Edifying Discourses in Diverse Spirits  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Edifiying Discourses in Diverse Spirits, also Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits was published on March 13, 1847 by Kierkegaard. The book is divided into three parts just as Either/Or was in 1843 and many of his other discourses were. Kierkegaard has been working toward creating a place for the concept of guilt and sin in the conscience of the single individual. Kierkegaard discussed the ideas generated by both Johann von Goethe and Friedrich Hegel concerning reason and nature. This book is his response to the idea that nature is perfect and that reason is perfect.

The first part of the book is a challenge to those who say they are not guilty of anything. Kierkegaard plays the questioner and asks tough questions throughout the text, such as, "What is patience? Is not patience the courage that freely takes upon itself the suffering that cannot be avoided?" "Are you now living in such a way that you are aware of being a single individual and thereby aware of your eternal responsibility before God." "Is not evil, just like evil people, at odds with itself, divided in itself?" "What is it to be more ashamed before others than before oneself but to be more ashamed of seeming than being?" "Should not he who planted the ear hear? But is not the opposite conclusion just as beautiful and convincing: Should not he whose life is sacrificing love believe that God is love?" "What means do you use to perform your work; is the means just as important to you as the end, just exactly as important?"

The second part has to do with the idea that nature is perfect. He goes back to Job as he did in his Four Upbuilding Discourses, 1843. He says, "The silent friends did not compare Job with themselves-this did not happen until their respect (in which they silently held him) ceased and they broke the silence in order to attack the sufferer with speeches, but their presence prompted Job to compare himself with himself. No individual can be present, even though in silence, in such a way that his presence means nothing at all by way of comparison. At best, this can be done by a child, who indeed has a certain likeness to the lilies of the field and the birds of the air." "God isolated the human being, made every human being this separate and distinct individual, which is implied in the unconditional character of those first thoughts. The individual animal is not isolated, is not unconditionally separate entity; the individual animal is a number and belongs under what that most famous pagan thinker has called the animal category: the crowd. The human being who in despair turns away from those first thoughts in order to plunge into the crowd of comparisons makes himself a number, regards himself as a beast, no matter whether he by way of comparison is distinguished or lowly. But with the lilies the worried one is isolated, far away from all human or, perhaps more correctly, inhuman comparisons between individuals."

The third part deals with the concept of the abstract and the concrete examples. Kierkegaard wrote of individuals known only as A and B in his first book, Either/Or. He then made them less abstract by making A into the Young Man in Repetition (1843) and B into his guide, the psychiatrist Constantin Constantius. The same day that he published Repetition he published Fear and Trembling which showed Abraham as an individual who was alone with God as he considered whether to follow his commands. He continued writing until he came to the concrete human being named Christ and wrote about the joy there is in following Christ. He's not against the ethics of Hegel or the aesthetics of Goethe but thinks that following Christ is the one thing needful. And that double-mindedness is the beginning of the sickness of the spirit for the single individual.

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