Kierkegaard on Reality, Ethics and Faith: Reading The Concept of Anxiety VI

The third paragraph of the Introduction to The Concept of Anxiety continues with a discussion of reconciliation and atonement in philosophy. Kierkegaard is using the ambiguity of the Danish word Forsoning, which can mean both. The translators of the Princeton University Press edition, Raidar Thomte and Albert B. Anderson, translate Forsoning as ‘reconciliation’, leaving ‘atonement’ to be explained in an end note as a possible translation. It is the case that ‘reconciliation’ can be taken to include situations of atonement, but this does not really show the full force of Kierkegaard’s thought on the issue. It is a double manoeuvre since Kierkegaard both draws attention to the duality of meaning in Forsoning, while arguing against a confusion of logic and ethics, which might be a possible consequence of fusing philosophical reconciliation and religious atonement, though Kierkegaard does not say so directly. He focuses rather on ethics and dogmatics becoming confused, which he says is enhanced by the idea λόγος (logos) has it doctrine in logic, confusing the nature of dogmatics (assertions of Christian faith) since that is considered to be λόγος (logos). Presumably, what Kierkegaard is getting at there is that the word of God as λόγος (logos) is the object of theological dogmatics. Ethics and dogmatic fight over reconciliation in a fateful borderland, as Kierkegaard says in one sentence towards the end of the paragraph. This seems to be the consequence of the confusion of spheres. What he seems to be aiming as is the separation of logic from dogmatics, and the separation of ethics from dogmatics, though ethics can only be fully understood with regard to dogmatics. I take that to be a reference to the superiority of religious language, the language of the absolute, over ethical language, the language of the universal. Claims which structure two books published the year before The Concept of Irony: Fear and Trembling and Either/Or. We lose site of the absolute relationship of the self with the absolute in religion, if we think of logic here. The categories of logic are inadequate here, not that Kierkegaard is proposing the loss of reasoned language when discussing, faith, the religious and dogmatics. Reasoned language suffers from over extending logic, which Kierkegaard understands more as metaphysics than as formal logic. As he makes clear later in The Concept of Irony, the distinction between metaphysics and dogmatics is fundamental to understanding ethics and sin.

What Kierkegaard focuses on with regard to the philosophical aspects of ‘reconciliation/atonement’ is the reconciliation of thought on the whole with reality. He takes that to be a basic assumption through antiquity and the Middle Ages up to the philosophy of Kant. Kierkegaard seems to be mocking German Idealism in general at some points, but the overall argument is to distinguish Kant and Schelling from Hegel, who is the major target. Schelling is the one who comes out most favourably, as Kant is mentioned in connection with scepticism, and Hegel is mentioned as concealing the consequences of Kant’s scepticism with a dubious understanding of that scepticism. Schelling is the one who has an honest answer, which is in terms of intellectual intuition. Kierkegaard (or his pseudonymous persona Vigilius Haufniensis) assumes the  reader understands the reference. The footnoting of Thomte and Anderson is very thorough on this point, but not very helpful for those who do not have the collected works of Schelling in German to hand. The best way of checking ‘intellectual intuition‘ in Schelling is to to use the Peter Heath translation  of  System of Transcendental Idealism (University Press of Virginia, 1978). Ownership, or at least use, of this is the cornerstone of any study of Schelling in English. An online German text can be found at,+Friedrich+Wilhelm+Joseph/System+des+transzendenten+Idealismus, but not with the pagination used by Thomte and Anderson. As I reminded myself, ‘intellectual intuition’ in Schelling refers to the self’s knowledge of itself, in which the knowledge of that thing is the same as its existence. There is no way of distinguishing my awareness of my own self, and the existence of that self. This is evidently a modification of Descartes famous suggestion that I think therefore I am, along with whatever bits of Medieval and late Antique philosophy you might think anticipate Descartes on this point, Augustine and Avicenna are the most frequent references on this point. The context of reaction to Kant and Fichte is very different from Descartes’ context though, and Schelling is trying to show how the sensory and theoretical aspects of knowledge can be reconciled, in a manner that  puts the productivity of the self at the centre. The status of the intellectual intuition is made concrete in artistic production, according to Schelling.

There more to add about Schelling and Kierkegaard, along with related issues, but that will have to wait for the next post on The Concept of Anxiety, which will be third and last on the Introduction.

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