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.

>Kierkegaard the Wagnerian?

>I was recently giving a paper on Kierkegaard’s discussion of Mozart’s opera, Don Giovanni, in Either/Or at a music and phenomenology study day.  I’d already thought about the reference to the medieval legend of the Venus Mountain in that section of Either/Or, as possibly connected with with Wagner’s opera Tannhäuser, which refers to that legend.  I was  asked by an audience member  if Kierkegaard was influenced by Wagner.  That person was I think a musicologist, but probably not a Wagnerian, as the answer is definitely no.

It is certainly possible in chronological terms that Kierkegaard might have influenced Wagner.  They were born in the same year (1813) though Wagner lived much longer (until 1883) than Kierkegaard (until 1855).  Either/Or was published in 1843, and Wagner premiered Tannhäuser in 1845.  On the other hand, it looks like Wagner was working on the opera from 1842, and it is definitely 1843 that Kierkegaard came on to the philosophical (and literary and religious) stage with two books other than Either/Or (Fear and Trembling and Repetition) and some sermons.  Wagner’s emergence as a ‘Wagnerian’ composer is associated with The Flying Dutchman, premiered in 1843 and he seems to have worked on it from 1840.

Kierkegaard was writing in Danish and was not translated at all into German until much later in the century.  I think some may have been translated in the 1870s, but Nietzsche never seems to have read Kierkegaard, despite encouragement from the  Danish literary critic Georg Brandes.  In general, Kierkegaard seems to only have had a major impact in German speaking countries starting in the early years of the Twentieth century.  Kafka, Adorno, and Wittgenstein are among the first wave of major Germanic writers with a strong awareness of Kierkegaard.

What links Kierkegaaard and Wagner is common sources, the way that German writers of their generation, and the generation before, like Heine and Tieck had dealt with the legends of Medieval Germany, and the general Germanic and Scandinavian interest of that period in folklore, legend, and Medievalism.  This common cultural influences, extend to shared attitudes towards the erotic, even if the lives of Wagner and Kierkegaard were very different on that issue.  Kierkegaard could be seen as a Parsifal figure, in contrast to Wagner’s own life, but it is of course important that Wagner could feel so drawn to that type of character.  Kierkegaard’s own interest in the seducer, which is particularly clear in Either/Or, in the long discussion of Don Giovanni, and in the novella within Either/Or, ‘Diary of a Seducer’, creates symmetry with Wagner on that issue.

Wagner’s interest in opera as the absolute work of at certainly connects with Kierkegaard’s way of writing which is often totalising and  synthesising in tendency, though also ironic, disintegrative, and fragmented.  What Kierkegaard says when discussing philosophical aesthetics and literary philosophy engages with the German Romanticism and Idealism, which is also at the background of Wagner’s aesthetic attitudes.  It would not do to say they have the same attitudes, but there is certainly much to compare, and Either/Or gives some insight into why there might be someone like Wagner, particularly when Kierkegaard makes opera the highest form of art, in which the others can be found in emergent form.  Kierkegaard connects Don Giovanni with poetry, epic, and theatre, even will emphasising the absolute purity of music.  It is the absolute nature of music which leads it to express itself as poetry, and other art forms.

The most obvious philosophical interest of Wagner’s was Schopenhauer.  As far as I know, Kierkegaard only became aware of Schopenhauer late in life, and never deeply engaged with his texts.  Schopenhauer can be brought into a discussion which Kierkegaard and Wagner, along with Nietzsche, and along with the philosophy, literary criticism, and literature of Germany from the 1780s to the 1830s.

Kierkegaard and Wagner, certainly a comparison deserving further investigation.

>Hobbes and Kierkegaard on Bees, Humanity, Politics and Art

>Recently I noticed a passage  in Søren Kierkgaard, Either/Or I (1843), ‘The Insignificant Introduction’ to ‘The Immediate Erotic Stages of the Musical-Erotic’, which is is largely on Mozart’s Don Giovanni. In the passage which caught my eye (Either/Or Part I, edited and translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 1987, page 50), Kierkegaard says that art of genius cannot purely be the product of the artist.  Kierkegaard’s explanation is that if art was purely the product of the producer, then art would be produced in the same way that the cells of a honeycomb are produced by bees.  As the cells are identical, and great works of art are not identical, there are is a strong reason for saying no art is the pure product of the individual artist.  This gives Kierkegaard the opportunity to introduce issues of accident and of the ideational content of art.

I was reminded of Hobbes comments about the difference between humans and other kinds of social animals like bees and ants in Leviathan(1651).  The passage can be found in ‘Part II: Of Commonwealth’, Chapter XVII ‘Of the Causes, Generation, and Definition of a Commonwealth’, ‘Why Certain Creatures Without Reason, or Speech, Do Nevertheless Live in Society Without Any Coercive Power’.  Hobbes argues that bees can live together without what can be described as a a sovereign power, an artificial man, a commonwealth, civil power, or what we would now call a state, because they do not have language.  Since they do not use words, they cannot deceive other bees.  Without deception, through the rhetorical misuse of words, bees have a community which exist without coercion.  According to Hobbes, the way that a political community arises from ethics in Aristotle, could not apply to humans and can only apply to bees, and similar creatures.

In Kierkegaard, if art came purely from within ourselves, we would not be capable of producing distinct works of art.  We could only produce in the way that bees produce.  Humans can only exercise choice in the creation of art, if what is from outside the individual is part of that creation

In Hobbes, bees are lacking in the manipulative possibility of words, so can only co-operate with each other fully.  They just cannot choose to live any other way.  Humans must create a state, in one of its possible forms .  They must exercise choice

We are not bees, because we have a state and we have works of art.