When I say that my act commits me, it seems to me that it means just this: what is characteristic of my act is that it can later be claimed by me as mine; at bottom, it is as though I signed a confession in advance: when the day comes when I will be confronted by my act, whether through my own agency or that of another…I must say: yes, it is I who acted in this way, ego sum qui fecit; what is more: I acknowledge in advance that if I try to escape, I am guilty of a disownment. Let us take a specific example. The clearest, the most impressive example, is doubtless that of promising, to the extent that promising is not “mere words,” just words. I promise someone that I will help him if he gets into difficulty. This amounts to saying: “I acknowledge in advance that if I try to escape when these circumstances occur, in thereby disavowing myself I create a cleavage within myself which is destructive of my own reality.”
A brief presentation for a philosophy club meeting at AU tonight.
The relationship between Climacus’ Fragments and Postscript is unsurprisingly surprising and complex. For example, Climacus treats Part One of Postscript as the proper (promised) sequel to Fragments, while he treats Part Two as “a renewed attempt on the same lines” but not as the proper sequel. I suppose this must be one reason why the speculative side of the objective problem (in Part One) is treated in such a brief, comparatively off-hand manner–it had really been done already in Fragments. The historical side is what was not done there. Right?
The argument for the ignoratio elenchi of historical inquiry into Holy Scripture (to help or hurt belief in faith) puzzles me. The general form of the argument is perfectly clear: Assume that historical inquiry has culminated in a set of the happiest results any theologian could wish. Still, that assumption does not aid the believer in faith. Assume that historical inquiry has culminated in a set of the unhappiest results any theologian could have dreaded. Still, that assumption does not harm the believer in faith. The believer is untouched by either assumption since only if he were an unbelieving believer (in other words, someone who has turned Christianity into something objective) would he be bolstered by or vulnerable to these assumptions about objective results. Conclusion: historical inquiry into Holy Scripture is beside the point for the believer in faith; it can neither aid nor harm the believer in faith. But here’s a question about the detail of the argument. How far into the content of Holy Scripture do the assumptions penetrate? The happy results supposed to be of this sort: These books and no others belong to the canon; these books are authentic; these books are complete; the authors of these books are trustworthy; these books are logically consistent. The unhappy results are the denials of the happy results. So–is the following among the happy results?
Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding feast.
Or is the result supposed to be like this?
A trustworthy author wrote, in an authentic, integral, and canonical book that Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding feast.
I take this last to be such that it is not supposed to allow the detachment of ‘Jesus turned water into wine’ from it. (The prefix is not like ‘It is true that’.) –Maybe another way of putting my worry is to ask just about the trustworthy happy-result: If the authors are trustworthy, does that mean that they are accurately reporting events or does it mean that they are sincerely reporting them? The first putative happy result looks like something that would be believed in faith; the second not. I lean toward the second. –One other reason this is so tricky is that the first putative happy result looks like it is open to an objective/subjective ambiguity; it can be believed in faith or objectively believed (or so it seems to me). But if that is true, why can’t the first putative happy result be an actual happy result, assuming it is objectively believed (as it would be, given that it is to be an objective result)? Gah. Help. (Thanks to my students, Greg and Megan, for pushing me on this worry.)
Keeping his intended audience in mind is perhaps the most difficult thing to do when reading Johannes Climacus’ Postscript. He writes, neither to those who deliberately reject Christianity nor to genuinely faithful Christians. He is not writing to those who are caught in the throes of becoming a Christian. Each of these audiences can of course find much in Postscript, but it is not written to them. And, far too often, Postscript is criticized as if it had been written to these audiences. (As a result, the book is criticized as if it were apologetics (God forbid!) or as if it were evangelistic).
Now I realize this may seem a strange claim, especially in the case of the last group, those in the throes of becoming a Christian. “After all,” an objector might say, “Climacus’ controlling question is: ‘How do I become a Christian?’ So isn’t he writing to that group?”
No. Climacus’ interest in his controlling question is retrospective, not prospective. He asks the question, and answers it, not as an exercise in evangelism, not as a tractarian, but for the sake of his intended audience, those who believe that they are believers, but who fail to believe. His interest in his question is retrospective because, given the confusions of his intended audience, they will think of themselves as on the far end, as it were, of the question, not on its near end. They need to realize that the way in which they believe they became believers is not a way of becoming believers. I will call the intended audience the unbelieving believers.*
This intended audience is not wholly homogenous. Some of the unbelieving believers account for their becoming Christians by believing it as a historical truth; some account for their becoming Christians by believing it as a speculative truth. But both sub-groups have treated becoming a Christian as coming to be objectively convinced of the truth of Christianity. To the extent that they have been worried about their subjective relationship to Christianity, their appropriation of it, they have taken it to be precipitated from objective conviction. But appropriation does not precipitate from objective conviction. Even worse, objective conviction makes appropriation even more difficult than it already is. Objective conviction requires the inquirer to discipline out of her inquiry all questions of subjectivity, of how she is related to the object. That very disciplining out tends to attenuate or destroy subjectivity.—This is one reason why the unbelieving believer who worries about appropriation expects appropriation to precipitate from objective conviction–the conditions of acquiring objective conviction are hostile to appropriation, so if it is to happen, it will look to those who pursue objective conviction but worry about appropriation like something that really can happen only once objective conviction occurs.
In showing what is really involved in becoming a Christian Climacus aims to shock his audience into recognizing that they are unbelieving believers. Their account of how they became Christians, once they are clear about it and about the way one does actually become a Christian, reveals that they are not Christians. They may be objectively convinced of something–it is unclear it really counts as Christianity–but they are not really believers, appropriators of Christianity.
That unbelieving believers are the intended audience is part of the story why Climacus is not much concerned about answering the objective question about the truth of Christianity. (It is not the full story, but I am unsure I can tell the full story.) His intended audience takes that question as settled. They expect settling it to have settled the question of their faith too. Climacus aims at unsettlement. He will begin with an invitation: “Tell me, and tell yourself, how you became a Christian…”
*NB I use this phrase to suggest the simultaneous similarity and dissimilarity between Climacus’ intended audience and the father of the son possessed by a spirit (in Mark 9; cf. especially 9:24).
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.
Our time has experienced a reaction from the intellectually aristocratic unreality of the post-Kantian idealists, which has thrown us into the arms of the plebeian unreality of the naturalistic philosophers, whose sense of reality is satisfied by the massive, the extensive, the numerical, the quantitative; and thus we have merely exchanged one abstraction for another. But just as in ancient times the career of Socrates furnished perhaps the best commentary upon what a sense for reality means, so in modern times the life and thought of Kierkegaard offer an illuminating commentary upon the philosophy of the real, or upon realism in philosophy.
(Digging around in my files, I found what must have been the first handout I ever constructed on Philosophical Investigations (it is dated 5/7/1992). A section of it follows.)
Understanding the Endless Book
Why is the Investigations so “bloody hard”? Because the book is both a statement of its method and the result of its method. To quote Cavell: “The way this book is written is internal to what it teaches, which means that we cannot understand the manner (call it the method), before we understand its work…The Investigations is written in criticism of itself.”
Before even trying to makes sense of these cabalistic pronouncements, it might be a good idea to ask if Wittgenstein gave his reader any hint how to approach the book. In the Preface he admits that “I should not like my writing to spare other people the trouble of thinking. But, if possible, to stimulate someone to thoughts of his own.” Well and good. What help does this give us? Maybe a little, especially if we link it with another remark.
What I want to teach you isn’t opinions but a method. In fact, the method is to treat as irrelevant every question of opinion…If I’m wrong then you are right, which is just as good. As long as we look for the same thing…I don’t try to make you believe something you don’t believe, but to make you do something you won’t do.
Let me delay comment on this remark long enough to point up its similarity (I think the similarity is instructive, thus the delay) to Kierkegaard’s comments in Section 12 of Purity of Heart. The talk
…in order to achieve its proper emphasis…must unequivocally demand something of the listener. It must demand not merely what has previously been requested, that the reader should share in the work with the speaker–now the talk must unconditionally demand the reader’s own decisive activity, and all depends on this.
Wittgenstein, like Kierkegaard, requires more from his reader than merely close attention to the thought–he requires his reader to think the thought as well. And part of the reader’s “thinking the thought” is the reader having thoughts of his own about it.
To understand, let’s think of the Investigations in a different way. Wittgenstein had a well-known love for detective magazines. Interestingly, the letters which follow a detective’s name are “P. I.”–“private investigator”. Wittgenstein could well have affixed the same letters after his own name: “P. I.”–“philosophical investigator”. In fact, Wittgenstein did, in a way, affix them to his name by leaving behind an instruction manual with the appropriate title–Philosophical Investigations. (Holmes, remember, delighted in calling himself the world’s only “consulting detective”; Wittgenstein may have been the world’s only “philosophical detective”.) The Investigations is of course more than just an instruction manual, it is also a case book. When we read it we are watching the detective. But what we watch is not the completion of cases; nothing is stamped “solved”. Instead we are given a glimpse into working cases. We are made privy to conversations with informants, allowed to see mistaken hunches, provided portraits of suspicious characters. We see reminders, clues not-yet-understood, records of previous crimes. Interspersed (like voice-overs) are comments on the investigator’s business, how it works, what to do, what not to do, comments on methods that succeed and methods that fail, notes on the variety of temptations that confront the investigator and what happens when he yields to them. We are taken into confidence, confessed to, told secrets. In short, we are left with a mountain of pieces, but the puzzles–mysteries, crimes–remain unsolved. To profit from the book, we must practice the investigator’s technique on the book itself. We cannot merely read it, memorize it, parrot the book itself. We must master it. And mastery requires intense and continuous effort, not only learning the lessons but applying them–on the mean streets, as it were…