Soren Kierkegaard

Concluding Unscientific Postscript

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Concluding Unscientific Postscript Summary

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Published in 1846, Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Fragments is a non-fiction philosophical work by Søren Kierkegaard. The text is a refutation of Hegelianism, a philosophy based on the idea that “the rational alone is real.” The book is so named because the postscript section is longer than the main body of the text. Kierkegaard was a nineteenth-century Danish philosopher and theologian. His writings, which were often done under various pseudonyms, typically dealt with religious themes and challenged powerful institutions of the day, such as the Church of Denmark.
Writing under the pseudonym Johannes Climacus, Kierkegaard founds his Socratic debate in Concluding Unscientific Postscript on the idea of “the subjective thinker.” Truth, he asserts, is subjective; it is not something that one possesses, but rather something that one lives. Truth must be pursued, searched for, and engaged with by each individual. Subjective thinkers are involved in their pursuit, and they exist as their truth. Even in the event that they fail to fully understand a given truth, by the very act of engaging with it, they have created a relationship with that truth.
In contrast to this is the objective thinker, who believes in objective truths that apply equally to everyone. While subjective thinkers ask, “how,” objective thinkers focus on “what.” Truth for them does not require inner reflection, nor it is a part of them. It exists outside as a separate, indifferent thing. According to Kierkegaard, objective truths do exist, but they are in the realm of science; when it comes to the inner world of humans, he rejects the ideas of objective truth.
Objective thinkers are represented by the doctrine of Hegelianism, which was founded by the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel; Kierkegaard does not hold back on insulting his philosophical opposite. For Hegelians, truth is truth regardless of what one thinks, and so thought becomes irrelevant. If one applies this to the classic Descartes idea, “I think; therefore I am,” it creates a bit of a conundrum. Kierkegaard asks whether Hegel has created a philosophy in which he himself does not exist.
This idea, in which there is a thought but no thinker, is played humorously by Kierkegaard. “If thought speaks deprecatingly of the imagination,” he writes, “imagination in its turn speaks deprecatingly of thought; and likewise with feeling. The task is not to exalt the one at the expense of the other, but to give them an equal status, to unify them in simultaneity; the medium in which they are unified is existence.”
Subjective thinkers use thought to explore the unknown and so seek to understand reality. By the Cartesian standard, not only do subjective thinkers exist, they come to see that individuals are the only things that do exist. In fact, existence itself is a subjective experience. There is no humanity, only individual humans. A crowd is an abstract idea, but a person is rooted in reality.
Yet, because individuals are constantly in flux, reality is not a fixed thing. By probing always for truth, subjective thinkers are constantly in a state of learning, of “becoming.” As objective truth does not allow for this transformation, Hegelianism falls short of being able to accurately describe reality. Again, Kierkegaard mocks the idea. He writes, “I shall be as willing as the next man to fall down in worship before the System, if only I can manage to set eyes on it…Tell me now sincerely, is it entirely finished; for if so, I will kneel down before it, even at the risk of ruining a pair of trousers (for on account of the heavy traffic to and fro, the road has become quite muddy),”—I always received the same answer: “No, it is not yet quite…”
The natural progression of thought is decision, and so it is for subjective thinkers that their truth is achieved by their decisions. They possess the decision–what Kierkegaard calls the “either/or”–and this is the greatness of each human. For Hegelians, however, an individual’s decisions matter very little, because, for them, truth is not affected by anyone’s decisions. There is no place in Hegelianism for ethics, a subjective idea that focuses on individuals, and, indeed, there is little room for individuals at all. In this way, Hegel has again created a system of thought in which he does not exist.
For those that do exist, Kierkegaard describes three spheres or stages of existence: the “aesthetical stage” is the stage of experimentation; the “ethical stage” where one becomes aware of and responsible for good and evil; and finally, the “religious stage,” where one advances their pursuit of good into the pursuit of God, the absolute truth. Because of the gap between where a human being’s knowledge ends and God begins, individuals cannot achieve absolute truth except through faith. To try to approach God, Kierkegaard says, is to swim through water “70,000 fathoms” deep.