Faith and Reason in Kierkegaard
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No, let miracle be what it is: an object of faith. Faith simply means that what I am seeking is not here, and for that very reason I believe it. Faith expressly signifies the deep, strong, blessed restlessness that drives the believer so that he cannot settle down at rest in this world. He who has settled down has ceased to be a believer, because a believer cannot sit still — a believer travels forward in faith. What is the eternal power in a human being? It is faith. What is the expectancy of faith?
Victory — or, as Scripture teaches, that all things work together for good for those who love God. Faith is an expectancy of the future that expects victory. Faith conquers the future. The believer, therefore, is finished with the future before he begins with the present, and this victory can only make him stronger for the present work. All this would be entirely proper if Christianity were a teaching.
Faith is related to the God-man, not a doctrine. In relation to Christ , there is only one time, the present. Eighteen hundred years makes absolutely no difference; they neither change Christ nor reveal who he was, for who he is is revealed only to faith. Search Search Plough Cancel. Over and over again Kierkegaard comes back to this identification with his father and to the sense that he is living under the blight of another's wrong-doing.
We have said our say regarding the doctrine of original sin and need not discuss it again. It is a doctrine without basis in biology or ethics, a doctrine, moreover, that is linked, both as cause and effect, to something pathological in human nature—to irrational fear, to a morbid sense of guilt, and not improbably to stirrings of sadism. To say seriously, as so many in the Lutheran tradition did, that we not only inherit immoral promptings from our forbears but are somehow guilty of the misuses they made of them, wicked with the wickedness of men long dead, is not to express a profound moral insight but to darken both moral and religious counsel.
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If men who are doing their best to live up to such light as is in them are to be condemned for wrongs they never heard of, good has become evil, and evil may as well be called good. If sin is everywhere, then it is nowhere in particular. By making everything sinful, the dogma in effect makes sin trivial. The second stage, it will be recalled, was the ethical, in which impulse was replaced by law or principle in the guidance of conduct. But laws and principles are worked out by human reason, which by virtue of man's corruption is a fallible guide.
If we are to escape this corruption and have any security that we are doing right, the control of both belief and conduct must be placed in more reliable hands than those of reason. What can these be? Only one kind of control can carry us out of despair to full security, and that is the guidance of God himself.
We reach the third or religious level when we see that the duty that governs our life is not some merely human rule of reason or advantage but a divine imperative, and when we feel that our failure to do it is an affront to God.
The distinction between these is not very clearly drawn. The chief marks that show one's escape from the merely ethical level to the first religious level are resignation, suffering, guilt and—interestingly enough—humour. Let us turn to these in order. The lover will secretly renounce his loved one; the rich young man will account as nothing his well appointed house, his books, the account at the bank that has meant safety for him, his profession itself.
If he is a married man, he will unhappily recognise that he has chosen the worse part. From the Christian point of view it is a crime, and what is odious about it is that by this very crime the innocent individual is introduced into that community of criminals which is human life.
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Such renunciation of human desires, drastic as it is, belongs to the lower stage of religiousness because it can be achieved by a sufficiently heroic effort of the will. One must be resigned to going anywhere or doing anything, however deeply it may wound one's feelings or flout one's hopes or affront one's reason and common sense, if it presents itself as God's will. Why this insistent, unqualified demand that the religious man should suffer and that his suffering should grow more intense as his religion advances? Kierkegaard explains it as follows:. This may perhaps be translated as follows.
In ordinary life, there are things that we very much want; when we become religious, what we want above all is to do God's will. We then see the worthlessness of our old ends, but find ourselves unable by any effort to achieve our new one; hence we are bound to be miserable. It is obvious that Kierkegaard is falling back here on the theology of Luther and of his father. God stands over us like a stern taskmaster, insisting on obedience, demanding of us moral perfection.
But since we are utterly corrupt by nature, we are unable to do anything that will please him. We are like a person in a nightmare who, with some dreadful form pursuing him, tries to run, only to find that his legs have turned to lead. From the terror and suffering of such an experience the normal man soon wakes up. For the religious man there is no waking up while life lasts. The more perceptively religious he becomes, the wider becomes the felt abyss between what God demands of him and what he can do.
And any man who takes seriously the Deity of Kierkegaard's later writings has ample reason for a nightmare life. The best thing is that you should have an inexhaustible fund of inventions for torturing yourself; but if you are not strong enough, you can always hope that God will have pity on you and help you to reach the state of suffering. The object of this life is to give us the highest possible degree of distaste for living. Like a man who would be ready to travel anywhere in the world to hear a singer with a perfect voice, so does God listen in heaven; and whenever He hears rising up to Him the worship of a man He has led to the uttermost point of disgust with life, God says quietly to Himself: That is the note.
It would be unfair to suggest that the only picture of Deity that Kierkegaard carried in his mind was the picture of a celestial ogre.
He often said that God was pure love. But he never succeeded, nor could anyone succeed, in fitting the two pictures together. A Deity of pure love who brought into existence millions of creatures only to throw the vast majority into endless unimaginable misery for wrongs they did not commit is a self-contradiction.
If there were any sort of reasoning by which this misery could be shown to be necessary to the greater good of mankind, a rational mind might accept this theology. But it was no part of Kierkegaard's programme to render theology rational. How a God of pure love could also be a Moloch was indeed past understanding, but then what right had we to ask that God act intelligibly?
The religious man will keep his intelligence firmly enough in its place to accept both pictures. What this meant in practice was an alternate stress on each side of the contradiction, or an acceptance as primary of the picture that best accorded with the devotee's prepossessions. To the man of sunny temperament God would be the loving father; to the man who was gloomy and apprehensive God would be the hard taskmaster.
There could be little doubt which picture would be most vivid to a mind like Kierkegaard's. His preference for excluding the sunlight and working behind drawn blinds was symbolic of his inward climate, which was one of an almost pathological gloom. He can write of joy and love, but these are not his native element. Dread, suffering, guilt, and—toward the end—bitterness, scorn, and hatred are his characteristic emotions. And if God is a self-contradictory being, no one can prove you are wrong if you conceive him in your own image.
It rests on the real pathos of existence. We are sin-infested worms lying at the feet of infinite wisdom, justice, and goodness. The more genuinely religious we become, the more keenly we are aware of the distance by which we fall short. But this argument is double-edged. If we have a long way to go, we have come a long way also, and it is irrational to fix our eyes on one aspect only of the facts, to despair over the failure while refusing to take any satisfaction in the success.
But the rationality of healthy-mindedness had no appeal for Kierkegaard. Our success is nothing; it is our helplessness and failure that must be kept in the forefront of our minds. In part, we have suggested, from his own clouded and morbid mind. But we must remember also that the theology he inherited was the Lutheran theology of a human nature so deeply sunk in corruption as to be salvable only by an interposition from on high, an interposition as unpredictable before it happened as it was inexplicable afterward. This view of the relation of God and man was accepted by Luther because he believed it to be the sense of the New Testament, and it was accepted by Kierkegaard on the same ground.
On the question whether this theology can maintain itself under reflective criticism, we have said something in the last chapter. The decisive question for Kierkegaard, however, was not whether it was acceptable to a rational mind but whether God had said it. The Lutheran theology rested, by Luther's own avowal, on Pauline teaching, and this, as we have seen, had its grim side. But even in Paul's epistles one will look in vain for anything corresponding to Kierkegaard's exaltation of suffering.
Paul speaks, to be sure, of the thorn in his flesh, of the struggle to keep the body under, of the warring against each other of two selves in his nature; and these things could not occur without suffering. But surely the dominant tone of his extraordinary letters is not one of suffering, dread, and despair, but very much on the contrary, of invincible courage, of an exhilarating confidence and hope. Nor is Kierkegaard's case better if the appeal is carried back to the gospels. Suffering is indeed represented there as an element in the religious life; Christians have a cross to carry; they must be penitent for their wrongdoing and ready to bear the burdens of others; they must turn the other cheek to a persecution thought to be inevitable.
That is an important part of the teaching. But of course there is another side to it, what may be called the St Francis side. The yoke is still there, but to the St Francises of the world it is so easy and the burden so light that it is carried with grace and even gaiety. Nor does his stress on suffering seem consistent with itself. One would expect, therefore, that an advance in goodness would bring some advance in happiness with it.
It was as if he was reluctant to accept even the measure of happiness that was open to him, as if he suffered from a congenital colour blindness and saw vividly all the greys, browns, and blacks of the world while having to squint and strain to make out the golds or blues. It might seem that this belongs properly to the ethical stage, at which the sense of right and wrong, and remorse for wrongdoing, are already at work.
But sin and wrongdoing are not the same for Kierkegaard. His sin, therefore, is a personal betrayal, an alienation from Deity, which can be set right by no acts of repentance or amendment, but only by a grant of divine grace. To do wrong on a merely ethical level is to break a rule laid down by our reason; to sin is to relate oneself to the ultimate power in the world in a way that bears on one's eternal destiny.
Kierkegaard sometimes speaks of the sense of sin as appearing only at stage B of the religious life; guilt at stage A is at most the guilt of violating rules laid down by a Hegelian God, an immanent God of reason, while the full blackness of sin first appears from the altitude of stage B and against the background of a transcendent Deity.
It is perhaps needless to settle the precise places of guilt and sin in Kierkegaard's somewhat fluid classification. Suffice it to say that the guilt that is an awareness of sin always involves this new dimension of wrongdoing, a conception of it as no longer mere human waywardness but as a divine affront. The guilt of the Christian, like his suffering, is inevitable, enduring, and total.
As Kierkegaard puts it,. He is caught forever, harnessed with the yoke of guilt, and never gets out of the harness. We commonly think of ourselves as on the whole decent and upright persons; we have little lapses from time to time and are duly ashamed of them, but we soon bounce back again to our complacent self-respect. This self-satisfaction shows how fully we have surrendered ourselves to the undemanding standards of our time and place. Woe unto me. Woe unto me in time, and still more dreadfully when He gets hold of me in eternity!
His sentence is the last, is the only one, from His congizance none can flee. The present writer is not one of those philosophers who can read such statements in unperturbed serenity. It is part of the business of the philosopher to realise how easily he may be mistaken, and he must feel a certain chill in his marrow when he hears such a judgement pronounced with prophetic confidence by a man hailed by discerning persons as a religious genius.
According to Kierkegaard he must have these feelings if he is to call himself in the true sense religious, and if he is not religious, he stands in even greater jeopardy. What are we to say about this exaltation of the sense of guilt to a prime place in religion? A religion lacking the sense of sin is plainly defective. Those impulses will never be restrained from a wrong act by the merely intellectual perception of its wrongness. This does not mean that morality is impossible without religion, for that can be shown to be historically untrue.
It does mean that the vast horsepower at the disposal of human egoism will be kept in check only if the sort of emotion involved in the sense of sin can be enlisted against wrongdoing. It is not enough to have a good eye for ethical distinctions and values; many moral philosophers of Laodicean record have had that. Above and beyond such perception there must be a strain of the Hebrew feeling of something leprous and unclean in moral evil, a stain on one's person that must be washed away in contrition if one is to be healthy again.
We must concede to Kierkegaard, once more, that there is some sense in what he says about the finite facing the infinite. It is probably so in Kierkegaard's case, for he threw such words around recklessly. But if by facing the infinite he means that morality is an endless quest, that one no sooner reaches a given plateau than one sees a further ascent lying beyond it, that the road winds uphill to the end, and indeed beyond any end that we see or may hope to see, he is surely right.
Here is another contrast between the Greek and the Hebrew or Christian. But to forgive seventy times seven—that is, indefinitely—to love others, even one's enemies, as oneself, to be perfect even as God is perfect, that is another matter. If it is not one's duty to be perfect—and we have seen that it cannot be—it is at least a duty to try to be so, and that means that our reach will always exceed our grasp.
Now religion is concerned with man's relation to the ultimate. To conceive morality as a quest, not for an immediate or visible goal but for one that is ultimate and infinitely distant, is thus in a sense to conceive it religiously; the religious man will naturally look at it in this light.
If he conceives of it merely as Aristotle conceived it, as in essence a matter of propriety, if he cannot feel the pull of an ideal beyond all ideals, in the sense of something that works in and through them to amend them without limit, then in his moral life he has fallen short of the religious spirit. So far as Kierkegaard means this by insisting that a sense of imperfection and sin belongs to the religious life, we must agree. But he meant far more than this. He would have regarded our agreement, based as it is on actual experience, as a milk-and-water support, which missed his main point.
For the sin he was talking about was more than the continued failure that we can verify daily, and the infinite that condemned us was not a mere ideal, however exalted, but an existent being, powerful and terrible. God's face is averted from us not only for our conscious misdeeds but for a vast volume of misdoing of which we know nothing, and we must bow to this condemnation, keeping it always in the forefront of our minds.
It must be believed. The paradox in Christian truth is invariably due to the fact that it is truth as it exists for God. The standard of measure and the end is superhuman; and there is only one relationship possible: faith. It is not a true exaltation of morality; it is a refusal to take morality seriously; it undermines and confounds the sense of sin.
By morality here we mean what everyone normally means by it, the attempt to guide one's life by an authentic perception that some things are right and others wrong. Among the things that we see clearly to be wrong is the condemning of anyone for acts that he did not do.
We have just heard Kierkegaard saying that this is what God does; and we are required to acquiesce and approve. But if on a cardinal point like this the human standard is unreliable, it can be relied on nowhere. This conclusion Kierkegaard is apparently willing to draw. If we do what we know to be wrong, one would think that the superhuman court, so different from our own, might give us an occasional acquittal, but of this there is apparently no hope. And if we do nothing at all, we are still condemned for the depravity we have inherited and which continues to vitiate us even in passivity.
We obviously cannot win. We are moral lepers whatever we do. To ask a reflective man to carry about with him a sense of infinite guilt on grounds like these is to ask what is impossible. The sin for which his overwhelming guilt must be felt he cannot verify in his deeds or his intentions. The towering structure of guilt that is based on it is the creation of a theology whose credentials he cannot verify by his reason, and Kierkegaard would call him a fool as well as a sinner for attempting so to verify them.
Ordinary good sense, the ordinary appeals to conscience, the attempt to think things out and get them clear—pathetic expedients to put a lighter complexion on one's guilt—must be firmly put aside. In favour of what? A philosopher with authority is nonsense. Now authority may demand that a man accept this, and tell him that if he demurs that is the worst sin of all. And he may give in, as many have done, through diffidence about his own insight and sheer terror of the unknown. But a mind that is morally and intellectually sane can hardly divest itself of its sanity on order.
Am I implying that in respect to this sense of guilt Kierkegaard himself was not quite sane? I am implying precisely that. His pattern of profound depression followed by states of exaltation was studied by the Danish psychiatrist Helweg, who found it symptomatic of a disordered mind, and there is much to confirm such a diagnosis. His own conviction that he had often stood on the brink of insanity, his repeated dallyings with suicide, his retreat from the world into his darkened rooms, his alienation from his friends, his family, and even his mother, the paranoiac claims to genius and comparisons of himself to Christ, the perpetual feverish anatomising of his own tortured mind, maintained until, exhausted and prematurely old, he died in his early forties—one wonders whether there is any psychiatrist of our time who would not at once recognise in such symptoms the syndrome of mental illness.
But this is matter for the pathologist, and what I am thinking of here is sanity in a less technical sense, the kind of intellectual health that one looks for in a matured and reflective mind. Intelligence is healthy so long as it adjusts its beliefs to the evidence and succeeds in maintaining harmony among them. It loses this sanity so far as it allows any belief to form a cyst, resistant to evidence, or allows its world of belief to fall apart into incoherence. There is such a thing as the sanity of the judicial mind, which we all recognise by its contrast with the temper of the fanatic, the crackpot, the bigot, and the doctrinaire.
Now whatever Kierkegaard's place may be on the medical chart, he lacked this kind of sanity.
Reason and Faith
He fixed his eye on one part of the evidence, and did not and could not see it in perspective. Sin is of course a fact in human nature, and a most important fact. But it is not the all-important fact, to be carried by habit around one's neck like an albatross of doom.
Normal experience or impartial reflection would never suggest this view of sin; it comes straight from a special brand of theology. And this theology itself needs sanity in exceptional degree for its appraisal, for its claims and its confidence are enormous. Unhappily Kierkegaard was peculiarly unqualified to pass judgement on it. He had lived in its midst from infancy like a hothouse plant; his father was absorbed in it with the morbid fascination of one who feared he had committed the unpardonable sin.
From the range of critical and scientific knowledge that might have made a fair appraisal possible, Kierkegaard was cut off by accidents of time and place. He died four years before The Origin of Species cast its grenade among the fundamentalist theologians. Indeed this hostile reaction to Hegel was one of the chief intellectual facts of his life. He had read that arch-rationalist early, but by the age of twenty-two had concluded that philosophy and Christianity were hopelessly at odds with each other, and that he must take the Christian side.
Thereafter rationalism became anathema to him, and the very attempt to apply rational standards to religion came to seem an irrelevance and an offence. Now the truly judicial mind is one which, with a broad apperception-mass of experience and ideas, is able to bring it freely to bear on each point as it arises. On the facts of moral evil Kierkegaard lacked both the breadth and the freedom needed for a fair judgement.
Kierkegaard’s Leap of Faith
He saw these facts, not directly, but through the mist of his inherited theology; and this theology itself he could not appraise, partly because he lacked the required range of ideas, partly because an inveterate suspicion of reason itself deterred him from using freely such ideas as he had. This is the fixation on morality that belongs to Hebraic religion. In both the Old Testament and the New, the approach to the divine is almost exclusively moral.
The emphasis in the Old Testament is on the law and the prophets—in the earlier days obedience to the law of Moses, in the later days the acquirement of a clean heart; the emphasis of the New Testament is on the service of God through the love of man. Now man is not merely a pursuer of morals; he is also, for example, a pursuer of beauty and truth. There is no antecedent reason why he should not approach his Deity, and find a revelation of him, through his aesthetic and intellectual faculties as truly as through his conscience. The Hebrew tradition discouraged such notions.
It carried suggestions, to be sure, that we should consider the heavens, the work of God's hands, and consider the lilies how they grow, but these whispers are all but lost among the trumpet-calls to morality. There is likewise some recognition that with our other gettings we should get understanding and should love God with our minds as well as with our hearts.
But these again are incidental counsels. Here Kierkegaard was surrendered to the Hebraic tradition. He had some knowledge of the Greeks, and even held Socrates in a kind of hero-worship, but art and philosophy were not religion; the very notion that we could apprehend God by reason carried for him a touch of impiety.
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The umbilical cord from God to man was moral; we were sinners before a righteous Deity who was taking moral account of us. That was the great fact of our relation to him. One might be the first poet or the first philosopher of the world; that was nothing in God's sight. What was important was our moral status; we had sinned, all of us and morally; some of us had had our sins washed away, and would therefore be saved; where we stood in this transcendent reckoning was the only thing that really mattered.
To the Greek lover of beauty and reason this would have seemed a strange contraction of divine interest and manifestation into a single channel. But in religion it is Hebraism, not Hellenism, that has won the allegiance of the West. Luther despised the Greeks and exalted St Paul. Kierkegaard looked at Socrates wistfully, fought an internal battle with him and with Hegel, and then in fear and trembling for his immortal soul crept back to his father, Galatians, and original sin.
Now a person to whom the exalted status of the man with the top-hat or the emperor or the duchess conveyed no meaning would see nothing comic in their abject condition; the cream of the jest lies precisely in the deflation of high pretensions by humble fact. The enjoyment of the contrast need not be cruel; there may be sympathy for the fallen estate of the man with pretensions; indeed the main distinction between humour and irony, which appears a little lower in the scale, is that humour has sympathy, while irony lacks it.
This, Kierkegaard remarks sagely, is why one never finds irony in a woman. The loftier the position from which one can look down upon them, the wider will be the range of comic characters included in one's purview. The loftiest of all such positions is the religious.
Hence the religious man has an unparalleled opportunity for humour; he holds a position by contrast with which every walk of life, from peasant to king, takes on the aspect of a puppet show. There is nothing in principle new in this conception of humour, though Kierkegaard was perhaps the first to show its connection with religion and metaphysics. It is a humour, as Kierkegaard noted, that is very close to tragedy. Its note is often sounded by the greater poets. Is the picture comic or tragic? It is clearly both. And what makes it significant is that it holds up to us so vividly the little mouthing puppet that man is against the splendid background of what he thought he was.
It is the tragic humour of a brooding disillusionment. But in two important respects Kierkegaard's account of it is puzzling. For one thing, the background against which human vanities are to present themselves as comic is so characterless that it is hard to see how contrast with it could render anything comic.
When Carlyle called men forked radishes, or Shakespeare saw them as strutting players, the background of aspiration against which they appeared as comic was not difficult to see. What is the standpoint from which the religious man sees them? It is the standpoint of eternity; in looking down on human nature, he is occupying for a time the position of Deity itself. How is that position to be characterised? Kierkegaard tells us that it is beyond characterisation. We know that God's thoughts are not as our thoughts; his ethics contravenes our ethics; he is not even bound by our logic, so that he can do and think contradictory things.
Now if men's actions become comic through incongruity, there must be something more or less definite with which they can be incongruous. But according to Kierkegaard, the divine nature has for the religious man no definite character at all; it is paradoxical, unintelligible, even absurd. The ground on which we are to regard human life as absurd is that it seems absurd when viewed from the standpoint of the transcendentally absurd.
This is not very illuminating. We take God as absurd because he is so different from ourselves, though how, we do not know, and he takes us as absurd because we are so different from him, though what makes us absurd we again do not know, since his nature is utterly beyond us. Thus Kierkegaard's attempt to connect humour with religion ends in denying that such humour has any intelligible ground. But theology, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Though Kierkegaard was emphatic in protesting that the divine nature was inscrutable, he was not indisposed to fill in the blank, and the picture that formed itself bore a striking resemblance to the theologian himself.
The things that the religious man ought to laugh at were somehow the things that Kierkegaard found comical. He writes:. This I saw, and I laughed. Probably few persons will share Kierkegaard's feeling of the funniness of these things; the tone is that of a cynic rather than of a humorist. Still it is typically Kierkegaardian. His humour expresses a comprehensive scorn, seemingly unmellowed by tenderness. The substance of this answer, so far as I have been able to sift it out, may be given in three statements: one becomes a Christian in the full sense only 1 by overcoming objectivity, 2 by achieving subjectivity, and 3 by a leap of faith from a subjective base.
On each of these points Kierkegaard had arresting things to say. But if made with truth about any man who was trying to understand Christianity, it would be, according to Kierkegaard, an evidence of failure. He had several grounds for it. He put the point variously. Kierkegaard has clearly been reading Plato and Hegel, and here he is offering one of the stock objections against any thoroughgoing rationalism.
The objection is that reason can deal only with universal, and that therefore particulars, which plainly exist, are bound to slip through its meshes and get away. Kierkegaard would say that the same holds of science. It may be that a particular apple fell at a particular moment on the particular head of Isaac Newton, but if it did, that is no part of science, for science is concerned only with law, for example the law that matter as such obeys the gravitational formula. Now to understand anything by the use of reason, Kierkegaard suggests, is to reduce it to a set of as suches or universals, and then to connect these with others by laws which are themselves universals.
In these laws there is no reference to any particular event or to any individual thing or man. They are timeless, like the statements of logic and mathematics. But the occurrence of a particular event is not timeless, and the existence of an individual man, oneself for instance, is not to be resolved away into any set of as-suches. The particular occurrent and the individual thing or person therefore defy explanation by any process of thought, however extended. Suppose we say of Socrates that he is human and has a certain height, weight, and colour.
Now it is obvious that an indiviual thing or man, say Socrates, is not made up of universals like these. He is not a composite of humanity as such, plus height that is no height in particular, plus weight with no definite poundage, plus colour of no specifiable shade. One could assemble as many of these pale abstractions as one wished and still fall immeasurably short of the actual flesh-and-blood Socrates, who possesses these characters, not as abstractions, but in specific forms—a height of five feet ten, a weight of pounds.
If Kierkegaard means that an individual cannot be resolved into universals of this type, he is right, even if it is hard to think of any rationalist who could serve as a culprit. His point, however, may be different. He may be maintaining that even if we take the characters of an individual in their completely specific form, their totality is not enough to constitute the man. This position, unlike the preceding one, is actually advanced by some rationalists.
The traditional concept of a universal is that of a character that may occur in varying contexts. Suppose Socrates is five feet ten and weighs pounds. Are these characters universals? Clearly they are by this definition, for other persons besides Socrates may also have this specific weight or height. Now the nature of Socrates does seem to be made up of specific characters like these. Each is a universal because each could in principle be repeated, nor can one place any limit on the number of them that might be repeated together.
And thought can obviously deal with universals of this kind, both singly and in groups. It can note that this wholly specific shade is brighter than that. It can note that John Doe's wholly specific weight is greater than Richard Roe's. If thought can deal with such characters, both singly and in sets, and the individual is made of them, why should Kierkegaard say that intelligence is helpless in dealing with the individual?
Two answers are possible. Intelligence may fall short because it cannot exhaust the characters of the individual, or because in this individual there is something that can be set over against its characters as not a character at all. The first answer is that of the thoroughgoing rationalist, who would say that Socrates is a set of characters and relations.
He admits that we cannot deal with an individual, even a broomstick, if this means that we can apprehend all its properties; they are presumably infinite, and we shall never wholly exhaust them. But this is merely because our intelligence is limited. And it would be absurd to say that we cannot think of Socrates at all because we cannot exhaust the millions of attributes that an infinite knowledge would find in him.
But this is not Kierkegaard's answer. For consider: a character may either exist or not exist. I may clearly conceive a character; I may conceive your height for example; but can I in the same way conceive its existence? If so, what sort of entitity is it that I am conceiving? Is it some further attribute possessed by this height, so that when I say it exists, I am asserting some predicate of it?
Even to ask what I am asserting when I say that something exists is subtly to beg the question, since it assumes that existence is a content or character which I can conceive as I do roundness or the colour blue; and it is nothing of the sort. Thus the inference seems clear that if thought can deal only with characters, and existence is not a character, thought cannot deal with it.
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