Philosophical Fragments in fragments

This turned out to be a little more rambling than I intended but if you are interested in a getting a swath of the movements in Philosophical Fragments you may want to have a look.

The title page for Philosophical Fragments includes the following,

Can a historical point of departure be given for an eternal consciousness; how can such a point of departure be of more than historical interest; can an eternal happiness be built on historical knowledge?

After his preface section 1 begins with the following question, “Can truth be learned?”  What Kierkegaard seems to be setting up is the basic relational question of how something is transferred and received if at all.  The starting point is Socrates and Greek thought in general.

Socrates thinks through the difficulty by means [of the principle] that all learning and seeking are but recollecting.

How else can one seek the truth if there is not already an element of truth within?  An encounter with truth is an awakening and not what we might call a ‘rebirth’.  According to Greek thought,

The temporal point of departure is a nothing, because in the same moment I discover that I have known the truth from eternity without knowing it.

And so,

If the situation is to be different, the moment in time must have such a decisive significance that for no moment will I be able to forget it, neither in time nor in eternity, because the eternal, previously nonexistent, came into existence in that moment.

With this Kierkegaard explores the conditions by which it would make sense to speak of learning that truth, that is, being in state of untruth and then in a state of truth.  Here he employs thinly veiled theological categories to describe the need for ‘the god’ (i.e. the teacher; i.e. Christ) to make this possible.  The one who learns must receive the condition for truth from the truth and must also be more committed to the teacher than to the teaching.  After establishing the ‘logical’ conditions for learning the truth (that is the need for the god) Kierkegaard asks whether or not this is thinkable.  This transitions into the next section which is called a ‘poetical venture’.  Here we learn it is by love that the teacher is able to offer the conditions that make the unequal equal.  But love does not raise the lower up (the king marrying the peasant).  Rather,

If, then, the unity could not be brought about by an ascent, then it must be attempted  by a descent.  Let the learner be X, and this X must also include the lowliest, for if even Socrates did not keep company solely with brilliant minds, how could the god make distinctions!  In order for unity to be effected, the god must become like this one.  He will appear, therefore, as the equal of the lowliest of persons.  But the lowliest of all is one who must serve others – consequently, the god will appear in the form of a servant. (31)

From the ‘poetical venture’ Kierkegaard then moves to ‘a metaphysical caprice’.  Here Kierkegaard introduces the Absolute Paradox.

One must not think ill of the paradox, for the paradox is the passion of thought. . . . But the ultimate potentiation of every passion is always to will its own downfall, and so it is also the ultimate passion of the understanding to will the collision, although in one way or another collision must become its downfall.  This, then, is the ultimate paradox of thought: to want to discover something that thought itself cannot think. (37)

The god becomes the unknown by which human thought desires to collide.  And since unknown it is impossible to prove or disprove trust is introduced.

So also with the demonstration [of the god] – so long as I am holding on to the demonstration (that is, continue to be one who is demonstrating), the existence does not emerge, if for no other reason than that I am in the process of demonstrating it, but when I let go of the demonstration, the existence is there.  Yet this letting go, even that is surely something; it is, after all, meine Zuthat [my contribution].  Does it not have to be taken into account, this diminutive moment, however brief it is – it does not have to be long, because it is a leap. (43)

How does one know that they collide with the unknown, with the god?

Well, I cannot know it, for in that case I would have to know the god and the difference, and I do not know the difference, inasmuch as the understanding has made it like unto the from it differs.  Thus the god has become the most terrible deceiver through the understanding’s deception of itself.  The understanding has the god as close as possible and yet just as far away. (46)

From this metaphysical caprice Kierkegaard entertains ‘an acoustical illusion’ (which is called an appendix titled Offense at the Paradox).  Here Kierkegaard introduces the affect of understanding’s encounter with the paradox.  It can be happy (as in the unnameable experience of love) or it can be unhappy and as such be suffering.  Here Kierkegaard summarizes  the movement to this point,

If we do not assume the moment, then we go back to Socrates, and it was precisely from him that we wanted to take leave in order to discover something.  If the moment is posited, the paradox is there, for in its most abbreviated form the paradox can be called the moment.  Through the moment, the learner becomes untruth; the person who himself becomes confused about himself and instead of self-knowledge he acquires consciousness of sin etc., for just as soon as we assume the moment, everything goes by itself. (51)

In clarifying the moment Kierkegaard rejects its ‘importance’ because that is a category which understanding can understand and therefore be contented to watch and wait for.  But since the moment is the paradox “what the understanding regards as very important is no distinguishing mark” (52).  So understanding only has what the paradox offers and yet understanding will continue to act as though it originated the paradox because it cannot handle the offense.

From here Kierkegaard concludes with two sections.  The first considers the ‘contemporary follower’ of the god (that is, the one who followed as Jesus’ contemporary).  The second considers the follower ‘at second hand’ (the one following today).  Kierkegaard concludes that there is little difference.  The important point in this comparison is the role of historical knowledge.  Kierkegaard concludes that exhaustive historical information is no guarantee of faithful response.  The ‘historical’ remains a category that has its place but cannot transition to faith (which is the happy encounter of understanding and paradox when understanding gives way).  In this way “the paradox specifically unites the contradictories, [it] is the eternalizing of the historical and the historicizing of the eternal” (61).  You can’t make history do more than it is able and you cannot have existence and the god without history.  What counts is understanding’s collision with the paradox and the condition the god allows within this moment.

The follower ‘at second hand’ (the follower today) is in essentially no different position.  Because the basic condition is the paradox history then cannot build ‘consequences’ on a paradox because doing so would be like building on an abyss (98).  Kierkegaard anticipates the use of ‘historical-criticism’ as a mis-guided basis for faith calling it ‘tailor-made for intellectual laziness.”  He goes on then to say that indeed his interest is in something historical,

What historical something?  The historical that can be the object only for faith and cannot be communicated by one person to another – that is, one person can communicate it to another, but, please note, not in such a way that the other believes it; whereas, if he communicates it in the form of faith, he does his very best to prevent the other from adopting it directly.  If the fact of which we speak were a simple historical fact, the historiographer’s scrupulous accuracy would be of great importance.  This is not the case here, for faith cannot be distilled from even the finest detail. (103)

Kierkegaard makes an important clarification here (especially for someone from an Anabaptist perspective),

The heart of the matter is the historical fact that the god has been in human form, and the other historical details are not even as important as they would be if the subject were a human being instead of the god. (103-104)

What of the life of Jesus, his teaching and ministry?  This is important for Kierkegaard but not important in its historical detail but in its direct relation to what it means for the god to come and give the condition for change and truth.  And as he mentioned earlier this meant being like the lowest, the servant (loving equality).  This may actually provide more space for the repetition of Jesus today as opposed to the recollection of his works.  Kierkegaard says as much as brings his fragments to a close.  The believer ‘at second hand’ must continually be able to receive the god who comes in human form.  For one to be a believer they must be able to encounter the words,

So, then, you love only the omnipotent one who does miracles, not the one who abased himself in equality with you? (108)


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