Studies in Christian Ethics 33 (3):352-370 (2020)

The specific aim of this article is to focus on Kierkegaard’s confessional discourses and to examine his appreciation for the experience of guilt—the feeling of guilt and the acknowledgment of guilt—in a person’s efforts to act with a good will, or what he calls ‘purity of heart’. The article offers an interpretation of what Kierkegaard means by the ‘purity of heart’ that guilt serves, and it makes an argument that in this service to ‘purity of heart’ the relationship between guilt and self-awareness is especially significant. For Kierkegaard, without the subjective feeling of guilt and without a self-reflective endorsement of that feeling, a person cannot overcome a bad or divided will; a person who strives to have a good will is a person who is able rightly to acknowledge, appropriate or endorse his or her guilt. Furthermore, Kierkegaard’s claim is not simply that this acknowledgment of guilt is a necessary precondition for a good will but that it is itself a quintessential action of a good will. The article concludes with a note of caution that while Kierkegaard does not want to make guilt a final word about a person, a word that overshadows grace and pardon, he is also very wary of the ways people fail to take their own guilt seriously and thereby forfeit the benefits of its self-disclosing power.
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DOI 10.1177/0953946818822277
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