LECTURE ON SOREN KIERKEGAARD (1813-1855)
With brief notes on Hegel, Socrates, and Heidegger
|I. HISTORICAL CONTEXT: "Golden Age" of Danish literature and thought|
1. Orthodox Lutheranism
characterized. by split between life and doctrine, faith and works, with
emphasis on faith and doctrine at expense of life and works. Scholastic
orthodoxy. Local pastor--representative of the Crown and in addition to
pastoral duties, collected taxes, took census, administered military levies,
kept register of births, deaths, marriages, and convirmations, supervised
and inspected local schools, supervising relief for the poor, and afer
1841, serving as chairman for the Local Council. Often also the largest
independent farmer in the parish. Often the most visible and most resented
social superior of the peasant.
2. In 17th Century
in Germany, there had been reaction against one-sided religious orthodoxy,
a "pietist" movement which stressed both passionate religious
inwardness and serious striving to make one's life
3. In later 18th & early 19th century a "rationalist" or "enlightenment" Christianity predominated
4. A "neo-pietism"
resurgance in 19th century, which developed into political movements and
raise the question. of relation of religion to politics. A rural "awakening"
movement--"divine assemblies" led by young laymen, usually artisans
and small-scale independent farmers. A new individualism and self-assertiveness
of the peasantry, as traditional hierarchical and collective society was
5. These social changes meant new economic and social independence but also a new sense of loneliness and desire to preserve part of the old communal identity. This took form in the lay religious societies. The "awakenings" were community events.
1. RISE OF LIBERALISM.
Holstein monarchy was fragmented into four assemblies. Copenhagen
became a center of moderate liberal political activity. Pushed policies
of more frugality and businesslike methods in the royal management of
the state. A younger generation, typically university students, was more
outspoken. Maintained that it was time for middle classes to rule. A leader--the
fiery Ohla Lehmann.
2. A countercurrent
of conservative opinion, including Bishop Mynster, who for a long time
Kierkegaard followed and respected.
3. As all this went
on, many literary figures arose, leading this mid 1800s to be called a
"golden age" of Danish literature. Kierkegaard was part of this
golden age. (We want to remember that 3/4 of the people were peasant working
the land who read no more than the Bible and were largely excluded from
all this ferment.
the bourgeois life his father planned for him and that his elder brother
Peter chose. Hung out with young rebels later known as "Romantics".
Pondered the life of Byron, dead only a dozen years, who was a brilliiant
poet, a cripple, an outsider, whose life was tormented by broken love,
persistent melancholia, and a terrible secret which he would not reveal.
His life had a depth and content which contrasted with the tiresome and
superficial repetition of bourgeous life. Among the many other Romantic
rebels in Germany was Heinrich Heine.
influenced by Socrates. Saw himself as taking a similar stance in relation
to bourgeous society as Socrates had taken to the Sophists.
5. Kierkegaard had met Regine Olsen in 1837 shile visiting friends. She was 14. Three years later she agreed to marry him. The engagement was a social event. Then suddenly he broke off the engagenment and within days was on train to Berlin. Biographer John Douglas Mullen thinks it was to get on with his larger task, which had nno place for marriage, but apparently he remaine deeply in love with her until his death.
RELATION TO HEGEL
AND SOCRATES. Hegel had declared around 1830 (?) in his History
of Philosophy that the "mental turning point" in the history
of philosophy lay in Socrates' announcement that the truth of the objective
world lay in the thoughts of the subjects who comprehended it. The thinking
subject was, for Hegel, Socrates' central idea.
2. In Socrates' observations
regarding self-reflecting subjectivity, consciousness is identified as
basically self-consciousness, and the self re-projects through universal
principles its ideas as identical with the objective world. Socrates'
mode of discourse carried him into collision with the self-certainty of
others. The meeting of ascertained ignorance (Socratic ignorance) and
unexamined opinion produced often ironic results. Socrates used this irony
to draw out the other and assist him or her in self-education. These methods
were so closely bound to his life that they constituted a way of being
a person rather than a system of knowledge.
(Socrates was skillful enough to enter the assumed world of the others unreflected consciousness, where abstract ideas dwelled. Then he succeeded in making those abstractions concrete. This often provoked others to reflect and change their ideas.)
HEGEL called the
change, the animation of thinking which came out of Socratic dialogue,
becoming. He viewed becoming as the esential movement of the thinking
person. It is the activity of self-conscious reflection in which selfhood
is being continually distinguished in the act of appropriating knowledge.
In Hegel's view, Socrates educated others to the realization that the
truth of being was Becoming. The truth of the objective world was located
in the reflection of subjectivity. Once having made that discovery they
would make themselves as subjectively identical with the Good. This would
lead to a universal from which morality could be derived.
not produce a doctrine or final morality from this movement of Becoming.
He leaves such determinations to the thinking of each person.)
Kierkegaard emphasizes Socrates' point that ignorance is the beginning of wisdom. He does not tie him to conceptions of right and wrong, as Hegel did. Thus he frees his interpretation from the imposition of a system. Kierkegaard converts Hegel's notion of becoming to his own purposes.
6. Wanted to do battle
against styles of living and subjective truths which were illusions.
7. Kierkegaaard ultimately declared open warfare against an Establishment that deliberately confused the categories of religion with those of politics and society. (Compare that to certain elements of our society today.)
We may call Kierkegaard the founder of the "philosophy of existence.'
2. The existent individual (a) is in infinite relationship with himself and has an infinite interest in himself and his destiny. (b) Always feels himself to be in becoming, with a task before him.(3) Is impassioned, ispired with a passionate thought. He calls this "the passion of freedom."
3 . Did a dissertation
on"mastered irony" which he considered an indispensible tool
for evaluating one's life. "Most men are subjective toward themselves
and objective toward all others, frightfully objective sometimes--but
the task is precisely to be objective toward oneself and subjective toward
all others." Mastered irony is a technique you must understand if
you are to communicate a subjective truth , a truth which will change
the way a person lives.
4. PASSION is the quality of striving to come into being; it is the process of becoming. The kind of change involved, with is a suffering, is teporal, and the ideal striven for is imagined as perfected and completed. But the person striving to realize that passionately held ideas finds the finite conditions of human existence accentuated.
objective uncertainty held fast in...the most passionate inwardness is
the truth, the highest truth attainable for an existing individual...but
the above definition of truth is an equivalent expression for faith.
6. Truth, for Kierkegaard, is not a "thing" but a stance in relation to the world--a life posture. When he says "truth is subjectivity," is is so only insofar as the subject brings so much passion together with his thought that the synthesis will be an actual event. Without passion there is no movement for the existing thinker. Passion is the affirming motive of development, the willingness to undergo and hence suffere the change of becoming. Passion raises the question of what move one, what moves the self through its developmental actions. It is similar to what Karen Horney calls "wholeheartedness" in living.
Be careful here: He is not speaking of a passionate commitment to entrenched beliefs, ideas, attitudes, and habit patterns, but to a passionate commitment to the quest of finding truth even when it shatters one's entrenched beliefs etc.
RISK AND UNCERTAINTY. Each decision is a risk. Person feels himself surrounded
by and filled with uncertainty. Nonetheless he decides. There are real
possibilities, and any philosophy which denies them is oppressive, suffocating.
8. The existent
will ceaslelessly strive to simplify himself, to return to original and
9. ANGUISH: When Kierkegaard uses this term he compares it to dizziness, as a revelation of the possibilties which lie beyond.
10. Kierkegaard's existentialism was religious. The existent must always feel self in presence of God and reintegrate into Christian thought this notion. (This is of course quiet different from the atheistic existentilism of Sartre, but the fundamental existential attitude is nonetheless the same.)
THE SICKNESS UNTO DEATH (written first 5 months of 1848)
us that our severest difficulty is not that we have a self and do not
remain loyal to it, but that often we cannot even locate within us a genuine
self worthy of such consideration.
We may lose the self and turn it to exterior activity as a camouflage for its interiaor emptiness.
(b) The sickness unto death is a sickness of the spirit, which leads ultimately to the death of the spirit, It is a misrelationship within the self. Also called despair. (Within Christian categories as sin.)
By contrast, the
true self is spirit, a self-reflective or self-conscious relationship
between necessity and possibility, finitude and infinity, body and mind.
The self is that this relationship between two elements of a synthesis
can reflect on itself.
(Bourgeois philistinism operates witn the boundaries of shrewdness with which it tries to accommodate "the possible." Calcuslation, self-protection, where business-like methods presumably are trasnferred into the life of the spirit, with preddictibly deadly results. Spiritless person is ignorant of having an eternal self). This type of person is the specialized product of Christian culture: the cautious, respectable, unruffled, middle-class Christian gentleman."
(2) ENCAPSULATION. (AWARENESS THAT ONE IS A SELF BUT WISHING, DESPAIRINGLY, NOT TO BE THIS SELF). The self wants to escape the self that it is aware it is. The despair of weakness. The more consciousness one has of one's condition, the less the church and official Christian ideology satisfy, at the same time the greater is the real but unfilled spiritual need opened up.
(3) (Highest level of despair): THE DEPAIR OF DEFIANCE. Self is aware of being itself and wishes, despairingly, to affirm itself as the human self it is, but without at the same time recognizing the relatedness and ultimate dependence of that human self on God. A despairing superiority to the world with its strife and duties. (Or if you are not religious in a conventional Christian sense, you could substitute the AA language, without recognizing your relatedness to and ultimate dependence on "a power greater than yourself," which may have various overtones and dimensions, including the ecological.
insists that man is in sin and cannot understand the Good because he does
not want to and requires God's revelation to show that he is in sin.
14. The capacity
to despair is a sign of the eternal in us, the sign of our greatness.
The reality of despair is a great misfortune: it is our never-ending,
impotent attempt to be quit of our own spirit, our connection with the
eternal; "an impotent self-consumption."
15. To win health, one must come to the realization that one is spirit and exists, as the individual one is, for God and this "prize of infinity is never won except through despair."
1. Viewed himself
not as a philosopher of existence but of Being. Only people truly exist.
Animals live, objects simply are, but do not "exist." To
truly exist, we must quit the inauthentic sphere of existence. Usually,
due to our own laziness and the pressure of society, we remain in an eeryday
world, where we are not really in context with ourselves--the "domain
of everyman." Where we are not conscious of our own existence.
2. We bcome conscious
of our existnce only through certain experiences, like that of anguish,
which put us in the presence of the background of Nothingness from which
Being erupts. This is an active Nothingness which causes the world which
erupts from it to tremble to its foundations. Being detaches itself from
this nothingtness by a kind of rupture.
3. The moment when
there are no more possibilities, no more "ahead of us" is the
moment of death.
a. When we truly exist, we are always open to the world.
b. This includes being in immediate relation with other existents. Even when we think we are most alone, we are not separated from others.
(c) Further, to exist, we go beyond ourselves toward the future. Each of us is always planning, oriented toward our possibilities, projecting ourselves into the plan. Thus it is that we are always filled with anxiety or care. We are always concerned with something yet to come. Being, so far as we seize it in existence, is care and temporality. More transcendences
(4) We can also
transcend out of nothingness; and from "particular things that are"
(5) We are not only
our future, but also our past. Our possibilities are not abstract ones,
but are embedded in specific conditions which we have not chosen.
We move ceaselessly from our future to our pastl, anticipations to memories.
The Present (the "third ecstasy of time) is in some sense the juncture
of our future and our past.
6. In a sense, Heidegger's
philosophy can be viewed as a negation of Kierkegaard's individualism.
It declares that there is no subject-object dichotomy and the classical
idea of the Subject must be exploded to reveal us always outside ourself.
Important in Heidegger, the affirmation of our unity with the world.
7. Through Anguish
we reach the general conditions of existence, or what Heidegger calls
"the Existentials." Kierkegaard always remains in the sspecific
subjective reality of the existential.
8. For Heidegger,
we must shoulder our human condition and assert our destiny. Not remain
in the stage of anguish (or nausea as Sartre calls it). We take
upon ourselves our own destiny. The only way to Being is through existence.
Heidegger and Sartre are both interested in ontology -- the systematic study of Being. Kierkegard is not. He contents himself with existence, and in that sense is more purely existential . (Personally I do not find the term ontology useful. Most people don't know what it means, and the use of the somewhat awkward term does not seem to add any new dimensions to my insight about things. But perhaps I am simply slow at grasping its utility.)