“Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments” by Søren Kierkegaard

Concluding Postscript to Philosophical Fragments

Faith, History and Scripture

Suppose one can prove that the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life are historically accurate, the Holy Scripture authentic, and the Church’s Doctrine infallible, is it then sufficient for an individual to have Faith?

Johannes Climacus’ (Kierkegaard’s pseudonym) answer is no. He goes further and posits that even if all the above were proven to be unreliable, it would not affect the Faith of a genuine disciple.

As I understand it, Kierkegaard makes a distinction between two different types of faith.

The first type of faith is belief in historical knowledge (or theological doctrine). The former is an approximation based in probability, and the latter an abstraction based in possibility. Neither is actuality. This type of faith would be affected by a historical inquiry, and an individual with only this type of faith is not a genuine disciple, because his faith is rooted in the finite and temporal, not in the infinite and eternal.

The second type, Faith, is when one believes that God has become man, i.e., the eternal God has come into existence as man. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” This Faith, is rooted in God and authored by Him, and therefore it cannot be destroyed by the things in the temporal realm. It is also why the contemporary disciples do not have any advantage over the later generations, because the passing of time has no effect on the nature and power of Faith.

Faith and Beauty

Kierkegaard’s exposition of the subjectivity of Faith reminds me of another elusive concept, Beauty. Plato writes in Hippias Major, “Beauty is difficult”. It’s difficult to define beauty precisely and objectively, and yet people have experienced it subjectively. As the saying goes, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. Not because beauty is relative and therefore varies from person to person, but because we are very much connected or related to, and partake of, the thing we perceive as beauty. There are three components of Beauty, the object, the subject, and the sense of pleasure derived from the perception of beauty that binds the subject in contemplation.

Similarly, one might say, “Truth is in the heart of the believer”. Not because Truth is relative, but because we are in a relationship to the Truth, and partake of it. There are also three components of this relation, the Truth, the individual, and the Faith by which the individual lays hold of and contemplates the Truth.

Kierkegaard states that it is a contradiction to enunciate or communicate Faith directly, because of the “inwardness” of Faith.

Perhaps this “inwardness” might be easier to understand in the case of Beauty. When an individual is in contemplation of Beauty, he does not try to express it in words, not only because it’s beyond description, but also because he is too absorbed in it. He is undergoing an inward transformation, or as Kierkegaard put it, in the process of becoming.

The Leap of Faith and Execution by Guillotine

Because Faith is authored by God, it is impossible for an individual to take the leap of Faith of his own. Kierkegaard illustrated this with the following passage, which I find both humorous and sobering.

Although the leap is the decision, [Friedrich Heinrich] Jacobi nevertheless wants to entice [Gotthold Ephraim] Lessing. “It does not amount to much,” he says, “it is not such a difficult matter. Just step on this elastic spot–then the leap will come by itself.” This is a very good example of the pious fraud of eloquence; it is as if someone were to recommend execution by guillotine and say, “This whole business is an easy matter. You just lie down on a board, a string is pulled, then the ax falls down–and you have been executed.” But suppose now that being executed is what one does not want, and it is the same with making the leap. When someone is averse to the leap, so averse that this passion makes “the ditch infinitely broad”, the most ingeniously contrived springboard will not help one at all.

I’m reminded of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” (“The Cost of Discipleship”)

Potentiality vs Actuality

Historical knowledge, like any other scientific knowledge, is an approximation based in probability; coming into existence is a suffering born out of freedom, a transition from potentiality to actuality. It suffers limitations, as it loses other possibilities.

Truth

Truth is defined more empirically as the agreement of thinking with being or more idealistically as the agreement of being with thinking.

Empirical Being

If being is understood as empirical being, then truth itself is transformed into a desideratum[something wanted] and everything is placed in the process of becoming, because the empirical object is not finished, and the existing knowing spirit is itself in the process of becoming. Thus truth is an approximating whose beginning cannot be established absolutely, because there is no conclusion that has retroactive power. On the other hand, every beginning, when it is made, does not occur by virtue of immanental thinking by is made by virtue of a resolution, essentially by virtue of faith.

Abstract Being

The term “being” must be understood as the abstract rendition or the abstract prototype of what being in concreto is as empirical being. Viewed abstractly, the agreement between thinking and being is always finished, inasmuch as the beginning of the process of becoming lies precisely in the concretion that abstraction abstractly disregards. If being is understood in this way, the formula is a tautology, that is, thinking and being signify one and the same, and the agreement spoken of is only an abstract identify with itself. … Truth is, that is, truth is a redoubling. Truth is the first, but truth’s other, that it is, is the same as the first, this, its being, is the abstract form of truth. .. The agreement between thinking and being is indeed actually the way for God.

Kierkegaard and Hegel

Even though it takes an eminently logical head to recast Hegel’s logic,…it takes only sound common sense to perceive that in many places Hegel behaved irresponsibly–not toward grocers, who believe only half of what a person says anyway, but toward enthusiastic youths who believed him. Even if such a young person was not exceptionally and splendidly endowed, yet when he has had the enthusiasm to believe the highest, as attributed to Hegel, when he has had the enthusiasm to despair over himself in a dubious moment in order not to abandon Hegel–when such a young person comes to himself again, he as a right to demand the nemesis of having laughter consume in Hegel what laughter may legitimately claim as its own.

References:

  • Kierkegaard, Søren. Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments. Trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1992.

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