I have just read about ANXIETY in Chapter 8, “Feeling”, of Existentialism – an introduction, guide and assessment by John Macquarrie.
“Anxiety” is the author’s preferred translation of the German term Angst, favouring it over such alternatives as “dread” and “anguish”. So, what is anxiety – or rather, philosophical anxiety (to be distinghished from the “day-to-day anxieties of ordinary life”)? For Macquarrie, it is a “rare and subtle emotion”, having “a subtle and elusive character that thought can scarcely grasp”. The author analyses what three philosophers with an existentialist persuasion have to say on the subject. For Søren Kierkegaard, anxiety arises from having freewill: the potentially infinite choices that freewill opens up to the individual can have a dizzying effect. Martin Heidegger considers it as arising from a state of “falling” (Verfallen) in which the individual tries to run away from himself. It is like running away because we are afraid – but whereas fear always presupposes an object being feared, anxiety has no such intention (to use a term reintroduced from medieval philosophy by Franz Brentano in his philosophy of phenomenology).
Thus we do not know what makes us anxious and we cannot point to anything. That which arouses anxiety is nothing, and it is nowhere.
The individual, then, tries to run away from his authentic existence – and slips into what Jean-Paul Sartre calls “bad faith” (mauvaise foi). Sartre sees anxiety as a consequence of an ambiguity inherent in freedom. We are free agents, but we may not always want to be – for being free entails having to make choices and shouldering the responsibility for those choices we do make.
Existentialism is the area of philosophy I feel most attracted to and intrigued by. And I was really into it – and into philosophy in general – at this time two years ago. I was then working with the catering agency OMNI Facilities Management, and not really fully enjoying what I was doing. Perhaps my spirit guides were trying to tell me that being a Sartrean mauvaise foi part-time waiter was not exactly the life I was cut out for.