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Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus by…

Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus (1844)

by Soren Kierkegaard

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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How Do We Know the Truth?

In Plato's Meno an argument is raised that there is no such thing as a "truth seeker", because if a man knows the truth already, there is no need to seek, and if he doesn't, he can't seek, since he wouldn't recognize it even if he stumbles upon it. Socrates' solution to Meno's paradox is Recollection, i.e., the soul, which is immortal, already possesses knowledge of all things in herself from eternity, and only needs to remember or recollect them in the moment in time. "All learning is but Recollection"

A teacher or an authority cannot benefit an individual in any significant manner, because the teacher can't give, or "teach", the individual anything that he doesn't already possess in his own soul. For this reason, Socrates likens himself to a "midwife" (Theaetetus), who though barren himself yet helps others give birth to knowledge. "It is quite clear that they never learned anything from me; the many fine discoveries to which they cling are of their own making. But to me and the god they owe their delivery", but nothing more.

The Moment of Truth

To advance further than Socrates, Kierkegaard (under the pseudonym Johannes Climacus) posits that if the Teacher or the Moment is to have "decisive significance", the individual has to be devoid of Truth prior to the Moment. This state of being devoid or deprived of Truth is Sin or Error.

Firstly, the individual cannot be in possession of the Truth while being unaware of it, since if he can become aware at any moment, the Moment would not have "decisive significance" -- one moment is just as indistinguishable as another and there is no significant difference in the state of the individual before and after the moment.

Secondly, the individual cannot free himself from the state of Sin of his own will, since if he could will it at any moment, the Moment would lose its significance. IOW, for the Moment to have decisive significance, it must be irreversible, so to speak. "Just as one who throws a stone has power over it until he has thrown it, but not afterwards."

Thirdly, there must be a break in the state or the being of the individual. If his being remains the same before and after the Moment, the Moment would not have "decisive significance". This break is the Conversion, passing from non-being to being, the new birth. "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. ... Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." (John 3:3,5-6)

Being is the Requisite of Knowing

ZhuangZi, a Taoist philosopher in ancient China (who was born when, half way around the world, Plato was entering his 60s), posed another interesting challenge in "Happiness of the Fish" (魚之樂 | 鱼之乐). One day when he and HuiZi were out on a stroll, ZhuangZi observed, "The minnows roam where they please. It's the happiness of the fish." HuiZi asked, "You're not a fish, how do you know their happiness?" ZhuangZi replied, "You're not me, so how do you know I don't know their happiness?"

I suppose ZhuangZi "knew" the happiness of the fish because he reasoned thus: The fish were in a state (of freedom) that a man would enjoy if he were in a similar state, therefore the fish must be happy. This would be true only if man and fish share a likeness in their constitution, which is of course not necessarily the case.

Reason (Man) cannot know the Unknown (God), because they are absolutely unlike each other. Reason only knows itself and another based on itself, but nothing more. IOW, man as a self-centered being measures all things by himself. He is the ground and the reference point to which all other things are compared and evaluated. To comprehend means literally to grasp, but how can a finite being grasp the infinite? Like in the parable of blind men and the elephant, reason can only deduce based on its limited vision and experience. The blind men fail to acknowledge let alone prove the existence of the elephant, instead they think that it is some other things because they "grasp" its likeness to those things.

If a man is in a state of Sin, it is impossible for him to know the Truth, because Sin and Truth are absolutely unlike each other. There is no communion between the two, as there is no common ground. To know the Truth, one must partake of the Truth; To know God, one must partake of the nature of God. "For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God." (1 Corinthians 2:11-12)

The Love of Equals

Kierkegaard asserts that the most genuine and noble Love must be between equals. It can not be the relationship between master and slave, or pet owner and his pet, or that between pagan Greek gods and their love conquests, e.g., when Zeus transformed himself into a golden shower to impregnate Danae. In those relationships, there is no mutual understanding between the Lover and the Beloved, no reciprocity.

How can there be mutual understanding between God and Man, if they are absolutely unlike each other? This is the mystery of the Incarnation. “The Word of God Himself. He, indeed, assumed humanity that we might become God.” (St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word)

Christ has become the ladder between Heaven and Earth, in Whom and through Whom Man has Communion with God, not merely a sharing of thoughts and emotions, but a sharing of essence. When a man is joined to his wife, they shall become one flesh, "But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him." (1 Corinthians 6:17)

Faith and the Paradox

There is a "great gulf fixed" between Man and God, between Reason and the Unknown, between time and eternity, human existence and God's eternal essence, mortality and immortality, and yet Christ has become the Conveyor across that gulf. This is the Paradox, and it is offensive to the individual, because it entails a break, a discontinuity of the individual. Similar instances of the paradox exist in love, in birth and in learning. Since in all three cases, the beloved, the begotten and the learner undergo transformations so profound that they receive a new nature in the process. In Love, self-love is annihilated and yet exalted when the person sacrifices his own being for his beloved; In Birth, the transformation is from non-being to being; In learning, old conceptions are destroyed and new ones come into being in their stead.

Just as an individual cannot will himself to be born, so he cannot will himself unto the Truth. This can only be accomplished by God through Faith, a new organ, without which man cannot accept the Paradox, which is beyond the grasp of Reason and immediate sensation and cognition.

"For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it." (Matthew 16:25)
( )
  booksontrial | Jan 4, 2013 |
A preliminary work before Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard is trying to find his voice among his contemporary philosophers, most he disrespects. Kierkegaard succeeds by leaving the contemporaries ahead and discusses Christianity with the rules of pre-Christian philosophers. It works for the most part. For the failing parts you either need a leap of faith, or a better head than mine. My version has the translated Thulstrup commentary as endnotes. I recommend reading every endnote whenever one is signaled in the main text. ( )
  DromJohn | Jul 19, 2012 |
  cnb | Aug 15, 2008 |
Kierkegaard is perhaps the midpoint between the solidity of Aristotle and the obscurity of Plato. As such, it is fitting that this work applies Socratic approach to our relationship with God. I don't understand it completely but what I do grasp is important and illuminating. The important concepts here are: Truth, Error, the Moment, and the Paradox. The Teacher cannot show Truth. He can only show that we are in a state of Error. That Teacher is God. That state of being in Error by reason of ones' own guilt is "sin." Repentence is a conversion, a looking back to realize, but if it speeds up the steps in the other direction, that does not bring us closer to the truth. The new birth is something different, the Moment, a realization of being ("Socratic midwifery"). Recollection cannot help man realize his being or God's because he is in Error. (Section C, the disciple is the core of the explanation.) Soren's style is fun: "Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden. But the reader has perhaps already lost his patience, seeing that our beginning sounds like a fairy tale, and is not in the least systematic..." Understanding God is a Paradox. ( )
  jpsnow | May 25, 2008 |
it's not an easy read, but worthy the effort! ( )
  xinyi | Sep 18, 2007 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Soren Kierkegaardprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hong, Edna HatlestadEditor, translator & introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hong, Howard V.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The Danish philosopher's influential work, outlining the distinction between Socratic irony and the leap of faith required for Christian belief, argues that freedom, which cannot be understood or proved, is the necessary condition for Christianity. Also includes the unfinished narrative "Johannes Climacus" in which a man sets out to doubt everything - a critique of Cartesian and Hegelian approaches to philosophy.
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