Subjectivity as Truth


A Selected Passage

When subjectivity, inwardness, is truth, then objectively truth is the paradox; and the fact that truth is objectively the paradox is just what proves subjectivity to be truth, since the objective situation proves repellent, and this resistance on the part of objectivity, or its expression, is the resilience of inwardness and the gauge of its strength. The paradox is the objective uncertainty that is the expression for the passion of inwardness, which is just what truth is. So much for the Socratic. Eternal, essential truth, i.e., truth that relates essentially to someone existing through essentially concerning what it is to exist (all other knowledge being from the Socratic point of view accidental, its scope and degree a matter of indifference), is the paradox. Yet the eternal, essential truth is by no means itself the paradox; it is so by relating to someone existing. Socratic ignorance is the expression of the objective uncertainty, the inwardness of the one who exists is truth. Just to anticipate here, note the following: Socratic ignorance is an analogue to the category of the absurd, except that in the repellency of the absurd there is even less objective certainty, since there is only the certainty that it is absurd. And just for that reason is the resilience of the inwardness even greater. Socratic inwardness in existing is an analogue of faith, except that the inwardness of faith, corresponding as it does to the resistance not of ignorance but of the absurd, is infinitely more profound.

Socratically, the eternal essential truth is by no means in itself paradoxical; it is so only by relating to someone existing. This is expressed in another Socratic proposition, namely, that all knowing is recollecting. That proposition foreshadows the beginning of speculative thought, which is also the reason why Socrates did not pursue it. Essentially it became Platonic. Here is where the path branches off and Socrates essentially accentuates existing, while Plato, forgetting the latter, loses himself in speculation. The infinite merit of Socrates is precisely to be an existing thinker, not a speculator who forgets what it is to exist. For Socrates, therefore, the proposition that all knowing is recollecting has, at the moment of his leave-taking and as the suspended possibility of speculating, a two-fold significance: (1) that the knower is essentially integer and that there is no other anomaly concerning knowledge confronting him than that he exists, which anomaly, however, is so essential and decisive for him that it means that existing, the inward absorption in and through existing, is truth; (2) that existence in temporality has no decisive importance, since the possibility of taking oneself back into eternity through recollection is always there, even though this possibility is constantly cancelled by the time taken in inner absorption in existing.

The unending merit of the Socratic was precisely to accentuate the fact that the knower is someone existing and that existing is what is essential. Going further through failing to understand this is but a mediocre merit. The Socratic is therefore something we must bear in mind and then see whether the formula might not be altered so as to make a real advance on the Socratic.

Subjectivity, inwardness, accordingly, is truth. Is there now a more inward expression of this? Yes, indeed; when talk of ‘subjectivity, inwardness, is truth’ begins as follows: ‘Subjectivity is untruth.’ But let us not be in a hurry. Speculation also says that subjectivity is untruth, but says this in exactly the opposite direction; namely, that objectivity is truth. Speculation defines subjectivity negatively in the direction of objectivity. This other definition, on the contrary, gets in its own way from the start, which is just what makes the inwardness so much more inward. Socratically, subjectivity is untruth if it refuses to grasp that subjectivity is truth but, for example, wants to become objective. Here, however, in setting about becoming truth by becoming subjective, subjectivity is in the difficult position of being untruth. The work thus goes backwards, that is, back into inwardness. Far from the path leading in the direction of the objective, the beginning itself lies only even deeper in subjectivity.

But the subject cannot be untruth eternally, or be presupposed eternally to have been so; he must have become that in time, or becomes that in time. The Socratic paradox lay in the eternal truth relating to someone existing. But now existence has put its mark a second time on the one who exists. A change so essential has occurred in him that now he cannot possibly take himself back into the eternal through Socratic recollection. To do that is to speculate; the Socratic is to be able to do it but to cancel the possibility by grasping the inward absorption in existence. But now the difficulty is this, that what followed Socrates as a cancelled possibility has become an impossibility. If, in relation to Socrates, speculating was already a dubious merit, now it is only confusion.

The paradox emerges when the eternal truth and existence are put together; but every time existence is marked out, the paradox becomes ever clearer. Socratically, the knower was someone who existed, but now someone who exists has been marked in such a way that existence has undertaken an essential change in him.

The Self-Overcoming of Nihilism

the self-overcoming of nihilism

Full Book (PDF): The Self-Overcoming of Nihilism by Nishitani Keiji

As a past reader of Nishitani in both the original Japanese and English translation, I find this manuscript to be the most accessible and clearly written of any book-length work I have read by him. It shows Nishitani as a vital and vigorous thinker, and serves as an introduction to his widely acclaimed Religion and Nothingness.

The summaries of the relation to nihilism of Hegel, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Feuerbach, and Stirner, a nearly forgotten figure in intellectual history, are all perspicacious. Even the chapters on Nietzsche, about whom volumes are written these days, provide new insights. The brief section on the problem of nihilism for Japan is unprecedented in the English literature, and the sketches on karma and historicity whet the appetite for the more extensive and difficult expositions in Religion and Nothingness.

It will be mandatory reading for an understanding of both Nishitani’s thought and the problem of nihilism. Scholars and other persons interested in nihilism, in Nietzsche, and/or in contemporary Buddhist or Japanese philosophy, will greatly profit from a study of this book.

– John C. Maraldo, Department of Philosophy, University of North Florida

This is a fine translation of an important work in the corpus of Nishitani’s early writings. The translation is timely both because of the Western interest in Nishitani as a preeminent contemporary Japanese philosopher and because of the continuing Western perplexity about the problems Nishitani addresses. Nishitani is one of the world’s greatest living philosophers and even in this early work of his that brilliance shines through.

– Thomas P. Kasulis, Department of Philosophy, Northland College

Nishitani Keiji was for many years Professor of Religious Philosophy at Kyoto University and the leading thinker of the “Kyoto School” of philosophy. He died in 1990. Graham Parkes is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Hawaii, the editor of Heidegger and Asian Thought and Nietzsche and Asian Thought, and the author of Composing the Soul: Reaches of Nietzsche’s Psychology. Setsuko Aihara has taught Japanese at the University of Hawaii and Harvard University, and is the author of Strategies for Reading Japanese: A Rational Approach to the Japanese Sentence.


Chapter One – Nihilism as Existence

1. Two Problems

2. Nihilism and the Philosophy of History

3. European Nihilism

Chapter Two – From Realism to Nihilism: Hegel, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Feuerbach

1. Hegel’s Absolute Idealism and Radical Realism

2. Schopenhauer—Will as Real—The Nullity of Existence

3. Kierkegaard—Becoming and Existence

4. Feuerbach—Critique of Religion, Philosophy, and Ethics

Chapter Three – Friedrich Nietzsche: The First Consummate Nihilist

1. The Significance of Nihilism in Nietzsche

2. Radical Nihilism

3. Nietzsche’s Interpretation of Christianity

4. The Concept of “Sincerity”—”Will to Illusion”

Chapter Four – Nietzsche’s Affirmative Nihilism: Amor Fati and Eternal Recurrence

1. Value-Interpretation and Perspectivism

2. The Problem of Amor Fati

3. Love of Fate as “Innermost Nature”—Suffering—Soul

4. The Idea of Eternal Recurrence: The “Moment” and Eternity

5. Eternal Recurrence and Overcoming the Spirit of Gravity

6. Love of Fate and Eternal Recurrence

7. The Self-Overcoming of Nihilism

Chapter Five – Nihilism and Existence in Nietzsche

1. “God is Dead”

2. Critique of Religion

3. The Stages of Nihilism

4. Nihilism as Existence

5. The First Stage of Existence

6. The Second Stage of Existence

7. Nihilism as Scientific Conscience

8. Science and History as Existence

9. “Living Dangerously” and “Experimentation”

10. The Third Stage—Existence as Body

11. The Dialectical Development of Nihilism

Chapter Six – Nihilism as Egoism: Max Stirner

1. Stirner’s Context

2. The Meaning of Egoism

3. Realist, Idealist, Egoist—”Creative Nothing”

4. From Paganism to Christianity

5. From Christianity to Liberalism

6. From Liberalism to Egoism

7. Ownness and Property—All and Nothing

8. The State and the Individual

Chapter Seven – Nihilism in Russia

1. Russian Nihilism

2. Bazarov’s Nihilism—”Fathers and Sons”

3. Nihilism as Contemplation—”Notes from Underground”

Chapter Eight – Nihilism as Philosophy: Martin Heidegger

1. Existentialism as a Discipline

2. The “Ontological Difference”

3. Transcendence and Being-in-the-World

4. Being-toward-Death and Anxiety

5. Finitude—Metaphysics—Existence—Freedom

Chapter Nine – The Meaning of Nihilism for Japan

1. The Crisis in Europe and Nihilism

2. The Crisis Compounded

3. The Significance of European Nihilism for Us

4. Buddhism and Nihilism

Appendix – The Problem of Atheism

1. Marxist Humanism

2. Sartrean Existentialism

3. Atheism in the World of Today

The Madman (in me)

Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly, “I seek God! I seek God!”

As many of those who do not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Why, did he get lost? said one. Did he lose his way like a child? said another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? or emigrated? Thus they yelled and laughed.

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his glances.

“Whither is God?” he cried.

“I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night and more night coming on all the while? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning?

Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the grave-diggers who are burying God?

Do we not smell anything yet of God’s decomposition?

Gods too decompose.

God is dead.

God remains dead.

And we have killed him.

How shall we, the murderers of all murderers, comfort ourselves? What was holiest and most powerful of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must not we ourselves become gods simply to seem worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever will be born after us – for the sake of this deed he will be part of a higher history than all history hitherto.”

Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they too were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke and went out. “I come too early,” He said then; “my time has not come yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering – it has not yet reached the ears of man. Lightning and thunder require time, the light of the stars requires time, deeds require time even after they are done, before they can be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the most distant stars – and yet they have don it themselves.”

It has been related further that on that same day the madman entered a bunch of churches and there sand his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said to have replied each time, “What are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?”

– Nietzsche

It is quite true what philosophy says: that life must be understood backwards. But then one forgets the other principle: that it must be lived forwards. Which principle, the more one thinks it through, ends exactly with the thought that temporal life can never properly be understood precisely because I can at no instant find complete rest in which to adopt a position: backwards, lol.

– Kierkegaard

Is it possible that, in spite of inventions and progress, in spite of culture, religion, and wisdom, one has remained at the surface of life? Is it possible that even this surface, which would at least have been something, has been covered with an incredibly dull material till it looks like salon furniture during the summer vacation?

Is it possible that there are people who say “God” and suppose that this is something one can have in common? – Just look at two school children: one of them buys a knife, and his neighbor buys one just like it, on the very same day. And a week later they compare their two knives, and by now they are barely similar: so differently have they developed in different hands. (Sure, says the mother of one boy, if you always get everything to look used right away!)

I see: Is it possible to believe that one can have a god without using him?

– Rilke

The Crowd is Untruth

And to honour every man, absolutely every man, is the truth, and this is what it is to fear God and love one’s “neighbour.” But from an ethico-religious point of view, to recognize the “crowd” as the court of last resort is to deny God, and it cannot exactly mean to love the “neighbour.” And the “neighbour” is the absolutely true expression for human equality. In case every one were in truth to love his neighbour as himself, complete human equality would be attained. Every one who loves his neighbour in truth, expresses unconditionally human equality. Every one who, like me, admits that his effort is weak and imperfect, yet is aware that the task is to love one’s neighbour, is also aware of what human equality is. But never have I read in Holy Scripture the commandment, Thou shalt love the crowd – and still less, Thou shalt recognize, ethico-religiously, in the crowd the supreme authority in matters of “truth.” But the thing is simple enough: this thing of loving one’s neighbour is self-denial; that of loving the crowd, or of pretending to love it, of making it the authority in matters of truth, is the way to material power, the way to temporal and earthly advantages of all sorts – at the same time it is the untruth, for a crowd is the untruth.

Therefore was Christ crucified, because, although He addressed himself to all, He would have no dealings with the crowd, because He would not permit the crowd to aid him in any way, because in this regard He repelled people absolutely, would not found a party, did not permit balloting, but would be what He is, the Truth, which relates itself to the individual. – And hence every one who truly would serve the truth is eo ipso, in one way or another, a martyr.

For it is not so great a trick to win the crowd. All that is needed is some talent, a certain dose of falsehood, and a little acquaintance with human passions. But no witness for the truth (Aa! and that is what every man should be, including you and me) – no witness for the truth dare become engaged with the crowd.

~ Kierkegaard

Søren K. (March 30, 1846)

Image result for soren kierkegaard

The present age is essentially a sensible, reflecting age, devoid of passion, flaring up in superficial, short-lived enthusiasm and prudentially relaxing in indolence. In contrast to the age of revolution, which took action, the present age is an age of publicity, the age of miscellaneous announcements: nothing happens but still there is instant publicity. There is a mutual inquisitiveness; everyone is experienced in indecisiveness and evasions and waits for someone to come along who wills something – so that they may place bets on him.

Kierkegaard Attacked the Christianity of the Church, Nietzsche Attacked Christendom as Such

When the question about truth is asked objectively, truth is reflected upon objectively as an object to which the knower relates himself. What is reflected upon is not the relation but that what he relates himself to is the truth, the true. If only that to which he relates himself is the truth, the true, then the subject is in the truth. When the question about truth is asked subjectively, the individual’s relation is reflected upon subjectively. If only the how of this relation is in truth, the individual is in truth, even if he in this way were to relate himself to untruth.

Objectively the emphasis is on what is said; subjectively the emphasis is on how it is said.

When subjectivity is truth, the definition of truth must also contain in itself an expression of the antithesis to objectivity, a memento of that fork in the road, and this expression will at the same time indicate the resilience of the inwardness.

Here is such a definition of truth: An objective uncertainty, held fast through appropriration with the most passionate inwardness, is the truth, the highest truth there is for an existing person.

At the point where the road swings off (and where that is cannot be stated objectively, since it is precisely subjectivity), objective knowledge is suspended. Objectively he then has only uncertainty, but this is precisely what intensifies the infinite passion of inwardness, and truth is precisely the daring venture of choosing the objective uncertainty with the passion of the infinite.

I observe nature in order to find God, and I do indeed see omnipotence and wisdom, but I also see much that troubles and disturbs. The sum total of this is an objective uncertainty, but the inwardness is so very great, precisely because it grasps this objective uncertainty with all the passion of the infinite.

In a mathematical proposition, for example, the objectivity is given, but therefore its truth is also an indifferent truth.

But the definition of truth stated above is a paraphrasing of faith. Without risk, no faith. Faith is the contradiction between the infinite passion of inwardness and the objective uncertainty. If I am able to apprehend God objectively, I do not have faith; but because I cannot do this, I must have faith.

Sin is: before God in despair not to will to be oneself, or before God in despair to will to be oneself.

Very often, however, it is overlooked that the opposite of sin is by no means virtue. In part, this is a pagan view, which is satisfied with a merely human criterion and simply does not know what sin is, that all sin is before God.

No, the opposite of sin is faith, as it says in Romans 14:23: “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” And this is one of the most decisive definitions for all Christianity – that the opposite of sin is not virtue but faith.

The thought of death is a nimble dancer. Everybody is too serious for me. My whole thought is the task of becoming a Christian.

– Søren Kierkegaard


“Merciful Heavens! but what do I care for the laws of nature and arithmetic, when, for some reason, I dislike those laws and the fact that twice two makes four? … I write only for myself, and I wish to declare once and for all that if I write as though I were addressing readers, that is simply because it is easier for me to write in that form. It is a form, an empty form – I shall never have readers.”

– Dostoevsky (Notes from Underground)

Kierkegaard Aphorisms

“I have just now come from a party where I was its life and soul; witticisms streamed from my lips, everyone laughed and admired me, but I went away — yes, the dash should be as long as the radius of the earth’s orbit ——————————— and wanted to shoot myself.”

“I see it all perfectly; there are two possible situations — one can either do this or that. My honest opinion and my friendly advice is this: do it or do not do it — you will regret both.”

“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”

“Never cease loving a person, and never give up hope for him, for even the prodigal son who had fallen most low, could still be saved; the bitterest enemy and also he who was your friend could again be your friend; love that has grown cold can kindle.”

“God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes, to be sure, but He does what is still more wonderful: He makes saints out of sinners.”

“Listen to the cry of a woman in labor at the hour of giving birth — look at the dying man’s struggle at his last extremity, and then tell me whether something that begins and ends thus could be intended for enjoyment.”

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

“A fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to warn the public; they thought it was a joke and applauded. He repeated it; the acclaim was even greater. I think that’s just how the world will come to an end: to general applause from wits who believe it’s a joke.”

“The truth is a trap: you cannot get it without it getting you; you cannot get the truth by capturing it, only by its capturing you.”

“What the age needs is not a genius — it has had geniuses enough, but a martyr, who in order to teach men to obey would himself be obedient unto death. What the age needs is awakening. And therefore someday, not only my writings but my whole life, all the intriguing mystery of the machine will be studied and studied. I never forget how God helps me, and it is therefore my last wish that everything may be to his honour.”

“The opposite of sin is not virtue but faith”

“The supreme paradox of all thought is the attempt to discover something that thought cannot think.”

“In relation to their systems most systematisers are like a man who builds an enormous castle and lives in a shack close by; they do not live in their own enormous systematic buildings.”

“What the philosophers say about Reality is often as disappointing as a sign you see in a shop window which reads: Pressing Done Here. If you brought your clothes to be pressed, you would be fooled; for only the sign is for sale.”

Dread & Freedom

Innocence is ignorance. In his innocence man is not determined as spirit but is soulishly determined in immediate unity with his natural condition. Spirit is dreaming in man. This view is in perfect accord with that of the Bible, and by refusing to ascribe to man in the state of innocence a knowledge of the difference between good and evil it condemns all the notions of merit Catholicism has imagined.

In this state there is peace and repose; but at the same time there is something different, which is not dissension and strife, for there is nothing to strive with. What is it then? Nothing. But what effect does nothing produce? It begets dread. This is the profound secret of innocence, that at the same time it is dread. Dreamingly the spirit projects its own reality, but this reality is nothing, but this nothing constantly sees innocence outside of it.

Dread is a qualification of the dreaming spirit, and as such it has its place in psychology. When awake, the difference between myself and my other is posited; sleeping, it is suspended; dreaming, it is a nothing vaguely hinted at. The reality of the spirit constantly shows itself in a form which entices its possibility, but it is away as soon as one grasps after it, and it is a nothing which is able only to alarm. More it cannot do so long as it only shows itself. One almost never sees the concept dread dealt with in psychology, and I must therefore call attention to the fact that it is different from fear and similar concepts which refer to something definite, whereas dread is freedom’s reality as possibility for possibility. One does not therefore find dread in the beast, precisely for the reason that by nature the beast is not qualified by spirit.

When we consider the dialectical determinants in dread, it appears that they have precisely the characteristic ambiguity of psychology. Dread is a sympathetic antipathy and an antipathetic sympathy. One easily sees, I think, that this is much more truly a psychological subject than is the concupiscence of which we have spoken. Language confirms this completely. One speaks of a sweet dread, a sweet feeling of apprehension, one speaks of a strange dread, a shrinking dread. [etc.]

The dread which is posited in innocence is, in the first place, not guilt; in the second place, it is not a heavy burden, not a suffering which cannot be brought into harmony with the felicity of innocence. If we observe children, we find this dread more definitely indicated as a seeking after adventure, a thirst for the prodigious, the mysterious. The fact that there are children in whom this is not found proves nothing, for neither in the beast does it exist, and the less spirit, the less dread. This dread belongs to the child so essentially that it cannot do without it; even though it alarms him, it captivates him nevertheless by its sweet feeling of apprehension. In all nations in which the childish character is preserved as the dreaming of the spirit this dread is found, and the deeper it is, the more profound is the nation. It is only a prosaic stupidity which thinks that this is a disorganization. Dread has here the same significance melancholy has at a far later point where freedom, after having passed through imperfect forms of its history, has to come to itself in a deeper sense.

Just as the relation of dread to its object, to something which is nothing (language in this instance also is pregnant: it speaks of being in dread of nothing), is altogether ambiguous, so will the transition here from innocence to guilt be correspondingly so dialectical that the explanation is and must be psychological. The qualitative leap is outside of ambiguity, but he who through dread becomes guilty is innocent, for it was not he himself but dread, an alien power, which laid hold of him, a power he did not love but dreaded — and yet he is guilty, for he sank in the dread which he loved even while he feared it. There is nothing in the world more ambiguous, and therefore this is the only psychological explanation, although (to repeat what I have said) it never occurs to it to want to be the explanation which explains the qualitative leap. Every theory about the prohibition tempting Adam or the seducer deceiving him has only for a superficial observation sufficient ambiguity, while it perverts ethics, introduces a quantitative determination, and would by the help of psychology pay man a compliment from which everyone who is ethically developed would beg to be excused, regarding it as a new and deeper seduction.

Everything turns upon dread coming into view. Man is a synthesis of the soulish and the bodily. But a synthesis is unthinkable if the two are not united in a third factor. This third factor is the spirit. In the state of innocence man is not merely an animal, for if at any time of his life he was merely an animal, he never would become a man. So then the spirit is present, but in a state of immediacy, a dreaming state. Forasmuch as it is present, it is in one way a hostile power, for it constantly disturbs the relation between soul and body, a relation which endures, and yet does not endure, inasmuch as it has endurance only by means of the spirit. On the other hand, it is a friendly power which has precisely the function of constituting the relationship. What then is man’s relation to this ambiguous power? How is spirit related to itself and to its situation? It is related as dread. The spirit cannot do away with itself; nor can it grasp itself so long as it has itself outside of itself. Neither can man sink down into the vegetative life, for he is determined as spirit. He cannot flee from dread, for he loves it; really he does not love it, for he flees from it. Innocence has now reached its apex. It is ignorance, but not an animal brutality, but an ignorance which is qualified by spirit, but which precisely is dread, because its ignorance is about nothing. Here there is no knowledge of good and evil, etc., but the whole reality of knowledge is projected in dread as the immense nothing of ignorance.

Innocence still is, but one word suffices, and with that ignorance is concentrated. Innocence of course cannot understand this word; but dread has as it were obtained its first prey; instead of nothing, innocence gets an enigmatic word. So when it is related in Genesis that God said to Adam, “Only of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat,” it is a matter of course that Adam did not really understand this word. For how could he have understood the difference between good and evil, seeing that this distinction was in fact consequent upon the enjoyment of the fruit?

When one assumes that the prohibition awakens the desire, one posits a knowledge instead of ignorance; for Adam would have had to have a knowledge of freedom, since his desire was to use it. The explanation therefore anticipates what was subsequent. The prohibition alarms Adam [induces a state of dread] because the prohibition awakens in him the possibility of freedom. That which passed innocence by as the nothing of dread has now entered into him, and here again it is a nothing, the alarming possibility of being able. What it is he is able to do, of that he has no conception; to suppose that he had some conception is to presuppose, as commonly is done, what came later, the distinction between good and evil. There is only the possibility of being able, as a higher form of ignorance, as a heightened expression of dread, because this in a more profound sense is and is not, because in a more profound sense he loves it and flees from it.

After the word of prohibition follows the word of judgment: “Thou shalt surely die.” What it means to die, Adam of course cannot conceive; but if one assumes that these words were said to him, there is nothing to prevent his having a notion of the terrible. Indeed even the beast is able to understand the mimic expression and movement in the speaker’s voice, without understanding the word. In case one lets the prohibition awaken desire, one may also let the word about punishment awaken a deterring conception. However, this confuses things. The terrible becomes in this instance merely dread; for Adam has not understood what was said, and here again we have only the ambiguity of dread. The infinite possibility of being able (awakened by the prohibition) draws closer for the fact that this possibility indicates a possibility as its consequence.

Thus innocence is brought to its last extremity. It is in dread in relation to the prohibition and the punishment. It is not guilty, and yet it is in dread, as though it were lost.

Further than this psychology cannot go, but so far it can reach, and moreover it can verify this point again and again in its observation of human life.

The possibility of freedom does not consist in being able to choose the good or the evil. Such thoughtlessness has as little support in the Scripture as in philosophy. Possibility means I can. In a logical system it is convenient enough to say that possibility passes over into actuality. In reality it is not so easy, and an intermediate determinant is necessary. This intermediate determinant is dread, which no more explains the qualitative leap than it justifies it ethically. Dread is not a determinant of necessity, but neither is it of freedom; it is a trammeled freedom, where freedom is not free in itself but trammeled, not by necessity but in itself. If sin has come into the world by necessity (which is a self-contradiction), then there is no dread. If sin has come into the world by an act of abstract liberum arbitrium (which no more existed at the beginning than it does at a later period of the world, for it is a non-sense to thought), neither in this case is there dread. To want to explain logically the entrance of sin into the world is a stupidity which could only occur to people who are comically anxious to get an explanation.

One may liken dread to dizziness. He whose eye chances to look down into the yawning abyss becomes dizzy. But the reason for it is just as much his eye as it is the precipice. For suppose he had not looked down.

Thus dread is the dizziness of freedom which occurs when the spirit would posit the synthesis, and freedom then gazes down into its own possibility, grasping at finiteness to sustain itself. In this dizziness freedom succumbs. Further than this psychology cannot go and will not. That very instant everything is changed, and when freedom rises again it sees that it is guilty. Between these two instants lies the leap, which no science has explained or can explain. He who becomes guilty in dread becomes as ambiguously guilty as it is possible to be. Dread is a womanish debility in which freedom swoons. Psychologically speaking, the fall into sin always occurs in impotence. But dread is at the same time the most egoistic thing, and no concrete expression of freedom is so egoistic as is the possibility of every concretion. This again is the overwhelming experience which determines the individual’s ambiguous relation, both sympathetic and antipathetic. In dread there is the egoistic infinity of possibility, which does not tempt like a definite choice, but alarms and fascinates with its sweet anxiety.

– Søren Kierkegaard