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This chapter presents the second part of The Sickness unto Death, “Despair as Sin,” as the Aufhebung or recontextualizing of the first part in which the concept of sin does not function. Both parts portray the self as existing “before God,” but that concept is so indeterminate in the first part that it fits just as well with Spinoza’s or Hegel’s “God” as with the biblical God Kierkegaard has in mind. Sin, along with essentially related concepts such as atonement and forgiveness, is the decisive category that distinguishes biblical religion (Jewish or Christian) from “theologies whose foundations are scientific naturalism (Spinoza) or socio-historical pantheism (Hegel). The latter are “Socratic” in that they rely on some version of recollection theory (Reason), while the former rests on a concept of revelation that is not reducible to a truth already within us. Reason turns out to be as sectarian as the faith that rests on some extra-rational revelation. While both parts of the text are psychological/phenomenological, neither permits the reduction of despair to depression.
For a philosophical analysis of repentance and self-knowledge, in a volume on wisdom in the Christian faith, it might seem strange to turn to Aristotle and Sartre for conceptual resources. Let us wait, however, and see if it proves fruitful.
In Aristotle's account of the intellectual virtues, the word wisdom (in English translation) shows up twice. As I read Book VI of the Nicomachean Ethics, there are basically three intellectual virtues. One we might call contemplation, if that term did not seem too narrowly to suggest aesthetic or religious meditation. Let us call it theory instead. It has three dimensions for Aristotle, although he treats them as distinct virtues: nous, the intuitive-inductive apprehension of the first principles or premises of syllogistic science; episteme, the ability to draw syllogistic conclusions from the discoveries of nous; and sophia, the net result of the first two dimensions, the body of knowledge that deserves to be called knowledge. Sophia is standardly translated as wisdom or theoretical wisdom, but this is misleading, because sophia is pure theory, not intended to guide the knower into living well. It is therefore closer to what we mean by science than to our sense of wisdom.
It is often said that existentialism has passed into the history of philosophy. But that is a problem only if we think of that history as a kind of museum in which we become antiquarians who observe animals no longer living or artifacts no longer useful. It has nothing to do with us. But if we have an existential spirit we will not read any of the history of philosophy that way. We will hear the texts of the great thinkers as voices that address us directly, offering interpretations of our being-in-the-world full of possibilities for our beliefs, our actions, and our affects or attitudes. It has everything to do with us.
No doubt this means that our title is less than perfect. “Religion” suggests an observable object or phenomenon. Thus we have Religious Studies departments where religion is what is studied. There's nothing very existential about being a scholarly observer. Existentialism is about the urgency of deciding what to do with our lives, more specifically, what to do with my own life. That is why in Plato's Gorgias, Socrates, perhaps the first existentialist philosopher, says to Callicles, “For you see, don't you, that our discussion's about … the way we're supposed to live.
Johannes Climacus, the pseudonymous author of Søren Kierkegaard's Concluding Unscientific Postscript, is concerned about subjectivity, and it comes as no surprise that his critique of Hegel is primarily in that domain. He makes about the idea that Hegelian philosophy is the system that satisfies its own holistic requirements. Much of what Climacus has to say about subjectivity comes to its culmination in the (in) famous claim that "truth is subjectivity". Two central claims of the Hegelian system are that it succeeds in grasping God objectively, and that in so doing it gives us an improved, superior version of Christianity. Climacus argues that, as the disinterested spectator of being and world history, the Hegelian is not even within the horizon within which Christianity can happen. Existential pathos, insofar as it appears at all in Hegelian thought, is what is to be overcome or surpassed.
The first part of the essay explore's three features of Wolterstorff's
account of God as a performer of speech acts: (1) the claim that God literally speaks,
suggesting that this claim needs something like a Thomistic theory of analogy as an
alternative to univocity and mere metaphor; (2) the claim that speaking is not
reducible to revealing; and (3) the political implications of these claims, especially
in relation to Habermasian theory. The second part focuses on the theory of double
discourse, which seeks to make sense of the notion that God speaks to us through
the human voices of prophets, apostles, and especially of Scripture, and seeks to
show that a fuller account of the speech act by which God deputizes or appropriates
human speech is needed. The final section suggests that Ricoeur and Derrida are
not the threat to his theory that Wolterstorff takes them to be and that their
emphasis on the text, rather than the author, makes sense in contexts where we
have only the text to consult.
Postmodernism and religion. The discussion continues to become increasingly rich and complex. In the background of much of it is Heidegger's critique of onto-theology, in which Hegel is one of his two prime paradigms. He introduced this term in 1949 in relation to Aristotle's completion of his ontology with a theology of the Unmoved Mover. When he returned to it in 1957, it was in the context of a seminar on Hegel's Science of Logic. There he described onto-theology as allowing God to enter philosophical discourse only on philosophy's terms and in the service of its project and complained, in the spirit of Pascal and Kierkegaard, that this God was religiously otiose. What he says there specifically about Hegel will best be understood after we see in what sense Hegel is a pantheist.
It is possible to date quite precisely the time when Hegel abandoned theism for good. Ironically, it was in 1795 in correspondence with his two friends from seminary days at Tübingen. Schelling and Hölderlin had become Fichte enthusiasts, as we see from letters they sent to Hegel early that year. On the basis of prepublication access to Fichte's 1794 Wissenschaftslehre, Schelling wrote on January 5,
Philosophy is not yet at an end. Kant has provided the results. The premises are still missing. And who can understand the results without the premises? … Kant has swept everything away, but how is the crowd to notice? One must smash it to pieces before their very eyes, so they grasp it in their hands. The great Kantians now everywhere to be seen have got stuck on the letter … [;] the old superstition of so-called natural religion as well as of positive religion has in the minds of most already once more been combined with the Kantian letter. It is fun to see how quickly they get to the moral proof. Before you can turn around the deus ex machina springs forth, the personal individual Being who sits in Heaven above! Fichte will raise philosophy to a height at which even most of the hitherto Kantians will become giddy … . Now I am working on an ethic á la Spinoza (HL 29).
The story of German idealism is the story of Kant and the aftermath. By aftermath I mean the Aufhebung of critical philosophy in the speculative idealisms of Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. The latter, of course, took himself to be the Aufhebung of Fichte and Schelling as well as Kant, to say nothing of Plato and Aristotle, Anselm and Aquinas, Descartes and Spinoza, and so forth.
The gods are jealous and do not tolerate such hubris. So German idealism involves a second aftermath, this time with Hegel rather than Kant as the subject of simultaneous critique (cancellation) and appropriation (preservation). Speculation, mediation, reconciliation, and the Idea are names by which Hegel designates a single strategy for trumping the tradition and becoming its fulfillment. The most unkindest cut of all for Hegel was to be himself out-trumped by Feuerbach, Marx, and Kierkegaard. The various ways in which his massive Aufhebung was aufgehoben in the 1840s make up one of the most fascinating stories in the history of philosophy.
Kierkegaard is a major figure in this story; he is one of the great anti-Hegelians. There are other illuminating ways to read his writings. He is a religious thinker in the Augustinian tradition. As such he is also an existentialist, a postmodernist, and a critical social theorist. But each of these stories will have to include an account of his complex relation to Hegel. The relation is complex precisely because it is an Aufhebung. There is appropriation as well as negation, and Kierkegaard is never simply anti-Hegelian.
Feigned madness can be a valuable asset. King David once used it to escape from the Philistines (I Sam. 21), and a twentieth century king, Pirandello's Henry IV pulled much the same trick on a modern philistine culture. Thrown from his horse and struck on the head while on his way to a masquerade party dressed as the Henry of Canossa's chill repentance, he had for twenty years insanely identified himself with the eleventh century monarch. At least this is what his family and the court they provided for his humour thought. As the play opens they are unaware that he has returned to sanity, but has continued to play Henry IV for the last eight of the twenty years, preferring the mad world in which he had lived to the sane world to which he would have to return.