Søren Aabye Kierkegaard was a many sided character. He was foremost a Christian psychologist, then a social critic, and lastly a philosopher. He calls you “my dear reader” and is grateful that you have taken an interest in his work. He hopes that you find what you are seeking and in the seeking find yourself.
He learned to see greatness in smallness from his father.
Kierkegaard created a pseudonym to describe his childhood. Johannes Climacus always felt like an alien in the world as he walked up and down his room at home holding his father’s hand while discussing imaginary people and events.
He learned to respect simple people from his mother.
Soren says Johannes developed the aesthetic and intellectual sides of his personality but another side of his soul was also being formed, a sense for the sudden, the surprising. The older he became the more intimate he was with his father. He always told himself “I will do it” when confronted with a difficulty he wanted to overcome. He learned that from his father.
This article about Frederik Christian Sibbern, Hans Lassen Martensen and Soren Kierkegaard was published in the Western Literary Messenger in 1850.
Nicholas of Cusa lived in The Holy Roman Empire from 1401-1464. His 1453 book, The Vision of God, mentioned many walls to overcome as one tries to come to a knowledge of the ignorance one has of God. There is the leap over the wall of invisible vision, the wall of absurdity, of Paradise, and the wall of the coincidence of opposites where the end is the beginning. Nicholas leaped over those walls and became a believer. He wondered about the thing in itself.
Modern philosophical works didn’t satisfy Johannes Climacus because it was fixated on doubt. He heard everyone say with Rene Descartes and the German Idealists De Omnibus Dubitandum (Everything begins with doubt). He enthusiastically began to doubt everything and to his surprise found that he could never come to a stop. He always had more to doubt but he couldn’t begin to be a philosopher until he had doubted. But the philosophers said, enough, we can now begin to philosophize. They all wanted to “go further” as soon as possible. Johannes decided to doubt speculative philosophy.
If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.” Francis Bacon The Advancement of Learning
In order to seek truth, it is necessary once in the course of our life, to doubt, as far as possible, of all things. Rene Descartes, Principles of Philosophy
John Dryden lived from 1631-1700. He wrote about doubt in his 1682 book Religio Laici: Or, A Layman’s Faith. An Epistle. I like the poets better than the philosophers, or am coming to like them more.
Dim as the borrow’d beams of moon and stars
To lonely, weary, wandering travellers,
Is reason to the soul: and as on high,
Those rolling fires discover but the sky,
Not light us here; so reason’s glimmering ray
Was lent, not to assure our doubtful way,
But guide us upward to a better day.
And as those nightly tapers disappear
When day’s bright lord ascends our hemisphere
So pale grows reason at religion’s sight:
Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) discussed the turn toward the subjective “I” in his 1935 book What is a Thing? (translated in 1967). He writes:
“Modern philosophy is usually considered to have begun with Descartes (1596-1650), who lived a generation after Galileo. The following is the usual image of Descartes and his philosophy:
During the Middle Ages philosophy stood – if it stood independently at all – under the exclusive domination of theology and gradually degenerated into a mere analysis of concepts and elucidations of traditional opinion and propositions. It petrified into an academic knowledge which no longer concerned man and was unable to illuminate reality as a whole. Then Descartes appeared and liberated philosophy from this position. He began by doubting everything, but this doubt finally did run into something which could no longer be doubted, for, inasmuch as the skeptic doubts, he cannot doubt that he, the skeptic, is present and must be present in order to doubt at all. As I doubt I must admit that “I am.” The “I,” accordingly, is the indubitable. As a doubter, Descartes forced men into doubt in this way; he led them to think of themselves, as their “I.” Thus the “I,” human subjectivity, came to be declared the center of thought. From here originated the I-viewpoint of modern times and its subjectivism.” p. 98-99
Kierkegaard was against basing Christian belief on more and more external evidence to the abandonment of the internal proofs. Maybe some of these philosophers should have began by doubting a little of what philosophers taught.
There is much said in the world about there being two ways to truth: the way of faith and the way of doubt. But this is just as strange as to say that there are two ways to heaven, and one of them leads to hell. Soren Kierkegaard, Christian Discourses, 1848 p. 146
Immanuel Kant 1724-1804 liked the idea of doubting and wrote critiques of reason. Georg Hegel 1770-1831 liked the idea of using Reason to question faith and when asked about doubting reason he said Reason couldn’t be doubted because that was the very instrument that was being used. Hermann Samuel Reimarus 1694-1768 doubted the historical roots of Christianity. The Fragments from Reimarus and the book was published by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing in 1774. Baron d’Holbach 1723-1789 published his Good Sense in 1772 . The Quest for the Historical Jesus was born. Christendom was under attack.
Immanuel Kant wrote an essay What Means, To Orient One’s Self in Thinking in 1786. He and Kierkegaard had much in common concerning objective and subjective grounds of proofs in the supersensible world.
“There is a vast empire, governed by a monarch, whose strange conduct is to confound the minds of his subjects. He wishes to be known, loved, respected, obeyed; but never shows himself to his subjects, and everything conspires to render uncertain the ideas formed of his character. The people, subjected to his power, have, of the character and laws of their invisible sovereign, such ideas only, as his ministers give them. They, however, confess, that they have no idea of their master; that his ways are impenetrable; his views and nature totally incomprehensible. These ministers, likewise, disagree upon the commands which they pretend have been issued by the sovereign, whose servants they call themselves.” Good Sense by baron d’ Holbach.
Martin Heidegger described how doubt can arise in his 1935 example of a piece of chalk.
“Here is the chalk.” This is a truth; and here and the now hereby characterize the chalk so that we emphasize by saying; the chalk, which means “this.” We take a scrap of paper and we write the truth down: “Here is the chalk.” We lay this written statement beside the thing of which it is the truth. After the lecture is finished both doors are opened, the classroom is aired, there will be a draft, and the scrap of paper, let us suppose, will flutter out into the corridor. A student finds it on his way to the cafeteria, reads the sentence. “Here is the chalk,” and ascertains that this is not true at all. Through the draft the truth has become an untruth. Strange that a truth should depend on a gust of wind. … We have made the truth about the chalk independent of us and entrusted it to a scrap of paper. What Is A Thing? Heidegger, Martin. Translated by W.B. Barton and V. Deutsch. What Is A Thing? Gateway Editions, 1968. p. 29-30
Have we taken too many things as truth because of a piece of paper?
Whether it is a word, a sentence, a book, a man, a society, whatever it is, as soon as it is supposed to be a boundary, so that the boundary itself is not dialectical, it is superstition and narrow-mindedness. In a human being there is always a desire, at once comfortable and concerned, to have something really firm and fixed that can exclude the dialectical, but this is cowardliness and fraudulence toward the divine. Even the most certain of all, a revelation, precisely thereby becomes dialectical when I am to appropriate it; even the most fixed of all, an infinite negative resolution, which is the individuality’s infinite form of God’s being within him, promptly becomes dialectical. As soon as I take away the dialectical, I am superstitious and defraud God of the moment’s strenuous acquisition of what was once acquired. It is, however, far more comfortable to be objective and superstitious, boasting about it and proclaiming thoughtlessness. Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript 1846 Hong p. 35 note
Perhaps a System can be built by which one can come to believe in Christendom. Georg Hegel decided to encapsulate religion under the heading “philosophy”.
Soren Kierkegaard doubted the efficiency of using objective doubt in the realm of religion, especially in Christianity. He said Descartes doubted many things but he never doubted the existence of God. However, doubt was carried into the religious realm, it has remained there to the present age. He was a doubter of System. He discussed doubt in his 1846 book Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments.
Soren Kierkegaard turned to Socrates in his search for Christian truth. There is no place in Christianity for an objective approximation process so he leaves it to speculative philosophers and said the absurd is the closest we can come.
Robert Browning 1812-1889 wrote a long poem about the death of St. John. Death in the Desert was published in 1864. I like the way he puts the relationship of the first disciple to that of other generations.
Browning sees a threefold man: What Does, what Knows, what Is;
Kierkegaard constantly turned to the lily and the bird of Matthew 6:26-29 “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”
Be like the bird if you want to be a Christian in the great opposition between paganism and Christianity. I like his advice best.
Thanks for reading if you got this far.