Climacus on The Reason and The Paradox

I’ve been puzzling over Johannes Climacus’ handling of “the Reason” and “the Paradox”.  Part of what is puzzling is what Climacus means by the Reason.  Clearly, he is echoing Kant in various ways, particularly the famous opening lines of CPR:

Human reason has this peculiar fate that in one species of its knowledge it is burdened by questions which, as prescribed by the very nature of reason itself, it is not able to ignore, but which, as transcending all its powers, it is also not able to answer.

One feature of those famous lines that must have attracted Climacus is that they concern human reason.  What Climacus discusses in Philosophical Fragments as the Reason is human reason.  For Climacus, human reason is created reason, not uncreated reason.  That is, that human faculty is itself creaturely in the way that all human faculties, indeed humans themselves, are.   Although the point can be muted by the way in which the Teacher is contrasted with Socrates, and the way in which the Teacherly Moment is contrasted with the Socratic moment, Climacus believes that, from the point of view of Christianity, the notion of human reason as divine, and the (related) notion of human immortality, are pagan.  Immortality is not something given in human nature as such; it is a loving gift of God, made possible by Christ (the Teacher).  Human reason is given in human nature as such, but is not divine, is not of itself immortal.

The Paradox, we must keep in mind, is the Teacher himself:  he, the God-Man, is the content of his Teaching.  And the Teacher provides the condition for the content of his Teaching:  Faith.  (The way is prepared for Faith and for the Paradox by our discovering our own error, that is, Sin; and, having discovered it, having taken leave of it, that is, Repented.)  But among those things for which we must repent is the arrogance of the Reason, of its complacent assurance that it is all-in-all, that it is divine, immortal.  We have to come to see it as limited; its powers can be transcended.  –If the Reason views itself correctly, it will see that in fact it asks questions which outstrip its own competence–Climacus will say that the Reason wills its own downfall, that the Paradox is its passion.  The Reason will be able to set itself aside, to humble itself before the Paradox.  If that happens, then the Reason and the Paradox relate happily to one another in Faith.  If the Reason does not view itself correctly, if its sees itself as unlimited, as all-in-all, then the Paradox will be an Offense to the Reason, and the Reason’s relationship to the Paradox will be unhappy.  (For Climacus, the Paradox offers the Reason only one of these two relationships–Faith or Offense, tertium non datur.  The Reason cannot be indifferent to the Paradox.)

I guess that most of us, and most of Climacus’ readers, have a tendency to fall into a picture of the Reason as divine, as immortal.  The philosopher-in-us-all is decidedly pagan.  And that makes the relationship between the Reason and the Paradox seem fated for unhappiness, as if it were a collision of the divine with the divine, the immortal with the immortal.  Understood that way, it is hard to see why the Reason should set itself aside so as to make room for the Paradox in Faith.  Indeed, it is hard to see why the Reason should tolerate faith at all.  But if we think of the Reason as creaturely, we can more easily understand that it might need itself to repent, so to speak, that it might be such as not to be all-in-all, that it could set itself aside so as to take its place alongside the Paradox in Faith.  Faith then could be seen as that which allows creaturely reason to cast off the burdensomeness of unignorable but unanswerable questions.  Not because the Paradox is the answer to those questions, exactly, but because the Paradox reveals that the point of the questions is not to find answers, but rather to allow the Reason to discover what it is (and to keep discovering it):  human reason, creaturely reason–call it the Reason, Ltd.  In making room for the Paradox, it casts off the burdensomeness of its questions, and accepts a new burden, a new yoke–but this yoke is easy, and this burden is light.

7 responses

  1. I like Climacus’ move from Reason to human reason. Kant treats reason in the former sense, Reason is objective and absolute. It is the judge of all things. We don’t own reason, we participate in it. Climacus treats reason as a tool that belongs to humans, as a human faculty. Paradox under Kant is an enemy of reason, it will not have it. Climacus shows that the human person finds peace when he lays down his reason in the face of paradox.

    Great post.

    • Let’s say Kant sometimes thinks reason is “Reason, Ltd” — Limited Reason — noble and creaturely, a skyscraper of aspiration, if not accomplishment. Yet at other times, Reason looks very flawed and foolish. In the Paralogisms and Antinomies, for example, it seems to prove both the affirmative and the negative of basic claims in matters of great human concern.

      Perhaps Climacus stops reading Kant right there, without going on to see how Kant redeems reason by finding a third way beyond the initial set up of opposed propositions. Climacus remembers clearly that at the end of round one, Reason is brought to the mat. Yet we manage to go on. Would Faith amount to surmounting despair at Reason’s folly, being able to go on with a domesticated reason, now only lightly burdened ?

      • A good thought. –As to where Climacus stops reading Kant, I don’t know for sure, but I am sure he has no patience for religion within the bounds of mere reason.

  2. Hello,

    I was browsing resent posts on Kierkegaard and found yours.

    I just recently finished Philosophical Fragments, but haven’t been able to write a decent review yet. It’d be interesting to compare and discuss different view points. Will check back later.

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