Philosophical Fragments - Reviews and Assessments - Existential Point of View

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.

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

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."

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

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.

Read more about this topic:  Philosophical Fragments, Reviews and Assessments

Famous quotes containing the words view, existential and/or point:

    It is not so much that women have a different point of view in politics as that they give a different emphasis. And this is vastly important, for politics is so largely a matter of emphasis.
    Crystal Eastman (1881–1928)

    One of the most horrible, yet most important, discoveries of our age has been that, if you really wish to destroy a person and turn him into an automaton, the surest method is not physical torture, in the strict sense, but simply to keep him awake, i.e., in an existential relation to life without intermission.
    —W.H. (Wystan Hugh)

    Parents who want a fresh point of view on their furniture are advised to drop down on all fours and accompany the nine or ten month old on his rounds. It is probably many years since you last studied the underside of a dining room chair. The ten month old will study this marvel with as much concentration and reverence as a tourist in the Cathedral of Chartres.
    Selma H. Fraiberg (20th century)