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Remarks on Concluding Unscientific Postscript

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  • Jim Stuart
    Dear Kierkegaardians, I wish to offer my response to my first reading of Concluding Unscientific Postscript. Whilst I do put forward some tentative criticisms
    Message 1 of 4 , Jan 3, 2005
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      Dear Kierkegaardians,

      I wish to offer my response to my first reading of Concluding Unscientific Postscript. Whilst I do put forward some tentative criticisms of the book, I should say that I consider this book to be one of the best books which have ever being written.

      Firstly, it seems to me that SK wrote the work for readers who considered themselves Christians. SK's intention was to prompt his readers to question their own idea of what Christianity consisted in. SK thought that most Christians thought that Christianity was objective truth. SK, on the other hand, thinks that Christianity is subjective truth or an "existence communication". SK felt he knew what Christianity really was, and he wanted others to work their way through to his (SK's) view on the matter.

      Thus SK was writing for Christians, and, as such, he is not aiming to convert the Jew, the Muslim, the agnostic or the atheist. This presents an immediate problem to someone like myself, as SK uses some Christian expressions which I cannot give much meaning to.

      An important expression in SK's system is "eternal happiness". This idea is a major "building block" in his argument against Christianity as objective truth. He writes:

      "The enquiring subject [who investigates the truth of Christianity in an objective way] is indeed interested [in the objective truth of Christianity]; but he is not infinitely and personally and passionately interested on behalf of his eternal happiness for his relationship to this truth." (CUP, Lowrie Tr., p. 23)

      "Let an individual approach this enterprise [the purely objective approach to the truth of Christianity], let him propose in infinite personal passion to attach his eternal happiness to this result: he will readily perceive that there is no result, and that none is to be expected; and that the contradiction will bring him to despair." (Ibid., p. 28)

      "For an eternal happiness is rooted in the infinite personal passionate interest, which the individual renounces in order to become objective, defrauded of his interest by the predominating objectivity." (Ibid.)

      "An approximation is the only certainty attainable for historical knowledge - but also an inadequate basis for eternal happiness." (Ibid., p. 31)

      "Suppose that Christianity is subjectivity, an inner transformation, an actualization of inwardness, and that only two kinds of person can know anything about it: those who with an infinite passionate interest in an eternal happiness base their happiness upon their believing relationship to Christianity, and those who with an opposite passion, but in passion, reject it - the happy and the unhappy lovers." (Ibid., p. 51)

      The nearest I can appropriate to the meaning of "eternal happiness" is the idea of a clear conscience. My own idea of eternal happiness would be to arrive at death with a clear conscience, when reflecting over my entire life. Put this way, I have no hope of eternal happiness, as I am a sinner and I cannot undo the bad things that I have done. Can other Kierkegaardians give a more satisfactory account of SK's term "eternal happiness"?

      I have already written about SK's notion of truth as subjectivity (see my message 314), so here I will be fairly brief. I take the following quote to be crucial:

      "When the question of the truth is raised subjectively, reflection is directed subjectively to the nature of the individual's relationship, if only the mode of this relationship is in the truth, the individual is in the truth even if he should happen to be thus related to what is not true." (Ibid., p. 178)

      Here SK seems to be saying: "It is not what you believe that is important, but how you believe it - better an infinitely passionate Muslim (who believes something false) than a passionless Christian (who believes something true). From the point of view of subjectivity, the Muslim is in the truth, while the Christian is not in the truth."

      Elsewhere SK seems to contradict this, in the earlier Either/Or he writes:

      "I may very well say that what is important in choosing is not so much to choose the right thing as the energy, the earnestness, and the pathos with which one chooses. In the choosing the personality declares itself in its inner infinity and in turn the personality is thereby consolidated. Therefore, even though a person chose the wrong thing, he nevertheless, by virtue of the energy with which he chose, will discover that he chose the wrong thing. In other words, since the choice has been made with all the inwardness of his personality, his inner being is purified and he himself is brought into an immediate relationship with the eternal power that omnipresently pervades all existence. The person who chooses only esthetically never reaches this transfiguration, this higher dedication." (Either/Or II, Hong tr., p. 167)

      Here SK seems to be saying that if the individual approaches truth with the right attitude (i.e. with an infinite passion), he will not go wrong. Do Kierkegaardians see an inconsistency between these two quotes, and if so, which most closely reflects SK's view?

      I find a further tension between what SK writes in the chapter "Truth as Subjectivity" and what he writes at the end of the book on religiousness B.

      In the early parts of CUP, SK seems to be saying that objective truths are irrelevant to the truth of Christianity. He writes:

      "Christianity is spirit, spirit is inwardness, inwardness is subjectivity, subjectivity is essentially passion, and in its maximum an infinite, personal, passionate interest in one's eternal happiness" (CUP, Lowrie Tr., p. 33)

      "The sinner neither affirms nor denies the truth of Christianity, but is concerned solely for his relationship to it." (Ibid., p. 47)

      Objective truths are at best "an approximation", and it is inappropriate to base eternal happiness on an approximation.

      However, when writing about religiousness B (i.e. Christianity), SK writes that the Christian believes in the "absolute paradox" that the Divine entered history in human form. Now this seems to be to be an objective truth claim. So it does seem to be that faith (despite being "the highest subjectivity") is tied up with objective truth after all. This does seem to fit in with SK's definition of truth:

      "Here is a definition of truth: An objective uncertainty held fast in an approximation-process of the most passionate inwardness is the truth, the highest truth obtainable for an existing individual. The truth is precisely the venture which chooses an objective uncertainty with the passion of the infinite." (Ibid., p. 182)

      Here are two quotes where SK describes religiousness B:

      "But concern for an eternal happiness cannot be given up, for in that case a man would have nothing eternal to console him, and yet he has to base his eternal happiness upon something historical, knowledge of which at its maximum is an approximation." (Ibid., 511)

      "The difficulty is to become a Christian, because every Christian is such only by being nailed to the paradox of having based his eternal happiness upon the relation to something historical. ... The historical assertion is that the Deity, the Eternal, came into being at a definite moment in time as an individual man." (Ibid., p. 512)

      So is the correct way to understand religiousness B as a phenomenon involving a belief in an "objective uncertainty", an "approximation" - the historical claim that the Divine entered history in human form? If so, is this inconsistent with SK's claim that an approximation is an inadequate basis for an eternal happiness?

      I'll leave this rather unstructured response to Concluding Unscientific Postscript here. As you can see I have more questions that answers as I struggle to form a coherent picture of SK's understanding of the nature of truth, self and Christianity. My own lack of understanding encourages me to read further into SK's works, which continue to perplex and unsettle me.



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    • Will Brown
      Hi JimS, my first thought on reading what you have written here was the quandary that is Kierkegaard. Let me ramble on a bit using that as my springboard.
      Message 2 of 4 , Jan 4, 2005
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        Hi JimS, my first thought on reading what you have written here was
        'the quandary that is Kierkegaard.' Let me ramble on a bit using that
        as my springboard. Anyone who reads SK in the manner he should be
        read, if that reader is to capture the spirit of his words, /must/, or
        so I see it, sense a quandary. The reason I conclude that is that I
        see SK writing from a quandary. He has a puzzle he has to solve and
        that puzzle has to do with two things; himself and himself as a
        Christian. The puzzle with himself is cast by him in terms of
        reflection, where he speaks to inwardness, and subjectivity, and
        transparency, and all of those things that go bump in that self to
        self relation grounded in the Eternal, what he calls the God-relation
        (see quote below). The puzzle with his religion has to do with God, as
        the Eternal, having come into the temporal as the God-man. This puts
        the God-relation, as subjectivity, between the first relation with
        God, the objective Christianity, and the second relation with God, the
        paradoxical, where the Eternal is paradoxically placed back into the
        temporal through Jesus. SK's solution was to have his cake and eat it:

        "Lord Jesus Christ, you did not come into the world to be served and
        not to be admired either, or in that ssense worshipped. You yourself
        were the Way and the Life—and you have only asked for /imitators/. if
        we have dozed off into this infatuation, wake us up, rescue us from
        this error of wanting to admire or adoringly you instead of wanting to
        follow you and be like you." (Practice in Christianity, Hong, p. 233)

        I say that we all have that self-puzzle, and SK's wrestling with it is
        what grabs us. He is casting that self-puzzle in Christian terms, and,
        it must be noted, his /working definition/ of what it means to be a
        Christian. Buddha cast it in different terms. It's the eternal puzzle,
        that self-grasp that seems to begin in the unsolved position,
        prompting the search for the self-solution. I have found that reading
        SK with an eye on the puzzle he was trying to solve, using his notion
        of Christianity as his key, helps put what he says in perspective.
        From my viewpoint, I see his solution to the self-puzzle as a
        universal solution, one which gives his solution a pluralistic hue.

        I will get to my take on your questions later, but I figured if we
        come at it from the same place, seeing the book as his solution to his
        quandary, we will better understand what each other is saying. I see
        Een/Ben has returned. That's good for dialogue.

        "And what does all of this mean when the reader now gathers together
        the elements developed in the various sections? It means: this is an
        authorship of which the total thought is the task of becoming a
        Christian. But it is an authorship that from the beginning has
        understood, with dialectical consistency has pursued, what the
        implications of this are that the situation is Christendom, which is
        the category of reflection, and therefore has cast all the Christian
        relationships into reflection. In Christendom—to become a Christian is
        either to become what one is (the inwardness of reflection or the
        reflection of inward deepening), or it is first of all to be wrested
        out of a delusion, which again is a category of reflection." (PV,
        Hong, pp. 55-56)
      • John Anngeister
        Ben & Jim, Ben, I feel it is you to whom I owe the first apology, not only for having cut off my own reading of CUP, but for my lack of response to your post
        Message 3 of 4 , Jan 4, 2005
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          Ben & Jim,

          Ben, I feel it is you to whom I owe the first apology, not
          only for having cut off my own reading of CUP, but for my
          lack of response to your post #295. If I failed to fulfill
          these obligations, please know that I was far from being in
          contempt of them. I am sorry, I was simply overwhelmed by
          my lack of understanding, which I attributed to over-
          reliance upon an earlier period of reading K, now several
          years "cold." Things are warming up for me lately, but my
          reading is still dilute, and spread among various authors.

          My *answer* to Jim in your silence (albeit in my own
          unpleasant fashion) has caused some offense? I think my
          reference to your #238 was apt, although my effort to alert
          Jim to the folly of his objectivist criticism of K was,
          again, full of impatience. I hope I did not make any
          insinuation that I took myself to be your spokesperson.

          Jim, I realize there is a branch of existentialism of like mind to
          your outlook, also claiming at least distant inspiration from
          Kierkegaard, and this certainly gives you a right to quote K from a
          materialist perspective. I admit a wrong in having insinuated that
          you had no place here, and am sorry. I noted that your response
          graciously acknowledged that I must simply find writing such as yours
          to be an irritant. I would be fine to leave it at that. But further
          than that, your sincerity is well-evidenced by the fact that you
          complete your commitments to do the reading, and respond to all of
          your mail -- in both of which categories my own sincerity must by now
          be held in question by more than one list member.

          Ben, I continue to find in your writing quite a valuable source of
          thoughtful reflection, and am your willing reader in every way.


          --- In kierkegaardians@yahoogroups.com, "Een Enkelte"
          <eenenkelte@y...> wrote:
          > John,
          > Perhaps your condemnation was a step or two ahead of your better
          > judgment?
          > I am persuaded that the honest, thoughtful and discriminating
          > of this post (Re:) would accept an apology - if you have the
          > and good will to offer one.
          > What do you say?
          > Very best regards,
          > Ben.
        • Jim Stuart
          Ben, Thank you very much for your detailed and very instructive response to my remarks on Concluding Unscientific Postscript. Completing my reading of CUP and
          Message 4 of 4 , Jan 6, 2005
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            Thank you very much for your detailed and very instructive response to my remarks on Concluding Unscientific Postscript. Completing my reading of CUP and formulating my tentative remarks on the book has left my mentally exhausted, so I am not as yet up to the task of offering any substantial response to your post. Suffice to say, I find all your remarks very helpful, and what you say about the difference between the Johannes Climacus and Judge Wilhelm quotes strikes me as being fundamentally correct.


            Again mental exhaustion prevents me giving a substantial response to your thoughts. However, what you say seems a precursor to further discussion, rather than a 'finished' argument or position., so perhaps a detailed response to your post is not required. Anyway, what you write has, as usual, given me something to think about.


            Thank you for your conciliatory remarks and your apology which I am pleased to accept. I look forward to mutually edifying discussion in the future.


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