The System

Both Peter Lombard and Erasmus wrote about words and things and signs and signification.  Here are a few videos from their writings.

This was by Peter Lombard. He was trying to define the Christian sacraments. Taken from Peter Lombard and the sacramental system translated by Elizabeth Frances Rogers.

This was from The colloquies of Erasmus. v.2. Erasmus, Desiderius, d. 1536.

Kierkegaard was also interested in systems as was John Locke.

If I ever write a next section; for an author of pieces such as I am has no seriousness of purpose, as you will doubtless hear said about me; why then should I now at the end feign a seriousness I do not have, in order to please men by making what is perhaps a great promise? It is a frivolous matter, namely, to write a piece — but to promise the System is a serious thing; many a man has become serious both in his own eyes and in those of others by making such a promise.   Soren Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments p. 80, 1844 Swenson

fragments and concluding

A house can indeed be finished even though a bell pull is lacking, but in a scholarly construction the lack of a conclusion has retroactive power to make the beginning doubtful and hypothetical, that is, unsystematic. The presupposition of the system-that faith is given-dissolves into a make-believe in which the system has made itself fancy that it knew what faith isA system that is not entirely finished is a hypothesis, whereas a half-finished system is nonsense and a fragment of a system is also nonsense. Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, 1846 Hong 13, 16, 107


John Locke on systems from An Essay on Human Understanding Book 3 1689. 

Objection. ‘Knowledge placed in our Ideas may be all unreal or chimerical’

I DOUBT not but my reader, by this time, may be apt to think that I have been all this while only building a castle in the air; and be ready to say to me:—

‘To what purpose all this stir? Knowledge, say you, is only the perception of the agreement or disagreement of our own ideas: but who knows what those ideas may be?

Is there anything so extravagant as the imaginations of men’s brains? Where is the head that has no chimeras in it? Or if there be a sober and a wise man, what difference will there be, by your rules, between his knowledge and that of the most extravagant fancy in the world?

They both have their ideas, and perceive their agreement and disagreement one with another. If there be any difference between them, the advantage will be on the warm-headed man’s side, as having the more ideas, and the more lively. And so, by your rules, he will be the more knowing. If it be true, that all knowledge lies only in the perception of the agreement or disagreement of our own ideas, the visions of an enthusiast and the reasonings of a sober man will be equally certain.

It is no matter how things are: so a man observe but the agreement of his own imaginations, and talk conformably, it is all truth, all certainty. Such castles in the air will be as strongholds of truth, as the demonstrations of Euclid. That an harpy is not a centaur is by this way as certain knowledge, and as much a truth, as that a square is not a circle.


WHAT IS MEANT BY THE TERM EXIST, when applied to sensible things. The table I write on I say exists, that is, I see and feel it; and if I were out of my study I should say it existed–meaning thereby that if I was in my study I might perceive it, or that some other spirit actually does perceive it. [Note.] There was an odour, that is, it was smelt; there was a sound, that is, it was heard; a colour or figure, and it was perceived by sight or touch. This is all that I can understand by these and the like expressions. For as to what is said of the absolute existence of unthinking things without any relation to their being perceived, that seems perfectly unintelligible. Their ESSE is PERCIPI, nor is it possible they should have any existence out of the minds or thinking things which perceive them.

A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge 
By George Berkeley 1710

cropped-god-in-the-past-or-the-future1.jpg

Back to Kierkegaard.

Now, the first total opponent of Hegel’s standpoint was Soren Kierkegaard, father of modern existentialism. Hegel had many critics in his lifetime, but they were mostly those who attacked his system because they believed that they could construct a better one themselves. But his Danish critic attacked him for being the most consistent system-builder among system-builders. In the name of Christian faith Kierkegaard rejected not this or that element in Hegelianism but the whole, referring to it in mockery as ‘the System’.  So it happens that the issue of system versus the Christian faith has been debated more than a hundred years ago. And that encounter between system and anti-system is very relevant to any examination of philosophical theology to-day. 37

Tillich dates the beginnings of existentialism from the later teachings of Schelling. In November 1842 Kierkegaard visited Germany and stayed five months in Berlin to hear Schelling lecture, having hopes that in Schilling’s declared opposition to Hegel he would find an acceptable alternative to Hegel’s system. He went away disappointed. 39

Kierkegaard’s whole teaching stresses the impossibility of uniting Christianity and speculative thought. What he termed his first authentic literature, the book Either/Or, was written on the surge of his rejection of Schelling, and its title epitomizes his practical programme. His demand is for decision, action and the leap of faith. He tells the individual that he must judge for himself, it being foolish to imagine that one can justify existential choice by an appeal to the laws of the intellect or to the nature of the Universe objectively considered. In existence it is irrational to wish reason to do what faith must do, so that believing for three reasons’ is merely comic. 40

Now it so happens that Kierkegaard discusses what he means by his three stages (illustrated in Stages On Life’s Way) in the work where he explains most fully his opposition to Hegel’s System, the Concluding Unscientific Postscript To the Philosophical Fragments. There he points out that the three stages can be abstractly represented as three standpoints, but in the life of an existing individual always present an either-or, a choice between two decisions. From the abstract point of view there is no ‘decisive conflict’ between the standpoints. In actuality the notion that the standpoints can be reconciled, or that one can pass without a break from one to another, is a chimera, an illusion’. The sole passage is by way of a leap, and the only ‘category of transition’ is a breach. 41

Kierkegaard denies that any individual can ever live in time and space and, without ceasing to exist, sum up the whole of reality in a system. 49

Because Kierkegaard does not think it possible for living men to attain to the wisdom of eternal truth, so he teaches that it is needful for each of us to live by the authority of a faith not objectively certified but trusted ‘in subjectivity’ i.e. in the individual’s response. Therefore he looks for no higher justification for his faith in the Christian message than that of ‘infinite passion’. 51

Kenneth Hamilton, The System And The Gospel A Critique Of Paul Tillich p. 37, 39, 40, 41, 49, 51 New York, Macmillan 1963

Anton Checkov wrote his play The Sea-Gull in four acts. This is a quote from Act One

NINA. All men and beasts, lions, eagles, and quails, horned stags, geese, spiders, silent fish that inhabit the waves, starfish from the sea, and creatures invisible to the eye—in one word, life—all, all life, completing the dreary round imposed upon it, has died out at last. A thousand years have passed since the earth last bore a living creature on her breast, and the unhappy moon now lights her lamp in vain. No longer are the cries of storks heard in the meadows, or the drone of beetles in the groves of limes. All is cold, cold. All is void, void, void. All is terrible, terrible—[A pause] The bodies of all living creatures have dropped to dust, and eternal matter has transformed them into stones and water and clouds; but their spirits have flowed together into one, and that great world-soul am I! In me is the spirit of the great Alexander, the spirit of Napoleon, of Caesar, of Shakespeare, and of the tiniest leech that swims. In me the consciousness of man has joined hands with the instinct of the animal; I understand all, all, all, and each life lives again in me.

[NINA. I am alone. Once in a hundred years my lips are opened, my voice echoes mournfully across the desert earth, and no one hears. And you, poor lights of the marsh, you do not hear me. You are engendered at sunset in the putrid mud, and flit wavering about the lake till dawn, unconscious, unreasoning, unwarmed by the breath of life. Satan, father of eternal matter, trembling lest the spark of life should glow in you, has ordered an unceasing movement of the atoms that compose you, and so you shift and change for ever. I, the spirit of the universe, I alone am immutable and eternal. [A pause] Like a captive in a dungeon deep and void, I know not where I am, nor what awaits me. One thing only is not hidden from me: in my fierce and obstinate battle with Satan, the source of the forces of matter, I am destined to be victorious in the end. Matter and spirit will then be one at last in glorious harmony, and the reign of freedom will begin on earth. But this can only come to pass by slow degrees, when after countless eons the moon and earth and shining Sirius himself shall fall to dust. Until that hour, oh, horror! horror! horror! [A pause. Two glowing red points are seen shining across the lake] Satan, my mighty foe, advances; I see his dread and lurid eyes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: