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

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.



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 on Faith and Immediacy: Reading The Concept of Anxiety V


A one sentence comment at the beginning of the Introduction defines it as concerned with deliberation on a psychological matter that becomes a matter of (theological) dogmatics. That is presumably the transition from the psychology of anxiety to the dogmatics of hereditary sin. Kierkegaard (writing under the pseudonym of Vigilius Haufniensis) begins the main body of the Introduction with reference to the nature of science, presumably the science of psychology is what is at issue. Scientific issue have a limited and defined place within science as a whole. There are two things this serves. The first is the pious and melancholic love of the scientist for science. It is what restrains the scientist from lawlessness and losing sight of the mainland. The second purpose served is to prevent the deliberation from going beyond its proper limits. This prevents going too far in scope and bringing things that differ too much into agreement, and going beyond the scope of existing knowledge. This resembles some of Kant’s comments on the limits of knowledge, and is probably directed against Hegel for going too far in claiming to have a complete system. However, there is also some resemblance with Hegel’s criticisms of subjectivism, of putting an isolated individual point of view at the centre.

The following paragraph confirms that Kierkegaard’s main target is Hegel, though we should keep in mind the qualifications above. In particular, he attacks Hegel for ending the Science of Logic with a section on Actuality. Kierkegaard argues that logic and actuality are both served poorly by such a move as they do not belong together. We cannot understand the contingency of Actuality through the nature of logical judgements; logic cannot appropriate Actuality, it can only presuppose it.

The argument moves from Hegel (though not for long) to the nature of faith. Kierkegaard suggests that a fault is widespread in thought about faith and religion, even amongst orthodox believers, which parallel’s Hegel’s error in trying to assimilate Actuality into Logic.That is where theological dogmatics refers to faith as immediate. Kierkegaard does not directly suggest which dogmatics is at fault, he is presumably attacking Danish theologians of the time, which still leaves the question how much of a place this error as in the history of theology, and whether it affects the great theologians. Kierkegaard never does much to locate his writing within theological tradition. His point here is that faith itself rests on historical presupposition. If we ignore that faith loses, since we overlook its real nature, and dogmatics loses since it does not deal with the real beginning of faith. The failure to grasp this is the first error for Kierkegaard, so it looks like a core idea for him. He refers to immediacy as a legitimate topic for logic, so the problem is not the idea of immediacy, but of placing faith there, just like Hegel apparently puts actuality there. The idea of a historical presupposition might suggest that Kierkegaard is thinking of a philosophy of history as the appropriate reference for faith rather than categories of logic. That might just be a way back to Hegel, who could be said to have subsumed everything into philosophy of history in The Phenomenology of Spirit. Probably the right approach to Kierkegaard here is to think of him as putting history at the centre, as Hegel at least sometimes appears to, but approaching history from a different direction. Hegel is trying to unify phenomenology with logic, where Kierkegaard puts psychology, subjectivity, the single individual, and the paradox at the centre of of an approach to history, Humanity is historically located, but in the impossibility of  unity of individuals and of different generations. There is no unifying spirit unfolding history, but more the historically located individual encountering the difficulties of grasping time and history.

In logic immediacy can be properly regarded as what is immediately annulled, presumably on the Hegelian model according to which the there is no stable ‘this’ since any naming and discussing of ‘this’ loses the moment of ‘this’ at the centre of perception. Faith cannot be annulled in that way, but we may get into thinking that faith can annulled if we think of it as immediate. By implication, Kierkegaard is claiming that faith is always more than an immediate moment of encounter with God. Other parts of Kierkegaard suggests that he puts the possibility of a relation between contingency and the absolute, at the centre, including the difficulty of reconciling the contingent temporal self with the absolute self outside time. Faith is where we are dealing with that in someway rather than the immediate experience of the absolute, which leaves the experiencing subject without any way of harmonising itself with the absolute.

(We are in the middle of the long and important third paragraph of the Introduction. More on that paragraph in the next post).

Adam Smith, the City, Natural Order, Republicanism

Primary version if this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker’s Weblog

At the end of Book III, Chapter 1, ‘Of the Natural Progress of Opulence’, of An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Smith refers to a unnatural and retrograde order. What he means is the inversion of a natural progress from agriculture, to manufacture to international commerce. That natural progress is the progress from improvements in agriculture which allow the formation of towns and investments in manufacture, and a similar progress to international trade.

The unnatural event takes place in European cities where international trade has introduced new luxuries to cities. These luxuries influence domestic manufacturers who compete in that new market, and that further influences agriculture.

I’ve mentioned dialectic in Smith a few times, and Smith as bringer of dialectic into his definitive work on political economy. The idea of an unnatural order is either a break down of dialectic, or a suggestion that dialectic leads to rigid unifying forms. Writing about Pascal and Smith as dialecticians yesterday, I suggested that Pascal’s form of dialectic is more contradictory, more concerned with paradox than Smith’s. Kierkegaard also provides a model of a more paradoxical kind of dialectic, he had a good phrase for it, dialectic of the absurd.

Smith is shocked by something that is clearly inevitable, I would have thought. That is the feedback consequences of a long historical process, so that ‘older’ forms of wealth are influenced by the older forms. There is a moralism here about the influence of ‘luxuries’, not that Smith ever thinks it would be a good idea to try to restrict them. At an earlier point in The Wealth of Nations, Smith even recognises the positive impact of the wealth of towns on the surrounding countryside. He also suggests that an alliance between monarchs and cities in the Middle Ages was a good thing in hastening the end of feudalism, and the increase in free trade.

The moralism about cities appears in a slightly different form with regard to cities which are centres of political power. Smith refers to the huge waste of a royal court and its hangers on which outweighs even the wealth produced by Paris. At another point, Smith mentions the expense of royal courts and back tracks to refer to the honourable role of high royal servants. I’m disposed to believe that Smith was a covert critic of royalty. From that point of view, it;s interesting that in the discussion of the Navigation acts he repeatedly refers to what he normally calls Holland, also known then as the Dutch Republic, as the ‘maritime republic’. Smith strongly hints that royal courts continue the tradition of wasteful expenditure on hangers on, which is wealth diverted from investment, in nomad princes and the like.

The implied criticism of royal expenditure, and of the institution itself, is rather mingled with moralising about the sort of people to be found round royal courts. That lurking republicanism is maybe associated with the less rational dislike of the inversion of nature, since royal expenditure might be regarded as the diversion of economic capacity, occasioned by a premature entry of luxury goods from another country,

This odd outrage at countries which don’t follow economic stages in the right order, is in tensions with the feedback processes Smith otherwise values; and his general feeling that trade should be left alone, except where really very strong moral and national interests are at stake. It also suggests a limitation in the understanding of ‘nature’ at the time, which has natural theology somewhere within it, that is the view that everything in nature moves forward in orderly stages to an end ordained by God. I don’t think that notion is really abandoned, in general, until Nietzsche, and then later in the 19th Century when Darwinism became neo-Darwinism, and when the laws of thermodynamics led to a cultural interest in entropy in nature.

Pascal at the beginning of Modern Philosophy

Primary version of this post, with visual content, is at Barry Stocker’s Weblog.

The question of where modern philosophy begins is clearly not answerable, There’s always an earlier precedent for what someone has said, or a later really significant step beyond archaic residues, But let’s at least not just passively assume that modern philosophy began with Descartes. Even in Descartes’ time, Antoine Arnauld pointed out precedents for in Augustine for Descartes’ Cogito, in his ‘Fourth Objection’ to the Meditations on the First Philosophy (fourth of five ‘authorised’ objections to the Meditations printed with Descartes’ reply as an appendix). Of course it was Arnauld that Pascal was defending from his religious enemies, in The Provincial Letters. Søren Kierkegaard pointed out the paradoxes around saying that philosophy became modern in Descartes, as if philosophy was not claiming to be atemporal, and as if it could be reinvented again from nothing, in Johannes Climacus. In Being and Time, Martin Heidegger suggested the idebtedness of Descartes to his contemporary, the late Scholastic Francisco Suárez, somewhat messing up Descartes’ claims to have put the Scholastics in their place. Kierkegaard’s point rather undermines the discussion I have proposed, but I think Kierkegaard appreciated that we have to periodise; as always he wanted to show the inherent paradoxes of knowledge, and the absurdity of some of the formulations of Descartes’ place.

It could be Suárez, it could be Francis Bacon, it could be Montaigne, no doubt there are other contenders, so why Pascal?

1. Pascal might be the first to really give a sense that the human individual grasps itself as alien to the universe.

2. Pascal might be the first to give the sense that human nature is contradictory (between passion and reason, between reason and the senses, between mind and body), and not in a way which can be resolved by balance, moderation, or the sovereignty of reason.

3. Pascal might be the first to break with Antique notions, still very present in Montaigne and Descartes, of moderation, balance, and tranquillity, as achievable and as guiding principles for ethics and rationality.

4. Pascal might be the first to give the sense that human individual grasps itself as a concrete, particular existence preceding description or any particular perception.

5. Pascal might be the first to give a really strong sense of how different the universe is after New Science from older conceptions, when he talks about infinitely large and small, for example.

6. Pascal might be the first to give a really strong sense of humans as alien to nature.

7. Pascal may have taken a big step in scepticism beyond his predecessors. There are various ways in which Pascal picks up on sceptical elements in Ancient philosophy, and in Montaigne and Descartes. But he gets beyond the sense the earlier scepticism always has of offering a cure for illusion in a healthy life style, Scepticism is traumatic in Pascal and tied in with the trauma inherent to human existence. For Descartes scepticism cannot affect actions.

8. Pascal’s Wager might be the first bit of economic reasoning about action, an account of the trade off of benefits and costs in believing in God. It’s missing the point to think this argument is about proof of God’s existence or proof of the grounds of faith. It theorises choices and actions as guided by calculations about costs and benefits, though it looks at the conscious level it hints at the power of that at the habitual level, because the wager is about how you form a habit of belief.

9. Though Pascal takes the idea of ‘mystic foundation of law’ from Montaigne, he really creates the idea that law is absolutely and inherently unjust and violent in principle, not just in application, as I suggested in Sunday’s post.

Philosophy and Literature: Thomas Hardy’s Mayor of Casterbridge

A recent rereading of Thomas Hardy’s novel The Mayor of Casterbridge has inspired a view thoughts about philosophy and literature.

It is a novel which is particularly close to tragedy, as define dby Aristotle in The Poetics, a hero falls in the world and endures suffering as the result of an error of judgement. As a novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge repeats the situation in a structure more complex than tragedy. An Aristotelian terms. a repeated tragedy within an epic. The tight structure of tragedy is repeated across a work with the episodic associational structure of epic.

The tragic falls: Henchard sells his wife while drunk and angry with her; Henchard ruins himself later when he is a wealthy farmer and a mayor, by engaging in a reckless attempt to win a commercial battle with his ex-friend and manager Donald Farfrae; he misses the chance to marry his ex-girlfriend before Farfrae wins her over; he misses the chance to tell his step-daughter Elizabeth-Jane that he is not her biological father when he finds out himself: he misses the chance to tell the truth to Elizabeth-Jane and her biological father. He goes through many little falls due to his self-destructive character leading to our next topic.

The hero Michael Henchard has many ‘anti-hero’ qualities. He is a loner and is disposed to arbitrary destructive and self-destructive acts. He is a Dostoevskian character in this sense, and has some resemblance with the heroes of Knut Hansun, themselves presumably drawing on Dostoevsky. Like Dostoevskey’s characters he tends to promote scandal. One memorable example is his attempt to welcome a member of the Royal Family to Dorchester after he has fallen from being mayor and is a rather disreputable laboourer.

The anti-hero, I believe, receives its classical description and theorisation in Lukacs’ Theory of the Novel. Lukacs refers to the growing contradiction in the novel between the hero and the world. The hero does not see herself in the world and cannot follow the laws of the world. There is an opposition between subjectivity and the world. The hero can increasingly only exist as insane or criminal. In this argument, the anti-hero is the necessary hero of the novel since Cervantes.

The Dostoevskian aspects of Henchard, irritability, irrationality, self-destruction, provocation of scandal, excessive pride coexisting with excessive humility, draw us towards Bakhtin”s discussion of the novel through Dostoevsky in Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics. Bakhtin emphasises all these aspects of Dostoevsky in a discussion of what he takes to be the ideal form of the novel in Dostoevsky. The most Bakhtinian concern is the provocation of scandal and that leads us to the preoccupations of Rabelais and his World. Famously Bakhtin there dwells on the carnivalesque as an important moment in popular culture until recent times, referring to festival moments where social hierarchy is inverted, and power is mocked. The rise of Henchard from labourer to mayor and rich farmer, and his subsequent fall to labourer again has this structure in general. One moment in the novel particularly suggest the Carnivalesque. This is the ‘skimmity ride’ in which disreputable local characters humiliate a couple in the novel. In general the Skimmity Ride is a rural practice of mocking a couple where the wife does not ‘belong’ wholly to the husband. In this case they the locals parade large dummies of Henchard and his ex-girlfriend Lucetta. The intention is to humiliate Lucetta and her husband Donald Farfrae. The consequence is that Lucetta miscarries and dies. This is the Carnivalesque as a festival of resentment, rather then the neo-Marxist reading of Bakhtin in which the Carnival is the release of popular radical energies. In this case, the mocking of power is clearly an example of evil, and is described in terms of every kind of economic, social and psychological resentment coming to the surface. It very much suggests Rousseau on self-love and imagination, and Nietzsche on ressentiment.

In its tragic aspects, Hardy’s novel seems to confirm Hegel and Kierkegaard’s analysis of the difference between Ancient and Modern Tragedy. Ancient Tragedy refers to the burden of fate carried by a family or a nation , it refers to pollution that afflicts the hero which comes from an unconscious or inherited transgression of boundaries. In Modern Tragedy, the hero bears all this alone from deliberate willed decision. Henchard demonstrates a strong sense of unbearable guilt not just at his actions, but at his who,e existence. The novel ends with his desire to be forgotten. Elizabeth-Jane is left to reflect in a more measured novellistic way on the burdens of existence, so tragic elements are modified by the novellistic which presents a whole world or varied fortunes. The tragic elements also have to be seen in terms of Schopenhauer, whose philosophy Hardy knew,a s did many literary writers of the time. Henchard’s sense of the futility of existence is like Schopenhauer. The role of tragedy relates to Schopenhauer, as does the role of music. Henchard is partly destroyed because he normally lacks the music which communicates with his inner self, a view of music clearly taken from Schopenhauer in The World as Will and Representation.

Kierkegaard and the Danish-Norse Context

Kierkegaaad includes regular, if not very frequent, references to the old pagan Nordic world. Ragnarok, the end of the word and the Norse pantheon, and Loki, the trickster god, feature for example. Loki seems very appropriate to Kierkegaard’s own sense of constant irony. Ragnarok is appropriate to the sense of melancholy and anxiety. References to Danish literature are frequent in Kierkegaard, particularly Heiberg, and sometimes Hans Christian Anderson. There is a great sense in some of Kierkegaard’s texts of the physical geography of Copenhagen and its surroundings, as in the coach journey featured in the preface to Either/Or I. The criticisms of Hegel establish a Danish perspective on the issues discussed by Hegel. Danish subjectivity is contrasted with German objectivism, though in an indirect way. Kierkegaard certainly creates the sense that Danish Christian thought is marked by the earlier pagan Nordic world. Kierkegaard belongs to the ‘Danish Golden Age’ which included the institution of Danish as an academic language instead of Latin and as the literate and literary language instead of German. Kierkegaard’s texts are full of a struggle with German idealist universalism, and the irreducibility of subjectivity and of particularity to objectivity and universality. Kierkegaard is taking up Germanic tradition: Luther in religion; Kant, Ficthe, Schelling and Hegel in philosophy and creating something focused on individuality. We see Kant from the perspective of Loki and Ragnarok.

Fear and Trembling: Ethics of Marriage

Further thoughts while teaching Kierkegaard.

Marriage and Ethics
What is the topic of Fear and Trembling? Is it the story of Abraham and Isaac? Yes, but we should not be distracted from the other topic. This is the topic defined in the ‘Diapslamata’ of Either/Or I, in the first sentence of the section on ‘Either/Or: An Ecstatic Discourse’

Marry, and you will regret it. Do not marry, and you will also regret it. Marry or do not marry, you will regret it either way (Princeton University Press, edited and translated by Hong and Hong: 38)

Either/Or I deals with the aesthetic stage in which marriage is to long term in a perspective dominated by the interest of the immediate. Most of Either/Or II deals with the ethical stage, and that is defined by marriage. The ethical stage is presented by Judge William, the aesthetic stage in the fragments of an anonymous young man.

Marriage and the Daemonic
Fear and Trembling deals with the drama of Abraham and Isaac, but in large part it deals with relations between men and women and the possibility of marriage. There is more to be said about Fear and Trembling but will concentrate on the marriage theme which is deeply embedded. It was published in the same year as Either/Or, so we would expect some common themes. Kierkegaard deals with various ways in which the possibility of marriage, and barriers to such a possibility, are presented. In comedies, Kierkegaard gives Danish examples which seem to correspond with Hollywood Romantic Comedies in structure. A barrier to love and marriage is overcome through happy accident. In the more sombre examples, marriage is related to terrible danger. Sarah and Tobit in the Old Testament/Torah book of Tobit, are married despite the deaths of seven previous husbands of Sarah. Faust avoids marriage with Gretchen in Goethe’s poem to protect her from his daemonic side. In a very Danish touch, Kierkegaard refers to the story of Agnes and the Merman in Hans Christian Anderson, the story is non-Danish in origin but given that it was published by Anderson and that it fits with various reference Kierkegaard makes to Nordic myths and monsters, we can see it as belonging to the Danish-Nordic element Kierkegaard regularly introduces. Kierkegaard thinks of various possible alternative versions of the story of the girl seduced by a merman. They all deal with the daemonic in the merman.

Kierkegaard discusses various fictional and scriptural examples of the daemonic in the individual coming into conflict with the desire to marry, in a way which relates to Abraham’s choice between ethics and obeying God. Abraham’s solution is the paradox in which he obeys both, Kierkegaard recommends the same solution for the marriage dilemma. The ethical relation of marriage is threatened by the daemonic within the individual, the daemonic element within makes marriage apparently unethical for that person because it threatens the destruction of the loved person

Ethics and the Absolute Self
Kierkegaard recommends faith that ethics will not be contradicted in marriage, just as Abraham is a hero because he had faith that God’s command could be obeyed while remaining within ethics. Ethics must be suspended in order to preserve it. Ethics rests on the absolute, the absolute self, the absolute capacity of the individual for a decision. Ethics is always suspended in relation to that absolute, the necessity of the judging self.

By any standards, marriage can be defined as an ethical relation because it requires two people to think of at least one other person, and because it provides a basic structure for the existence of a society based on ethical principles. This is particularly clear if we think of the way Hegel thinks of marriage, it is the first step of the ethical. For Hegel, the ethical is a social form, a form of life as opposed to nature and as opposed to purely individual morality.

In the very first page of ‘Problema 1’ in Fear and Trembling, Hegel is referred to with regard to individual conscience as evil. In the section on morality and conscience in Philosophy of Right, Hegel refers to individual conscience as evil in its results, because it is purely individual. Opposing the individual to universality can only be evil. Hegel describes a move from morality to ethical life (Sittlichkeit, which is something like the being of ethos/mores), in which individuals are part of universality through marriage, family, civil society, and the state.

Absolute Individual and Marriage
The project announced in Fear and Trembling is that of showing that the individual is higher than the universal but is not evil. That should encourage us to read the Abraham/Isaac story as referring to individuality rather than God. This is very clear with the accounts of marriage dilemmas which in their most serious refer to the daemonic within an individual.

Fear and Trembling deals with the aesthetic individual who is beneath marriage and the absolute individual who is above marriage. The individual as individual is beneath and above the ethical relation or marriage. There is no complete distinction between the aesthetic individual and the absolute individual. The absolute emerges from the aesthetic through the melancholy of mere immediacy.

Islam and Kierkegaard: Abraham and Sacrifice of the Son

I’ve been teaching Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling recently in Istanbul. One advantage of teaching that text in a Muslim country, is that everyone is familiar with the story of Abraham and Isaac.

For those who don’t know it, for Jews and Christians, it is the story in Genesis 22 of Abraham commanded to kill his son Isaac by God. Abraham takes Isaac to the place of Sacrifice, but God relieves him of the sacrifice by revealing a sheep for a substitute sacrifice. Sura 37 of the Koran refers to Abraham/Ibrahim nearly sacrificing his son, which is often interpreted by Muslims as referring to Ishmael rather than Isaac/Isak; and it refers to a great sacrifice rather than a specfic animal but it is always understood as a goat or sheep.

In any case, the story is very familiar because one of the major Muslim festivals is the Sacrifice Festival, which started on the 20th December this year. The Sacrifice Festival includes the ritual sacrifice of sheep, goats, and bulls to commemorate İbrahim’s obedience and Allah’s offer of the sheep as substitute.

From Kierkegaard’s point of view the Koran story is significantly different from the version because Ibrahim tells his son of a vision of the sacrifice, and the son is willing to be sacrificed, so the trial is just as much of the son as the father. Kierkegaard emphasises Abraham no telling Isaac, as part of the emphasis on the silence appropriate to the absurd dialectic, the paradox of faith. The tragic hero may explain the problem, but not the Knight of faith.

Even if Kierkegaard had incorporated the Muslim account, I don’t think it would have been too much of a problem. Fear and Trembling includes an account of different possible stories to fill in the very sketchy original story. The possibility that the son is Ishmael not Isaac, and that the son knows of the sacrifice would not change the factors Kierkegaard discusses. It would still be a miraculous son of Abraham’s old age, and it could still be the case that Abraham did not tell his wife Sarah (mother of Isaac) of his servant Hagar (mother of Ishmael). Kierkegaard makes up the supposed silence of Abraham anyway, and if the silence was directed towards the mother that would fit with the various painful love stories Kierkegaard brings into Fear and Trembling in comparison with Abraham’s story.