Thinking Psychologically About Hereditary

The subtitle of The Concept of Anxiety, a work attributed to the pseudonym Vigilius Haufniensis (the Watchman of Copenhagen), describes this book

1 Usually translated as 'original sin', this term literally means 'hereditary sin', which is the translation used in the current English edn. of The Concept of Anxiety, following Luther's The Smalcald Articles, where 'hereditary sin' (peccatum haereditarium) is used. See Luther (1989: 516).

2 See e.g. Tillich (1951-63: ii. 19-59); Niebuhr (1951: 178-264); Brunner (1939: 140-67).

3 Existentialists influenced by Kierkegaard include theistic thinkers such as Gabriel Marcel, Miguel Unamuno, Karl Jaspers, and Lev Shestov, and non-theists such as Franz Kafka, JeanPaul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Martin Heidegger. On Heidegger's indebtedness to Kierkegaard, see Magurshak (1985, 1987). On Kierkegaard and Unamuno, see J. Evans (2005). On Kierkegaard's contribution to existential psychology, see May (1977).

4 See also Cappelarn et al. (2001); Marino (1998); Beabout (1996); Perkins (1985); Nor-dentoft (1978).

as 'a simple psychologically orienting deliberation on the dogmatic issue of hereditary sin' (CA p. iii). The reader is thus immediately alerted to the fact that this is not a theological treatise but a psychological treatment of the concept of anxiety which 'constantly keeps in mente [in mind] and before its eye the dogma of hereditary sin' (14). As Vigilius sees it, sin is not a subject that falls under the domain of any 'science' (broadly understood in the nineteenth century as including all scholarly disciplines), whose aim is to provide a rational explanation of its subject matter. Rather, sin is properly a subject for the sermon or 'art' of preaching, which has as its aim individual appropriation in an existential overcoming of sin (16). In other words, sin is an actuality that should be dealt with in a personal or existential manner, not in a scholarly context, which alters the true concept of sin by subjecting it to 'the nonessential refraction of reflection', thereby transforming it into a state that is annulled (ophxvet) by thought rather than overcome (overvundet) in actuality in the life of the individual (15; SV1 iv. 287).

It might seem that ethics is an appropriate scholarly discipline for the treatment of sin since it is oriented towards actuality in seeking to bring ideality into existence and assumes that human beings possess the requisite condition for actualizing the moral ideal, in other words, that 'ought implies can'.5 But as Vigilius sees it, ethics becomes 'shipwrecked' on the actuality of sin, which shows itself to be not merely accidental to human existence but deeply embedded as 'a presupposition that goes beyond the individual' to include the whole human race (CA 17,19). Thus ethics cannot explain sin, least of all original or hereditary sin, which lies entirely beyond its reach. In arriving at this conclusion, Vigilius thus agrees with Kant, who was forced to admit that the propensity to evil in human beings 'remains inexplicable' even though he strove mightily to account for it in his treatment of evil and original sin.6

Like ethics, dogmatics or systematic theology is also oriented towards actuality, but in the opposite direction, inasmuch as it 'begins with the actual in order to raise it up into ideality' (CA 19). Dogmatics thus presupposes the actuality of sin and explains it indirectly by presupposing hereditary sin as the ideal or conceptual possibility of sin (19, 23). Vigilius expressly praises Schleiermacher's 'immortal service' to dogmatics in this regard, describing him as 'a thinker in the beautiful Greek sense, a thinker who spoke only of what he knew', in contrast to Hegel, who 'must explain all things' (20). Over against classical metaphysics or 'first philosophy' (Aristotle), whose essence, like Hegelian philosophy and theology, is immanence or the recollection of eternal truth through reason,

dogmatics represents the beginning of a 'new science' or 'second philosophy' (Christian theology) whose essence is transcendence or repetition, the recovery of existential truth through a relation to the eternal in time, which according to another Kierkegaardian pseudonym, Constantin Constantius, is the 'conditio sine qua non [the indispensable condition] for every issue of dogmatics' (R 149). Along with dogmatics a 'new ethics' (Christian ethics) also comes into existence, an ethics that does not ignore sin or make ideal demands like the 'first ethics' but explains sin indirectly through hereditary sin while projecting the ethical ideal as a task to be achieved through a 'penetrating consciousness' of the actuality of sin in the single individual (CA 20). Although dogmatics and second ethics have the merit of presupposing the actuality of sin and taking it seriously, Vigilius nevertheless continues to claim that 'the concept of sin does not properly belong in any science', including second ethics, which deals only with the manifestation of sin, not with the coming into existence of sin, which remains inexplicable (21).

As a scholarly discipline, psychology is no more capable of explaining why sin comes into existence than any other science, but as a discipline whose subject is the human psyche, it has an interest in explaining the possibility of sin or the question of how sin comes into existence (CA 21-2). The kind of psychology Vigilius has in mind, however, is not empirical psychology as that discipline is generally understood and practised today but rational psychology, which in his view 'has nothing to do with the detail of the empirically actual', especially the actuality of sin, which is not an object for thought (22-3). Vigilius thus conceives psychology as it was understood and classified in Hegel's philosophy of mind, namely as a science of subjective spirit (together with anthropology and phenomenology) whose aim is to give a rational explanation of the theoretical and practical, mental and physical aspects of the human psyche.7 As Vigilius sees it, psychology works in concert with dogmatics, explaining the real or actual possibility of sin so that dogmatics can begin its job of explaining the ideal or conceptual possibility of sin through the concept of hereditary sin (23). Towards that end, he begins with a discussion of some 'historical intimations' or implications of the doctrine of hereditary sin that developed in the Christian tradition, a brief overview of which will help to situate his remarks in historical context (25).

7 See Hegel (2007: ยงยง387-482, pp. 25-215). See also Schulz (2007b), Poole (2001), and Nordentoft (1978: 21), on similarities between Vigilius's book and a Hegelian psychology textbook by Karl Rosenkranz.

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