I commune, therefore I am

by Andrea Elizabeth

At a friend’s suggestion I picked up Kierkegaard again. It fits in with God, History and Dialectic, so it’s not that far off my current topic.

from this site on The Sickness Unto Death

At the beginning of part one, Kierkegaard begins with a cryptic and dense passage, that may contain an element of humor. I will quote it and then offer my commentary.

A human being is spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self. But what is the self? The self is a relation that relates itself to itself or is the relation’s relating itself to itself in the relation; the self is not the relation but is the relation’s relating itself to itself. A human being is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity, in short, a synthesis. A synthesis is a relation between two. Considered in this way a human being is still not a self…. In the relation between two, the relation is the third as a negative unity, and the two relate to the relation and in the relation to the relation; thus under the qualification of the psychical the relation between the psychical and the physical is a relation. If, however, the relation relates itself to itself, this relation is the positive third, and this is the self (p. 13).

Here’s where God fits in,

The formula that describes the state of the self when despair is completely rooted out is this: in relating itself to itself and in willing to be oneself, the self rests transparently in the power that established it (p.14).

From D. Anthony Storm’s commentary,

It should be quite clear that Kierkegaard believes that God accords the individual with the highest importance. Kierkegaard never mentions the self’s merging into God, nor any belief that borders on pantheism. God is ultimately so interested in our selves that he sent his Son to die for individual men and women. It is man (society) that seeks to herd men. It is God who calls each man individually. Despairing sin denies or sinfully asserts the self. God establishes the true self.

In thinking about certain people’s comments on Marxism, and what ‘salvation is my neighbor’ means, I wonder if Kierkegaard’s, and possibly my, protestantism is shining here. My main feeling is that we are called to give an account of ourselves, not our group. This individualism is why I can rest in the Church which is filled with flawed people, including myself of course. The cure has been preserved and is still present within her. I am responsible for how I relate to others, and it is part of my salvation, but my responses and reactions don’t have to depend on the other person. This is why we can love our enemies.

A Sickness Unto Death is paired with Kierkegaard’s The Concept of Anxiety, which I bought not long ago. In the Historical Introduction Reidar Thomte states,

Kierdegaard’s primary criticism of Aristotle centers on his view that the real self resides ultimately in the thinking part of man, and that consequently the contemplative life constitutes man’s highest happiness. […] He does then agree with Aristotle that, strictly speaking, there is no scientific knowledge of human existence, since its essential qualification is one of freedom and not of necessity. [back to the relation between the opposites of freedom and necessity above] However, from Kierkegaard’s point of view, “Aristotle has not understood this self deeply enough, for only in the esthetic sense does contemplative thought have and entelechy [1. In the philosophy of Aristotle, the condition of a thing whose essence is fully realized; actuality.], and the felicity of the gods does not reside in contemplation, but in eternal communication.” For Kierkegaard, therefore, Aristotle falls short in his understanding that the consummation of man’s ethical life lies in the contemplative posture. (p.x)

Before we ban contemplation, to me his statements above about resting in our actualized self before God, is a contemplative posture. Perhaps his criticism is of “self-thinking thought” which Aristotle accused God of, if I remember Dr. Bradshaw correctly. Kierkegaard does say some interesting things about action, which grounds us in one’s relations between temporal/eternal, and material/immaterial though.

What skeptics should really be caught in is the ethical. Since Descartes they have all thought that during the period in which they doubted they dared not to express anything definite with regard to knowledge, but on the other hand they dared to act, because in this respect they could be satisfied with probability. What an enormous contradiction! As if it were not far more dreadful to do something about which one is doubtful (thereby incurring responsibility) than to make a statement. Or was it because the ethical is in itself certain? But then there was something which doubt could not reach!16 (p. ix)

I wonder if the Greek nous, or mind’s eye, is used by the will to focus on what we are to relate to. The nous would not be the self, but our relating mechanism.

*quoted commentaries are indented once, Kierkegaards’ are indented twice. As always, parentheses are quoted asides, brackets are my asides, one in this case is a quote from a dictionary.*