Kierkegaard on the Cartesian Approach to Missing the Point


Today I have been searching the works of the Danish Christian philosopher-theologian Søren Kierkegaard for statements on the eternal present, something with which Moltmann takes issue. On quite a different note, I was reading the introduction to the Hong and Hong edition of The Concept of Anxiety when I found this killer insight:

Kierkegaard criticized the Cartesian principle of methodical doubt because it mistakenly gives more weight to reflection (thought) than it does to act (will).

“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!”

p.ix, citing Journals and Papers, I, 774.

In my “awakening” to philosophy and theology I went through a Kierkegaardian phase. Apparently this is quite common! He helped me to see the multivalency of symbols and was generally the beginning of my realisation of the ideological nature of truth claims (with some later help from Nietzsche). I began to depart from Kierkegaard when I thought that his philosophy was too individualist and spiritualist, overlooking the community and the concrete. You can empathise with me then when I found that Kierkegaard is a lot closer to Marx here than I had thought: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.” Unfortunately I doubt that Kierkegaard’s interest in ethics much resembles that of Marx. Correct me if I’m wrong?