Kierkegaard on Movement, Negation and Sin in Hegel; Reading The Concept of Anxiety VIII

The fourth paragraph of the Introduction to The Concept of Anxiety, including a long footnote, carries in with an ambiguous discussion of Hegel. The condemnatory aspect concentrates on the role of the negative in Hegel, starting with its role in the logic. The starting point for Kierkegaard’s discussion (presented under the pseudonym Vigilius Haufniensis) is the relation between the negative and movement in Hegel’s logic, which Kierkegaard finds most unconvincing. The negative is something that is needed but disappears in Hegel’s account, as soon as it is used, according to Kierkegaard/Haufniensis. In this respect, the negative has the same status as immediacy. Kierkegaard has already attacked Hegel’s account of immediacy, largely with regard to the danger of placing faith in the category of immediacy. Immediacy as a category in Hegel’s system disappears as soon as it is used, because according to Hegel any acknowledgement of immediacy turns into a concept, that is something which exists as more than a moment of immediacy. Kierkegaard does not want faith to disappear in this way. As he indicates in the fourth paragraph, the discussion of movement is necessary in philosophy. Discussion of movement, particularly with reference to the Ancient Greek κίνησις (kinesis) appears elsewhere in Kierkegaard, and cannot be dealt with at present, but its importance should be noted. At first, Hegel’s account of movement seems to be a disaster, springing out of the account of negation as what disappears. The point about negation is not fully explained, but is presumably a reference to the way that in Hegel negation is always a form of determination, so that defining something includes the negation of various  qualities. Negation is a necessary component of defining, because no one quality can be the complete definition, which means that any quality of a thing is negated in describing it fully, negating in limiting it in relation to other qualities.

The issue of sin in Hegel comes up, appropriately as that is the topic of The Concept of Anxiety. Following on from the assault on Hegel’s account of negation in the logic, there is an assault on the idea that sin is negation. No time to check precise references right now, but this could refer to The Phenomenology of Spirit or Lectures on the Philosophy of Right. It might refer, for example, to the Philosophy of Right account of evil emerging from the individual negating the external world as negative from a purely subjective point of view. The background to this is in Kierkegaard’s criticisms of ethics as founded on communal values in Fear and Trembling and Either/Or, both published the year before The Concept of Anxiety. What Kierkegaard is attacking, to some degree, is Hegel’s view that individual ethics should be directed by the ethical life of a community, a position that Kierkegaard believes brought comfort to antique life, but which is not adequate to a Christian understanding of individuality at the basis of sin and ethics.

Another part of the background to sin as negation is the view of Plotinus, the ancient Neo-Platonist who saw evil as negation of being. This is generally held to be a major influence on Augustine’s view of sin and evil and therefore an influence on the whole Christian tradition on evil and sin. However, Kierkegaard seems more concerned in The Concept of Anxiety with the argument about evil as it develops much later, in Kant’s position on radical evil, and in Schelling’s Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom. The Kant discussion in Religion within the Bounds of Mere Reason is more concerned with the subjective than Schelling. That difference between Schelling and Kant is discussed in paragraph three, as has been explained. The Schelling discussion of evil can be more obviously be traced back to Plotinus. On the basis of paragraph four, it seems likely that Kierkegaard thought that evil as negation should be less the topic of discussion than the transcending nature of ethics. Ethics as a logical category of negation cannot achieve what we expect of ethics, which remains stuck in the immanent, the world of experience as explained by logic. Transcendence in Kierkegaard can only be subjective (though not subjectivist or voluntarist) in basis, concerned with the single individual (Enkelte in Danish).

The footnote mollifies the account of Hegel by suggesting that Hegel was correct to bring movement into logic and to correct the categorical arrangements, presumably a reference to the Aristotelian tradition of arguments about categories and syllogistic reasoning. However, hegel used these necessary corrections to run free, as suggested in the last sentence of the footnote. The running free is not explained, but presumably refers to Hegel’s belief that he had some kind of absolute knowing and that his system captured reality, including the subjectivity of the single individual

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