Philosophical Fragments

Reviews and assessments

Kierkegaard was criticized by his former teacher and pastor Hans Lassen Martensen, he concludes from Kierkegaard's writing, here and in Concluding Unscientific Postscript, that he's saying an individual can be saved without the help of the Church. Martensen believed 19th century Socialism would destroy individuality, but regarded Kierkegaard's emphasis on the single individual as too one-sided.[28] Kierkegaard was responding to Hegelian writers such as Ludwig Feuerbach and David Strauss who emphasized the objective nature of God. God is just man's idea.

Man is an object to God, before God perceptibly imparts himself to man; he thinks of man; he determines his action in accordance with the nature of man and his needs. God is indeed free in will; he can reveal himself or not; but he is not free as to the understanding; he cannot reveal to man whatever he will, but only what is adapted to man, what is commensurate with his nature such as it actually is; he reveals what he must reveal, if his revelation is to be a revelation for man, and not for some other kind of being. Now what God thinks in relation to man is determined by the idea of man – it has arisen out of reflection on human nature. God puts himself in the place of man, and thinks of himself as this other being can and should think of him; he thinks of himself, not with his own thinking power, but with man's. In the scheme of his revelation God must have reference not to himself, but to man's power of comprehension. That which comes from God to man, comes to man only from man in God, that is, only from the ideal nature of man to the phenomenal man, from the species to the individual. Thus, between the divine revelation and the so-called human reason or nature, there is no other than an illusory distinction; – the contents of the divine revelation are of human origin, for they have proceeded not from God as God, but from God as determined by human reason, human wants, that is, directly from human reason and human wants. And so in revelation man goes out of himself, in order, by a circuitous path, to return to himself! Here we have a striking confirmation of the position that the secret of theology is nothing else than anthropology – the knowledge of God nothing else than a knowledge of man! The Essence of Christianity, Ludwig Feuerbach, 1841[29]

Otto Pfleiderer wrote an assessment of Kierkegaard's views in 1877.[30] He called his work "ascetic individualistic mysticism."[31]

Robert L Perkins wrote a book about Kierkegaard's books which used Johannes Climacus as a pseudonym.[32] and Kierkegaardian biographer, Alastair Hannay, discusses Philosophical Fragments 36 times in Søren Kierkegaard, A Biography.[33] Jyrki Kivelä wonders if Kierkegaard's Paradox is David Hume's miracle.[33] Which comes first existence or essence? Richard Gravil tries to explain it in his book Existentialism.[33] Kierkegaard says God comes into existence again and again for each single individual. He didn't just come once for all.

Existential point of view

An early existentialist, Miguel de Unamuno, discussed the relation between faith and reason in relation to Kierkegaard's "Postscript" to this book.

just as there is logical truth, opposed to error, and moral truth, opposed to falsehood, so there is also aesthetic truth or verisimilitude, which is opposed to extravagance, and religious truth or hope, which is opposed to the inquietude of absolute despair. For esthetic verisimilitude, the expression of which is sensible, differs from logical truth, the demonstration of which is rational; and religious truth, the truth of faith, the substance of things hoped for, is not equivalent to moral truth, but superimposes itself upon it. He who affirms a faith built upon a basis of uncertainty does not and cannot lie. And not only do we not believe with reason, nor yet above reason nor below reason, but we believe against reason. Religious faith, it must be repeated yet again, is not only irrational, it is contra-rational. Kierkegaard says: "Poetry is illusion before knowledge; religion illusion after knowledge. Between poetry and religion the worldly wisdom of living plays its comedy. Every individual who does not live either poetically or religiously is a fool" (Afsluttende uvidenskabelig Efterskrift, chap, iv., sect. 2a, 2, Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Fragments). The same writer tells us that Christianity is a desperate sortie (salida). Even so, but it is only by the very desperateness of this sortie that we can win through to hope, to that hope whose vitalizing illusion is of more force than all rational knowledge, and which assures us that there is always something that cannot be reduced to reason. And of reason the same may be said as was said of Christ: that he who is not with it is against it. That which is not rational is contra-rational; and such is hope. By this circuitous route we always arrive at hope in the end.[34]

Hegel and his followers accepted Christianity without miracles or any other supernaturalism. Robert Solomon puts it this way:

"What is Christianity, "revealed religion," divested of its "figurative thought"? It is a faith without icons, images, stories, and myths, without miracles, without a resurrection, without a nativity, without Chartres and Fra Angelico, without wine and wafers, without heaven and hell, without God as judge and without judgment. With philosophical conceptualization, the Trinity is reduced to Kant's categories of Universality (God the father) Particularity (Christ the Son) and Individuality (The Holy Spirit). The incarnation no longer refers to Christ alone, but only to the philosophical thesis that there is no God other than humanity. Spirit, that is, humanity made absolute, is God, which is to say that there is nothing other than humanity … What is left after the philosophical conceptualization of religion? To the orthodox Christian, nothing is left, save some terminology which has been emptied of its traditional significance. From Hegel's gutted Christianity to Heine and Nietzsche's aesthetic atheism is a very short distance indeed. From Hegel to Existentialism, By Robert C. Solomon, Oxford University Press US, 1989 p. 61[35]

Eduard Geismar gave a seminar about the religious thought of Kierkegaard in 1933. He said, "Kierkegaard develops the concept of an existential thinker. The task of such a thinker is to understand himself in his existence, with its uncertainty, its risk and its passion. Socrates was such an existential thinker. … from Socrates he has learned his method of communication, the indirect method. From Socrates he has learned to abstain from giving the reader and objective result to memorize, a systematic scheme for arrangement in paragraphs, all of which is relevant only to objective science, but irrelevant to existential thought. From Socrates he has learned to confront the reader with a question, to picture the ideal as a possibility. From Socrates he has learned to keep the reader at a distance, to throw him back on his individual responsibility, to compel him to find his own way to a solution. Kierkegaard does not merely talk about self-reliance; his entire literary art is devoted to the promotion of self-reliance."[36]

Jean-Paul Sartre vehemently disagreed with Kierkegaard's subjective ideas. He was Hegelian and had no room in his system for faith. Kierkegaard seemed to rely on faith at the expense of the intellect. He developed the idea of bad faith. His idea is relative to Kierkegaard's idea of the Moment. If a situation (occasion for Kierkegaard) makes an individual aware of his authentic self and the individual fails to choose that self that constitutes bad faith.

Sartre was against Kierkegaard's view that God can only be approached subjectively.

Compared with Hegel, Kierkegaard scarcely seems to count. He is certainly not a philosopher; moreover, he himself refused this title. In fact, he is a Christian who is not willing to let himself be enclosed in the system and who, against Hegel's "intellectualism," asserts unrelentingly the irreducibility and the specificity of what is lived. There is no doubt, as Jean Wahl has remarked, that a Hegelian would have assimilated this romantic and obstinate consciousness to the "unhappy consciousness," a moment which had already been surpassed and known in its essential characteristics. But it is precisely this objective knowledge which Kierkegaard challenges. For him the surpassing of the unhappy consciousness remains purely verbal. The existing man cannot be assimilated by a system of ideas. Whatever one may say or think about suffering, it escapes knowledge to the extent that it is suffered in itself, for itself, and to the degree that knowledge remains powerless to transform it. "The philosopher constructs a palace of ideas and lives in a hovel." Of course, it is religion which Kierkegaard wants to defend. Hegel was not willing for Christianity to be "surpassed," but for this very reason he made it the highest moment of human existence. Kierkegaard, on the contrary, insists on the transcendence of the Divine; between man and God he puts an infinite distance. The existence of the Omnipotent cannot be the object of an objective knowledge; it becomes the aim of a subjective faith. And this faith, in turn, with its strength and its spontaneous affirmation, will never be reduced to a moment which can be surpassed and classified, to a knowing. Thus Kierkegaard is led to champion the cause of pure, unique subjectivity against the objective universality of essence, the narrow, passionate intransigence of the immediate life against the tranquil mediation of all reality, faith, which stubbornly asserts itself, against scientific evidence – despite the scandal. Existentialism from Dostoyevsky

— Dostoyevsky to Sartre; The Search for Method (1st part). Introduction to Critique of Dialectical Reason, I. Marxism & Existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre 1960[37]

Time Magazine summed up Sartre and Camus' interpretation of Kierkegaard in this way,

Modern "existentialists," like Sartre and Camus, have kidnapped Kierkegaard's "absurdity," stripped it of all religious significance, and beaten it into insensibility, using it merely as a dummy to dramatize what they consider the futility of any way of life.[38]

Christian point of view

Paul Tillich and Neo-orthodox theologians were influenced by Søren Kierkegaard. Tillich's book The New Being[39] is similar to Kierkegaard's idea of the "New Birth". He's more of a Christian existentialist than an Existentialist. Many of the 20th century Theologians attempt to answer all the questions of Christianity for the individual, like who Jesus was as a person. Kierkegaard's idea was different. He believed each single individual comes to Christ in his or her unique way.[40] He was against all speculation regarding whether or not an individual accepts the prompting of the Holy Spirit. A New Birth doesn't come about through historical or philosophical ponderings. He wrote,

"There is a prayer which especially in our times would be so apt: 'God in heaven, I thank you for not requiring a person to comprehend Christianity, for if it were required, then I would be of all men the most miserable. The more I seek to comprehend it, the more I discover merely the possibility of offence. Therefore, I thank you for requiring only faith and I pray you will continue to increase it." "When love forgives the miracle of faith happens"[41]

Thomas Merton, a Trappist Monk was influenced by Philosophical Fragments and other works by Kierkegaard.[42] He wrote a book about the new birth in 1961.[43] Merton says we come to an understanding with God because he gives us free speech, Parrhesia.[44] Kierkegaard and Merton both point more to understanding than to reason as the motivating factor in belief.

Julie Watkin, from the University of Tasmania, Australia, wrote the following about this book: Philosophical Fragments (…) "investigates in somewhat abstract philosophical language the Platonic-Socratic idea of recollection of truth before considering how truth is brought about in Christianity. The distinction made here is that with the former, the individual possesses the truth and so the teacher merely has to provoke it maieutically to the surface, so to speak, and is not vitally important, since any teacher would do. Where Christianity is concerned, the individual is like a blind person, needing the restoration of sight before he or she can see. The individual had the condition for seeing initially but is to blame for the loss of sight. The individual in Christianity thus needs the God and Savior to provide the condition for learning the truth that the individual is in untruth (i.e., sin). Since the God appears in the form of a lowly human and is not immediately recognizable, there is the element of the paradox. The individual must set aside objections of the understanding so that the paradoxical savior (who is the vitally important object of faith rather than the teaching) can give him-or herself to the individual in the moment along with the condition of faith."[45]

Was Kierkegaard a Monergist or a Synergist? God's love moves everything.

Moved by love, the God is thus eternally resolved to reveal himself. But as love is the motive so love must also be the end; for it would be a contradiction for the God to have a motive and an end which did not correspond. His love is a love of the learner, and his aim is to win him. For it is only in love that the unequal can be made equal, and it is only in equality or unity that an understanding can be effected, and without a perfect understanding the Teacher is not the God, unless the obstacle comes wholly from the side of the learner, in his refusing to realize that which had been made possible for him. But this love is through and through unhappy, for how great is the difference between them! It may seem a small matter for the God to make himself understood, but this is not so easy of accomplishment if he is to refrain from annihilating the unlikeness that exists between them. Philosophical Fragments p. 20

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