ‘self’. Rather, as Anti-Climacus put it in The Sickness Unto Death, the ‘self’ is a ‘relation’ which ‘relates itself to its own self’; it was ‘that in the relation that the relation relates itself to its own self’, while ‘resting in the [divine] power that established it’; and, of course, as Kierkegaard insisted in his own name in Works of Love (1847), this self is only truly itself in loving friends, family, spouse, lover, children, neighbours, strangers.

The meaning of Kierkegaard’s pseudonym’s interplay of interpretations in Fear and Trembling, and the interplay of this interplay with the positions of his other pseudonyms, has been debated by generations of theological, philosophical, and psychological scholars for one hundred and seventy-five years.

Wittgenstein, a profound thinker of the 20th century, said Kierkegaard was ‘by far the most profound thinker’ of the 19th century’, ‘too deep for me’. But Ernesto Spinelli, an existential therapist, has denounced Kierkegaard’s ‘dangerous folly’ in allegedly admiring Abraham’s ‘self-evident lunacy’. This endorses clinical-psychiatric thinking: Dr Abraham Myerson in 1945 diagnosed Kierkegaard as ‘a psychiatric case’, and his writing as ‘a schizoid and certainly utterly incomprehensible presentation by a mind which is quite deviate’.

Are these demystifying insights? Or is the existential tradition here degenerating into abject uncomprehending psychiatric reductionism?

Rainer Maria RilkeTheodor HaeckerLudwig BinswangerKarl JaspersFranz KafkaPaul TillichLudwig WittgensteinMartin HeideggerJean-Paul  SartreHannah ArendtAbraham Joshua HeschelW. H. AudenR. S. ThomasThomas SzaszR. D. Laing, Jacques DerridaJohn UpdikeDavid Lodge, and many others acknowledged indebtedness to Kierkegaard. Others, such as Martin BuberEmmanuel Levinas, and Albert Camus, grappled with him.

Kierkegaard emphasised that the sole purpose of his vast authorship, both direct and pseudonymous, was religious, though he denounced institutionalised religion (such as Danish 19th-century ‘Christendom’) as a perversion of existential religion. But ‘existential’ therapists ‘secularise’ his writings; Binswanger did so with The Sickness Unto Death in ‘The Case of Ellen West’. Is this a betrayal, purporting to reduce the religious to the secular-social-ethical in precisely the way that Johannes de silentio is criticising in Fear and Trembling? Or is it a clearing away of religious rubble to reveal the human truth of these masterpieces?

One of Heidegger’s most important early courses of lectures was on The Phenomenology of Religious Life (1920-21). But existential therapists often disparage the religious experience of their clients, closed to its phenomenology. We shall try to show that Kierkegaard’s work includes a fundamental investigation of the existential phenomenology of individual, non-institutionalised, religious experience, indispensable for unprejudiced understanding of both religious’ and non-religious’ clients.

It is hoped that these ten seminars, five on the text and five on the context of Fear and Trembling, will enable existential therapists, Daseinsanalysts and others, to reflect more deeply on the foundations of their discipline.

This will be an online seminar, using Zoom.

Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £132, others £165, some bursaries; payable in advance by bank transfer or PayPal; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra AvenueLondon N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 7809 433250    E-mail:
For further information on seminars, visit:

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools and universities.

The Myth of ‘Mental Health’ and ‘Psychopathology’ in Existential Analysis and Daseinsanalysis. Keith Hoeller, Albert Pacheco, Anthony Stadlen conduct Inner Circle Seminar 267 (9 May 2021)

The Myth of ‘Mental Health’ and Psychopathology
in Existential Analysis and Daseinsanalysis

Keith Hoeller   Albert Pacheco   Anthony Stadlen
(with assistance from Miles Groth)
Inner Circle Seminar No. 267
Sunday 9 May 2021
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Martin Heidegger

Thomas Szasz

Aaron Esterson

Medard Boss


Heidegger was interested in psychiatry, especially with schizophrenics, with whom he sought contact and conversations when this was possible for him. On walks he regularly remained standing lost in thought for a while before the villa of the Freiburg psychiatrist Ruffin [...]. Once he said forthrightly that he was not convinced of the correctness of the solely medical interpretation of schizophrenia as illness. Could it not even simply be a question of an ‘other’ kind of thinking?

Wiesenhütter, E. Die Begegnung zwischen Philosophie und Tiefenpsychologie.

(1979: 158, translation by A. Stadlen)

In our Covid-oriented time, when everyone is talking about so-called mental health’, this seminar offers an urgently needed perspective, one which might actually help people come to terms with this unprecedented existential, emotional, psychological, interpersonal, spiritual, religious challenge better than the confused perspective of mental health’. This does not mean that people offering ‘talking therapy’ within the mental health’ system are doing no good; some may do much good; but the thesis of this seminar is that they could do better, and perhaps even much better, if their thinking and practice were not muddled and muddied by the mystifying discourse of mental health’. This pseudo-medical approach besmirches even the most sophisticated daseinsanalytic or existential therapy, as this seminar will try to show.

What did Martin Heidegger mean? What Eckart Wiesenhütter says he said (above), three years after Heideggers death, is ambiguous. The words solely’ (allein’) and ‘simply’ (einfach’) in the last two sentences suggest two possible ways of understanding schizophrenia, the second more radical than the first.

The first sentence says Heidegger doubted the ‘solely medical interpretation of schizophrenia as illness’, implying ‘schizophrenia’ might be both an ‘illness’ and ‘an “other” kind of thinking’. But the second sentence says he wondered if it was ‘simply a question of an “other” kind of thinking’, implying not an ‘illness’ at all.

Even if Heidegger did have the temerity to suggest the second, more radical, possibility on that one occasion, he was usually careful to explain that what he endorsed was the first possibility. He did revere the maddest’ writings of HölderlinNietzscheTraklCelan as an “other” kind of thinking’, but he emphasised that the medical interpretation that they were ill’ was correct.

Of course, when Heidegger used the word ‘correcthe usually meant wrong, in the light of his more profound understanding. But he still meant ‘correct! How, though, did he know that the medical diagnosis was correct? He was not a doctor. But he deferred as a layman to the medical expertise of such psychiatrists as Ludwig Binswanger and, especially, his friend Medard Boss.

With Boss he founded a form of psychotherapy, Daseinsanalysis, grounded in his own philosophy. In Boss’s home from 1959 to 1969 he conducted the Zollikon seminars for psychiatrists and doctors. Both men opposed reductive natural-scientism. They insisted on a holistic approach to illness. But they assumed, in relation to ‘schizophrenics’, neurotics, and others who sought daseinsanalytic therapy, that it was illness that they were holistically approaching.

In the 1960s, the decade of the Zollikon seminars, the psychiatrists Thomas Szasz in the United States and R. D. Laing and Aaron Esterson in the United Kingdom, were also seriously questioning the foundations of their discipline. They endorsed much of Bosss work while criticising aspects of it. The crucial difference was that Szasz, Laing and Esterson questioned the presumption of illness.

Szasz compared the presumption of illness to the presumption of guilt in inquisitorial legal systems. He held, on both scientific and ethical grounds, that people should be presumed healthy until proven ill, just as they are presumed innocent until proven guilty in accusatorial legal systems. He argued that both the presumption of illness and the presumption of guilt invalidate people.

However, the presumption of illness differs from the presumption of guilt in a fundamental way. The presumption of guilt at least attributes agency and responsibility; indeed, it insists on it. But the presumption of illness, and especially mental illness’, attributes lack of agency and responsibility: it literally invalidates by treating the person as an invalid.

Szasz was as committed as Heidegger and Boss were to holistic medicine. He was no dualist. His first papers and first book Pain and Pleasure were on psychosomatic medicine, and he stood by them at the end of his life more than half a century later, seeing this as an important field for research. His point was that holistic (or any other kind of) medicine should not degenerate into making the presumption of illness. 

Laing and Esterson, in Sanity, Madness and the Family (1964), and Esterson, in The Leaves of Spring (1970), demonstrated in concrete detail how, in each of eleven families in which a daughter had been medically diagnosed as schizophrenic, the presumption by the other family members that this young woman was ‘ill served to mystify her and invalidate her experience. Some of the diagnosed women fluctuated between accepting and challenging the familys and the psychiatrists’ (not, of course, Laings or Estersons) definition of them as ill. Others simply accepted, in a defeated and demoralised way, that they were ill’.

Laing and Esterson emphasised in the preface to the second edition of their book that readers had ignored their question, namely (1970 [1964]: viii):

Are the experience and behaviour that psychiatrists take as [boldface added] signs and symptoms of schizophrenia more socially intelligible than has come to be supposed?

They were questioning the existence of schizophrenia. But for more than half a century they have been misread as if they had left out the words here in boldface.

This is not an obscure detail. It is the heart of their argument. But it is so simple that almost all readers manage not to see it.

‘Readers’ (misreaders or non-readers) wrongly assume Laing and Esterson claimed families cause’ (contribute to the ‘aetiology’ of) a (hypothetical) mental illness’, ‘schizophrenia’. That is to say, readers mistakenly assume it was this presumed illness’, not the presumption of such an ‘illness, that these authors claimed was socially intelligible.

Among those who have misread in this way are Emmy van Deurzen and Raymond Kenward who assert in their influential Dictionary of Existential Psychotherapy and Counselling (2005: 118): 

Laing […] believed schizophrenia was the result of the alienating power of the schizophrenogenic family.

This is what almost all of the few existential therapists and Daseinsanalysts who even claim to have read the book say Laing and Esterson were saying.

In two series of Inner Circle Seminars on the eleven families, for the 40th and 50th anniversaries of the book, we have seen how difficult it is for existential therapists whose careers depend on it to examine their belief in mental healthmental illness’, and schizophrenia. Daseinsanalysts have expressed similar puzzlement. But for the laywoman Dame Hilary Mantel, the great writer who introduced our second series of seminars, the phenomenological point was obvious. [See: 

Of course, as Szasz pointed out, it is possible that some persons now diagnosed as schizophrenic are indeed ill: they may have an undiscovered brain abnormality. If such an abnormality were discovered then it would constitute a bona fide disease with mental symptoms: the province of neurologists.

But often, as Esterson says in Families, Breakdown and Psychiatry (1976: 296),

Such was the hypnotic effect of the prior assumption of illness, that one had constantly to remind oneself that there was no evidence to substantiate this assumption.

And (302):
[…] study the designated schizophrenic directly in his relevant social context in a phenomenologically and dialectically valid manner, and to a significant extent the apparent signs and symptoms of the presumed illness disappear like morning mist before the sun […]

Boss says (Grundriss der Medizin, 1971: 506, translation by A. Stadlen):
[…] with no single patient can one speak of his being schizophrenic per se. Rather, one must always ask: schizophrenic under the excessive demands of what pattern of human relationships?
But Boss’s language still begs the question of what ‘schizophrenic’ means. And he has defined Daseinsanalysis, in the title of his book and elsewhere, as part of medicine. He and Heidegger constantly refer to ‘patients’ as ‘ill’. [See:
by A. Stadlen.]
Non-medical psychotherapists were not invited to the 1960s Zollikon seminars. Boss thought Daseinsanalysts should be medical doctors. But Freud had argued in the 1920s that ‘doctors form a preponderating contingent of quacks in psychoanalysis’, which he insisted was not part of medicine but ‘weltliche Seelsorge’ (‘secular soul-care’). Boss, starting with a modest claim that, as a student, he had visited Freud for some sessions in 1925, eventually claimed to have had psychoanalysis with him six times a week for six months, though Boss’s deputy and successor Gion Condrau and Stadlen proved that he cannot have been in Vienna for at least half that time. If he did visit Freud, he seems not to have grasped that Freud did not regard their analytic meetings as medical. Heidegger appears to have accepted Boss’s view that psychotherapy was a medical treatment without question.
Today we shall ask whether this is an unnecessary limitation of Daseinsanalysis and existential analysis or whether Heidegger’s and Boss’s conception of illness’ is more daseinappropriate’ after all. Your contribution to the discussion will be warmly welcome.

Professor Keith Hoeller, translator of Heidegger’s Elucidations of Hölderlin’s Poetry (2001), will again join us from Seattle, where he was Professor of Philosophy for many years. He has edited the Review of Existential Psychology and Psychotherapy from 1978, as well as books of key papers on Binswanger, Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger, Boss, Sartre, Szasz, Foucault, May. He is one of the very few authorities on both Heidegger and Szasz. He edited Thomas Szasz: Moral Philosopher of Psychiatry (1997). He contributed a chapter on Szasz to Existential Therapy (ed. Barnett, L. and Madison, G., 2012). He received the Thomas S. Szasz Award for Outstanding Services to the Cause of Civil Liberties (professional category) from the Center for Independent Thought, New York City.

Professor Hoeller co-conducted (by Zoom from Seattle, heroically through the night) Inner Circle Seminars No. 258 (The Myth of Thomas Szasz) on 14 June 2020 and No. 259 (Heidegger and Levinas on the ‘Holy’) on 2 August 2020.

Dr Albert Pacheco is Director of Behavioral Health Services for South Central Family Health Services in Los Angeles, CA. He has over 20 years of clinical experience. His doctoral dissertation, based on the work of Medard Boss, was reviewed and approved by Boss himself, and he has discussed with both Boss and Szasz their positions on mental illness. He has published articles on Boss and existential psychology and is an editorial board member of the Review of Existential Psychology and Psychiatry, which published (!) his important paper The Myth of Existential PsychiatryHe is completing a book,  An Introduction to the Existential Psychology of Medard Boss.

Professor Miles Groth will join us for the afternoon. He is an existential therapist since 1975; Professor Emeritus in Psychology at Wagner College, Staten Island, New York City; translator of Heidegger; author of books and papers on Heidegger and Boss, including Medard Boss and the Promise of Therapy (2020); collaborator with Todd DuBose in The Soul of Existential Therapy (2020) and a Society for Existential Analysis symposium in November 2020.

This will be an online seminar, using Zoom.

Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £132, others £165, some bursaries; payable in advance by bank transfer or PayPal; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 7809 433250    E-mail:
For further information on seminars, visit:

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools and universities.

Kierkegaard 16 October 1843. 3. ‘Divine Command Theory’? Fear and Trembling and Works of Love. C. Stephen Evans conducts Inner Circle Seminar 265 (21 March 2021)

Kierkegaard 16 October 1843
3. ‘Divine Command Theory’?
Fear and Trembling and Works of Love

C. Stephen Evans
Inner Circle Seminar No. 265
Sunday 21 March 2021
11 p.m. to 1 p.m.   2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

This will be an online seminar, using Zoom.
First editions of the three books
Kierkegaard published, 
two pseudonymously,
on 16 October 1843

Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £132, others £165, some bursaries; payable in advance by bank transfer or PayPal; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra AvenueLondon N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 7809 433250
First editions of the three books
Kierkegaard published, 
two pseudonymously,
on 16 October 1843

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools and universities.