Intro to Philosophy Lesson 9: Søren Kierkegaard Faith, Reason, and Passion
Søren Kierkegaard • 1813 – 1855 • Copenhagen, Denmark • Fear and TremblingPurity of HeartConcluding Unscientific PostscriptWorks of Love • “Worldly wisdom thinks that love is a relationship between man and man. Christianity teaches that love is a relationship between: man-God-man, that is, that God is the middle term.”
Context: “Hegelianism” Hegel’s philosophy suggests that God (“The Absolute”) was the condition for humans to know themselves as subjects—but that the Absolute was a process of actualization in time (i.e., “history”) History was a development of rationality, the essence of the Absolute, by way of dialectical synthesis that will culminate, in a rather linear fashion, once history has been perfected by this process. For Hegel, faith (in any religious context) is a symbolic, and therefore insufficient, effort at conceptualizing the Absolute. He suggested that whatever content faith had should be eventually “rationalized” and to discard the rest. Ethics (Sittlichkeit), for Hegel, was a matter of the individual conforming to ever-increasing circles of social groups. The individual is obligated to the broader social whole. An important thing to keep in mind is that Kierkegaard’s primary target was not Hegel himself, but rather the brand of “Hegelianism” that had infiltrated the theological and pastoral circles of Danish culture and religion.
Reading Abraham • Kierkegaard used the story of the ‘Binding of Isaac’ as a launching for his broader criticism of Hegelianism as well as a way to put forward his own nascent views. • This story in Abraham’s life in particular has radical implications if we see Abraham as the hero of the story: • Murder of one’s children can be justified • Obligations to God can supersede social obligations • We can (and should) act upon paradoxical understanding
The Knight of Infinite Resignation • The Knight of Infinite Resignation represents a common way of conceiving of Christian ethics. • If God is our absolute value then we have to resign ourselves to everything, in a sense, in order to make that more than an empty claim. • This “Knight” stops at the movement of resignation • Heroes: • Agamemnon sacrificed his daughters for the good of Greece • Jepthah sacrificed his daughter for the good of Israel • Brutus killed his sons for plotting against Rome
The Knight of Faith The paradoxical thing about Abraham is that he makes both the movement of resignation and the movement of reconciliation—He wants Isaac back. The ‘Knight of Faith’ is someone who has resigned himself to the goods that this world can provide for him, but also engages in anything “worldly.” For Kierkegaard, the difference is that whereas one sacrifices for the sake of the social order—and consequently receives all of the privileges and honors of that society; the other sacrifices the good the social order can give to him in order to re-engage in the social order without selfishness.
Major Points of Emphasis • Kierkegaard criticizes Hegel for positing an “Absolute” that is rather the culmination of a broken social order (and for romanticizing the historical process) – and challenges people to embrace a God who is truly “holy” or transcendent. • Truth as Subjectivity: • This is Kierkegaard’s main point of philosophical interaction. • Kierkegaard contrasts theoretical knowledge with “passion” –suggesting that when we grasp something objectively we do not really grasp it until we have “appropriated” it in our lives, which leads to a purifying process in which we are lead to God. • The “Attack Upon Christendom” • During the last years of Kierkegaard's life he produces a number of books, pamphlets, and newspaper and journal articles (in his own name) that directly criticize the Danish church (and therefore society and state) for not being true to “New Testament Christianity.”