In times of distress: pathological problems versus existential problems


“Pathological problems demand therapy to achieve a cure. Existential problems demand courage to reconstitute one’s self. There are ways of helping another ‘take courage’; they were for example the stock and trade of religious pastoral counseling before the clergy lost sight of the distinction we are discussing. Existential problems are problems of the human spirit, and so long as they are treated as ‘merely emotional’ the human spirit is denigrated.” — John Douglas Mullen, in Kierkegaard’s Philosophy: Self-Deception and Cowardice in the Present Age

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2 responses to “In times of distress: pathological problems versus existential problems

  1. if you can’t summon the courage, wouldn’t that be a pathological problem?

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  2. Good question. I’m guessing at the trajectory of your question here, and based on reading the rest of the chapter in which the above quotation was discovered, I’ll make a non-expert attempt to answer and clarify:

    While Mullen might not be clear enough in that passage, you might be confusing ends and means, or the “direction” of his point. He’s saying this: When a cure is needed, therapy is required (and is presumably available to the individual if he tries to find it). When the re-constituting of one’s self is needed, courage is required (and is presumably available to the individual if he tries to find it). The direction of the passage is more like this: do you need a cure or do you need to re-constitute your self?

    If you need to re-constitute yourself, and you have no courage, well, I think that’s a real-world, actual problem for some, and I’m not sure how Mullen would categorize it, existential or pathological. But if one was in that situation, I hope she would pray but then also talk to someone who is professionally qualified and has a proven track record of helping others.

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