Kwristawff Rochel, Advisor: Nancy Holland
In the paradigm example of angst one stands, trembling, overlooking the edge of a high cliff, affected less by the fear of falling off than the possibility of jumping off. Whereas mere fear is always a fear of some particular thing, angst is a dread of nothing, of a lack of boundaries. Now a cursory consideration might consider absolute freedom rather thrilling, as when one sees a full tank of gas and realizes that nothing is really keeping her from driving past campus and following the road to unheard-of adventures and a new life. But on further reflection, the fact that nothing holds us back – that ultimately it is not our friends, our families, our jobs, or our commitments, but only our choice that keeps us living the life we live – cannot but lead to a sense of angst, of the meaninglessness and hopelessness of life (whence the paradigm example of throwing oneself off a cliff). Based on close textual analysis and theoretical comparison of Fear and Trembling, The Sickness Unto Death, and Thus Spoke Zarathustra, I argue that the 19th century philosophers Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche both believe that this supremely difficult and painful experience of existential angst is in fact instrumental to the attainment of the best and most authentic life. This is the life in which an individual shuns convention and questions prevailing moral codes in order to respond truthfully to her situation, transcend the normal boundaries of morality, and act as the author of her own rules and decisions. In order to understand these thinkers’ argument about the necessity of angst for authenticity, this project explores and compares the nuanced hierarchies of various modes of being that each philosopher develops to define angst, authenticity, and the relationship between them. Though Nietzsche has rarely been thought of as a philosopher either of angst (having never used the term himself) or of authenticity, and though his and Kierkegaard’s philosophies have never been compared on the issue of angst and authenticity, I have ultimately concluded that their views are remarkably similar, the prime difference being that, while Kierkegaard focuses on proving that angst is valuable at all, Nietzsche emphasizes that angst is only instrumentally valuable as a stepping-stone to authenticity.