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Claire Carlisle on the Paradoxes and Perplexities of Kierkegaard

In fishing about for a topic for this upcoming Percy conference, I’ve been reading some Kierkegaard again, or rather one of Kierkegaard’s very best commentators, Claire Carlisle. Here’s a great passage from her Guide for the Perplexed, which I think is just excellent as a précis of Kierkegaard’s entire work.

One of the interesting—and also potentially confusing—features of Kierkegaard’s interpretation of truth is the way it encompasses both a philosophical notion of knowledge and a theological notion of salvation. In the context of Christianity, the correspondence between truth and salvation can be summed up by Jesus’s words, “I am the way, the truth and the life”, which suggest that truth and the way to salvation (or eternal life) are one and the same thing. This is the kind of truth that Kierkegaard is interested in: not just the truth that Jesus embodies, but that which is required of all those who, in following Jesus, have embarked on the task of becoming Christians and are seeking salvation. As a philosopher, Kierkegaard wants to present an accurate expression of this truth of Christianity. This is very much what Hegel had already tried to do, but Kierkegaard felt that Hegel had falsified Christianity by attempting to incorporate it into a philosophical system.

Kierkegaard highlights an opposition between the truth of Christianity and the truth of philosophy, and this means that in order to say what it means to be a Christian he creates, rather paradoxically, and anti-philosophical philosophy. To put it another way—which seems a little less paradoxical—Kierkegaard offers a philosophy of a way of life that cannot, he argues, be rationalized.

Claire Carlisle, Kierkegaard: A Guide for the Perplexed

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