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Re: A serious mistake? Kierkegaard and the ethical personality

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  • Will Brown
    Dear Een, Since I saw your message #351 as the expression of a single thought, I will make my response just long enough to express my single thought in
    Message 1 of 6 , Nov 17, 2004
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      Dear Een,

      Since I saw your message #351 as the expression of a single thought, I
      will make my response just long enough to express my single thought in
      response. Again, forgive my lateness in replying.

      Een: <Useful for its brevity as it may be, I consider that this
      expression was not part of K.'s terminology as such. In that post, I
      was resisting the use of such expressions as jargon, eg nowhere in the
      posts in which this expression was used was it usefully explained.>

      The expression referred to is SK's use of the term 'raised to the
      second power.' He applies that term to subjectivity, consciousness,
      reflection, understanding, dialectical truth, Christianity, and Grace.
      I see you dismissing that as being part of his terminology until such
      time as it can be usefully explained.

      I note that you did not say that nowhere was it explained, but that
      you did say that nowhere was it /usefully/ explained. I would say that
      this added term captures the core of your criticism rather neatly. The
      fact that SK uses the term does not make it part of his terminology.
      What determines that is whether or not it was usefully explained. The
      question might rise as to whom it was usefully explained, but, more
      importantly, the question of whether useless simply means that
      something is not understood, and not useless as in teats on a boar.

      In that light, the difficulty for anyone to meet the criterion you lay
      down could actually require an understanding raised to the second
      power for it to be useful. In other words, until such time as the
      second power understanding is appropriated, everything said about it
      other than calling it jargon would seem like jargon. It sure sounds
      like a Catch 22 to me.
      --- --- --- --- --- ---
      Een: <What I wrote in that post to the group was no more than an
      explanation of my silence, and of its source in my inability to engage
      in discussions without explicit meaning.>

      Yes, and this is explicitly what I sensed from reading your prior
      postings here and elsewhere. I get the impression, and it is only an
      impression, of there being a perfunctory dismissal of thought that
      does not match yours; i.e., thought that does not contain that
      "useful" explanation. However, it is my hope that you continue to
      critique what I say. Such would provide me with more opportunity to
      lay out what I see as our difference in interpreting Kierkegaard. For
      my part, rather than dismissing that difference, I find that
      difference rather intriguing because I see it going directly to the
      matter of the truth that is subjectivity.

      Very best regards, Willy
    • Jim Stuart
      Dear Willy, I have to say I m in agreement with Een in your discussion about understanding, consciousness, etc. raised to the second power . While not wishing
      Message 2 of 6 , Nov 18, 2004
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        Dear Willy,

        I have to say I'm in agreement with Een in your discussion about understanding, consciousness, etc. 'raised to the second power'.

        While not wishing to speak for Een, for myself I feel that unless you can point to a passage where SK explicitly discusses the expression 'raised to the second power' (rather than just using the expression), or you say exactly how you conceive of understanding, etc. 'raised to the second power' differing from 'basic' understanding, I shall remain of the view that SK is just using the expression as a mathematical metaphor.

        The way you talk of understanding, etc. 'raised to the second power', makes it sound mysterious to the point of miraculous, as if an individual is suddenly blessed with this understanding (or consciousness) 'to the second power', through Divine intervention.

        While some Christians may be happy with such an account of how an individual can progress to a deeper level of subjectivity, this doesn't seem to me to be how SK conceives of us as making progress towards greater subjectivity. Further SK does not hold to the view that the inwardness of the religious individual cannot be described - he spends quite a number of pages in CUP describing it. Thus if the notion of something to the second power is to be more than a mathematical metaphor for SK, it should be possible to describe what this 'more' is.



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      • Jim Stuart
        Dear Een, In your posting of 2nd November (message 340), you argued against my criticism of Kierkegaard s account of the ethical. Your response was divided
        Message 3 of 6 , Nov 28, 2004
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          Dear Een,

          In your posting of 2nd November (message 340), you argued against my criticism of Kierkegaard's account of the ethical. Your response was divided into four sections: (1) Idiosyncratic usage; (2) Telos: The relative and the absolute; (3) Ethics, Love and Theology; (4) The grammar of love and the religious.

          In my reply of 6th November (message 341), I responded only to your first section (Idiosyncratic usage). This response led to an extended discussion which covered such issues as ontological commitment, conceptual schemes, natural laws and free will. This was a fruitful discussion, but perhaps with the differences between us fairly clearly laid out, it is time to move on.

          I'd like now to respond to your second section (Telos: The relative and the absolute). This is what you wrote:

          "You write that:

          'the 'absolute telos' of the ethical individual is to continually act for the benefit of others'

          This would require that 'the benefit of others' could be an absolute
          ethical telos. For an existentialist, this would be a highly problematical

          Firstly, it would contradict the founding principle of existentialism; namely that each individual exists individually, and should never be considered en masse.

          Secondly, it would require a certainty (equally as absolute as the telos) regarding the 'benefit'. I challenge you to give an account of 'ethical benefit'.

          Thirdly, and by definition, in relation to the absolute all else is relative. If the 'benefit of others' is the absolute telos, all else is relative. The way is open to benefit others through unethical behaviour. The absolute does not allow for adjustment, compromise or shades of meaning.

          Enten/Eller - Either/Or
          i) If I lie now, she may be better off, and that is the point...
          otherwise I would be letting her down.
          ii) If I do not lie now, I may harm him, but I must not lie...
          otherwise I am a deceiver.

          Let me respond to your three points:

          (1) I think my view is consistent with the 'founding principle of existentialism' that 'each individual exists individually, and should never be considered en masse'. Perhaps I didn't outline my view clearly enough. I'm no utilitarian - I agree utilitarianism is not consistent with the founding principle of existentialism. Rather I'm closer to Kantianism, and I hold to the ethical principle that we should always treat others as ends, and never as means. Further, rather than think of the recipients of my ethical actions as human beings 'en masse', I think of the person whom my actions are directed towards as 'the other' or as 'others' if my actions are to affect a group of people.

          I don't think that acting out of a concern for the well-being of others is inconsistent with existentialism. Existentialists don't have to be solipsists.

          (2) I think I can be passionately committed to acting for the good of others, without being certain in every case that my action will in fact benefit the other. In this imperfect world, we do not have certain knowledge of the consequences of our actions, but we do have a good idea what will result from our choices and actions. The Good Samaritan could not be certain that by attending to the injured man, and paying for his recuperation, that his actions would benefit him. However, surely we can judge that the Good Samaritan's actions were more likely to benefit the injured man than the actions (or rather 'non-actions') of the Priest and the Levite would do.

          (3) I'm not sure that if I hold to the Kantian principle mentioned above (treat others as ends and never as means), that I would ever act 'unethically', if I acted out of love for the benefit of others.

          I agree that we can be faced with 'moral dilemmas', in which each choice of action has a negative aspect to it. To adapt your example, suppose a good German family in late 1930's Germany is hiding a Jewish family in their cellar. The Gestapo come knocking at the door, asking if the German family knows of any Jews hiding in the area. Our German hero says "No", and the Gestapo do away.

          Yes, the German has lied, and this is certainly a bad aspect to his action, but surely in this case we want to say that lying was the right thing for him to do, and for this reason it doesn't seem right that we describe his action as 'unethical'.

          In summary, I still think my original criticism of Kierkegaard's account of the ethical (see my message 316) is valid, despite all that you and Willy have written over the last couple of months. I have certainly learnt a lot from your and Willy's postings, and my understanding and appreciation of the writings and ideas of Kierkegaard have deepened as a result.



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