Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Overview of Kierkegaard’s thought and philosophy

Kierkegaard’s authorship is an attempt to help the individual acquire the inward personal concern or “subjectivity” he believed was essential to becoming a true Christian. He saw Christianity as the final and most adequate answer to the question, how should I exist? Basically, he believed there were three major ways of answering this question--these three answers made up what Kierkegaard termed three “spheres of existence” or “stageson life’s way.”

The first stage he termed the aesthetic stage; this is the life view in which a person is urged to enjoy life by developing his natural drives and abilities. The aesthete lives “for the moment.” This life is symbolized by the casual love affair, and it culminates in despair.
The second stage is the ethical life-a life of duty and commitment, which is symbolized by marriage. A truly earnest attempt to live such a life culminates in the discovering of a person’s own moral shortcomings and therefore the recognition of guilt.The final and highest stage is the religious, which involves a recognition that man is unable to become a whole person on his own and must seek the help of God. Kierkegaard saw Christianity as differing from all other religions, however, in that Christianity alone says that man is not even able to establish a relationship with God on his own. Since man is sinful, it was necessary for God to take the initiative by becoming a man himself.

Kierkegaard stressed that Christianity sees the Incarnation as an actual historical event; thus a Christian acquires salvation not through trying to live a moral life (as many liberal theologians who were Kierkegaard’s contemporaries said) but through faith in the Jesus of history. Kierkegaard believed that God’s loving self-sacrifice in Christ could not be understood by finite, sinful human beings. He thus opposed any attempts to philosophically understand the Incarnation or scientifically “prove” the truth of Christianity. For Kierkegaard, one becomes a Christian only through faith, which is produced by the consciousness of sin through the work of God. The Incarnation was and remains a “paradox” to human reason, which is only competent to ascertain its own incompetency with respect to the content of Christianity. For the proud man who will not acknowledge his sinful limits, the Incarnation will necessarily be an “offense.”

A significant feature of Kierkegaard’s authorship is his attempt to utilize “indirect communication.” He believed that moral and religious truth could only be acquired by an individual through personal appropriation, unlike mathematical and scientific truth, which can be directly and objectively given by one person to another. To help stimulate his readers to concern themselves personally with the three states on life’s way, Kierkegaard wrote a series of books attributed to pseudonymous authors who actually embody the life views they represent. Thus, Kierkegaard’s readers not only read about the aesthetic, ethical, and religious ways of life-they encounter these views and are forced to reflect about their own life.

When reading Kierkegaard, it is important not to attribute all the opinions of these pseudonymous characters to Kierkegaard himself.  His own deepest beliefs are contained in the series of discourses.  He culminated his life with an attack on the Danish state church, which he saw as an embodiment of Christendom.  In Christendom, Christianity is abolished by being made into a triviality. Nobody can become a Christian because it is assumed that everybody is a Christian. Being a Christian has been reduced to being a nice person who conforms to the established human order. Kierkegaard saw his task as that of reintroducing Christianity into Christendom by helping his contemporaries see that being a Christian requires a radical, courageous decision to follow Christ. This is a decision that must be continually renewed and that may bring the individual into conflict with the established order, which is permeated by worldly values.

Major works by Søren Kierkegaard - short overview

Kierkegaard’s first book, Either/Or (1843), was a dialectical, and poetic discussion in which he sought to justify his break with Regine, and in which set forth a basic tenet of his philosophy: each individual must choose—consciously and responsibly—among the alternatives life presents. Kierkegaard followed this up with other philosophical works: Fear and Trembling (1843), Philosophical Fragments (1844), The Concept of Dread (1844),  Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Fragment (1846) and Sickness unto Death.

Kierkegaard’s target was the “system,” as he mockingly put it, of G.W.F. Hegel, the great philosopher of idealism. Kierkegaard attacked Hegel’s attempt to systematize all of reality; Hegel, he said, left out the most important element of human experience: existence itself. ]He went so far as to argue that Hegel’s idealism is a “vehicle capable of destroying the individual.” Kierkegaard felt that no philosophical system could explain the human condition. The experience of reality—the loss of a loved one, the feelings of guilt and dread—was what mattered, not the “idea” of it.

Hegel emphasized universals--Kierkegaard argued for decision and commitment. Hegel sought an objective theory of knowledge upon which everyone could agree; Kierkegaard believed in the subjectivity of truth—meaning that truth is understood and experienced individually.

Existence, Kierkegaard believed, is actual, painful, and more important than “essence” or “idea.” The authentic person wrestles with fundamental questions that cannot be answered rationally.
The only way to live in this painful existence is through faith. But to Kierkegaard, faith is not a mental conviction about doctrine, nor positive religious feelings, but a passionate commitment to God in the face of uncertainty. Faith is a risk--the “leap of faith”--an adventure that requires the denial of oneself. To choose faith is what brings authentic human existence. This is the “existentialism” that Kierkegaard is considered the founder of—though later existentialists had significantly different agendas than his.

              In his later writings—Works of Love (1847), Christian Discourses (1848), and Training in Christianity (1850)— Kierkegaard tried to clarify the true nature of Christianity.  The greatest enemy of Christianity, he argued, was “Christendom”—the cultured and respectable Christianity of his day. The tragedy of easy Christianity is that existence has ceased to be an adventure and a constant risk in the presence of God but has become a form of morality and a doctrinal system. Its purpose is to simplify the matter of becoming a Christian. This is just paganism, “cheap” Christianity, with neither cost nor pain, Kierkegaard argued. It is like war games, in which armies move and there is a great deal of noise, but there is no real risk or pain—and no real victory. Kierkegaard believed the church of his day was merely playing at Christianity.

Kierkegaard became increasingly convinced that his calling was in making Christianity difficult. He was to remind people of his day that to be truly Christian, one must become aware of the cost of faith and pay the price.  He believed that only by making things difficult—by helping people become aware of the pain, guilt, and feelings of dread that accompany even the life of faith—could he help Christians hear God again.

A few good books on Søren Kierkegaard (from beginner to advanced)

Some more books to check out:


A Short Biography of Søren Kierkegaard

Soren Kierkegaard, known as the “melancholy Dane” and as the founder of existentialism, was born in Copenhagen, into a strict Danish Lutheran home. There he absorbed Lutheran orthodoxy, laced with a strong pietistic influence.He inherited a melancholy disposition from his father and suffered through an unhappy youth. His frail and slightly twisted frame made him an object of mockery throughout his life. Still, his father was sufficiently wealthy that he never had to keep a job but was free to spend his life as a writer and philosopher.
Kierkegaard was an extremely reflective person, who from an early age struggled with feelings of guilt and depression. The causes for this seemed to stem in large measure from his relationship with his father, who also struggled with guilt and what was then termed “melancholy.” This was aggravated by a series of deaths in the family: five of Søren’s brothers and sisters died within a relatively short time.
He attended the University of Copenhagen to prepare for the Lutheran ministry, but it took him ten years to earn his degree, and he never was ordained. It was philosophy, not theology, which captured his imagination.  He fell in love with a young lady, Regine Olsen. They became engaged, but Kierkegaard had doubts and quickly broke off the engagement, though he admitted he was still deeply in love.
His influence was primarily locally, until Karl Barth publicized his works. In 1933, Barth wrote: “If I have any system, it consists in this, that always as far as possible I keep in mind what Kierkegaard spoke of as the infinite qualitative difference between time and eternity … God is in heaven, you are on earth.”

Some books to check out:


Kierkegaard’s Concept of Anxiety - summary

Kierkegaard’s theory of consciousness leads directly to his theory of anxiety. It appears in a small book entitled “The Concept of Anxiety,” written in 1844 and published under the pseudonym Vigilius Haufniensis or Watcher of the Marketplace.
This purports to be a psychological deliberation on the problem of original sin, in which Vigilius tries to reconstruct Adam’s mental state before the Fall.(Palmer, 58)
Kierkegaard understands anxiety to be both the attraction to and the repulsion from the nothingness of future possibilities. Thus, anxiety is not simply a psychological state, mood or feeling, but is an ontological structure essential to human being and is the mark of human freedom. Anxiety is that which psychology refers to in seeking an explanation to free human choices. Further, anxiety is an explanation of choice only in the sense that it explains the possibility of choice; it does not and cannot explain the cause of this or that particular choice.

We must add to all this Kierkegaard’s more technical definition of anxiety: “ Anxiety is the sympathetic antipathy and an antipathetic sympathy.” (Palmer, 61)

see also: Fear and Trembling

Some books on Kierkegaard to check out:


Kierkegaard's Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy - short summary

At the core of Kierkegaard's work is the rejection of systematized, logical thought as an adequate guide to life and meaning. His chief target was Hegel, whose philosophical system was seen by many in the mid-nineteenth century as able to explain virtually everything.

1. On Hegel’s Absolute Mind
1.1.  Hegel believed that the structure of the universe is at the same as the structure of God’s mind (Absolute mind), so if one reaches an ultimate understanding of logical structure of the world or universe one has simultaneously reached an ultimate understanding of the logical structure of God’s mind. 
1.2. Kierkegaard vigorously attacks Hegel’s belief in the supremacy of the rational mind by pointing out the fact that our mortal nature places limits on our understanding of reality. 

2. On Hegel’s Dialectical Method
3.1Instead of Hegel’s dialectical approach to knowledge which effectively means embracing opposing positions and bringing them together and Hegel’s stress on the dominance of reason and philosophy, Kierkegaard substituted the disjunction ‘Either/Or’ and the primacy of faith over reason. 
3.2  Kierkegaard argued that the ‘movement’ in the synthesis is not explained. If the synthesis is fully contained in the thesis and antithesis, then the synthesis is no real progression at all. On the other hand, if there is something new in the synthesis, then the movement is not strictly rational, as something new must have been introduced that was not contained in the original pairing. 
3.3  Thus, there are logical gaps in the system. And the gaps can only be breached by a leap of faith.

Some books to check out:


Kierkegaard on Indirect communication and his Pseudonyms - summary

 Indirect communication
Kierkegaard perceptively observed that although direct communication can be very effective in communicating facts or information, it cannot adequately catalyse the realisation of subjective truth, which is the only type of truth that potentially can evolve a person’s consciousness− for this purpose an indirect tactic is needed.According to him, “All communication of knowledge is direct communication. All communication of capability is indirect communication.” (Watts, 63)

a. It was not to conceal his identity
b. They were also used to prevent his readers from treating his work as ‘authoritative knowledge.’
c. It also allowed him to reveal more of what he thought and felt.
d. He also believed that others would not consider him an ‘authority’ worth listening to,
e. They were also used to present his ideas about life from different points of view. (Watts 65-66)

Some books to check out:


Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Indirect Speech Act - summary

In the course of performing speech acts we ordinarily communicate with each other. The content of communication may be identical, or almost identical, with the content intended to be communicated.
However, the meaning of the linguistic means used (if ever there are linguistic means, for at least some so-called "speech acts" can be performed non-verbally) may also be different from the content intended to be communicated. One may, in appropriate circumstances, request Peter to do the dishes by just saying, "Peter ...!", or one can promise to do the dishes by saying, "Me!" One common way of performing speech acts is to use an expression which indicates one speech act, and indeed performs this act, but also performs a further speech act, which is indirect. One may, for instance, say, "Peter, can you open the window?", thereby asking Peter whether he will be able to open the window, but also requesting that he does so. Since the request is performed indirectly, by means of (directly) performing a question, it counts as an indirect speech act.
Indirect speech acts are commonly used to reject proposals and to make requests. For example, a speaker asks, "Would you like to meet me for coffee?" and another replies, "I have class." The second speaker used an indirect speech act to reject the proposal. This is indirect because the literal meaning of "I have class" does not entail any sort of rejection.

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