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The Ethical as the Highest Ideal

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  • Jim Stuart
    Suppose atheism is true. In other words, there is nothing beyond, or apart from, our natural universe. Without God, Kierkegaard s category of the religious
    Message 1 of 4 , Aug 15, 2004
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      Suppose atheism is true. In other words, there is nothing beyond, or apart from, our natural universe. Without God, Kierkegaard's category of the religious falls away. The option to live the religious life is no option. The individual is left with a choice between the aesthetic life and the ethical life.

      There is no sitting on the fence, the individual must opt for one of these alternatives. To not choose, is to choose the aesthetic life by default.

      Kierkegaard's central argument for choosing the ethical life is that it is only by so choosing does the individual become a substantial self. The aesthetic life is a selfless life of limbo where the human being fails to grasp his own subjectivity, remaining nothing but a passive spectator of the passing show.

      Don't be satisfied with the life of a spectator, Kierkegaard urges, but rather become a player. With increasing self-consciousness, self-knowledge and passionate engagement, the individual can become active in the world rather than remaining passive. Without rejecting the pursuit of objective knowledge within its own sphere, the individual grows in subjectivity and inwardness as she develops into a substantial self who forges her own destiny rather than having her destiny forged by outside forces.

      Whilst this movement towards greater subjectivity cannot be argued against, the thought occurs that this isn't what is generally understood when one thinks about what living the ethical life involves. In fact it may be thought that living the ethical life is all about loving and helping others. By contrast, becoming a more substantial self, with its emphasis on inwardness and separation from others, may well conflict with the other-regarding virtues of the loving, self-sacrificial ethical way with its commitment to the social milieu.

      As I've only read a small proportion of Kierkegaard's works, I'm not sure how he would respond to this apparent tension in what is involved in living the ethical life. Perhaps members of the group could suggest passages in Kierkegaard's books where he deals with these issues.

      I wonder if Kierkegaard would say something along the following lines: Consider this connection between the ethical way as, on the one hand, increased subjectivity, and, on the other, increased caring for others. Both movements involve an increase in perceptiveness and sensitivity. In the case of increased subjectivity, there is increased awareness of oneself as a decision-taking and choice-making independent person. In the case of increased caring for others, there is the an increased awareness of the thoughts, feelings and needs of others.

      The Parable of the Good Samaritan can be taken as showing a contrast between two individuals who in living the aesthetic life (the priest and the Levite) are wrapped up in themselves and their personal projects so as not be sensitive to the needs of the injured man, while the individual who lives the ethical life (the Samaritan) is perceptive of the needs of the injured man and acts out of love for him.

      Finally, as suggested above, my project is to attempt to "demythologise" Kierkegaard - to try to take what I can from him without the religious aspect of his thought. Do members of the group think this is a viable project?

      Final note: Thanks to Een Elkelte for his (I assume "Een" is a male name, but I may be wrong) recent contributions - well-written and thought-provoking.

      Jim Stuart



      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • j15300
      Hi, am new to this forum, and encouraged by this thread to contribute. The self is that which points to self, and the Self is that which points to God. ...
      Message 2 of 4 , Aug 16, 2004
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        Hi, am new to this forum, and encouraged by this thread to
        contribute.

        The self is that which points to self, and the Self is that which
        points to God.


        --- In kierkegaardians@yahoogroups.com, "Een Enkelte"
        <eenenkelte@y...> wrote:
        > Dear Jim,
        >
        > Thank you for your response. My gratitude is sincere, as is my
        hope
        > that we may continue to communicate in this forum - and perhaps
        even
        > encourage others to do so.
      • j15300
        ... -- ... -- ... Dear Ken, When Self Is, self is self-evident, as in the usage of truths held by George Washington, et al. Assuming, then, that you are
        Message 3 of 4 , Aug 17, 2004
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          --- In kierkegaardians@yahoogroups.com, "Een Enkelte"
          <eenenkelte@y...> wrote:
          > -------------------------------------------------------------------
          --
          > The self is that which points to self, and the Self is that which
          > points to God.
          > -------------------------------------------------------------------
          --
          >
          > Dear j15300,
          >
          > I am not familiar with these distinctions between the 'self', 'the
          > self' and 'the Self'.
          > Perhaps you would offer some more of your thoughts on these?
          >
          > I have in mind questions such as:
          > Which, if any, would count as a subject?
          > Is 'self' a property of 'the self'?
          > What constitutes 'pointing'?
          >
          > I look forward to hearing more!
          >
          > Sincerely,
          >
          > Een Enkelte.

          Dear Ken,

          When Self Is, "self" is "self-evident," as in the usage of truths
          held by George Washington, et al.
          Assuming, then, that you are not overtly familiar with "Self," would
          point to "Autobiography of a Yogi," the account of one search for
          Self-realization, a well-known theme in the literature of the
          world's religions.
          Assuming your sincerity as "initial naivete" re "I am not familiar
          with these distinctions:" the self that points is the Whiteheadian
          feedforward of consciousness supervenient on matter, similar to the
          qualification of deficit-cognition unto being-cognition (per Maslow
          et al.). The Whiteheadian philosophy in fine is monadic organism
          evolving increasing qualia of monadicity, or subjective realization
          of being/awareness, thence moving in wider dyadic relation with
          community, unto evanescence into Being, or Self, Being-cognition,
          Meaning (ANW's term is "realized actualization"). This Meaning in-
          Forms the organism (and the wider society) by a Mind-as-Idea/Form
          feedforward process, and, by the evanescence unto that Mind (cf
          marxian totality of human "objective truth"), which totality
          Whitehead's colleague Hartshorne termed "God (is Love)." (Note of
          course the "subjective idealist" quality, per marxian critique, of
          Hartshorne.)
          The self that is pointed to by aforementioned self-as-monad-in-
          society, is both the synthetic marxian "new man," and the original
          Buddha Light, Saint Paul's "new man in Christ," Husserl's successful
          eidetic phenomenologist, Plotinus' Soul One, the inner child's inner
          sense as innocence, etc. When "the self pointing to self" realizes
          Self, that move is the awakening to Being, original Buddha Nature,
          which Plotinus found ineffable, as "Self points to (is One with, an
          individed aspect of) God." This is generally beyond the synthetic
          self of the material dialectic or the marxian homo sovieticus, and
          is termed by religious, Self-realization.
          "Pointing" is fungible, a dependent scalar, in that the self that
          points may be a marxian dialectical thinker, Koko the gorilla
          (recently she pointed to her mouth, indicating to her handlers she
          was suffering pain and sought help), Descartes (intuiting the I Am,
          therefore "'I' think..."), Heidegger's Dasein, etc.; i.e., different
          psychologisms and qualia, including the "historical materialist"
          type. That which is pointed to is more than e.g. Sartre's immediacy
          of being, i.e., implying at least a Buddhist or marxist Markhovian
          causality from time past to time present (and, of course, perhaps
          modified by supervenient projections onto future possibilities).
          That "mind" which holds questions re distinctions is that self which
          points (either to knowing self, or to environment: e.g., to above
          initial statement). "Know thy self" is process equivalent
          to "pointing" to personal, subjective qualities; e.g.,
          inquisitiveness, awareness of gestalts/Forms, inter-est in being,
          etc. Second- and higher-order theoretic structuring of self is not
          necessary to knowing self. As self is known, then, it becomes that
          which holds truths it deems self-evident. If one's self is at the
          level of George Washington, God/as the "I Am that I Am" in-Forms the
          self unto Self. "Autobiography of a Yogi" gives a more modern
          explication of this, as do "The Answer You're Looking for Is Inside
          of You," "Education Begins before Birth," "Kundalini
          West," "Sunyata: The Life and Sayings of a Rare-born Mystic," "Long
          Pilgrimage," and even "The Master of Lucid Dreams," "The Biology of
          Transcendence," and "Power vs Force."

          It is more lucid for this one to state merely, "The self is that
          which points to self, and the Self is that which points to God."

          Sincerely, with some hope that the above has helped (if not, that's
          why the book references),

          j
        • John Anngeister
          (a late postscript) Jim, months ago you wrote: Suppose that atheism is true... (and etc.) If philosophy -and religion- were not in need of rehabilitation, I
          Message 4 of 4 , Dec 17, 2004
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            (a late postscript)
            Jim, months ago you wrote:

            "Suppose that atheism is true... (and etc.)"


            If philosophy -and religion- were not in need of
            rehabilitation, I would honestly doubt the seriousness
            of a thinker who urged such a supposition. But philosophy
            and religion ARE in need of rehabilitation. So I do not
            doubt your serious-mindedness.

            Nevertheless I honestly believe that, if philosophy had
            not years ago thoughtlessly cut itself off from the Universe
            it presumes to interpret, such a supposition as yours could
            not now be entertained seriously outside of the playground,
            or the slumber-party. Still, it is, in our day, a serious-
            minded supposition.

            Nevertheless, I believe that, if religion had not years ago
            thoughtlessly cut itself off from .... well, this is complicated.


            I am a person who considers himself to be something more than a
            nominal follower of the one who was called "Word of God." Yet I have
            been called "atheist" by one I had called friend, who called
            herself "Christian."

            My fault was to share my belief that perhaps three-quarters of our
            Bible was not so much an inspired work of Divinity as it was an
            amalgam of human anthropology and theology combined with
            inspiration. I had added that in any case none of it was fit to be
            consulted in matters of physical science. And I had characterized a
            strong thread of the Old Testament as a catalog of irreligious
            messianic hopes which, in the wrong hands, had provided a brief for a
            sentence of death upon Truth itself.

            My opinions, though ultimately my own, are not unusual in the context
            of devout liberal principles of Christian theology and Biblical
            criticism. These principles can be traced back to FDE Schleiermacher
            (if not further), who is called by many "the father of modern
            theology" (and whose work was studied closely by Kierkegaard).

            But back to my story: I was "cast out" by someone who called the
            same individual "Lord"! Her theology was not as old as mine, being
            derived from a more recent development, occurring in America, after
            the civil war, in the depressed districts of the old South, and on
            the lonely Midwestern plains. It is a development which I consider
            to have been a great misfortune to Christian consciousness, and which
            now has a large following. It began with sincere preachers who
            preached to sincere hearers, but ended in what I would call
            historically a "relapse," a leveling and degrading of religion under
            the principle of "God's inerrant word." It was this principle that
            led my friend to call me "atheist."

            So, Jim, your supposition gives me pause ...

            Look at what "atheism" meant in the mouths of the enemies of
            Socrates. On its positive side, such atheism is only the liberty of
            an individual to reject religious concepts which blaspheme the ground
            of his religious consciousness.

            In this sense of the word, I can easily suppose that the "atheism" of
            Socrates was true.


            Or look at what "atheism" meant in the mouths of the enemies of
            Galileo? On its positive side, this is only the liberty of an
            individual to reject the use of ancient religious texts as guides to
            the discovery or rejection of scientific principles and theories.

            In this sense of the word, I can easily suppose that the "atheism" of
            Galileo was true.


            Except that you, Jim, are far past these positive and philosophically
            useful meanings of the word when you say, "... in other words, there
            is nothing beyond, or apart from, our natural universe."

            Your lack of religious consciousness makes the supposition into
            nonsense (for me). It is the same as if you had written, "suppose
            there is no mind," or "suppose that error is truth."


            -John


            a further postscript:

            Jim, I have your most recent in hand, and, if you think that this old
            series has been long played out, you need feel no obligation to
            respond. Except I would like you to indicate whether your early
            religious background was (a) liberal, like mine; or (b)
            fundamentalist, like my friend; or (c) parents had no religion. I
            only wish to have a better understanding of what kind of thing you
            hold (or held) religion to be before you attained your serious-
            mindedness. I will confess beforehand that I have had much to ponder
            from "atheists" who were raised as Christian fundamentalists or
            Catholics. What they threw away, they called "religion," but it was
            not my religion.



            --- In kierkegaardians@yahoogroups.com, "Jim Stuart" <jimstuart@n...>
            wrote:
            > Suppose atheism is true. In other words, there is nothing beyond,
            or apart from, our natural universe. Without God, Kierkegaard's
            category of the religious falls away. The option to live the
            religious life is no option. The individual is left with a choice
            between the aesthetic life and the ethical life.
            >
            > There is no sitting on the fence, the individual must opt for one
            of these alternatives. To not choose, is to choose the aesthetic life
            by default.
            >
            > Kierkegaard's central argument for choosing the ethical life is
            that it is only by so choosing does the individual become a
            substantial self. The aesthetic life is a selfless life of limbo
            where the human being fails to grasp his own subjectivity, remaining
            nothing but a passive spectator of the passing show.
            >
            > Don't be satisfied with the life of a spectator, Kierkegaard urges,
            but rather become a player. With increasing self-consciousness, self-
            knowledge and passionate engagement, the individual can become active
            in the world rather than remaining passive. Without rejecting the
            pursuit of objective knowledge within its own sphere, the individual
            grows in subjectivity and inwardness as she develops into a
            substantial self who forges her own destiny rather than having her
            destiny forged by outside forces.
            >
            > Whilst this movement towards greater subjectivity cannot be argued
            against, the thought occurs that this isn't what is generally
            understood when one thinks about what living the ethical life
            involves. In fact it may be thought that living the ethical life is
            all about loving and helping others. By contrast, becoming a more
            substantial self, with its emphasis on inwardness and separation from
            others, may well conflict with the other-regarding virtues of the
            loving, self-sacrificial ethical way with its commitment to the
            social milieu.
            >
            > As I've only read a small proportion of Kierkegaard's works, I'm
            not sure how he would respond to this apparent tension in what is
            involved in living the ethical life. Perhaps members of the group
            could suggest passages in Kierkegaard's books where he deals with
            these issues.
            >
            > I wonder if Kierkegaard would say something along the following
            lines: Consider this connection between the ethical way as, on the
            one hand, increased subjectivity, and, on the other, increased caring
            for others. Both movements involve an increase in perceptiveness and
            sensitivity. In the case of increased subjectivity, there is
            increased awareness of oneself as a decision-taking and choice-making
            independent person. In the case of increased caring for others, there
            is the an increased awareness of the thoughts, feelings and needs of
            others.
            >
            > The Parable of the Good Samaritan can be taken as showing a
            contrast between two individuals who in living the aesthetic life
            (the priest and the Levite) are wrapped up in themselves and their
            personal projects so as not be sensitive to the needs of the injured
            man, while the individual who lives the ethical life (the Samaritan)
            is perceptive of the needs of the injured man and acts out of love
            for him.
            >
            > Finally, as suggested above, my project is to attempt
            to "demythologise" Kierkegaard - to try to take what I can from him
            without the religious aspect of his thought. Do members of the group
            think this is a viable project?
            >
            > Final note: Thanks to Een Elkelte for his (I assume "Een" is a male
            name, but I may be wrong) recent contributions - well-written and
            thought-provoking.
            >
            > Jim Stuart
            >
            >
            >
            > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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