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

The last two posts have been about the third paragraph of Kierkegaard’s Introduction to The Concept of Anxiety, published under the pseudonym of  Vigilius Haufniensis (Latin for something like ‘Copenhagen sentinel’). The aim has been to untangle a remarkably rich and complex bit of writing.  Having gone through some details, the time has come to try to explore the overall argument and the general significance of that passage.

The points that Kierkegaard conveys.

1. Faith (or in more philosophical terminology, the absolute relation of the self with the absolute) does not exist in an immediate way, it rests on presuppositions.

2. The problem with defining faith as immediacy is that this is a logical category, which only exists in order to negate. Here Kierkegaard  is referring to Hegel’s logic, which is a mixture of metaphysics and not very formal versions of syllogism, unified in order to create a complete picture of world as it is known through abstract categories. Right now it is not entirely clear to me how far Kierkegaard regards that as faulty and how far he regards it as just incomplete, leaving issues of subjectivity, in particular. Maybe the answer is that Kierkegaard sees Hegel as very correct within his own system, but misleading in presenting it as a complete picture of how the subjective individual has a world of experience. His account of ‘immediacy’ in Hegel’s logic suggests that he regards Hegel as guilty of some kind of intellectual manipulation which fails to account for experience, which would lead us back to subjectivity, the nature of the concrete individual as where Kierkegaard sees Hegel going wrong.

3. The questions of ethics requires references to both metaphysics and religious dogmatics, as becomes clearer later when we see that there is ethics from the point of view of metaphysics and then of dogmatics. The point here is to get ethics away from the view that questions of dogmatics are questions of God’s word, or logos, if logos is taken to be governed by logic. The drive in Kierkegaard’s argument is towards the idea that dogmatics must be grasped subjectively, as part of the self’s absolute relation with the absolute. For Kierkegaard, an account of subjectivity must be paradoxical particularly with regard to communication, temporal endurance, and any use of universal concepts. This is particularly clear in Philosophical Fragments and Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments ,which is several times longer than Philosophical Fragments (also known in English as Philosophical Crumbs).

4. We can assume that Kierkegaard regards questions of logos as something that ought to be approached from the subjective point of view, and that is the only way of getting to a good dogmatics. Dogmatics must involve some reference to the contents of the Bible and to an absolute which exists independently of our subjectivity. From The Concept of  Irony onwards, Kierkegaard rejects the more extreme kinds of subjectivism and agrees with Hegel in rejecting any immediate move from subjective experience to knowledge or faith. The point for Kierkegaard is that all the references to what is more than subjectivity, the universality of ethics and the absolute nature of God, or reality as a whole, are conditioned by the tension between subjectivity and those categories, and a tension within subjectivity itself between its more contingent and its more absolute properties.

5. If we separate dogmatics from logos as logic, and separate ethics from dogmatics, we can see the interaction between the categories of Christian doctrine, communication, logic, and ethics, which can only be held together by subjectivity, and the absolute nature of subjectivity. Subjectivity itself is not absolute, it is absolute as enduring over time compared with the contingent temporally conditioned parts of subjectivity. There is nothing absolute about any isolated subjectivity, that can only come in a relation with the absolute which itself emerges from the relation of the self with itself, that is its capacity to connect with different temporal episodes and states of itself.

6. For the paragraph in question at least, F.W.J. Schelling, has a privileged position with regard to his concept of ‘intellectual intuition’, which is brought up as an alternative to Kant’s scepticism about a correspondence between subjective experience and the objective world, on one side; and as an alternative to Hegel’s denial of the problem, on the other side. Unlike Hegel, Schelling does not eliminate subjectivity in its more meaningful aspects, since ‘intellectual intuition’ is the way that the self exists as what perceives itself. This joins the purely subjective side of the self with its concepts of reality. Schelling regards art as the way that the intellectual intuition capacity of the self becomes concrete. This could be important background for why some of Kierkegaard’s writing is philosophy as fictional literature (Repetition, Either/Or, Stages on Life’s way), and the rest is very literary in quality fiction often intervening.



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