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Re: [Kierkegaardian] Re: Distinction between the Subjective and Objective

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  • Jim Stuart
    Dear Een, Thank you for expressing your understanding of the terms objective and subjective and relating them to other central concepts such as the self,
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 29, 2004
      Dear Een,

      Thank you for expressing your understanding of the terms 'objective' and 'subjective' and relating them to other central concepts such as the self, the eternal, the temporal, thought, consciousness, the abstract, the concrete, the ethical, and love.

      I have been pondering how best to respond to your mail for the last few days. The difficulty for me is that you cover so much ground that to respond to everything you write, would almost require a discussion of the whole of the subject area of philosophy! Further, it is not easy to pick out just one concept to discuss, as you interweave all the concepts into an inter-dependent whole. (There's nothing wrong with this - in fact this is how it should be.)

      First, a methodological point. Do you see the position you outline as your own view, or a faithful summary of SK's view? (The answer you give will partly determine my subsequent responses - there's no point in my quoting SK against your view, unless you wish to identify fully with SK's view.)

      Now a general comment on what you write. Your positive explication of your view consists of 14 paragraphs, the last two being on the ethical and love (= pure subjectivity).

      I feel I can agree wholeheartedly with what you say in these last two paragraphs, although I don't feel that about the first 12 paragraphs. Now I think what you would say is the following: You can't just agree with the last two paragraphs, as they are of a piece with the first 12 paragraphs - the terms 'the self' and 'concrete' are elucidated in the first 12 paragraphs, and these terms are inter-related to the others mentioned (the eternal, the temporal, thought, consciousness, the abstract).

      In a way what I would like is for us to agree on SK's conception of subjectivity, and his conception of the ethical life, without having to agree about our concepts of the self, the eternal, etc, not to mention our philosophies of space and time and perception. However, I think (as I expect you also think) that this is impossible, so we have to get our hands dirty in the foothills for a while before surveying the views from the mountain tops. (I suppose I could have stuck with your metaphor of wading in the shallow waters before swimming out to the 90 fathoms.)

      Let's start with the conception of the self. I remember distinctly struggling with the first few pages of "The Sickness Unto Death", and nearly giving up, only to be rewarded with the richness and depth of the rest of this magnificent book.

      I can agree with the idea that a self is that which relates itself to itself, and further agree that it is best that a self relates itself to itself as a subject. In my own terminology this is equivalent to the following: We are self-conscious, freely acting beings, who are at our best when we are conscious of ourselves as freely-acting beings, and at our worst when we see ourselves (objectively) as the mere product of our genes and our environment.

      I wonder to what extent you see your own view as a 'dualistic' view of the self. Previously you have referred to the self as composed of an eternal part and a temporal part. (message 246). Do you think of the eternal part/temporal part distinction along the lines of Descartes' dualism (immaterial soul and material body), or along the lines of Kant's distinction between the noumenal self and the phenomenal (empirical) self, or as neither of these dualisms?

      Some of what you write has a distinct Kantian flavour. For example this sentence:

      "The idea (eternity) and the object of sensory awareness (the disappearing moment) are brought together in consciousness in order to establish definiteness."

      Are you here equating "the idea (eternity)" with Kant's conception of a concept, and "the object of sensory awareness (the disappearing moment)" with Kant's idea of an intuition?

      After this quote you go on to outline a theory of how we come to have conscious experience of particular things in space/time. The notion of the concrete is introduced - "The concrete is the particular (this definite something), but is also the enduring ( a finite amount of time)"

      Next we have one of your 'anti-objectivity' sections:

      "Objectivity annuls concretion, and so also existence, dividing it back into its abstract parts. There is no objective existence, since for objectivity there is only the static and the dynamic, whereas existence endures. Existence is the concrete."

      This really puzzles me. I know SK was reacting against Hegel's all-encompassing objectivity in a lot of what he wrote, and SK's championing of the particular over the general (or abstract) was also a reaction to Hegel. However, I can't see the justification for your saying "There is no objective existence" unless you are using the term "existence" is a special way.

      Take the chair I am sitting on. Surely this chair has objective existence. It was manufactured in a factory somewhere on a specific date. I purchased it at a later date. It is an objective fact that the chair has four legs. And at some time in the future (I know not when) the chair will be no more. Admittedly the chair is not a very significant object in the history of the universe. In fact the most significant and important chair of all time is infinitely less significant than any human being. However, why deny that the chair has objective existence?

      All the above is an initial response to your message 269. I realize I have not yet responded to what you write in message 258. While not responding to everything you say there, here and now, I'll make two brief comments.

      First, I accept that there is no objective certainty (as I say in my last message to John), and thus that we must decide to act without waiting for objective certainty. However, when we do act, we act on the basis of what we believe to be true to the best of our knowledge at the time. For example, I must decide which of two schools to send my daughter to. I would be foolish and un-loving if I made the choice without any investigation of the merits of the two schools. Admittedly I could never be 'certain' which was the better school for my daughter - I have to make my decision without a 'God's eye view of the two schools', based on a finite amount of investigation.

      I agree with you that "It is only a feeble and uncertain self that flees objective uncertainty, which uncertainty is exactly the territory for becoming a self that is not feeble, but muscular and subjectively certain". However, there are times in our lives when the responsible and loving thing to do is to investigate the objective facts to the best of our abilities before we plunge into action. Too much action based on too little thinking has caused great harm over the centuries.

      Finally, the following sentence of yours appears to me to contain a contradiction:

      "While it is entirely and objectively certain that God does not exist, since he is not becoming; nevertheless, it is by no means objectively certain that there is a God." (message 258, third paragraph from the end).

      Did you mean to type this? If so, could you try to make your meaning clearer.

      That's all for now - rather a longer posting than I like to submit. I look forward to our continued interchange on these matters, and I hope that other members of the Kierkegaardian group may also be interested by our exchanges.



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