Kierkegaard and Heidegger Existentialist and Phenomenological Approaches

KIERKEGAARD. Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), the Danish philosopher and religious thinker, was the first major philosopher to make significant use of the notion of care or concern, albeit in embryonic fashion. Intimately familiar with the Sorge of Goethe's Faust (Collins), Kierkegaard offered creative philosophical explanations of themes that had appeared both in the Myth of Care and in Goethe: that care is central to understanding human life and is the key to human authenticity. The extensive influence of Kierkegaard's idea of care or concern on subsequent thought can be seen in the context of his role as father of existentialism: It was Kierkegaard's idea of the "concerned thinker," pivotal for his own philosophy, that became the central theme of existentialist philosophy and theology (Bochenski).

Concern and care in Kierkegaard's philosophy.

Kierkegaard introduced notions of concern, interest, and care to counteract what he considered the excessive objectivity of philosophy and theology as they were formulated in the early nineteenth century. To recover the sense and significance of individual human existence that he believed modern philosophy's abstract and universal categories had obliterated, Kierkegaard called attention to what he saw as the missing element of concern or care in the kind of philosophical reflection that those systems utilized (Copleston).

Kierkegaard distinguished between disinterested reflection, on the one hand, and consciousness, which entails interest or concern, on the other. Reflection, he argued, focuses on the objective or hypothetical; it is a merely disinterested process of classifying things in opposition to each other (e.g., the ideal and the real, soul and body); it has "no concern with, or interest in, the knower" (1958, p. 150), or with what happens to the individual person as a result of this kind of knowing.

Consciousness is inherently concerned both with the knower and with the collision of opposites that come to be known through reflection. Indeed, consciousness brings the merely objective elements of reflection into a real relationship with the knowing subject through care or concern (Kierkegaard, 1958). A personal (i.e., a concerned) relationship to truth is the basis of Kierkegaard's whole theory of knowledge (Croxall). For Kierkegaard the issue of concerned knowledge is a moral issue. To adopt the stance of the impersonally knowing subject rather than that of the concerned human being "as a refuge from the chaos and pain of life," he believes, "is cowardice and escapism" (Rudd, p. 28).

Kierkegaard also uses the notion of concern to express the nature of the human being and its moral choices. Humans are beings whose greatest interest or concern is in existing; concern or care is subjectively chosen as an intimate part of the individual's being (Kierkegaard, 1958; Stack). The individual gives form and direction to his or her life, and expresses his or her true self, not by being caught up in a large social system, but by exercising free choice and commitment (Kierkegaard, 1940; Copleston).

The fundamental question of ethics is: How shall I live? Objective reasoning plays a part in answering this question; but an ethical argument is valid only insofar as it articulates a concerned individual's search for meaning (Rudd). Thus, ethics starts with the individual. "As soon as I have to act, interest or concern is laid upon me, because I take responsibility on myself ..." (Kierkegaard, 1958, pp. 116-117, 152-153). Without care or concern, action would not be possible: Concern is the impetus for the resolute moral action of the self-reflecting individual who acts with purpose

(Stack). Always in the process of becoming, lacking the security of knowledge and facing contradiction, the human is constrained to mold his or her integrity through decision and action. One cannot do this without an "unrelieved and unceasing concern" for the passion and possibility of becoming oneself (Mackey, p. 71; Hannay).

Being burdened with cares; being cared for.

Kierkegaard offers profound insights into the experience of being laden with cares and being cared for in writings that fall into the category of care of souls literature. He takes the traditional struggle between negative and positive care, previously discussed in the Myth of Care and in Goethe, in a new direction, by turning the subjective experience of worrisome care into reasons for caring for one's self and seeking the care of others.

In his writings on a biblical exhortation regarding human solicitude for material versus spiritual things (Matt. 6:19-34), Kierkegaard remarks that by contemplating the lilies of the field and the birds of heaven, who are not neglected, humans realize that even when they themselves are "outside all human care," neither are they neglected: They are still cared for by a caring God (1940, p. 16). Humans must work to fill their needs; but the human capacity to be weighted down by material care is a mark of perfection, for it also signals the human capacity to cast one's care from oneself, find consolers, accept their sympathy, and choose a caring God. On the other hand, humans can trap themselves into a care-ridden state of mind by worrying about future needs, being convinced they need total security against their anxieties, feeling an exaggerated sense of self-sufficiency, and comparing themselves unfavorably to others.

For Kierkegaard, a special kind of anxious care is created when, in the course of an illness, the question arises whether the sick person is confronting life renewing itself or the looming decay of death. The pathos of this question, which is more moving than the prospect of a terrifying death, can move the sick person to reduce his or her resistance to accepting consolation from others (1940). Finally, Kierkegaard remarks that caring for someone is not always a gentle art. When, for example, there is much that the sick person can do to improve his or her health, stern demands made by the authoritative doctor—sometimes even at the request of the patient—are the expression of concern for the anxious sick person.

HEIDEGGER. For Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), one of the most original and influential philosophers of the twentieth century, care was not just one concept among many; it was at the very center of his philosophical system of thought. Conceptually, Heidegger was strongly influenced by Kierkegaard's teachings on concern and care; yet there is a notable difference. Whereas Kierkegaard saw care or concern always in an individualized, subjective, and psychological fashion, Heidegger used the word at an abstract, onto-logical level to describe the basic structure of the human self. Although Heidegger insisted that he was not speaking of concrete and practical aspects of care, such as worry or nurturing, it can also be argued that his writings on care do have existential moral significance. He certainly developed some ideas that provide useful insights for a practical ethic of care (Stack).

Heidegger's starting point and lifelong interest was the philosophical question of being—in particular, the question of the meaning of being. He used the term Dasein, or "being-there," to represent the human experience of being in the world through participation and involvement (1973, 1985). Heidegger's interest was to show how care is the central idea for understanding the meaning of the human self, which is another word for Dasein. His philosophy explains how, at a deeper level than the psychological experience of care, care is what accounts for the unity, authenticity, and totality of the self, that is, of Dasein. Briefly, Heidegger claims that we are care, and care is what we call the human being (Gelven).

Heidegger explains the radical role of care by pointing to the tendency of the human self to turn away from its own authentic being to seek security in the crowd. It accommodates itself to what "they" think and forms its conduct in accordance with the expectations of public opinion. Care (Sorge) summons the self (Dasein) back from the feeling of insignificance and anxiety found in this flight from the self, and instead enables one to be one's own self, that is, to be authentic (Flynn; Martinez).

Heidegger also explains care in the context of openness to future possibilities. We are not simply "spectators for whom in principle, nothing would 'matter'" (Olafson, p. 104). To say that the self (Dasein) is care means that we understand and care about ourselves-in-the-world in terms of being connected with what we can and cannot do. Because of the connectedness brought about by care, it matters that we can act, and we must act to choose among our own possibilities (Olafson). In so doing, Dasein chooses itself; and the meaning of its existence unfolds in every resolute act. This is all implicit in care (Martinez).

For Heidegger, care has the double meaning of anxiety and solicitude—the same duality we found among the Romans—and these two meanings of care represent two conflicting, fundamental possibilities (1973). Anxious, worrisome care (Sorge) represents our struggle for survival and for favorable standing among our fellow human beings. It continually drives us to avoid the significance of our finitude, by immersing ourselves in conventionality and triviality, so as to "conceal from ourselves the question of the meaning of being, and in the process truncate our humanity as well" (Ogletree, p. 23). Yet care also bears the meaning of solicitude or "caring for" (Fürsorge): tending to, nurturing, caring for the Earth and for our fellow human beings as opposed to merely "taking care of" them. However, anxious care never totally dissolves: In the everyday world we cannot avoid the dual sense of care-as-anxiety and care-as-solicitude. Accepting the kinds of beings we are entails embracing a deep ambiguity in which we know that worrisome cares may drive us to escape and that solicitous care can open up all our possibilities for us (Ogletree).

Heidegger also contrasts Besorgen (taking care of, in the sense of supplying the needs of others) with Fürsorge (solicitous care). The human self (Dasein), which is essentially related to others, enters the world of others by way of care in two ways. On the one hand, we can take care of the "what" that needs to be done for the other, in a rather functional way. This sort of minimal taking care (Besorgen) requires few qualities—principally circumspection, so that the service is done correctly. Yet other humans are never merely things like equipment that need to be taken care of in this way; for they, too, are selves oriented to others. Hence they are not simply objects of service but of solicitude (Fürsorge). Solicitous care is guided by the subsidiary qualities of considerate-ness and forbearance. But Heidegger insists that when someone nurses the sick body as a mere social arrangement, that is, without considerateness, the nursing care should still be regarded as solicitude, albeit a deficient solicitude, and never as (mere) service-care (1973).

Heidegger also speaks of two extreme forms of solicitous care. Intending to show solicitous care, one can "jump in" and take over for the other, who then is dominated and dependent in the caring relationship. Doing what the other can do for himself or herself, the "solicitous" person is actually taking "care" away from the other. In contrast, Heidegger continues, there is a solicitous care that "jumps ahead" of the other, anticipating his or her potentiality—not in order to take away his or her "care" but to give it back. This kind of solicitude is authentic care, for it helps the other to know himself or herself in care, and to become free for care (Heidegger, 1973; Bishop and Scudder).

Heidegger's substantive development of the notion of care drew from and contributed to the "Cura" tradition of care. At the "high point" of his inquiry (Heidegger, 1973), Heidegger directly cited the Myth of Care as a primordial justification of his central claim that the human self (Dasein) has the stamp of care (Klonoski, p. 65). In spite of Heidegger's complexities, some writers are attempting to develop elements of an ethic of care from his insights; and some scholars, such as Anne Bishop and John Scudder, are utilizing Heidegger's ideas in their arguments regarding the moral practice of healthcare.

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