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Monday, March 28, 2011


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I greatly enjoyed reading your post Bill.

I do wonder though to what extent those that call themselves philosophers are lovers of the seeking of wisdom rather than lovers of wisdom itself. That is, I wonder to what extent philosophy, to actual philosophers, is the end rather than the means.

Perhaps sagehood is the realization that one's quest is the end in itself?

Thank you, Alfred.

>>That is, I wonder to what extent philosophy, to actual philosophers, is the end rather than the means.<<

Well, for most paid teachers/professors of philosophy philosophy is a means to filling their bellies such that, were they not able to fill their bellies from it, they would do something else.

It goes without saying that one can be a paid professor of philosophy and be a real philosopher, e.g. Santayana before he quit teaching and Cambridge, Mass and headed for Rome. Kant. And many others.

A real philosopher (as opposed to a belly-filler) could pursue philosophy as an end in itself and not as a means to something beyond philosophy such as what religionists and mystics aim at. His goal may be purely theoretical, "to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term." (Wilfrid Sellars, "Philosophy and the Scientific Image iof Man," first sentence.

Nothing wrong with that, and far, far above the belly-filler. But not enough for me.

Thanks for the reply Bill.

Yes, by actual philosopher, I do mean real philosopher as opposed to belly-filler.

You wrote: His goal may be purely theoretical, "to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term."

I'm still thinking of something different I believe. Consider the plight of a theoretical physicist that loves the challenge of his work - that loves *doing* physics - finding at long last, the true (physical) theory of "everything". I believe that such a man would think "dang, is that all there is?". What would a physicist - the man that loves doing physics - do?

Do you love *doing* philosophy? Do you enjoy reading the menu, anticipating the meal to come with the occasional bite of appetizer? If you could, by pressing a magic button, possess the saving truth, would you press it?

Hi Bill -
Nice post. Your rough and ready taxonomy serves to indicate the limitations of each sort of pursuit. I think that the proverbial well-rounded person needs some of each -- feet on the ground, head in the clouds, and a clear sense that these are (somehow) part of a whole.

Thanks, Bob. Nice comment!

Hi Bill, I've been reading your blog for quite some time now with much interest. I just wanted to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this entry. It so succinctly explains what I try to explain to my intro to philosophy students about the different ways to connect to the Absolute. While I spend most of my time developing various philosophical ways this can be done, I always end with Kierkegaard who, philosophically, argues, as you point out, for faith, hope, devotion, and love.

I should say, though, to echo Bob's lines, that faith, hope, devotion, and love are not incompatible with the rigidity of discursive reason. Of course, nothing you say here implies this, but it's worth emphasizing, I think. I'm tempted to believe that to understand what one loves, hopes for, devotes oneself to, and has faith in, requires the discursivity of reason. But, it also may turn out that Kierkegaard is right: discursive reason does not nor can it not begin without presuppositions. Do I have myself caught in a circle, vicious or otherwise?

Whoops! I guess I didn't read what you wrote carefully enough. You clearly emphasize the compatibility between philosophy and religion at the end of your post. So, I guess, I'd like to read more about how you understand this compatibility.

Hi Shannon,

Thanks for the comment and thanks for reading my blog. I see that you teach at my old undergraduate alma mater and that you are a Kierkegaard scholar. Let me ask you your opinion of the Joakim Garff biography (Kimmse trans. Princeton 2005). I recently finished reading this monstrous tome (almost 900 pages) and was favorably impressed. In terms of sheer detail, it may never be surpassed. The author definitely avoids hagiography, which is good, but in places his tone is too breezy and post-modern for my taste. I wonder whether he has any really deep sympathy with S.K.'s point of view. Any thoughts?

I've been fascinated with Kierkegaard all my philosophical life. But I read him as an irrationalist, and that puts me off. I lump him in with Lev Shestov and Tertullian, rightly or wrongly.

I tend to think of philosophy, religion, and mysticism as different routes up the same mountain. If there are three routes to the summit of K2, it doesn't follow that there are three summits. I read S. K. as at once both anti-rational and anti-mystical.

Perhaps I'll dig up some of my Kierkegaard posts and we can discuss this in more detail. Thanks again for writing.

On the one hand, philosopher x tell us that:

Philosophy is not enough. It needs supplementation by the other paths mentioned. Analogy. You go to a restaurant to eat, not to study the menu. But reading the menu is a means to the end of ordering and enjoying the meal. Philosophy is like reading the menu; eating is like attaining the Goal.

On the other hand, philosopher y tell us that:

Jesus of Nazareth was not a philosopher, pace George Bush. If you insist that he was, then I will challenge you to show me the arguments whereby he established such dicta as "I and the Father are one," etc. I will demand the premises whence he arrived at this ‘conclusion.’

I wonder whether philosopher x and philosopher y are identical, for I can imagine philosopher y demanding that philosopher x provide the premises whence he arrived at the “conclusion” that “Philosophy is not enough.”

Would philosopher x offer the statement, “The philosopher fails to attain the Absolute because discursive reason dissolves in skepticism,” here shorn of the hypotheticality which it bore in the original, as the or as a premise for the conclusion, “Philosophy is not enough”? But that too stands in need of argumentation.

You are not getting my point. I suggest you re-read my post, carefully this time.

Hi Bill,

It took me close to two years to get through Garff's biography. I enjoyed every minute of it. You are right, the amount of detail of SK's life that Garff divulges is incredible. Indeed, it's a momentous book. Because I'm not an intellectual historian of SK, I can't speak to the accuracy of the book. I am aware, though, that some items in the book caused controversy. For example, one criticism of the book had to do with the lack of scholarly primary and secondary references.

Also, there was some anger about Garff's representation of SK as a kind of dandy. You might be interested in Peter Tudvad's take on the book. He wrote an article called "SAK: An Unscholarly Biography about Soren Kierkegaard."

It's funny, I started reading Kierkegaard because I was attracted to fideism. But in my relatively short philosophical career, fideism has significantly fallen out of favor with me. As I have found it less attractive of a position, I began to find ways to excuse Kierkegaard of the charge of irrationalism. I now read (controversially, to be sure) Kierkegaard as broadly situated within the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition, possibly bridging it with the Platonic-Augustinian tradition -- we come to know God, first, through temporal, contingent particulars, and then as we begin to reflect on what makes these particulars possible, we come to see that God is the ontological pre-condition of them. I see this kind of reasoning throughout both the Climicean and religious works.

Of course, I think the charge of irrationalism is tempting to make. And to a certain degree it is correct. However, I take it that whatever irrationalism Kierkegaard endorses is set against what he saw as the hyper-rationalism of Hegelianism. So, his "irrationalism" is specific to his critique of that tradition. C. Stephen Evans argues, convincingly, that Kierkegaard's beef with reason is strictly to do with what he terms "concrete" reason (Cf. Faith Beyond Reason, pp. 94-95). This is the reason of the Enlightenment, culminating in Hegel. According to concrete reason, faith is irrational. But, Kierkegaard calls such reason a "blockhead and dunce" (p. 95).

However, nowhere to my knowledge does Kierkegaard abandon the normative use of reason as truth aiming. He does believe, though, that faith is also truth aiming, and to tell the whole truth, so help me God, will require the correcting influence of faith on reason.

So, I'm very wary about grouping Kierkegaard with the likes of Shestov, who doesn't seem to have any use for reason, concrete or otherwise.


Thanks for the reference to the Tudvad review, which is damning, especially with its accusations of plagiarism. Here it is: http://www.faklen.dk/english/eng-tudvad07-01.php

I am far from being an SK scholar, but having read Garff's book, Tudvad's review is very credible. Glancing through my marginalia, I find on p. 116 bottom of the English translation the annotation, "Is this biography or historical fiction?" The impression I got from this and many other passages was that Garff was making up a story based on S. K.'s life. Tudvad has confirmed me in this suspicion.


I'm glad you have moved away from fideism. But I would not have thought to situate SK within the A-T tradition or to take him as a bridge between the A-T and the P-A traditions. It sounds unlikely to me, but then perhaps you have impressive arguments.

SK definitely thinks like a Platonist, but I think it is also clear that he is averse to the notion that the existence of God can be rendered credible by any considerations *a contingentia mundi,* though I can't explain why at the moment.

>>However, nowhere to my knowledge does Kierkegaard abandon the normative use of reason as truth aiming.<<

Speaking of immortality on p. 154 of CUP (Swenson and Lowrie tr.), Johannes Climacus says that objectively the question cannot be answered. The same goes for God I should think.. But more importantly, the passages where JC holds that the Incarnation is logically absurd yet believable anyway seem to speak against your position. But no doubt you have an answer to this.

Hi Bill,

Indeed, I do have an answer (in the form of an objection) to the reading of Climacus (and Kierkegaard) as believing that the Incarnation is logically absurd. But I want to spend some time developing it for you as it (1) is an important issue and (2) requires a lot of contextualizing. In short, I wouldn't be doing justice to the problem by offering a simple explanation. It just isn't simple.

So, will you take a rain check?

I could reply to your reply with a "You are not getting my point. I suggest you re-read my comment, carefully this time." But that would be non-productive and even churlish.

Perhaps then another approach would be better. I agree fully with your point about the discursiveness of human intellectual activity, including philosophical activity. I wonder, however, whether you and Plato are right in restricting human intellectual and philosophical activity to the dialectical. There is, after all, the Aristotelian perspective according to which human intelligence is capable, not only of dialexis, but also of apodeixis, of demonstrative knowledge, and this not only in mathematics but also in philosophy. If such a perspective can stand up to scrutiny, then we need not face the unhappy prospect that “discursive reason dissolves in[to] skepticism.”

And because I am vane enough I will leave you this postscript which thanks you first for your site and for the opportunity which you still sometimes provide your readers to comment upon it (if you do insist we remove our hats) also apologizing because I know I am quite a fool even if I do not believe it -- and asks, second, why science is not included in the list above.

Or do you think that philosophers never ask questions to which scientists do or better yet could know the answer? Because if the truth does not divulge the general nature of the particulars of this world, and if it contains nothing relating to numbers and number-like things, I am afraid as a mortal man it would bore me -- or the mystical vision would have never to end (as the visions of living mystics, so I think and by the testimony of history, do).

But if we can endeavor to be philosophers, religious, mystics, should we also endeavor to be scientists?


I would be very interested in hearing how you object to the reading of Climacus/Kierkegaard as holding that the Incarnation is logically absurd. Rain check accepted.

Can we assume that what SK puts in the mouth of J. Climacus are SK's own words? I found it very interesting from Garff's book how widespread was the use of pseudonyms in the Copenhagen literary scene in the 1840s and '50s.

Is Blystone still teaching?


You are a strange bird. You don't have to remove your hat, but you do have to make a serious attempt to talk sense. Not detecting much sense in the comment to which your latest is a postscript, I deleted it.

If you know that you a fool, how can you not believe it? Doesn't *S knows that p* entail *S believes that p?*

>>why science is not included in the list above.<<

That's a reasonable question. There is no way to give a quick answer that will not appear tendentious.


You bring up an important question, one concerning the different senses of 'dialectic' and 'dialectical.' A fuller treatment would have to sort out the main senses that have surfaced in the history of philosophy. For example, in Kant and Hegel, 'dialectic' means different things. Very roughly, in Kant it has a negative sense while in Hegel it has a positive sense. The Transcendenal Dialectic of the CPR is concerned to exhibit the noncognitivity of rational psychology, philosophical cosmology, and natural theology.

I was using the word broadly above to include apodeixis. So I was using 'dialectical' as roughly equivalent to 'discursive.' The contrast term would then not be 'demonstrative' since demonstration is a discursive procedure. The contrast would be with 'phenomenological' (as in the usage of G. Bergmann and his Iowa School).

Must (pure) reason issue in skepticism? I didnt take a stand on this question above. I merely mentioned this as an "occupational hazard" of the philosopher. So I don'tr rule out the possibility of strict demonstrations in philosophy. But when it comes to the really important questions, such God and the soul, I am not aware of any strict demonstrations either for or against.

Do you have anrgument for me that strictly proves the existence of God or the immortality of the soul?


While I hope that there is a God and that I possess an immortal soul, I, like you, am not aware of any genuine proof that either is the case. On the other hand, while I fear that there is no God and that I do not possess an immortal soul, I equally unaware of any genuine proof that either of the latter two propositions is the case.

This is not a matter of skepticism. It may be that our not having such knowledge is a contingent matter of fact, not one of necessary principle.

Your clarification re "dialectical, "discursive," and "demonstrative" is just fine. But I want to add a comment re Whitehead's Plato and footnote remark: Aristotle deserves at least an appendix.

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