My 1995-1996 Turkish Journal contains quotations from, and commentary on, some of S.K.'s journal entries. Unfortunately, I don't have complete bibliographical data, just the entry numbers. What sent me back to my Turkish Journal was London Karl's request that I dig up Kierkegaardian passages that smack of anti-natalism.
S. K. on Women, #4998. ". . . there is a moment in her life when she deceptively appears to be infinitude herself -- and that is when man is captured. And as a wife she is quite simply -- finitude."
S. K. seems to be alluding to the Platonic-Augustinian idea that woman (man too in Plato) can be either a deceptive appearance or a sort of reminder of Transcendence, a waker-upper from our Cave-like amnesia. (Anamnesis doctrine).
S. K. #5000. ". . . Christianity and all more profound views of life take a dim view of the relation to the opposite sex, for they assume that getting involved with the other sex is the demotion of man."
A problem for S. K. If the human race ought to come to an end, if procreation and propagation of the species is better not engaged in, then where will the souls come from to share in the divine life? Or does S. K. believe in the pre-existence of souls? Cf. #3970 where S. K. seems to endorse pre-existence.
Again the tension of Platonic-Gnostic and Jewish-Aristotelian elements in Christianity.
But, given problems like these, would it not be absurd to give up the quest for metaphysical truth and sink into a mundane existence?
S. K. #5003. To marry a woman is to be finitized and mediocratized by her. [A paraphrase, apparently, not a quotation.]
S. K. #5005. "Man was structured for eternity; woman leads him into a side remark."
S. K. 5006. "An eminently masculine intellectuality joined to a feminine submissiveness -- that is the truly religious."
Whereas the extrovert finds himself in socializing, the introvert loses himself in it: he experiences the loss of his inwardness, which is precious to him, a pearl of great price, not willingly surrendered. The clearest expression of this dismay at self-loss that I am aware of finds expression is an early (1836) journal entry of Søren Kierkegaard:
I have just returned from a party of which I was the life and soul; witty banter flowed from my lips, everyone laughed and admired me -- but I came away, indeed the dash should be as long as the radius of the earth's orbit ------------------------------------------- wanting to shoot myself. (The Diary of Søren Kierkegaard, ed. Peter P. Rohde, p. 13)
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value (Vermischte Bemerkungen), ed von Wright, tr. Winch (University of Chicago Press, 1980), p. 53e:
I believe that one of the things Christianity says is that sound doctrines are all useless. That you have to change your life. (Or the direction of your life.)
It says that all wisdom is cold; and that you can no more use it for setting your life to rights that you can forge iron when it is cold.
The point is that a sound doctrine need not take hold of you; you can follow it as you would a doctor's prescription. -- But here you need something to move you and turn you in a new direction. -- (I.e. this is how I understand it.) Once you have been turned around, you must stay turned around.
Wisdom is passionless. But faith by contrast is what Kierkegaard calls a passion.
Sound doctrines are useless? It would be truer to say that faith as a mere subjective passion is useless. The fideisms of Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein fall far below the balanced positions of Augustine and Aquinas. The latter thinkers understood that sound doctrine, though insufficient, was an indispensable guide. They neither denigrated reason nor overestimated its reach. Reason without faith may be existentially empty and passionless, but faith without reason is blind and runs the risk of fanaticism.
He is an animal, but also a spirit -- and thus a riddle to himself. He reasons and speaks, he objectifies, he says 'I' and he means it. Thus he does not parrot the word 'I'; uttering 'I' he expresses self-awareness. Man has a world (Welt), not merely an environment (Umwelt). Man envisages a Higher Life, a higher destiny, whether within history or beyond it. And then he puzzles himself over whether this is a mere fancy, a delusion, or whether it presages the genuine possibility of a higher life.
More than an animal, he can yet sink lower than any animal which fact is a reverse index of his spiritual status. He can as easily devote himself to scatology as to eschatology. The antics of a Marquis de Sade are as probative of man's status as the life of a St. Augustine.
Kierkegaard writes that "every higher conception of life . . . takes the view that the task for men is to strive after kinship with the Deity . . . ." (Attack Upon Christendom, p. 265) We face the danger of "minimizing our own significance" as S. K. puts it, of selling ourselves short. And yet how difficult it is to believe in one's own significance! The problem is compounded by not knowing what one's significance is assuming that one has significance. Not knowing that it is or what it is, one cannot minimize it.
Kierkegaard solves the problem by way of his dogmatic and fideistic adherence to Christian anthropology and soteriology. Undiluted Christianity is his answer. My answer: live so as to deserve immortality. Live as if you have a higher destiny. It cannot be proven, but the arguments against it can all be neutralized. Man's whence and whither are shrouded in darkness and will remain so in this life. Ignorabimus. In the final analysis you must decide what to believe and how to live.
You could be wrong, no doubt. But if you are wrong, what have you lost? Some baubles and trinkets. If you say that truth will have been lost, I will ask you how you know that and why you think truth is a value in a meaningless universe. I will further press you on the nature of truth and undermine your smug conceit that truth could exist in a meaningless wholly material universe.
The image is by Paul Klee, Engel noch tastend, angel still groping. We perhaps are fallen angels, desolation angels, in the dark, but knowing that we are, and ever groping.
S. Kierkegaard/J. Climacus, Concluding Unscientific Postscript (Swenson and Lowrie tr., Princeton UP, 1941, pp. 154-155, emphasis added):
All honor to him who can handle learnedly the learned question of immortality! But the question of immortality is essentially not a learned question, rather it is a question of inwardness, which the subject by becoming subjective must put to himself. Objectively the question cannot be answered, because objectively it cannot be put, since immortality precisely is the potentiation and highest development of the developed subjectivity. [. . . ] Systematically, immortality cannot be proved at all. The fault does not lie in the proofs, but in the fact that people will not understand that viewed systematically the whole question is nonsense, so that instead of seeking outward proofs, one had better seek to become a little subjective. Immortality is the most passionate interest of subjectivity; precisely in the interest lies the proof. [. . . ]
Quite simply therefore the existing subject asks, not about immortality in general, for such a phantom has no existence, but about his immortality, about what it means to become immortal, whether he is able to contribute anything to the accomplishment of this end, or whether he becomes immortal as a matter of course . . .
I agree that the question of immortality is primarily an existential question, a question for the existing individual, and not primarily a learned or scholarly or 'scientific' or objective question. And surely there is no immortality in general any more than there is a chamber pot in general. Mortality and immortality are in every case my mortality or immortality and it is clear that I have an intense personal interest in the outcome. I am not related to the question of my own immortality in the way I am related to a purely objective question that doesn't affect me personally, the question, say, whether the universe had a beginning 15 billion years or only 5 billion years ago, or had no beginning at all, etc. Such questions, as interesting at they are from a purely theoretical point of view, are existentially indifferent. What's more, occupation with such questions can serve to distract us from the existential questions that really matter. Finally, I agree that one is not immortal as a matter of course, but that immortality is at least in part a task, a matter of the free cultivation of inwardness, the ethical constitution of the self.
So far, then, I agree with SK. Unfortunately, SK exaggerates these insights to the point of making them untenable. For surely it is preposterous to maintain, as SK does maintain above, that the immortality question has nothing objective about it. Let us suppose that how I live, what I do, whether and to what extent I cultivate my inwardness, and whether or not I lose myself in the pseudo-reality and inauthenticity of social existence does affect whether I will survive my bodily death. Suppose, in other words, that my immortality does depend on the highest development and potentiation of my subjectivity and that soul-making is a task. Well, if this is the case, then this is objectively the case. And if it is the case that immortality is a possibility for beings like us, then this is objectively the case. It is not the case because of some subjective stance or attitude that I might or might not assume. I cannot make it be the case if it is not the case by any potentiation of inwardness. I cannot will myself into immortality unless it is objectively the case that immortality is a possibility for beings like us. Furthermore, if we do not become immortal as a matter of course, then this too is objectively the case if it is the case.
And because the question of immortality has an objective side, it is important to examine the reasons for and against.
Kierkegaard/Climacus comes across as a confused irrationalist in the above passages and surrounding text. If a question is primarily existential, it does not follow that it cannot be "objectively put," for of course it can. If a question is primarily subjective, it does not follow that it is purely subjective. And if immortality cannot strictly be proven, it does not follow that there is nothing objective about the issue. This is another, fairly blatant, confusion. Has any one succeeded in strictly proving that the soul is immortal or strictly proving the opposite? No. Is the question an objective question? Yes.
It is simply false to say that "viewed systematically the whole question is nonsense." What is true is that, if the question is viewed SOLELY in a systematic and objective way it is nonsense. For it is clear that the question affects the existing individual in his innermost being. What is troubling about SK is that he cannot convey his insights without dressing them up in irrationalist garb that makes them strictly false.
Does my interest in my personal immortality constitute the proof of my personal immortality? Of course not. So why does SK maintain something so plainly preposterous? For literary effect? To serve as a corrective to Hegelian or other 'systematic' excess? But surely the proper response to an extreme position is not an equal but opposite extreme position, but a moderate and reasonable one.
The following passage from Concluding Unscientific Postscript embodies a penetrating insight:
. . . the legal authority shows its impotence precisely when it shows its power: its power by giving permission, its impotence by not being able to make it permissible. (p. 460, tr. Swenson & Lowrie)
My permitting you to do X does not make X permissible. My forbidding you to do X does not make X impermissible. My permitting (forbidding) is justifed only if what I permit (forbid) is in itself permissible (impermissible). And the same goes for any finite agent or collection of finite agents. A finite agent may have the power to permit and forbid, but it cannot have the power to make permissible or impermissible. Finite agency, then, betrays its impotence in exercising its power.
For example, the moral permissibility of killing in self-defense is what it is independently of the State's power to permit or forbid via its laws. The State cannot make morally permissible what is morally permissible by passing and enforcing laws that permit it. Nor can the State make morally impermissible what is morally permissible by passing and enforcing laws that proscribe it.
Here below Might and Right fall asunder: the powerful are not always just, and the just are not always powerful. But it would be a mistake to think that the mighty cannot be right, or that the right cannot be mighty. The falling asunder is consistent with a certain amount of overlap.
The State is practically necessary and morally justifiable. Or so I would argue against the anarchists. But fear of the State is rational: its power is awesome and sometimes misused. This is why the State's power must be hedged round with limits.
We don't know whether or not God exists. But we do know that nothing is worthy of being called God unless it is the perfect harmonization and colaescence of Might and Right, of Power and Justice, of Will and Reason.
Tough questions: Could such a transcendental Ideal (in Kant's sense) be merely a transcendental Ideal impossible of existence in reality? And could anything impossible count as an ideal? But if God is possible would he not have to be actual?
He presupposes the truth of Christianity. The question for him is not whether it is true but how it is properly to be lived. His concern is the existential appropriation of what is antecedently accepted as true. This is reflected in his otherwise absurd dictum, "Truth is subjectivity." So Heidegger was right when he called him, not a philosopher, but "a religious writer."
Kierkegaard dreaded ending up the property and preserve of professional scholars. But who reads him apart from professors of philosophy, of religion, of divinity, of Danish literature, and their students? The professors read him for professional purposes, to make a living; the students also read him for professional purposes, to prepare for making a living. His works have become fodder for the career game, just as he feared. But there is something worse, as S. K. would be the first to point out, namely, a man's filling his belly from the fact that another man was crucified. The Kierkegaard scholar merely fills his belly from the fact that a man reflected lifelong on what it might mean to follow the one who was crucified.
. . .I once spoke quite zealously about how no positive religion could be tolerant, precisely because, with its claim to be revealed religion, it must insist that it is the only true religion, and it would have to consign the others to untruth. From the point of view of positive religion, a general religiousness, 'a religion in general,' must therefore be a nonentity. As I eagerly developed this idea, I happened to repeat the expression 'a religion in general,' and adopted as my principle that a religion (i.e., a positive religion) in general is a nonentity. 'Yes, and so is a chamber pot in general,' said K., thus putting a damper on my zeal.
Lev Shestov and Kierkegaard have much in common. Both are irrationalists, to mention the deepest commonality. Husserl and Kierkegaard have almost nothing in common except that both are passionate truth-seekers each in his own way. So I find it amazing that it was Edmund Husserl, of all people, who introduced Shestov to Kierkegaard's writings. As Shestov explains in In Memory of a Great Philosopher:
. . . during my visit to Freiburg [im Breisgau, where Husserl lived], learning that I had never read Kierkegaard, Husserl began not to ask but to demand - with enigmatic insistence - that I acquaint myself with the works of the Danish thinker. How was it that a man whose whole life had been a celebration of reason should have led me to Kierkegaard's hymn to the absurd? Husserl, to be sure, seems to have become acquainted with Kierkegaard only during the last years of his life. There is no evidence in his works of familiarity with any of the writings of the author of Either-Or. But it seems clear that Kierkegaard's ideas deeply impressed him.
It testifies to the stature of both men that they sought each other out for dialogue despite the unbridgeable gulf that separated them.
Karl Marx in his Theses on Feuerbach protested that the philosophers have merely interpreted the world in various ways, when the point is to change it. (Die Philosophen haben die Welt verschieden interpretiert; aber es kommt darauf an, sie zu veraendern.) His century-mate, Soren Kierkegaard, at the opposite end of the political spectrum, but sharing Marx’s disdain for mere theory, might have said that the point was to change oneself, to become oneself. Both thinkers were anti-contemplative and anti-speculative, but in such wildly divergent ways! The social activist Marx denied interiority by trying to merge the individual into his species-being (Gattungswesen) while the existentialist Kierkegaard fetishized interiority: “Truth is subjectivity” (Concluding Unscientific Postscript).