Kierkegaard’s Concluding Themes in the Introduction: The Concept of Anxiety XI

So far progress has been very slow getting through the Introduction to The Concept of Anxiety. However, it is now time to speed up. A lot of basic terms and necessary background has been clarified, at some length and after paragraph 11 there is not so much need for explanations. No listing of paragraphs, but a discussion of what Kierkegaard, writing under the pseudonym of Vigilius Haufniensis, has to say in the last few pages.

It is after paragraph 11 that Kierkegaard really outlines the idea of a second ethics that begins in dogmatics rather than in metaphysics, as happens in the first ethics.  That idea of ethics from metaphysics itself refers back to Aristotle’s idea of  first philosophy, to be found in his Metaphysics. Kierkegaard refers to that suggestion in Aristotle and further comments that Aristotle’s metaphysics (also referred to under the label of pagan metaphysics) contains what came to to be regarded as theology. Though Kierkegaard does not say so, or certainly not directly, that seems to suggest that the metaphysics that is the starting point for the first ethics, contains some elements connected with the dogmatics that provides the basis for the second ethics. Dogmatics means the branch of theology concerned with Christian beliefs (I have never seen it used in reference to other religions and I don’t know whether it is used in the context of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism etc), where it does not have the negative connotations that ‘dogma’ or ‘dogmatic’ has acquired in other contexts.

Immanuel Lévinas, in Totality and Infinity (1961) suggests that it is a Jewish philosophy to make ethics first philosophy as opposed to Greek philosophy which makes ontology first philosophy. Lévinas puts Kierkegaard on the side of Greek philosophy. I do not know how deeply Lévinas studied Kierkegaard, but he seems to have overlooked how Kierkegaard rather challenges the ethical-metaphysical distinction, so that in Kierkegaard the important topic is ethics, and the major question is does ethics come from metaphysics-ontology or from dogmatics. The effect is to make ethics first philosophy in some sense, since the central concern is where can we located ethics. Of course, from Kierkegaard’s point of view, dogmatics has some priority over ethics, because it is what constrains ethics and gives it a proper starting point. The issue in Kierkegaard’s philosophy is that ethics  refers to subjectivity, though it is universal in content since ethics must be the ethics of some individual. As Kierkegaard suggests in the Introduction, dogmatics provides the sin which is part of the single individual [Enkelte] in a way that metaphysics-ontology cannot. The first ethics pulls the individual towards the whole race since it demands too much of the isolated individual.  The second ethics shows a way that the ideal can come  up from individual. That characteristic rests on the hereditary sin within dogmatics. Second ethics does not explain sin, it takes sin as a given.

Kierkegaard compares that with the role of the vortex in Greek science, possibly referring to the random swirl of atoms in Atomistic-Eipicurean philosophy, most readily to be found in Lucretius. That is a rather strange comparison since the Lucretian view was for a long time the very definite enemy for Christian theology, and by using it Kierkegaard may be hinting at an acceptance of Enlightenment and not just the most moderate and conservative version of Enlightenment. If we take Vico as typical of conservative Enlightenment, in the New Science, we can see a commitment to the work of providence in the ideal pattern of history, an idea directed at Lucretianism. Kierkegaard further shows his appreciation of Enlightenment with favourable comments on Schleiermacher. What we can draw from that exactly is a topic that will have to dealt with separately some time from now. For now we can just note that Kierkegaard makes a comparison between Schleiermacher and Hegel favourable to the former. The criticism of Hegel is that he claims to know too much, and what lies behind this is that Kierkegaard sees the task of philosophy, theology and ethics as being too investigate the subjective, the individual.

With the ethics based on dogmatics, sin is not necessary. Necessity belongs to the whole state of something, like the whole history of a plant,  and freedom is possibility. Freedom cannot just be possibility, it must be actuality since like God, the possibility of freedom is an argument for its actuality. Kierkegaard very quickly extends the argument that if we can think of God must exist, to freedom as what must exist if we can think of it. My ideas at present of what Kierkegaard means is that the capacity to think is itself tied up with freedom, and that become very clear when we think of freedom, since the idea of it can only come from the actuality of it within the thinking individual.

Psychology deals with the mind that experiences freedom and sin, but is not able to explain those phenomena. Psychology can observe sin, but cannot explain it since unlike ethics it  only observes and never judges. The issue of sin for Kierkegaard is one that cannot be described fully without going beyond immediate empirical description. It is not only metaphysics that is impure in containing parts of theology, but dogmatics is impıre in relation to ethics since it contains non-ethical content, such as beliefs about angels. There is maybe a hint here that Kierkegaard does not take teachings about angels very seriously, and regards the questions of individuality and sin as the real content of Christianity. Sin is important in establishing the reality of Christianity, since for Kierkegaard we can observe it an immediate way, but cannot explain it without resort to what goes beyond immediate observation. Psychology is presented as definitively inadequate for discussions of why there is original sin. Its existence for Kierkegaard is tied up with subjectivity and individuality in ways that require us to go beyond descriptions of immediate states, and the state of something is how it exists over time anyway. Immediate experience is never enough to explain what endures over time.

There is a suggestion that repetition has the same relation to metaphysics that second ethics has to dogmatics. In that case, first ethics is maybe confused version of repetition. The subject matter of repetition is taken back to recollection in Ancient Greece, presumably with Plato’s doctrine of recollection in mind. Thşs both suggests that we have knowledge of pure objects of knowledge and that the knowledge is contained deep within our subjective existence. It is the subjectivity that concerns Kierkegaard and how it might disrupt ideas of subjectless knowledge. Repetition is transcendence, which Kierkegaard discusses in Repetition, the year before The Concept of Anxiety, with regard to the subjective experience of going beyond immediacy, the momentary and the descriptive in a repetition of an act with some transcending transformative result. The ambiguity within first philosophy/metaphysics around theology, is explained as the theatrical nature of religion in paganism, where illusion is mistaken for some great object. Theatre and dramatisation of action are important in Repetition, but in order to investigate subjectivity and individuality.


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