Kierkegaard

18 November 2011

Kierkegaard was a very important Danish philosopher of the early 19th century.  He criticized Hegel severely.  But apart from not liking Hegel, he just seems to exemplify most things I dislike in a philosopher.  I like philosophers who tell you what they think in a clear and straightforward manner.  Kierkegaard wrote under a bunch of pseudonyms, poetically I guess, but turgidly.  I think reason is the method of philosophy.  Kierkegaard thinks we should accept contradictions and make leaps of faith. 

Ken tells me I have it quite right. Kierkegaard doesn’t say we should accept logical contradictions, but we do need to accept things we can’t hope to understand.  These he calls paradoxes. Christianity is full of such paradoxes… like that Jesus is both human and divine.  That’s a paradox, because we can’t hope to figure out how that could be.  But it’s not a contradiction.  To say Jesus is both divine and not divine would be a contradiction. 

 But why should we make a leap of faith?  Why should we accept something we don’t understand?  Especially if it leads to crazy behavior --- like Abraham getting ready to kill his son Isaac, because God told him to?

That was sort of a paradox for Abraham.  He knew it was wrong to kill Isaac.  But God was commanding him to kill Isaac.  So Abraham thought it was his duty to kill Isaac, and would have if the angel hadn’t intervened with a reprieve from God.  Abraham was ready to obey God, take a leap of faith, even though he didn’t understand how to fit together the demands of the ethical and the demands of God into a coherent picture.

 One might ask:  why was Abraham any better than Agememnon, who sacrificed his own daughter?

Agememnon was doing what the morality of his time dictated -- killing a loved one to bring success in battle.  For Kierkegaard, complying with traditional morality isn’t the best kind of life.  One should obey one’s own subjectivity, one’s inwardly felt duty.  That’s what Abraham was doing.

 It seems to me, however, that Abraham was obviously nuts, a psychotic who almost committed murder.  Why would a philosopher approve of such a thing?

 Still, perhaps Kierkegaard has a point?  Isn’t the person who marches to the beat of a different drummer, an internal drummer, someone to be admired?  The person who has the courage of her convictions?  John Brown, the anti-slavery zealot, was probably a bit unbalanced, but I admire his passionate desire to end slavery, however ill-considered.

 Over my philosophical career I’ve found that many intelligent people I greatly respect value and even enjoy reading philosophers I find exasperating and annoying.  Our guest Lanier Anderson is a case in point, and I’m sure he will help us appreciate Kierkegaard, if not exactly convert us into passionate Kierkegaard fans.

Comments (9)


Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, November 18, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

Only for the sake of fairness

Only for the sake of fairness to Kierkegaard's position, and to those theists that hold it along with him, we must consider the context in which Abraham is forced to make his decision, if we are to even attempt to understand it. The old testament - taken as literature - tells us that Abraham is a first-hand witness to miracles. Issac is born when Abraham's wife (who had been barren all her life) is somewhere around the age of a hundred. Absurd, sure. But likely an event that qualifies as a good candidate for miracle status. Abraham also watches the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah get destroyed just like the voice he is communicating with says will happen.
Now in light of those experiences, it is hard to rationally deny that there is something supernatural going on. Of course, the old testament only informs us that YWVH communicates to Abraham through miracles and not some other method, which always leaves room for doubt. This supernatural entity, speaking to him and doing all this crazy stuff, may be the devil for all Abraham knows. So he still has to make a choice. Take a leap of faith? Is this God? The Devil? Aliens? But in that context, his choice is rather complicated. There's also the thought, what might this thing, that destroyed two cities before my eyes, do to me or my family if I don't obey it?

Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, November 18, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

The Dane was a sufferer. So

The Dane was a sufferer. So was the German, FN (you know, Friedrich N., whose last name I can never spell.) While suffering can lead to certain lines of philosophical enquiry, it has little intrinsic value, in-and-of itself. I have espoused my own ideas about why we really are where we are---historionic effect and all of that pragmatism, some of it unwittingly supported by such minds as Stephen Hawking, in works such as A Brief History of Time. I found a sentence in Professor Hawking's book and then could not find it again...a bit like losing an idea in a black hole. In short, John, I can commiserate with your exasperations. I felt the same way about Habermas, and some friends and thinkers have affirmed my assessment. Other masters I have deleted from my must read list include Kant (tedious) and all great minds who support philosophy with religion or vice versa.
Keep up the good work---you and Ken have done much, seems to me.

mirugai's picture

mirugai

Saturday, November 19, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

LOVE

LOVE
Kierkegaard on being in love: ?Suppose I married her, what then??
When you are in love, you are living in and for the moment, and all your actions and decisions are correct and right ? they are ?rational.? When you are not in love, you need a leap of faith to overcome your fears and uncertainties. You are in another ?rational? state.
If you are in love, you will know it; you are truly blessed, go for it. If you are not in love, ?protect and conserve? should be your behavior.
Great complications around love come about because of the imposition of weird societal rules (like marriage, divorce, community property, child support) on those who are not in love.

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, November 20, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

Why would anyone take a leap

Why would anyone take a leap of faith when truth is absolute.
If your going to take a leap,
Be true.
=
MJA

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, November 22, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

Hi Charles Myro here,

Hi Charles Myro here,
Is there such a clear divide 'tween reason and passion? Could it be reasonable to be very passionately reasonable in your use of reason---say like Spock, for whom reason was, in some sense, his greatest passion?
I think Kierkegaard's view presumes that dividing line not so clean in man. I think he presumes a source for reason and passion more profound and mysterious than either. I think he presumes that man did not make himself but he is part of a life vaster and far beyond him. Some human truth there I think in Kierkegaard.
Both Kierkegaard and Hegel seems to see man as subject to broader forces.
But Kierkegaard's "leap of faith" I find oddly Hegelian. The conflicts that compel the leap of faith are in some sense resolved in that leap , which seems to me oddly analogous to Hegel's synthesis that resolves the conflicting thesis and antithesis. Kierkegaard's leap seems a kind of Hegelian synthesis but with an injection of the human passion and sense of mystery that Hegel excludes, synthesis from a human point of view. Or maybe Hegel takes a universal cosmic reasonable flying leap. Two versions of a related resolution, perhaps.
In any case, they are strangely Philosophically complementary in a comfy sort of way.
Maybe start reading Hegel and when the vast stark reasonableness of the man grows tedious
switch to juicy intimate old Kierkegaard, until you're drenched in human passion and then dry off again with Hegel.
Refreshing, like going from the sauna to the cold plunge and back, a Philosophical spa, as it were-- subcranial
therapy , cleanse the pores of ratiocination-----or something. With Kierkegaard and Hegel at hand, who needs a vacation?

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, November 22, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

Kierkegaard asks two very

Kierkegaard asks two very important questions in the course of his authorship. What does it mean to be a human being? and What does it mean to become a Christian? Kierkegaard's attempt to describe the former question is what philosophers respect about him. With the latter question, Kierkegaard challenges anyone who wants to become Christian, with what Christianity really is.
What is Christianity really? The need to have faith in God like Abraham? Everyone today would consider Abe a blasted attempted murderer, as Kierkegaard continually points out in Fear and Trembling. Belief that a timeless, eternal God became a historical man in the form of Jesus Christ? The Absolute Paradox for every Christian. Why would anyone rationally believe that that guy Jesus born to Mary is actually the son of God? Faith to believe all that is needed to become a Christian. Kierkegaard is simply trying to weed out all the rational people away from Christianity, because rational people ought to be offended at the propositions Christianity claims.

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, November 28, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

Howdy everyone,

Howdy everyone,
I am glad to see here a discussion on the works of Kierkegaard, which has always been rare. I am a big fan of Kierkegaard and his authorship impacted my life immensely. I don't know how many other people out there have read his books but I must be one of a few who has actually read most of his works. I stumbled upon him accidentally but once he was found I dove right in. Here is my little input into this discussion, though I could talk about his works for a lot longer.
The aspect I find most interesting about Kierkegaard's authorship (I'm only discussing his philosophical books, not his other more personal religious works) is the style in which he painstakingly wrote them. HIs main goal in all his works was for the reader not to think of objective topics, or ideas, or discussions; but for the reader to stop and think about his own life. Kierkegaard called this sort of communication "indirect." This is also the main reason why he wrote under various names. He wanted to vanish before the reader and for a sort of mirror to be put in his place. This is why terms like "leap of faith" and others come up. There are not ideas to be discussed, they are actions to be made by individuals. Individuals seeking truth within. I have never come across any other author who wrote this way and I suppose it is one of the reasons I became passionate about his works. Where is this today? Who dares to be an author of no significance, vanishing into the background so every individual may be magnified?
A few quick commits on the previous entries. Although Kierkegaard uses the language of Hagel (which is why it is difficult to read) part of his authorship was a reaction against Hegalism, of a world becoming more and more objective in their thinking and forgetting about themselves and their own souls. His idea of "leap of faith" is no different from what all Christian doctrine believes. We as humans can never know truth but the only way to life is under faith (truth in action), something that holds so many paradoxes that the gulf to believe it is vast, and thereby the only way to be with truth is faith (which is not like knowing truth, for if we knew something to be true then there would be no need to believe in it) and to believe in what is not seen is similar to taking a leap (on another note I have never come across another man since Jesus who believed in the power of parables and metaphors like Kierkegaard did). HIs discussion of Abraham is to highlight that beyond the level of aesthetic living, and even higher then moral living, is a level of faith, which is an offense to the world (how could a father kill a son?). That is all for now, I'll visit this webpage in the future and see if any more is to be said. If anyone wants to talk more about Kierkegaard please let me know cause I would love to. Take care ya'll.
Caleb from Wisconsin

Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, November 30, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

Hi Caleb,

Hi Caleb,
Thanks for shedding some clearity on Kierkgaard.
Regarding faith and truth:
One needs no faith or belief when One is true,
As the truth is simply One.
=

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, December 6, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

Why should we make leap of

Why should we make leap of faith? Why there is paradox in our behavior?Simple answer to this question is our brain is hardwired by survival instinct.Death give meaning to our life. There is no other meaning to our life.All our struggle from birth to end of our life is overcome the fear of death.Every man is unique so his survival instinct hardwired different way in his brain. What kind of software he prepared in his brain that we could not say but man blindly follow what his unconscious instruct to him.Abraham killed his son obey to order of God.Some years back one so called god man order his followers suicide and they follow his order.We are irrational animal we rarely used our thinking faculty .that is why paradox in our life

 
 
 

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