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Kierkegaard for President. What is Existentialism? No adequate definition A loose term for philosophers with “family resemblances” in terms of questions,

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Presentation on theme: "Kierkegaard for President. What is Existentialism? No adequate definition A loose term for philosophers with “family resemblances” in terms of questions,"— Presentation transcript:

1 Kierkegaard for President

2 What is Existentialism? No adequate definition A loose term for philosophers with “family resemblances” in terms of questions, concepts, and view of the place of human beings in the universe A philosophy of rebellion focusing on the individual and problem of existence “A reaction, led by Kierkegaard, against the abstract rationalism of Hegel’s philosophy. As against Hegel’s conception of ‘absolute consciousness’ within which all oppositions are supposedly reconciled, Kierkegaard insisted on the irreducibility of the subjective, personal dimension of human life.” Oxford Companion to Philosophy

3 “In contrast to much of the philosophical tradition, which has sought to understand a human as a thing or an object of a particular sort, existentialists have characterized human existence as involving a profound tension or conflict, an ongoing struggle between opposing elements.” Guignon & Pereboom, Existentialism: Basic writings (1995) In the strict sense a post-WWII phenomenon

4 Theistic existentialism (Kierkegaard, Jaspers): find a meaning and content for one’s life in a commitment and relation to the absolute Secular existentialism (Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, Camus): accept this tension and live with maximum lucidity and intensity

5 G.F.W. Hegel ( ) Absolute idealism: can be understood as simply adding an element of time to Spinozism or a capacity for dynamic self-realization of the one God Consciousness: introduces a break (gap, split, fissure) into the order of nature; ability to step back and reflect, to question Constant desire to close gap, resolve tension For Hegel the problem is resolved through rational dialectic, which mediates all oppositions

6 Søren Kierkegaard ( ) Life Writings: Journals & Papers: 20 volumes Collected Works: 20 Volumes “What hope can one entertain that one will fall into the hands of readers wholly ex improviso [without expectancy]?” From the Papers of One Still Living

7 Kierkegaard’s Writings Early Academic and Polemic writings: From the Papers of One Still Living (1838), The Concept of Irony with Constant Reference to Socrates (1841) “The Authorship Proper”  The Pseudonymous Works (“aesthetic productivity”): Either/Or, Fear and Trembling, The Concept of Anxiety, Concluding Unscientific Postscript  The Veronymous Works (“religious productivity”): Edifying Discourses, Christian Discourses, Works of Love Posthumous Works: The Point of View for My Work as an Author

8 Reading Kierkegaard Task: ”to make difficulties everywhere” The problem of pseudonymity Existential truth and indirect communication  “ The thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find that idea for which I want to live and die.” (Papers, 1835)  “ Only the truth which edifies is truth for you.” (Either/Or, 1843)  “ Truth is subjectivity.” (Concluding Unscientific Postscript, 1845) Central problem: What does it mean to become a Christian?

9 Early Journal Entry: Gilleleie, Aug. 1, 1835

10 S.K. expresses desire to “get clear about what I am to do,” find “my purpose,” “a truth that is true for me…the idea for which I am willing to live and die,” “focal point,” “an anchor in the boundless sea of pleasure as well as in the depths of knowledge.” “One must first learn to know oneself before knowing anything else.” “Of what use is objective truth…if it has no deeper meaning for me and my life?” Nevertheless, S.K. acknowledges an “imperative of knowledge.” Very difficult task (like Sisyphus’); “an inward action of the person, this God-side of the person, is decisive.”

11 The Concept of Irony with Continual Reference to Socrates (1841) “If we are looking for a clear exposition, we look in vain.” Magisterial dissertation with fifteen theses: Languages, Defense, Hegelian? “As philosophy begins with doubt so also that life which is worthy of a human being begins with irony.” 15th Thesis

12 Part One: The Position of Socrates Viewed as Irony (The Phenomenon) Xenophon: apostle of finitude, focuses on empirical actualty, the useful Plato: provides Socrates with the idea, the importance of questioning is in the answers Aristophanes: parodies Socrates, comic view as corrective element, the importance of questioning without an interest in the answers Socrates’ existence was irony. It was the point of departure for his activity.

13 Part Two: The Concept of Irony (Development of the Concept) The World-Historical Validity of Irony, The Irony of Socrates Irony: a qualification of subjectivity (the first appearance of subjectivity in Socrates)  infinite (doesn’t negate this or that phenomenon)  absolute (that by virtue of which it negates is a higher something that still is not)  negativity (only negates) directed against the whole of existence; actuality has lost its validity

14 Socrates’ position: “whole substantial life of Greek culture (actuality) had lost validity for him; his life was demanding the actuality of subjectivity, of ideality” “An individual may be world-historically justified yet unauthorized”—a sacrifice “The Concept of Irony not only treats of irony, but is irony.” (A contemporary Danish Reviewer)

15 Help, my friend needs a life! ”Wine no longer cheers my heart...pleasure disappoints.” ”How empty and utterly meaningless life is.” ”I feel as if I were a piece in a game of chess, when my opponent says of it: That piece cannot be moved!”

16 Either/Or, A Fragment of Life (1842) Edited by Victor Eremita An example of Kierkegaard’s method of Indirect Communication Volume I: The Aesthetic Life (by A) Mood: Witty, ironic, disillusioned Pleasure/Enjoyment: the highest goal of this life Hedonistic & egotistic Immediacy: direct sense experience, sensuousness, erotic Reflection: mediation of experience in thought, this characterizes Johannes, who is lives for the moment but is never present in the moment

17 Boredom is the great threat to this way of life, therefore “the Rotation Method” is necessary  Why is boredom such a threat and how does the rotation method ward off boredom?  Why must someone who lives the aesthetic life not “stick fast” to anything—not have friends, not marry, not have a career? Since the satisfaction of one’s desires does not endure, and one cannot continually satisfy oneself, the aesthetic life leads to despair.

18 Volume II: The Ethical Life (by Judge William) “The Aesthetic Validity of Marriage” Romantic Love  sensuous, immediate—not eternal  conquering nature (striving for what one lacks)  outer history, which is no true history, of minor significance  can be portrayed poetically Marital Love  possessing nature (one has a love relationship)  inner history (only true history), every single  moment is of utmost significance  time has great reality, i.e., one struggles in time to be faithful  eternal validity: the relationship continues in time without end  cannot be portrayed poetically, can only be lived by being continually repeated and realized in an actual life

19 “The Balance between the Aesthetic and the Ethical in the Development of the Personality” The Philosophy of Either/Or: A passionate plea for meaningful choice What is the difference between A’s either/or and William’s either/or? Choice is crucial for the content of the personality: through the choice the personality submerges itself in that which is being chosen, which has the deepest relation to one who is choosing

20 The energy, pathos (passion) is of great importance. The absolute either/or is between choosing or not, “choice” is an ethical category through which one becomes what one becomes. One becomes a Self (the absolute, which has eternal validity, i.e., it doesn’t vary with time and place) which has a history and is an expression of freedom…what happens to one is transformed from necessity to freedom. …the only way to understand God is to appropriate in freedom everything that comes to one, both the happy and the sad.

21 The ethical doesn’t want to destroy the aesthetic but transfigure it…to live ethically it is necessary to become conscious of oneself, transparent to oneself, to choose oneself=to know oneself. The choice has a self-determining aspect: one acquires values and a history that will structure one’s experience, in other words one acquires oneself and becomes what one becomes.

22 Criticism of A  aesthetic choice is no choice, the options aren’t meaningful  moral indifference, no values, no good and evil  the aesthete has no history, no true self  He is lacking a moral framework or self that will structure his experience.  choose despair! Why?

23 How do you now interpret the significance of the pseudonyms Victor Eremita, A, and Judge William?

24 The Stages of Existence Aesthetic:  Hedonistic, live for momentary pleasures, satisfy one’s desires  Life of immediacy and reflection (finite ends)  Acts without constraints or consideration for the future  Boredom and pain are the enemy; despair Ethical:  Choice, commitment and responsibility  Duty to universal rules  Realization of not being able to live up to duty; guilt Religious:  Fulfillment, paradoxical inward movement of the individual which places the particular above the universal in a relationship to the Absolute (Infinite)  “simultaneously to be out on 70,000 fathoms of water and yet to be joyful”

25 Towards the Religious Stage Either/Or: Volume Two: Ultimatum  “The Edification Implied in the Thought that as Against God We are Always in the Wrong” Edifying/Upbuilding Discourses  “To Need God is a Human Being’s Highest Perfection”  Preface (pp )

26 Fear and Trembling (1843) by Johannes de Silentio Who was Abraham? “The Father of Faith” (Genesis 22)Genesis Why is being a “Knight of Infinite Resignation” the first step toward having faith in God? 2. Why is a “Knight of Faith” delighted with life on this earth? 3. What is “the teleological suspension of the ethical”?

27 Johannes de Silentio’s Knights Knight of Infinite Resignation To resign is “to give up possession of” Humanly possible, doesn’t require faith Gain one’s eternal consciousness Easily recognized, “walk is light and bold” Knight of faith Most difficult of all Paradoxically and by the power of the absurd one receives everything Likely to disappoint, belongs entirely to the world (but changed consciousness) Calm and composed, lets things take care of themselves Humanly impossible, a gift of God

28 1. Why is being a “Knight of Infinite Resignation” the first step toward having faith in God?  Infinite resignation gives up (resigns) infinitely many things in the world and brings one closer to the infinite. By doing this one becomes aware of one’s eternal consciousness and that what one really needs is God. 2. Why is a “Knight of Faith” delighted with life on this earth?  He believes that “with God all things are possible” and that God will give him everything he wants (eventually). Thus he’s always joyful. If he gets what he wants (e.g., a nice meal) that’s fine; if not, that’s fine too (since he’s resigned). Like someone who’s found the person of one’s dreams, he’s got all he wants and everything is wonderful.

29 What is “the teleological suspension of the ethical”? Telos = end, purpose The ethical = the universal, applies to everyone at all times (E.g., “Thou shall not kill…especially one’s own son!) Abraham should not be confused with a Tragic Hero (whose telos is a higher expression of the ethical) Abraham suspends the ethical for the higher purpose of his personal relationship to God. Abraham’s faith suggests the paradox that the single individual is higher than the universal.


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