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PHIL/RS 335. Evidential Challenge: Pt. 3. Soren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard spent the majority of his life in his hometown of Copenhagen. Despite this provincialism, his impact on the history of philosophy and religion was profound.

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phil rs 335


Evidential Challenge: Pt. 3

soren kierkegaard
Soren Kierkegaard
  • Kierkegaard spent the majority of his life in his hometown of Copenhagen.
  • Despite this provincialism, his impact on the history of philosophy and religion was profound.
  • An important fideist (religion is based on faith and faith alone), he is also often pointed to as a precursor of existentialism.
  • The connection between these two aspects of his thinking is crucial to understanding his account of religion.
concluding unscientific postscript
Concluding Unscientific Postscript
  • Kierkegaard published the Postscript in 1849 under the pseudonym Johannes Climacus, the ‘author’ of many of his more overtly philosophical works.
  • What is the significance of the title?
    • It’s a “postscript” to a work (Philosophical Fragments) which it exceeds in length by close to a factor of 5.
    • It is “unscientific” in relation to Hegel, his great foe. As opposed to grand, systematic speculation on being, it is a personal, idiosyncratic reflection on existence.
    • It is “concluding” in that it was supposed to be his last philosophical work, but in fact it turned out to be a prelude to an extensive religio-philosophical oeuvre.
the project
The Project
  • The aim of the work is to specify the ‘truth’ of existence.
  • In an earlier work (Fear and Trembling) Kierkegaard had argued that authentic existence was not to be found in conformity with everyday expectations, but is rather characterized by feelings of uncertainty, fear, anxiety, etc., conditioned and produced by an absolute relationship to the absolute.
  • In CUP, Kierkegaard approaches the question from the concept of truth, acknowledging that there are some unresolved questions about the very idea of truth and its place in life:
    • What is truth? This is a general philosophical issue.
    • Where does truth lie? This is a more specific epistemological issue.
    • How an individual can be "in truth"? This is the existential issue.
objective and subjective reflection
Objective and Subjective Reflection
  • In response to the first, general, issue, Kierkegaard makes a crucial distinction between two forms of reflection.
    • In objective reflection the focus is on the object of knowledge. The question is: Is the knower correctly related to the object?
    • In subjective reflection, the focus is on the subject of the relation. The question is: Is the knower in the right relation to the object?
  • We can appreciate the distinction by observing it in connection to the problem of knowledge of God: “Objectively, reflection is directed to the problem of whether this object is true; subjectively, reflection is directed to the question of whether the individual is related to something in such a manner that h[er] relation is in truth a God-Relationship” (203c2-304c1).
god is a person
God is a person.
  • The key to understanding the move to the existential issue is the fact that Kierkegaard defines the self or person as a type of relation. Following the moderns, the type of relation that Kierkegaard highlights is self-relation.
  • Obviously, this account has implications for the relations between persons, including God.
  • It means that our relation to God is necessarily a subjective relation.
knowing god
Knowing God
  • As Kierkegaard details it, knowledge about God is a matter of appreciating two distinct axes: the direction of the relation and one’s subjective position in the relation.
  • Understood objectively, what is reflected upon is the statement that this is the true God.
    • I am in truth if my knowledge is about the object which is the true God.
  • Subjectively, the issue is whether the individual relates itself to an object which is God.
    • I am in truth if I relate myself to the object in such a way that this relation is "in truth a God relation.”
where s the truth
Where’s the truth?
  • Even if I possess a true belief about God I am still not "in truth", I am still not the true myself. Only when I relate myself to something, whatever that may be, thatdetermines the way I am (how I believe), am Iin a true (God) relation, am I myself.
    • In other words, God is not an idea, a proposition, an objective truth, but how one involves themselves with Him. God is a person, hence he exists only for subjectivity and inwardness.
  • The existing person who chooses the subjective way understands the problem: it would take a lot of time to find God objectively, but he needs God immediately, and at all costs.
  • Therefore God becomes a postulate for him: I need God, I believe in God. Thus he obtains God by virtue of the infinite passion of inwardness.
our existential situation
Our Existential Situation
  • Subjectivity is the truth.
    • “An objective uncertainty held fast in an appropriation-process of the most passionate inwardness is the truth, the highest truth attainable for an existing individual” (205c2).
  • Faith is an absurdity, in the best sense of the word (208c1-2).
adams kierkegaard s arguments
Adams, “Kierkegaard’s Arguments”
  • Adams presents Kierkegaard as a supporter of a position in the epistemology of religion: that the nature of religious faith cannot be explored objectively (that is, applying the standard techniques of reasoning).
  • Adams finds in the Postscript three arguments offered by Kierkegaard in defense of this claim.
      • The Approximation Argument
      • The Postponement Argument
      • The Passion Argument
the approximation argument
The Approximation Argument
  • “Is it possible to base an eternal happiness upon historical knowledge?”
    • Kierkegaard’s answer: (209c2).
  • P1: Historical evidence can never be certain (never excludes the possibility of error).
  • P2: This doesn’t rule out practical certainty except in cases where we have an infinite passionate interest.
  • P3: Faith is an infinite passionate interest.


Conclusion: Religion cannot be justified by history (objectively)

Corollary: Faith requires a “leap” beyond the evidence.

does it work
Does it Work?
  • Adams says no.
  • What it gets right: 1) intensely religious people are going to be more concerned about the improbable but still possible reasons to doubt and thus, 2)overcoming those doubts may be in some sense more praiseworthy than simple belief.
  • What it gets wrong: the claim that objective reasoning can’t justify faith.
    • 2 examples: 211c1-2.
the postponement argument
The Postponement Argument
  • The Problem: objective inquiry is never finished, but faith requires commitment.
  • P1: Authentic faith is a total commitment.
  • P2: Total commitment requires settled justification (there can’t be any evidence you’re waiting for).
  • P3: Objective inquiry, because it’s defeasible, is never finished.


Conclusion: Faith (Religion) cannot be justified objectively.

does it work1
Does it work?
  • No.
  • It is certainly true that faith requires commitment, but does it require “total commitment?”
  • Thus, though the third premise is controversial (exaggerating the significance of the defeasibility of objective claims), Adams goes after the first.
  • For Adams, Kierkegaard gets faith wrong. What he misses is that faithfulness requires transformation (growing in the faith), something that seems excluded by “total commitment.”
the passion argument
The Passion Argument
  • The issue: 214c1-2.
  • P1: Faith is an infinite passionate interest.
  • P2: An infinite passion requires objective uncertainty.


Conclusion: Faith cannot be justified objectively.

does it work2
Does it work?
  • What is an infinite passionate interest?
    • “…an interest so strong that it leads one to make the greatest possible sacrifices in order to obtain…” the object of the interest (215c1).
  • But this creates a problem. By the definition, an authentic religious life would seem to require a continual commitment to the largest possible sacrifices for the least likely results.
    • Can we really limit authentic religious conviction to this extreme type?
  • Another concern: does passion exclude reason?