On Kierkegaard

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* Book: On Kierkegaard. Susan L. Anderson. Wadsworth Philosopher Series.



By Michel Bauwens, reading notes from 2006:

Context: The focus of modern western philosophy after Descartes was on the external world, and our perception of it. Kant shifted the focus back on the subject who perceives and acts on the world, but it was a generic and abstract one. It was Kierkegaard that brought back radical subjectivity.

The book first describes his uneventful life, the rural Lutheran upbringing, against which he first reacts, with his intense existential anxiety, and then his fateful decision to break up the love of his life to be alone facing God. It describes Either/Or as a sensation (like Rousseau's Confessions in the latter's time period), and directly geared against Hegel's 'both/and' inclusivity. For Kierkegaard, life is about making choices, and Hegel dismisses that topic.

Kierkegaard was a fierce critic of his times, and of the Church in particular, because he had an extraordinarily high regard of true Christianity, which nobody practiced, including himself. Kierkegaard charges Hegel with not recognizing the subject, the individual, to only see the latter as an expression of the Zeitgeist. On the contrary, for K., 'truth is subjectivity'. Something can only be true for 'you', to the degree that it elicits passion and commitment and informs choice.

For K., it is not important 'what' we believe, but 'how' we believe, i.e. our relationship to it.

- "The truth is precisely the venture which chooses an objective uncertaintly with a passion for the infinite."

Something objectively false can be subjectively true. And it is the radical uncertainty which requires a commitment.

Either/Or: for K., man is free, and he is faced with absolute choice, about how to justify one's life. They are risky, but failing to do so means throwing one's life away.

K. says there are only 3 life choices:

   - 1) a commitment to oneself, the AESTHETIC life (to develop one's potential)
   - 2) the ETHICAL, i.e. the commitment to the welfare of others
   - 3) the RELIGIOUS, a commitment to God, and the 'irrational', which may require both the sacrifice of self, or the sacrifice of others; 
   (for example the demand to leave one's family behind). 

Aesthetic individuals want to be individual and particular, but for religious people, the requirement to abandon the universal is painful. K. advocates "purity of the heart', which means to will only one thing (and not something that appears to be one such as pleasure, honour, power).

Willing more of that one thing means being pulled in various directions and is a form of despair. Finally, he advocates passion, seen as the opposite of reflection and objectivity, but required for greatness in all 3 spheres.