Kierkegaardian Subjectivity and Austinian Performatives 1

There is parallel between Kierkegaard’s objective/subjective distinction and Austin’s constative/performative distinction.  The parallel turns out to be far-reaching and instructive.  One result is that it loosens the grip of the epistemological interpretation of Kierkegaard’s distinction.  That interpretation is clearly erroneous, but it persists nonetheless.  (Part of the problem is Kierkegaard himself:  he tends to talk about the objective in terms that seem epistemological and so seem to force an epistemological interpretation of the subjective; also, he tends to talk about the subjective in a way that exults in a certain paradoxical ring, a ring that is most audible when what he says is taken epistemologically.  But that does not make it the right way to take what he says.)  The parallel with Austin’s distinction makes the epistemological interpretation look obviously wrong, since Austin’s distinction is obviously not epistemological.

Of course it may still seem wrong to press the parallel too much, since although neither distinction is epistemological, Kierkegaard’s is, well, existential and Austin’s is, well, linguistic.  –It may help in response to this to remember that Austin describes his work as linguistic phenomenology and that Kierkegaard’s qualitative dialectic could also be so described.  I won’t outline the case for that description now, but for those who know Cavell’s paper on existentialism and analytic philosophy, I can say that the case would overlap importantly with Cavell’s case for paralleling Wittgenstein’s grammatical investigation with Kierkegaard’s qualitative dialectic.  And of course Cavell’s later discussions of passionate utterance are also helpful with the parallel.

More on this soon.

2 responses

  1. Let me know if you want to hear about the parallel between Austin’s distinction between performative and constative utterances and Kant’s distinction between aesthetic and logical judgments. (It’s only mildly instructive, I think.)

    I’m afraid that Woody Allen made it difficult for me to take Kierkegaard on subjectivity seriously.

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