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GOTT-July 06, 2006

Help with a Kierkegaard Quotation?

So, it started when I came across a cool quotation from Kierkegaard while reading a history of Christian universalism…

Here’s the relevant paragraph from p. 208 of Morwenna Ludlow’s “Universalism in the History of Christianity,” in Robin A. Parry & Christopher H. Partridge, ed., Universal Salvation?: The Current Debate (Eerdmans, 2004):

Soren Kierkegaard (1813-55) also had doubts about the traditional Christian concept of hell, and seems to have hoped for universal salvation, despite the pessimistic tone of his theology.  He once replied to a question about hell: ‘If others go to hell, then I will go too.  But I do not believe that; on the contrary I believe that all will be saved, myself with them — something which arouses my deepest amazement.’

I turned to the back of the article to find note 56 and see where Kierkegaard had said this.  Here’s what I found:

56. Cited by Müller (1964), p. 17 (my translation).

And in the back of the book, I found this reference for Müller (1964):

‘Die Idee einer Apokatastasis ton panton in der europaischen Theologie von Schleiermacher bis Barth’ in Zeitschrift fur Religions und Geistesgeschichte 16:1.

So none of that told me where Kierkegaard had written/said it.  What’s more, it raised the possibility that what I had was not a direct translation, but a translation of some German, which was in turn a translation of Kierkegaard’s original words.

I was in the library, so I looked up and retrieved the 1964 ZRG.  The paper by Muller contained, in German, the quotation Ludlow had translated, plus a little more material before the part Ludlow gave us.  But Muller also didn’t say where Kierkegaard had written the material, but rather cited….ANOTHER even older GERMAN ARTICLE!  Here’s Muller’s footnote:

57. Zitiert nach E. Geismar, Das ethische Stadium bei Soren Kierkegaard (Zeitschrift fur systematische Theologie 1 [1923], S. 260, Anm. 2).

The library didn’t have that 1923 volume on-hand; it was in another Yale library.  So I requested it & picked it up a few days later.  Here’s the relevant bit:

Soren Keirkegaard original text

And here, from the beginning of the article, is the work “E.P.” designates:

Soren Keirkegaard original text

My German isn’t very good, but it looks like an interesting quotation.  It would be nice to read it in its context.  Would this be in any English translation, does anybody know?

A few days after I got the 1923 paper, I received the copy of The Evangelical Universalist, by Gregory MacDonald (pseudonym) I had ordered from  And right on page 1, MacDonald had the quotation from Kierkegaard I’d been looking for.  I didn’t have my Ludlow with me, but it was certainly the same quotation.  What’s more, MacDonald had a reference — to a widely available English translation!  Here’s MacDonald’s footnote:

1. S. Kierkegaard, Christian Discourses: The Crisis and A Crises in the Life of an Actress, H.V. Hong and E.H. Hong, trans. and eds. (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1997) Part Three, section IV (“There Will be the Resurrection of the Dead, of the Righteous–and of the Unrighteous”) 209-10.  There is, as often with Kierkegaard, a question as to how straightforwardly to take his claims.

So I got that volume — and the quotation wasn’t there!  There was some universalist-sounding material, but it wasn’t nearly so cool as the passage Ludlow & MacDonald had quoted.  I figured that MacDonald had some notes of interesting universalist passages, and had just confused the reference for the cool Kierkegaard one with the not-so-cool one.  But I was hoping that meant the passage I was looking for was probably elsewhere in the Princeton UP volumes of translations of Kierkegaard.

But then I remembered that MacDonald had mentioned in another connection the book in which Ludlow’s paper appeared.  Could he have just gotten the quotation from the same source I had — Ludlow?  I got MacDonald’s book together with Ludlow’s paper, and the quotation was exactly the same, word-for-word, punctuation-mark-by-punctuation-mark.  So my best guess is that MacDonald had jotted down the cool passage from Ludlow’s paper, had jotted down the not-so-cool passage from the Princeton UP translation, and had confused the references.

So, that leaves me wondering: Is the cool passage in any of the English translations of Kierkegaard?  Or will I have to settle for this translation from the German, which is in turn a translation of Kierkegaard’s own words?  Are there any Kierkegaard fans out there with an easy answer to this?  I’m a novice with a very tenuous grasp of German, no knowledge at all of Danish, and only a minimal knowledge of Kierkegaard.

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Tracked on July 08, 2006 at 04:43 PM


From Vernard Eller’s web site this quote is given:

But I do not pretend to be better than others. What the old bishop said about me–that I talked as if everybody else was on the road to hell–is simply not true. No, if anyone wants to be able to say that I talk about going to hell, then I talk like this–‘If the rest are all going to hell, then I am going along.’ This is the way I speak if anyone is able to say in any sense that I talk about going to hell. But I do not believe it. On the contrary, I believe that we will all be saved–and I, too–something which arouses my deepest wonder.

The source is listed from Kierkegaards papers:
Soren Kierkegaards Papirer
ed. P. A. Heiberg, V. Kuhr and E. Torsting, 2nd Ed. Nordisk Forlag 1909-1948

11:3:B:57 (1854)

Quoted by Malantscuk p. 95

If anynody can get a hold of the original Danish, I’ll be happy to translate it (or confirm translation)

John Rasmussen

Posted by: John Rasmussen | July 06, 2006 at 08:58 PM

Wow! Thanks for that.
For those who might be interested, the URL for the relevant page of Eller’s web site (or at least the page I found by Googling “Vernard Eller”) is:

Posted by: Keith DeRose | July 07, 2006 at 02:14 AM

Well…this is really intersting news. I have been reading Kierkegaard for a long time now and am writing my dissertation on his philosophy of time, but I never knew there existed a direct statement from Kierkegaard on the issue of universalism. I am well aware of Johannas Climacus’ discussion of the possibility that pagan worship could be more inward, more true and (I guess) more “Christian” than some forms of Christian worship (CUP, p. 201), but I never took this to be a definitive Kierkegaardian position. I wonder, now, how Climacus’ discussion is related to Kierkegaard’s claim in his /Papirer/.

Posted by: Shannon Nason | July 07, 2006 at 09:19 AM

I have an English version of this quote in SK’s Journals and Papers volume 6 entry number 6947 which is on pages 556-559 of the 1978 edition published by Hong. The full paragraph in question reads as follows:

What I have repeated again and again should be kept in mind: “I am without authority, am only a poet, an average man.” I do not claim to be better than others, only that I am not bound by a pledge to the New Testament and am not an ordained man, either. No, in no way do I pretend to be better than others, but I do want it made known that this is the way we carry on-I want some truth here and want it said honestly, loudly, and clearly. But I do not pretend to be better than others. Therefore what the old Bishop once said to me is not true–namely, that I spoke as if the others were going to hell. No, if I can be said to speak at all of going to hell then I say something like this: If the others are going to hell, then I am going along with them. But I do not believe that; on the contrary, I believe that we will all be saved, I, too, and this awakens my deepest wonder.

Posted by: Tyler | July 07, 2006 at 11:52 AM

I misspoke above. Of course, Hong didn’t publish this, Indiana University Press did. But Howard and Edna Hong edited and translated these volumes.

Not sure if this is the right context for commentary, but here’s a couple of thoughts:

The context reveals that SK’s primary intention here is defending himself against the charge that he thinks of himself as better than others. The comments on hell support this thought. As if he’s saying, “If anyone else is worthy of hell, then surely so am I. But the grace of God to save human beings is so great that even I too am being saved.” This by no means indicates that SK doesn’t have a robust category of judgment or that sin doesn’t have cost. It does indicate that salvation is not simply an either/or for each individual but a more dynamic process. SK’s phrase about how works of love “echo through eternity” come to mind. The question is how much of our lives will so echo? How much will be burned up as chaff…

Posted by: Tyler | July 07, 2006 at 12:08 PM

Thanks, Tyler! I now have the Hong translation in front of me.

For those interested, it’s Soren Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers (with that line through the ‘o’ in ‘Soren’: don’t know how to make that here), Vol. 6 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978), edited and translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, assited by Gregor Malantschuk. As Tyler noted, this is entry 6947 in the translation, on pp. 556-559. The paragraph in question, which Tyler copied above, is on p. 557.

For those interested in the Danish (which I don’t have)… The back of the Hongs’ translation contains a “Collation of Entries in this Volume with the Danish Edition of the Papirer and the Breve,” according to which this entry corresponds to entry 57 in Vol. XI(3) B of the Heiberg, Kuhr, and Torsting, ed. Papirer (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1909-1948). This seems to match John Rasmussen’s info from the first comment, above.

Tyler certainly seems right that “SK’s primary intention here is defending himself against the charge that he thinks of himself as better than others.” In particular, he’s responding to what “the old Bishop once said” to him — namely, that he spoke “as if the others were going to hell.” It’s this that leads to SK’s protest. The statement, “I believe that we will all be saved, I, too, and this awakens my deepest wonder,” is a pretty clear statement of universalism, and the context doesn’t seem to jeopardize its status as an expression of universalism. But it is worth keeping in mind that SK didn’t write this entry with the primary purpose of presenting his view on the scope of who will be saved. Rather, he was defending himself from a particular charge of speaking as if others were going to hell, and in the course of so defending himself, he took the opportunity to profess a (wonderful — or amazing, I guess, depending on your translation) belief that “we will all be saved.”

Posted by: Keith | July 07, 2006 at 01:34 PM

Well, on this being a “pretty clear statement of universalism”…

The Hongs’ translation, “if the others are going to hell, then I am going along with them” and “we will all be saved,” does raise the issue of just who is included in “the others” and in “we.” It seems possible that this could be some restricted group of people. The Ludlow translation (apparently indirect, by way of a German translation) sounded more clearly universalistic, with its “If others [rather than “If the others”] go to hell, then I will go too,” and its “all will be saved,” rather than “we will all be saved.”

Posted by: Keith | July 07, 2006 at 01:55 PM

I came across the same quote in “Universal Salvation? The Current Debate”, quoted by Morwenna Ludlow (pg. 209):

“Soren Kierkegaard (1813-55) also had doubts about the traditional Christian concept of hell, and seems to have hoped for universal salvation, despite the pessimistic tone of his theology. He once replied to a question about hell: ‘If others go to hell, then I will go too. But I do not believe that; on the contrary I believe that all will be saved, myself with them – something which arouses my deepest amazement.’”

And here’s another one that I like even better, from Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s “Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved?” (pg. 88):

“I have never been so far in my life, and am never likely to get farther than to the point of ‘fear and trembling’, where I find it literally quite certain that every other person will easily be blessed—only I will not. To say to the others: you are eternally lost—that I cannot do. For me, the situation remains constantly this: all the others will be blessed, that is certain enough—only with me may there be difficulties.” (Theodramatik IV, Soren Kierkegaard)

However, not everyone would concede that Kierkegaard was definitely a universalist. He is also quoted by Jerry L. Walls in “Hell: The Logic of Damnation”. Just for the context, here’s Walls quoting C. S. Lewis (pg. 126):

126-One of C. S. Lewis’s characters is a “Big Ghost” who is shocked to find that one of his former employees, a murderer, is in heaven. The employee has been sent to instruct him and help him so he, too, can remain in heaven. The Big Ghost, however, finds this arrangement insulting. He protests against the unfairness, insisting that all he wants is his rights. He has tried his best, he claims, to be a decent man, and he wants nothing to do with “charity.” He does not want to be accepted on the same terms as the murderer. When told that he cannot make it in heaven without help and that his former employee is the one sent to help him, he decides to return to hell.
“”So that’s the trick is it?” shouted the Ghost, outwardly bitter, and yet I thought there was a kind of triumph in its voice. It had been entreated: it could make a refusal: and this seemed to it a kind of advantage. “I thought there’d be some damned nonsense. It’s all a clique, all a bloody clique. Tell them I’m not coming, see? I’d rather be damned than go along with you. I came here to get my rights, see? Not to go sniveling along on charity tied onto your apron strings. If they’re too fine to have me without you, I’ll go home.” It was almost happy now that it could, in a sense, threaten.” (The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis)

Here’s the passage with Kierkegard quote (pg. 127):

127-128-Not surprisingly, a similar character is portrayed for us by Kierkegaard. He is a person who has suffered some form of earthly distress and comes to despair that he will ever be relieved of it. His anger at what he has had to undergo turns into resentment at the whole of existence. He imbibes this so deeply that he reaches a point where he is no longer willing to be relieved of his distress. Indeed, it is now a part of his very identity. He considers himself a proof against the goodness of existence and he must hold out against repentance in order to maintain his protest.
“Even if at this point God in heaven and all his angels were to offer to help him out of it no, now he doesn’t want it, now it is too late, he once would have given everything to be rid of this torment but was made to wait, now that’s all past, now he would rather rage against everything, he, the one man in the whole of existence who is the most unjustly treated, to whom it is especially important to have his torment at hand, important that no one should take it from him for thus he can convince himself that he is in the right.” (Sickness Unto Death, Soren Kierkegaard)
The sketch of this character is particularly interesting because it shows how the choice of evil could be sustained indefinitely, even forever. Even if this person is not in bondage to sin in such a way that he cannot repent, we can still see how he may never want to. For his resentment seems to perpetuate itself. The longer he holds out, the more he has invested in maintaining his indignant posture. And the more he invests, the more motivation he has to keep it up.

I don’t buy Walls’ conclusions, but I liked the book enough to collect many a passage in my journal of quotations.

Posted by: Igor | July 08, 2006 at 03:46 AM


I’m in a little theology group (we call it In Vino Theologica, for obvious reasons!), and one of the folks in the group wrote her masters thesis on the work of Anne Bronte. Apparently, many of Bronte’s stories and poems “hint at universalism”. What I found most intriguing, in light of your earlier post on “undergrond universalism” is that, in a letter dated 30 December 1848, Bronte wrote a letter to a guy named David Thom, himself a universalist, in which she says this about universalism “… I have cherished it from my childhood–with a trembling hope at first, and afterwards with a firm and glad conviction of its truth .”

You can find the letter, in its entirety, here:

And, if you’re interested, there’s a list of quotes on universalism throughout church history here:

I remember hearing a paper by Phil Quinn on Kierkegaard and neighbor love. And I remember pointing out to Phil that what he said were Kierkegaard’s beliefs about such love seemed to have universalist implications. So I asked him if Kierkegaard was a universalist. And, if I’m remembering right I thought Phil told me he thought K. was not a universalist. I wish I could dig up the brief and subsequent email exchange we had about this, but I’m afraid it’s lost. I think I could scare up the paper Phil gave, though, if you’re interested.

btw: I’m looking forward to reading the book by Gregory MacDonald,too!

Posted by: Kevin Corcoran | July 09, 2006 at 06:41 PM

Hello everybody,

I’m a teacher at the university of Helsinki (Finland) and I have followed the discussions on this site with great interest. Thank you for the site! Here’s my brief note on Kierkegaard discussion.

As far as I can see it, the existence of eternal damnation terrified Kierkegaard. His relation to the issue was never purely academic and abstract but personal and, yes, subjective. He approaches the idea of damnation not as a scholar but as a damned person who deserves eternity in Hell. In different parts of his works he engages in several considerations and speaks out his mind. He doubts the existence of eternal damnation. He preaches the severity of damnation so that no one gets saved. Especially the late papers and journals give evidence to the both sides. The sincerity (I say this not as a fan but based on reading his texts) of his person requires him to say aloud what is in inside him. He understands the meaning of Christ’s words on Hell but is terrified. Still, he has no other way to follow Christ. I believe that every Christian who believes in Hell can side here with Kierkegaard. Therefore, I see Kierkegaard’s considerations not as an evidence for universalism but as an evidence for his sincere faith.

If anyone of you read Danish you can look Kresten Nordentoft’s ”Kierkegaard Psykologi” (1972) pages 209-210. See also Papirer XI, 1 A 168.

sincerely 😉

Olli-Pekka Vainio

Posted by: Olli-Pekka Vainio | July 10, 2006 at 03:06 AM

Thanks for the pointer to Anne Bronte, Kevin. The part of the letter that seems most relevant to the theme of “underground universalism” is:

I now believe there are many more believers than professors in that consoling creed.


As I’ve admitted, I’m a novice when it comes to Kierkegaard. So I’m really in no position to say in what direction SK’s writings as a whole point on this issue. In particular, I really have no idea whether there are any places where SK indicates that either he or anybody else not only deserves eternal damnation, but will actually endure it. Perhaps someone knows about such a passage? But for all I can see so far, the passage we are discussing here does look like it counts in favor of SK being a universalist (though, as I’ve said in a comment above, this looks less clear to me on the Hongs’ translation than it did on Ludlow’s). I guess I’m not seeing the basis for O-PV’s conclusion, “Therefore, I see Kierkegaard’s considerations not as an evidence for universalism but as an evidence for his sincere faith.” It still looks to me like evidence for universalism, whether or not it might also tell us something about the sincerity of SK’s faith. Of course, as I’ve admitted, there may well be stronger evidence among SK’s writings for a contrary conclusion, and if that’s what O-PV is relying on here, I’m not qualified to have anything worthwile to say about that.

Posted by: Keith | July 10, 2006 at 10:17 AM


Right! I referred to “Underground Universalism” where I meant to reference “Hoping Universalis Is/Will be True”. The bit of the letter relevant to the former is precisely the line you quote!

Posted by: Kevin Corcoran | July 10, 2006 at 01:11 PM

Hello Keith,

You may want to check out one Kierkegaard’s “Three Upbuilding Discourses” from 1844. He names the second “The Expectancy of an Eternal Salvation,” which is a discourse on II Corinthians 4:17-18. I quickly read through it for some hint of a universalist position, and I hate to say that I found nothing definitive. But he does pose some suggestive questions toward the end of the Discourse about the equal blessedness of all.
It isn’t clear to me, though, whether what he says there counts as a universalist position.

He does allude, nonethetless, to the differences between individuals being made equal in “infinite salvation” as well the blessedness of the “equality that makes everyone equally blessed.”

You can find this Discourse in Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), pp. 253-273.

I hope some of this helps.

Posted by: Shannon Nason | July 10, 2006 at 01:51 PM

Hello again. Since this thread is delving into the question of SK’s view on the afterlife, I’d like to underscore the last couple of things I said above. I’ll not claim to be a full-fledged expert in SK, but I have read most of his works. And I’ll not claim this is a coherent, developed position, but an inquisitive exploration of SK’s language on these issues.

I think his signed efforts in “Works of Love” (I’m not sure how to do italics in this format, sorry) where he speaks extensively of living “in the moment”, love as “sheer action”, in harmony with God as the middle term in our relationships and so forth, we have positive language that illuminates what SK meant by those “moments” in our lives that will “echo for eternity” (those moments where we are fully alive, spiritually invigorated, “walking in the Spirit” if you will). He connects such moments tightly to eternity’s expression of itself in time. The inverse is also true, that through these moments temporality expresses itself eternally. I see a view of eternal life emerging here.

The implication is that those “other” moments in our lives will be judged negatively as per 1 Cor. 3:10-15 but, as in this passage, the individual (on the basis of God’s grace ultimately and in terms of specific manifestation, on the basis of God’s prevailing through the individual in the redemptive moments?) is yet saved. A common description for these negatively judged moments is “damaging one’s soul” which SK seemingly believed was immortal (he often refers to ancient proofs for the immortality of the soul). This phrase, “damaging one’s soul,” gives a distinctly softer impact than having “lost one’s soul”.

SK was intensely interested in the ongoing character of the lives we lived (hence, his emphasis on subjectivity and existentialism). The process of living in profound connectedness to God moment by moment was primary. It stands to reason that his sense of judgment and salvation would be more dynamic and moment by moment as well. Loss (i.e. “damage” to the soul) through judgment would be more moment by moment rather than a wholesale destruction/damnation of the entire individual. Clearly SK’s life’s work is to emphasize that how we live our lives matters. Our choices matter and matter in an eternal sense. How to project this concern of his over his views on the afterlife is an interesting question.

As far as his radical humility in saying surely all others will be saved (and again, I think he means moments of their lives that will echo for eternity) but that there is reason for doubt on his own part, this might just be overblown humility or perhaps cultural. I know many self-effacing descendants of Scandinavians. Even though he says they will be saved, he clearly felt a heavy burden of concern for the well-being of their souls. I believe his desire was that they take as much of themselves with them through the judgment to the other side… And as it was, not much looked like it was going to make it. Perhaps even less for himself.

Posted by: Tyler | July 12, 2006 at 10:38 AM

Following with interest-

Don’t know much about ol’ Søren (you can make the ø by holding the alt key and typing 0248), but I do have a degree in German. When reading the photo quote above in Fraktur (that’s the pre-WWII typeface style) I see that the word that is translated “saved” is selig; this is actually is better rendered “blessed” or “holy”. “Saved” in German, and universally in Luther’s translation of the bible, is rendered with some form of the verb retten (gerettet, errettet; Retter/Erretter=Savior). Don’t know if it makes a difference in Danish, or if K. equated being holy (a “saint”) with being saved for a future life with God (“ultimately” blessed). Curious as to why it was translated “saved” in the quotations above.

Dana Ames

Posted by: Dana Ames | July 14, 2006 at 05:08 PM

Whatever’s going on with the indirect, Danish (SK) –> German (Geismar) –> English (Ludlow) translation, we seem to have two independent direct Danish –> English translations (the one on Vernard Eller’s web site [see the first comment] and the Hongs’ translation) that go for “saved” here. If (and I’m just getting this possibility from you, Dana) Geismar chose the wrong German verb here, it’s possible that Ludlow was able to correct for that b/c of this feature of context: SK contrasts the state in question (“on the contrary…”) with going to hell.

The alt-0248 trick seems not to be working for me. 🙁

Posted by: Keith DeRose | July 14, 2006 at 09:49 PM

Interested parties may want to take a look at Jack Mulder Jr.’s “Must All be Saved? A Kierkegaardian Response to Theological Universalism,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 59.1 (2006): 1 – 24.

Here is the abstract:

In this paper, I consider how a Kierkegaardian could respond critically to the question of strong theological universalism, i.e., the belief that all individuals must eventually be reconciled to God and experience everlasting happiness. A Kierkegaardian would likely reject what Thomas Talbott has called “conservative theism,” but has the resources to mount a sustained attack on the view that all individuals must experience everlasting happiness. Some have seen that Kierkegaard has some potential in this regard, but a full Kierkegaardian response to strong theological universalism has yet to be given. In this paper, I give such an account.

Posted by: Kevin Timpe | July 17, 2006 at 03:18 PM

Thanks for the reference, Kevin.
Though I am a universalist, I don’t know whether I accept what Mulder here calls “strong theological universalism” –“the belief that all individuals must eventually be reconciled to God and experience everlasting happiness.” I believe all will be reconciled to God and will then experience everlating salvation, but must they be? This sounds a lot like what Jon Kvanvig calls “necessary universalism” (as opposed to what he calls “contingent universalism”). (And a quick look at Mulder’s paper doesn’t make me think otherwise.) There was a nice discussion of this and related issues in the comments thread of a Prosblogian post here:

In that discussion, I explained that I hold to what can be called “certain universalism,” but not necessary universalism. For those interested in the distinction, it’s easiest for me to just paste here what I wrote in that discussion:

I’m not sure those [“necessary universalism” vs. “contingent universalism”] are the most helpful terms for thinking about the matter. But in any case, I don’t hold that universalism is necessarily true (true in all metaphysically possible worlds). For all I accept, there are worlds in which God allows some persons to cease to exist. In fact, for all I know or accept, there are possible worlds in which God allows *us* to cease to exist.

More helpful perhaps would be certain vs. likely universalism. In the Appendix on free will & universalism to my web page “Universalism and the Bible,” I lay out a couple of possible views, expressing preference for the second one, which is a form of certain universalism. So I lean that way. It’s not “certain” in the sense that I claim to be certain that universalism is true: As I admit in the middle post Jeremy links to above (“Hoping that Universalism Is / Will Be True”), that’s very far from the case. But, according to this position that I uncertainly accept, *it* is certain that all will be saved, and God knows for certain that all will be saved. This may be a contingent truth — depending on such potentially contingent factors as how God has decided to deal with us. But it is now certain.

Posted by: Keith DeRose | July 23, 2006 at 10:39 PM


I think that you are right that the view Mulder addresses is closer to ‘necessary universalism’ than to your view.

Posted by: Kevin Timpe | July 24, 2006 at 12:23 PM

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