Re: The Thorny Issue
- Dear Rick and Willy,
Does Kierkegaard introduce the idea of "the thorn in the flesh" to make a particular point?
I'll tread carefully, as I find Anti-Climacus's introduction to Part Two of SUD, Rick's posting of 16th June, and Willy's response of 17th June all difficult to get to grips with.
Let me start by going a bit further back to Saint Paul. Paul discusses his own thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians Chapter 12. It is significant to note, that Paul's thorn comes AFTER he has become a Christian. Paul asks God to remove his thorn, but God does not, instead He tells Paul that "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Paul concludes "For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong."
In the introduction to Part Two of SUD (Hannay, pp. 109-11), Kierkegaard, writing as Anti-Climacus, certainly seems to be referring to an autobiographical event. The way Anti-Climacus describes this particular thorn in the flesh is as potential stumbling block which may prevent him (Kierkegaard) from making the transition to Christianity (Religiousness B). The thorn in the flesh is something which heightens the fundamental choice he must make. It is both a temptation, and a sign, which if interpreted correctly, indicates which way he must go.
For you, Rick, this all points to "the disjunction". Now, I understood you to mean by 'the disjunction' the transition from the aesthetic sphere of existence to the ethical sphere of existence, but what Anti-Climacus says here, with his reference to "before God" would suggest a reference to either the transition from the ethical sphere to the sphere of religiousness A or the transition from the sphere of religiousness A to the sphere of religiousness B. The individual suffering the thorn in the flesh in SUD has the conception of God, although he doesn't, as yet, appear to have the conception of sin. (I'm not sure about this, though. If the borderline individual is supposed to point to the borderline between Part One and Part Two of SUD, and sin only comes in at the start of Part Two, then the borderline individual cannot have the conception of sin - but see what I suggest below.) Here is how Anti-Climacus describes the state of the individual:
"We may cite here the most dialectical borderline case between despair and sin, namely what could be termed a poet-existence inclined towards the religious, an existence which has something in common with the despair of resignation except for the presence in it of the conception of God." (SUD, Hannay, p. 109)
One thing that is not clear to me is whether an individual gains 'the conception of God' before she gains 'the conception of sin', or whether these two conceptions come at the same instant. Arguably, to exist 'before God' JUST IS to have 'consciousness of sin'. If this is right, and with Ben's recent informative remarks on Socrates to help us, the transition referred to here, at the start of SUD Part Two is the transition from an existence as an ethical individual to an existence as a religiousness A individual. On this account, Socrates remained as an ethical individual, who did not exist before God, and did not have consciousness of sin.
However this interpretation is rather compromised by Anti-Climacus describing his 'borderline' individual as having a 'poet-existence' which suggests the aesthetic sphere. Perhaps Rick is correct after all!
Willy, your quotes from EUD and Point of View have Kierkegaard reflecting on Saint Paul's thorn in the flesh. I'm reluctant to draw conclusions from your suggestive quotes as I don't have either EUD nor Point of View to read them in context. Your take on the quotes goes as follows:
"I would argue that this 'thorn' is the reflection upon having lost the answer, of being evicted from the beatitude. This reflection can only occur after the fact of the finding that is the losing, where the next losing is again the finding of oneself without the answer. This sets up a before and an after that I see forming the backbone of his
Now I'm not sure about this interpretation because for Saint Paul the gaining of the thorn in the flesh, and his dealing with it as best he can all takes place while he is, and remains, a Christian. On the other hand the "backbone of [Kierkegaard's] writings" is concerned with what if necessary for an individual TO BECOME a Christian. Any "before and after" WITHIN the sphere of religiousness B (Christianity) is not very significant compared with the difference between not being a Christian and being a Christian.
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- Hi Rick,
Sorry, I completely misunderstood what you meant by 'the disjunction'. Thanks for correcting me.
Let me respond to the following part of your post:
"Whenever I see Kierkegaard qualifying a term for definitional purposes I see the qualitative disjunction at work. What I saw was the qualifying of sin as being before God. The disjunction automatically tells me that there is sin and there is sin and that the difference between the two is delineated by qualifying one of them as before God.
With that context in mind I view what he is saying as expressing the other side of the disjunction and as Kierkegaard's special second power case."
I don't think this is right as sin is ALWAYS before God, or to put it another way: 'Sin is before God' is a grammatical remark. Sin that is not before God is a contradiction in terms. Thus I don't think you can get your idea of sin 'raised to the second power' off the ground.
On the matter of the thorn, you suggest that, for Kierkegaard, "the thorn is the return to the temporal state after having tasted eternity". This interpretation doesn't seem to me to fit what Anti-Climacus says in the introduction to Part Two of SUD, as there is no claim that the borderline individual had "tasted eternity".
Further, I don't think it is what Saint Paul meant in 2 Corinthians Chapter 12. I think that his being "caught up to the third heaven" and his been given a thorn in the flesh "to keep me from being from being too elated" are not related to each other. I understand his talk of a thorn in the flesh as perhaps a reference to some illness, or bodily pain, or possibly a temptation he struggled to resist.
I don't think the thorn in the flesh is just the existing as a temporal being, I think it is some mode of existence as a temporal being which involves weakness.
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- Hi Rick,
How is it best to read a work by Kierkegaard? - With an open mind and no fixed idea of what to expect? Or with a template in place, a fixed idea of what the structure of the work will be? You opt for the second alternative:
"I begin reading a work by Kierkegaard with the intent of uncovering the way he is going to express the qualitative disjunction in the particular work. I begin with a template as it were."
Now there may well be situations where applying a template, approaching the situation with a pre-conceived idea of what is going on, is appropriate and the best method of investigation. However, sometimes the 'pre-conceived idea' approach' is not appropriate: If the approach leads to absurdities on a number of occasions, then it is rational to abandon the approach.
I think it is time for you to abandon the 'qualitative disjunction' template approach to Kierkegaard as it is leading to absurdities. In his message 665 (postscript), Ben clearly and decisively demonstrated that the idea of 'being a Christian raised to the second power' is a nonsense. What Ben says about 'being a Christian raised to the second power' can equally be applied to your idea of 'faith raised to the second power', as being a Christian and having faith are equivalent. If faith is maximum inwardness, or maximum passion, then 'faith raised to the second power' is unintelligible nonsense.
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- Yo, Ricky, I'll begin with something you have said and generalize it
in an attempt to make the case for the template you suggest.
RM: "Yes, and there you have it. I begin reading a work by Kierkegaard
with the intent of uncovering the way he is going to express the
qualitative disjunction in the particular work. I begin with a
template as it were. You do not recognize that template in either
meaning of the term. That separates our respective readings."
I will begin with the following quote, one I copied out of the
Cambridge Companion (p.237) that was in an essay by Timothy Jackson,
titled "Kierkegaard on grace and free will."
"The matter is quite simple. In order to have faith, there must first
be existence, an existential qualification. This is what I am able to
emphasize that to have faith, before there can be any question
having faith, there must be the /situation/. And this situation must
be brought about by an existential step on the part of the
individual." (JP II 20)
How does one make sense of SK? What is he saying? What is he talking
about? Let's set aside our particular dispute as to how abstract your
format really isyou did claim a seeing that could be taken as an
insight into the necessity of placing an absolute wedge between the
'leaped from' and the 'leaped to'and focus on the possible use
format as a guide to that 'other reading' of SK, where the disjunction
is in place. We know that for SK that there is a double-meaning of
faith. There is faith, there is faith, and between the two is an
existential step. For instance, here is two quotes from F&T to that
"The infinite resignation is the last stage prior to faith, so that
one who has not made this movement has not faith; for only in the
infinite resignation do I become clear to myself with respect to my
eternal validity, and only then can there be any question of grasping
existence by virtue of faith." (F&T, Lowrie, p. 57: Hong, p. 46)
"For faith is not the first immediacy but a subsequent immediacy. The
first immediacy is the aesthetical, and about this the Hegelian
philosophy may be in the right. But faith is not the aesthetical
else faith has never existed because it has always existed." (Ibid.,
Lowrie, p. 92: Hong, p. 82)
A format reading would then be a reading of what SK is saying with an
eye on the difference he is talking about. Instead of trying to
understand /what/ he is saying, see him as expressing a difference, an
absolute difference, between two ways of being. In saying that, it
strikes me that the difference between the two readings of SK is that
one of those readings sees his basic intent as explication of a
difference. Turn that around and say that if the different ways of
interpreting him were to be collected into two separate categories
that this separation would do exactly that.
As I continue to reflect upon this difference in order to more clearly
express my point here, it seems to me that if SK were in fact speaking
to a difference that is an absolute difference and a reader were
trying to form a picture of what he was saying, that that trying would
fail unless that picture is of a difference being painted in various
poses; there being no "it" in the sense being sought, no /what/. See,
the way around trying to create an existential system is to speak of
the difference created by the existential. Or rather, let the
definition of the existential be determined by the difference being
And, while I have the floor, let me repeat that in other words. If
what we have with SK's writings is a difference appearing in different
guises, and someone were trying to connect those different guises into
a consistent whole, the fact that each guise would contain the
difference, wouldn't that tend to destroy the consistency of the
whole when that particular guise was placed within the whole that is
to contain it? I think you inadvertently made that point when you saw
the correlation between the Postscript and Sickness as saying the same
thing differently. Of course, Hannay, in his Cambridge Companion essay
on despair has already made that connection and added Either/Or to the
mix (you are always behind the curve, aren't you?).
If that difference will not synthesize, the only proper thing to do is
hold it apart. Your format (serendipitously?)does exactly that. It
goes without saying that the case I have made rests solely upon SK
doing what I see him doing. If he is not doing what I see him doing,
why then all I can say is that it is great fun assuming it so.