Friday, 1 January 2021

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 this seminar asks: might they not do better, and perhaps even much better, if their thinking and practice were not muddled and muddied by the mystifying discourse of mental health’? Does not this pseudo-medical approach besmirch even the most sophisticated daseinsanalytic or existential therapy? The seminar will be an opportunity to examine the evidence without which answers to these questions can only be dogmatic or speculative. 

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, if it could be called a discipline. Laing and Esterson endorsed much of Bosss work while deploring Bossrecklessness’ (Laing) and lack of clarity’ (Esterson). 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. But he pointed out that illness (disease) still has first to be established by a natural-scientific criterion such as Virchows, of cellular pathology or pathophysiology. A holistic approach to illness makes no sense if there is no illness to approach. 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 [worldly] 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 or therapeutic meetings as medicalHeidegger 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. George Pattison, Marilyn Piety, C. Stephen Evans, John Lippitt, Jerome Gellman, Mariam al-Attar conduct Inner Circle Seminars 263, 264, 265, 268, 269, 271 (14, 28 February; 21 March; 23 May; 13 June; 11 July 2021)

Kierkegaard 16 October 1843
Fear and Trembling
Three Upbuilding Discourses
Text and Context 

George Pattison   Marilyn Piety   C. Stephen Evans
John Lippitt   Jerome Gellman   Mariam al-Attar
Inner Circle Seminars Nos. 263, 264, 265, 268, 269, 271
introduced by Anthony Stadlen
14, 28 February; 21 March; 23 May; 13 June; 11 July 2021

Søren Kierkegaard and the three books he published on 16 October 1843

Repetition by Constantin Constantius      Fear and Trembling by Johannes de silentio

 Three Upbuilding Discourses by Søren Kierkegaard

Abraham, Isaac, and the angel
(by Rembrandt)
Everyone now seems to be talking about ‘mental health’. But is this the best way of understanding what people are experiencing in this pandemic crisis? Are these not existential, ethical, spiritual, religious problems? But what does ‘existential’ mean? And do not many existential therapists object to the ‘religious’, whatever that means? But do not some existential therapists find religious experience, their own or others’, of fundamental importance? Should not all existential therapists at least understand what their religious clients, or clients who say they have had some religious experience, are talking about?
Existential therapists take the English word ‘existential’ from the Danish word existentiel’ apparently coined by Søren Kierkegaard (5 May 1813 – 11 November 1855). His pseudonym Johannes Climacus introduced it in Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Crumbs (1846), described in its subtitle as An Existential Contributionand containing discussion, for instance, of ‘existential pathos’, to convey thinking with all one’s being, as an ‘existing’ thinker: as opposed to constructing a ‘system’ which, as his pseudonym Anti-Climacus wrote in The Sickness Unto Death (1849), would be like building a house in which one does not live.
Ludwig Feuerbach used the word ‘existence’ in a similar sense, but he wanted to secularise religious thinking, whereas Kierkegaard affirmed authentic religion as irreducible to social ethics (Sædelighed’ in Danish, Sittlichkeit’ in German).
Martin Heidegger translated Kierkegaards ‘existentiel’ into German as existenziell’ but restricted it to what he called the onticfor the ontological he used existenzial’, a word rare in German, though Edmund Husserl had used it in Philosophy as Rigorous Science (1910-11), and Kierkegaard had even on occasion used, perhaps coined, a Danish word existential’, meaning for him the same as existentiel’, in his private writings. He is alternatively alleged to have adopted the word(s) after he learned from a conversation with, or about, the Norwegian poet and critic Johann Sebastian Cammermeyer Welhaven that he used the Norwegian existensiell’ in this way. The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge had used existential as an English word and meditated on the nature of existence’ in The Friend as early as 1809, before Kierkegaard was born. The philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling influenced both Coleridge and KierkegaardNone of these usages is reducible to the bare existential quantifier (there exists an x such that...) in subsequent logic and mathematics.  
Kierkegaard insisted that, whether pseudonymous (‘with the left hand’) or in his own name (‘with the right hand’), his writing was always religious, though he denounced institutionalised religion (such as Danish 19th-century ‘Christendom’) as a perversion of authentic, existential religion. Much writing by ‘existential’ therapists censors (and implicitly censures) Kierkegaard’s always-religious writing at the outset, claiming to find its ‘relevant’, secular-‘existential’ meaning. Ludwig Binswanger secularises The Sickness Unto Death in this way in his ‘The Case of Ellen West. But this is just what Kierkegaard was attacking as a betrayal.
Nowhere is this more explicit than in Fear and Trembling: A Dialectical Lyric by Johannes de silentio, 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 Kierkegaard. Our seminars on this extraordinary event in publishing history, its context, and its implications, started on 14 October 2018, celebrating these three books’ hundred and seventy-fifth anniversary.
The author of all three books was Kierkegaard, as he acknowledged in ‘A First and Last Declaration’, the further postscript that he, in his own name, added to Concluding Unscientific Postscript.
We are exploring this astonishing creative incandescence in two series of seminars: one series (‘Søren Kierkegaard: Fear and Trembling’) a close reading of this text over a few years, with a fourth seminar in this series this May, conducted by Professor John Lippitt from Sydney, Australia, on its central section of maximal tension and intensity; the other series (‘Kierkegaard: 16 October 1843’) a detailed study of its context, in five ‘satellite’ seminars between February and July.
Fear and Trembling focusses with terrible intensity on the dialectical tension between Abraham’s love and awe for God and his love for his son Isaac. It is a ‘dialectical lyric’ on the Akedah, the account (Genesis, 22:1-19) of Abraham’s ‘binding’ of Isaac in preparation for a sacrifice prevented only by an angel’s last-minute intervention. The meaning of the Akedah has been debated for millennia by Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and (more recently) atheist thinkers. It is chanted from the Torah scroll in synagogues at the New Year, with great textual precision, though everyone is free to propose his or her own interpretation. In Christianity it is held to prefigure the crucifixion of Jesus. The Qur’an does not name Ibrahim’s son in this narrative, and Islamic scholars have debated whether it was Ishmael or Isaac; today it is held to have been Ishmael; animal sacrifices on Eid al-Adha commemorate Ibrahim’s sacrifice of a ram instead of Ishmael. The Akedah has been the basis of many great works of art, music, drama, and poetry.
The ‘satellite’ seminars, conducted by world authorities, including George Pattison, Marilyn Piety, C. Stephen Evans, Jerome (Yehuda) Gellman and Mariam al-Attar, will focus in turn on: the problem of Kierkegaard’s pseudonyms; the two other works (Three Upbuilding Discourses and Repetition) published with Fear and Trembling on 16 October 1843; the interpretations of the Akedah in Kierkegaard and the Hasidic masters; and whether or not some form of ‘divine command theory’ is advocated by Kierkegaard, his pseudonyms, or any or all of the Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam. (In a dialogue of Plato’s, Euthyphro is confused when Socrates asks him whether the gods love the good because it is good or whether the good is good because the gods love it. Many philosophers have thought that Socrates’s question presents a severe problem for divine command theory, but recently other philosophers have argued that there are forms of this theory not vulnerable to the problem Socrates raises for Euthyphro.)
Kierkegaard insisted in ‘A First and Last Declaration’:
... 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 silentio, Johannes 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 ignores Kierkegaard’s urgent request to respect their pseudonymous nature.
Here is our sequence of six seminars:
Inner Circle Seminar No. 263
Sunday 14 February 2021
10 a.m. to 1 p.m.    2 p.m. to 5 p.m.    GMT
Professor George Pattison, English theologian and Anglican priest, has been Professor of Divinity at the University of Glasgow since 2013. He was previously Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford. Among his books are Kierkegaard’s Upbuilding Discourses, Kierkegaards Pastoral Dialogues (with Helle Møller Jensen), Kierkegaard and the Theology of the Nineteenth Century, The Mystical Sources of Existentialist Thought, Heidegger on Death; he has translated and edited a selection of Kierkegaard’s Spiritual Writings (including the first two of the Three Uplifting Discourses he will discuss today); and he has edited The Oxford Handbook of Kierkegaard (with John Lippitt). Today he will explain, in the first seminar on the context of Fear and Trembling, the complexity and subtlety of the problem of the pseudonyms. He will then guide us through Three Upbuilding Discourses (1843), discussing among other things why Martin Heidegger regarded these and Kierkegaard’s other upbuilding writings as his most important works philosophically.
Inner Circle Seminar No. 264
Sunday 28 February 2021
2 p.m. to 5 p.m.    6 p.m. to 9 p.m.    GMT
Professor Marilyn Gaye Piety is Professor of Philosophy in the Department of English and Philosophy at Drexel University, Philadelphia. She is author of many scholarly articles on Kierkegaard and of the book Ways of Knowing: Kierkegaard’s Pluralist Epistemology. She has translated Repetition and Philosophical Crumbs. She is working on a book, Fear and Dissembling: The Copenhagen Kierkegaard Controversies. She is the author of the blog Piety on Kierkegaard. Her insistence on honesty and integrity in academic discourse is exemplary. Today, in the second seminar on the context of Fear and Trembling, she will help us make sense of the brilliant, perplexing short book Repetition, and the many conflicting interpretations it has received; and she will relate it to the other books, Fear and Trembling and Three Upbuilding Discourses, also published on 16 October 1843.
Inner Circle Seminar No. 265
Sunday 21 March 2021
11 a.m. to 1 p.m.    2 p.m. to 3.45 p.m.    4.15 p.m. to 6 p.m.    GMT  
Professor C. Stephen Evans is University Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at Baylor University, Waco, Texas. He has been Curator of the Howard and Edna Hong Kierkegaard Library at Saint Olaf College, Minnesota. His books include Kierkegaard’s Fragments and Postscript: The Religious Philosophy of Johannes Climacus, God and Moral Obligation, Kierkegaard’s Ethic of Love: Divine Commands and Moral Obligations, Foundations of Kierkegaard’s Vision of Community: Religion, Ethics and Politics in Kierkegaard, A History of Western Philosophy: From the Presocratics to Postmodernism, Kierkegaard and Spirituality: Accountability as the Meaning of Human Existence, and many others. He has edited, with Sylvia Walsh, a new translation of Fear and Trembling. In todays seminar, the third on the context of that book, in a two-hour morning session Anthony Stadlen will introduce the Euthyphro dilemma and ‘divine command theory’; and in a four-hour afternoon session (with half-hour break) C. Stephen Evans will disentangle the subtle varieties of that theory in Fear and TremblingWorks of Love, and more recent philosophical writing.
Inner Circle Seminar No. 268
Sunday 23 May 2021 BST
10 a.m. to 1 p.m.    2 p.m. to 4 p.m.    9 p.m. to 10 p.m.    BST
Professor John Lippitt is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Institute for Ethics and Society at the University of Notre Dame Australia, based in Sydney. He is also Visiting Professor at the University of Hertfordshire, UK where he previously worked for twenty-eight years. He is author of many papers and books on Kierkegaard, including the Routledge Guide to Fear and Trembling, Love’s Forgiveness, Kierkegaard and the Problem of Self-Love, Humour and Irony in Kierkegaard’s Thought, and editor of The Oxford Handbook of Kierkegaard (with George Pattison) and Narrative, Identity and the Kierkegaardian Self (with Patrick Stokes). He has already guided us in the second and third seminars on the text of Fear and Trembling. In the fourth seminar in the series on the textwith his pre-recorded reflections culminating in his personal interactive Zoom presence from Australia in his early Monday morning and our British late evening, he will focus on the intense central section, Problem 1: Is there a teleological suspension of the ethical? and Problem 2: Is there an absolute duty to God?
Inner Circle Seminar No. 269
Sunday 13 June 2021
10 a.m. to 1 p.m.    2 p.m. to 5 p.m.    BST
Professor Jerome (Yehuda) Gellman is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Philosophy of Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel. He has published many papers and books on religion, Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah, and Hasidism, including The Fear, the Trembling, and the Fire, Experience of God and the Rationality of Religious Belief, Mystical Experience of God: A Philosophical Inquiry, Abraham! Abraham! Kierkegaard and the Hasidim on the Binding of Isaac, This was from God: A Contemporary Theology of Torah and History, Perfect Goodness and the God of the Jews: A Contemporary Jewish TheologyThe History of Evil from the Mid-Twentieth Century to Today. Today, in the fourth seminar on the context of Fear and Trembling, he will explore the interpretations of the Akedah by Kierkegaard and the Hasidic masters, as well as the tradition of Hasidic therapy.  
Inner Circle Seminar No. 271
Sunday 11 July 2021
10 a.m. to 1 p.m.    2 p.m. to 5 p.m.    BST
Dr Mariam al-Attar teaches Arab heritage, introduction to philosophy, and Islamic philosophy at the American University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. She has taught at the University of Jordan and at King's Academy in Jordan. Her research interests include ethics in medieval Arabo-Islamic thought, modern and contemporary Arab moral thought, and women and gender in the Islamic tradition. She is also a qualified physicist and has worked as a clinical scientist in Jordanian hospitals and in the United Kingdom. Her papers include ‘Divine command ethics in the Islamic legal tradition’ and ‘Meta-ethics: A Quest for Epistemological Basis of Morality in Classical Islamic Thought’. Today, in the fifth seminar on the context of Fear and Trembling, she will cite evidence from her book Islamic Ethics: Divine Command Theory in Arabo-Islamic Thought that, although many Islamic thinkers have endorsed ‘divine command theory’, Islamic tradition in general contradicts this.
This exceptional constellation of speakers and seminars on the foundational existential thinker Kierkegaard will perhaps help existential therapists to reach a deeper understanding of him.
Evaluations differ wildly.
For example, Ludwig Wittgenstein, himself a profound thinker of the 20th century, said Kierkegaard was ‘by far the most profound thinker of the last [19th] century’, ‘too deep for me’. But Ernesto Spinelli, an existential therapist, has recently denounced Kierkegaard’s ‘dangerous folly’ in allegedly admiring Abraham’s ‘self-evident lunacy’. This is in line with a long history of clinical-psychiatric thinking: for example, 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 Rilke, Theodor Haecker, Ludwig Binswanger, Ferdinand Ebner, Igor StravinskyKarl Jaspers, Franz KafkaRudolf BultmannGyörgy Lukács, Niels Bohr, Karl BarthPaul TillichCharles Williams, Franz Rosenzweig, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Martin HeideggerEdith Stein, Mikhail BakhtinJean-Paul Sartre, Dietrich BonhoefferHannah Arendt, Abraham Joshua Heschel, W. H. Auden, Simone de Beauvoir, Rollo MayR. S. Thomas, Thomas Szasz, Alice von Hildebrand, Aaron Esterson, Paul FeyerabendR. D. Laing, Martin Luther King, Jr.Jacques Derrida, John Updike, David Lodge, Henrik Stangerup, and many others acknowledged indebtedness to Kierkegaard. Others, such as Martin Buber, Emmanuel Levinas, and Albert Camus, grappled with him.
Kierkegaard’s idea of authentic religion differed from everybody else’s. He had contempt for the Danish Church: for ‘Christendom’, as he called it. For him, religion was radically existential, 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, as Kierkegaard insisted in his own name in Works of Love (1847), this ‘self’ is only truly itself in loving others: friends, family, neighbours, strangers.
One of Heidegger’s most important early courses of lectures was on The Phenomenology of Religious Life (1920-21). Heidegger wrote in Being and Time (1927) that, of all Kierkegaard’s writings, his 'upbuilding’ (i.e., explicitly religious) works had the most philosophical significance.
Kierkegaard’s work is a fundamental investigation of the existential phenomenology of individual, non-institutionalised, religious experience, as well as the religious implications of all experience, indispensable for unprejudiced understanding of both ‘religious’ and ‘non-religious’ clients.
Above all, perhaps, as Professor John Lippitt, who has been guiding our reading of Fear of Trembling, has pointed out in his book Humour and Irony in Kierkegaard’s Thought and elsewhereSøren Kierkegaard can be very funny. His readers take the risk of being compelled to laugh out loud. As his pseudonym Johannes Climacus wrote in Concluding Unscientific Postscript:
... an existing humorist is the closest approximation to one who is religious ...
It is hoped that these seminars, on the text and context of Fear and Trembling, will enable existential therapists, Daseinsanalysts and others, to reflect more deeply on the foundations of their discipline. All of the invited speakers hope to attend, or at least study reports of, some of their colleagues seminars, in addition to those they are themselves conducting. As one of them commented: ‘This looks like a real intellectual feast.’ Our dialogical tradition will surely be much enhanced.  

These will be online seminars, using Zoom. All are on Sundays, but the times for some of them will differ from the usual 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. GMT or BST, to accommodate invited speakers from distant lands.

Individual Kierkegaard seminars: psychotherapy trainees £132, others £165
Six Kierkegaard seminars 14 February 2021 to 27 June 2021: psychotherapy trainees £588 (= £98 per seminar), others £738 (= £123 per seminar) - a reduction of about 25% - payment may be spread over six months
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.