Kierkegaard as Phenomenologist: An Experiment

Kierkegaard as Phenomenologist: An Experiment

by Jeffrey Hanson (Editor)


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Kierkegaard has undoubtedly been an influence on phenomenological thinking, but he has rarely if ever been read as a phenomenologist himself. Recent developments in phenomenology have expanded our conception of the discipline itself and the varieties of experience it can address. Is it possible that Kierkegaard, a canonical figure by any measure, can be reappraised in light of these developments? Or more radically, is it possible that the frontiers of phenomenological investigation were already broached by Kierkegaard even before phenomenology was formally defined by Husserl?

In Kierkegaard as Phenomenologist: An Experiment, Jeffrey Hanson embarks on a project to locate Kierkegaard within the current phenomenological discussion. This work is an experiment inasmuch as the plausibility of the undertaking itself will be determined only by the outcome. Some of the contributors clearly regard it as possible to read Kierkegaard as a phenomenologist. Others plainly do not and will contest the very hypothesis that forms the basis of this experiment.

As with any experiment, the larger discussion will determine its success, but Kierkegaard as Phenomenologist lays the groundwork for two exciting possibilities: first, that Kierkegaard scholarship will be renewed, and second, that the meaning of phenomenology itself will be reconsidered.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780810126817
Publisher: Northwestern University Press
Publication date: 11/30/2010
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Jeffrey Hanson is an adjunct assistant professor of philosophy at Boston College.

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An Experiment

Northwestern University Press

Copyright © 2010 Northwestern University Press
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ISBN: 978-0-8101-2681-7

Chapter One

The Elusive Reductions of Søren Kierkegaard

Kevin Hart

If the idea of Kierkegaard as a phenomenologist is to be considered at all rigorously, the question whether there is one reduction (or more) in his thought must be posed and answered. Perhaps the question does not need to be answered in the affi rmative, however, for there are people who subscribe to a phenomenology without any reduction. Not all of Husserl's students made the move from the realism of the Logical Investigations to the transcendental viewpoint of Ideas I. Perhaps it suffices to bring Kierkegaard into the fold of phenomenology to say that he is a philosopher for whom proving is less important than showing, and that the pseudonymous writings in particular show what no argument or exposition could ever manage to establish. And with the writings presented over his signature, perhaps it is enough to indicate that they are concerned with the intentional structure of love and, indeed, the counter-intentional structure of divine love. Further, it might be said, not without reason, that Kierkegaard is a phenomenologist preoccupied above all with God, and God is the irreducible par excellence, from which it would follow that it would be wrongheaded to look for one or more reductions in his writings.

Support for this relaxed attitude to Kierkegaard as a phenomenologist can be gained simply by looking at the history of phenomenology with respect to reductions. I say "reductions" partly because there are different steps and directions of abstention and ascesis that are in "the phenomenological reduction" and partly because there are other reductions that are sometimes in play. To name only a few: the eidetic reduction and the philosophical reduction, the phenomenological reduction, and the transcendental reduction. If Husserl started by thinking of epoché (bracketing) and reduction together, he ended by seeing the one as the condition for the other. Yet it might be said that one mark of a major phenomenologist, whether before or after the discovery of the reduction, is his or her refusal of "the reduction" as Husserl came to determine it and refine it in the period running from The Idea of Phenomenology (1907) to the second volume of Erste Philosophie (1923) to The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology (1934– 37). Those philosophers with phenomenological insight who preceded Husserl—Descartes, above all—disappointed him by not recognizing the importance of reduction when they came across it. Husserl remained interested only in the first two of the Meditations on First Philosophy, for with the third Descartes moved away from the phenomenology that was to be. The Logical Investigations (1899– 1901) was of course a breakthrough for Husserl, but after 1905, with what he then called the epistemological reduction firmly in place, it was deemed by him to be "not an end, but rather a beginning." 5 With the second edition of the Logical Investigations, published the same year as Ideas I (1913), Husserl introduced what he now called the phenomenological reduction, and subtly changed the fabric of the entire work.

More disturbing for Husserl, though, were those phenomenologists, including former students from Göttingen such as Roman Ingarden and Hedwig Conrad-Martius, who declined to adopt the reduction in order to remain realists, or who failed to perform it in the way or ways he deemed necessary. Chief among the latter is Heidegger, who told his students as early as the summer of 1927 that for him the reduction was not the passage from the natural attitude to transcendental consciousness but from beings to being, and that it was not central to phenomenology in any case. Similar stories can be told of other phenomenologists, including some that Husserl would never know. Jean-Paul Sartre dropped reduction because it sought to lead him to transcendental consciousness whereas phenomenology is endangered, he thought, if it does not determine the "I" as a relative existent. Discharging reduction is one marker, an important one, of his half turn from phenomenology to existentialism. For his part, Maurice Merleau-Ponty insisted that the phenomenological reduction is never completed, and that we are always forced to begin again when trying to adopt the phenomenological gaze. (Husserl would have agreed with him.) Jan Patocka held that reduction fails because it illegitimately identifies immediate givenness and subjective immanence, but that it nonetheless allows us to understand human transcendence as the subject's self-opening to being. Yet others have adopted and adapted reduction. Derrida at first enlarged it so that the being of transcendent entities is suspended instead of suppressed, and then maintained that, properly understood, reduction is pure thought as the delay incurred in any origin having to refer back to an earlier origin. 10 And, more recently, Marion has extended reduction in order to bring out its intrinsic connection with givenness and phenomenality.

Yet other later phenomenologists have rejected reduction in no uncertain terms. Emmanuel Levinas, for one, dismisses it on the ground that it is rooted in a theoretical attitude to the world, an intellectualism that phenomenology of all philosophies should resist in the name of concreteness. He remains committed to intentional analysis, which he takes to be the core of phenomenology. Michel Henry, for another, argues that the reduction leads one to an ecstatic phenomenology whereas the proper procedure would enable one to elaborate an enstatic phenomenology in which originary phenomenality is the ground and abyss on which the quest for phenomena is based. Yet we need to ask exactly what these later thinkers are rejecting and why they are doing so, and if one can in fact do phenomenology of any sort without some form of reduction, if not the phenomenological or the transcendental reduction. Should it turn out that there is no reduction, in any recognizable sense, in Kierkegaard's thought, we must ask what makes some people think that his writings abide in the neighborhood of phenomenology. And of course if there is a reduction of some kind, we must ask what it is, what prompts it, and where it leads.

Many readers of Kierkegaard are happy to regard him as an existentialist, or as a forerunner of that movement, but not as a phenomenologist. After all, the existentialists took the word "existence" from him (as he took it from Schelling), and with it a stress upon the singularity and absolute nature of the individual. One highly influential text in this regard is a note that Heidegger appended to the last paragraph of the introduction to division 2 of Being and Time (1927): "In the nineteenth century, Søren Kierkegaard explicitly seized upon the problem of existence as an existentiell problem, and thought it through in a penetrating fashion. But the existential problematic was so alien to him that, as regards his ontology, he remained completely dominated by Hegel and by ancient philosophy as Hegel saw it." Heidegger finds himself preferring the edifying discourses to the pseudonymous works, except for The Concept of Anxiety (1844), to which he is indebted in his account of Angst. The Kierkegaard who comes into focus for Heidegger in his first major work is a thinker of existence, although one still dominated by Hegel's concept of being as "empty thinking." No mention is made of Schelling, and one might object that, despite Kierkegaard's growing disappointment with the philosopher's Berlin lectures on his "positive philosophy" of 1841, he was a tonic influence on the young Danish writer. It was Schelling's emphasis upon actuality, as distinct from Hegel's dialectical idea of being, which excited Kierkegaard. In its search for the concrete, Kierkegaard's is always a positive philosophy, not a negative one, and the Hegel to whom he comes close now and then—as in the very movement of The Sickness unto Death (1849)—is the author of The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807).

Adorno will wisely prompt us not to take Heidegger at his word as a reader of Kierkegaard, telling us that "in Being and Time ... Kierkegaard's concept of existence had undone the posture on the part of the 'observer' in which the phenomenologist felt himself vindicated." And in the same spirit we may recall that Heidegger's note on Kierkegaard in Being and Time was not his first mention of him. In the summer semester of 1921, when lecturing on Augustine's Confessions, he quoted favorably from The Sickness unto Death and from The Concept of Anxiety. To develop a phenomenological reading of Augustine, Heidegger had to go by way of Kierkegaard's reflections on guilt and sin. Are these reflections phenomenological? They are certainly descriptive. But do they change the "what" question to the "how" question in the manner of phenomenology? Heidegger certainly does that himself when reading Augustine: "'Life'—a How of having, and indeed an experiencing of tentationes ... 'Life': a How of a being of a determinate structure and categorial expression," he writes in his notes. It is the movement from "What?" to "How?" that marks phenomenology, at least for Husserl and Heidegger. Yet Heidegger's mention in the note of Hegel's great work of 1807 reminds us that "phenomenology" was not a word of Husserl's coinage. (It entered philosophy in Johann Heinrich Lambert's Cosmological Letters on the Arrangement of the World-Edifice [1761].) Merleau-Ponty tells us in the Phenomenology of Perception (1945), "Phenomenology can be practiced and identifi ed as a manner or style of thinking, that it existed as a movement before arriving at complete awareness of itself as a philosophy" (viii; my emphasis). Indeed, he begins that invaluable book by asking, "What is phenomenology?" and remarking how strange it is that the question must be posed half a century after Husserl's first publications appeared. He goes on to say that followers of the movement have found it ex post facto "in every quarter, certainly in Hegel and Kierkegaard" (viii; my emphasis). It is not a matter of finding all in all, the future already in the past, since only one aspect of phenomenology is to be found in the nineteenth century.

Phenomenology speaks about itself in a doubled way, Merleau-Ponty says. On the one hand, it is a transcendental philosophy and a rigorous science, while on the other hand, it is concerned with the world and with lived experience. We cannot locate Kierkegaard in terms of transcendental philosophy or rigorous science, yet he is deeply concerned with being in the world and with the texture of lived experience. Not that one will fi nd any of Husserl's technical vocabulary for clarifying experience in Kierkegaard, no more so than one will find it in Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. Even so, we can, Merleau-Ponty says, find Kierkegaard in phenomenology considered as a "movement" before it became a "doctrine," if we focus on his attentiveness and wonder, awareness and the "will to seize the meaning of the world" (xxi). To which we might add that if phenomenology can be found in both Hegel and Kierkegaard, two figures associated in the modern philosophical imagination mainly by the latter's sharp disagreements with the former, we must assume that the movement to which Merleau-Ponty refers is a very broad one indeed.

Merleau-Ponty cites Eugen Fink as saying that the reduction is wonder in the face of the world, though the German does not say that in so many words. He observes, instead, that "the phenomenological onlooker ... does not remain thematically focused upon the transcendental experience of the world ... but inquires back from experience of the world to constitution of the world." And he also evokes "the awful tremor everyone experiences who actually passes through the phenomenological reduction," a tremor caused by realizing that the world has been "de-absolutized" by the reduction (144), and that its meaning has been coconstituted by the transcendental ego. For Fink as for Husserl, phenomenology secures the world so that phenomena may disclose themselves. There is no attempt to ground the world in terms of a theory; rather, by way of an intellectual ascesis, one takes a step back to the very edge of the world and assumes the viewpoint of the transcendental ego. One becomes an onlooker who is not committed to any theses about the being of the word or its contents, as was the empirical, psychological "I" before the reduction took place. Authoritative as Fink's account of the reduction is, the French philosopher offers the more winning description of it. "Reflection does not withdraw from the world towards the unity of consciousness of the world's basis; it steps back to watch the forms of transcendence fly up like sparks from a fire; it slackens the intentional threads which attach us to the world and thus brings them to our notice; it alone is consciousness of the world because it reveals that world as strange and paradoxical" (xiii). As already mentioned, Merleau-Ponty qualifies his account of the reduction by saying that no reduction is ever complete: we cannot step back all at once, we cannot quite leave our empirical "I" behind, and we cannot bring the strangeness and paradoxical nature of our being in the world fully and clearly into view. One reduction implies another, and then another, and so on. The sheer multiplication of reductions by Husserl in his later work gives credence to Merleau-Ponty's account of the reduction as incomplete, though we may wonder if the Frenchman is right to contain phenomenology within philosophy as he does. Does it not apply to all thinking and all writing?

Kierkegaard is a rare philosopher, for he is as much a writer as a thinker. Perhaps only Plato stands as a comparison with him in this regard. "To be an author—well, yes, this appeals to me. If I am to be honest, I must indeed say that I have been in love with being productive," the Dane wrote toward the end of his life. One of his most admiring modern readers, Louis Mackey, insists on taking Kierkegaard at his word and thinking of him first and foremost as "a kind of poet." "There has hardly been a poet before me," Kierkegaard told his journal in 1849, "who has known about life and especially about religion as profoundly as I do." The word "poet" reminds us that Kierkegaard could write lyrically; also, it captures the spirit of some of the pseudonymous writings; and, furthermore, it indicates the status of those writings: they are "without authority," since he does not write about ethics and religion with the backing of the church. Mackey explicitly sets Kierkegaard's claim to be a poet against what he is pleased to call "the jejune solemnities of the epoché" (xii). Now in most of his works, at least up until The Crisis, Husserl reserves the word epoché for the phenomenological reduction, through which we are led back to the position of transcendental onlooker, and this is quite distinct from the eidetic reduction that is performed while still in the natural attitude in order to disclose the eidos or principle of something. Without the eidetic reduction we could not do mathematics, write poems, or even think straight. There is nothing jejune here.

And yet the epoché is jejune, Mackey says. What might give him pause, though, is a line from a letter that Husserl wrote to Hugo von Hofmannsthal in 1907, the very year he started to lecture on the reduction. He says there to the poet and playwright, "The phenomenological gaze is therefore a close relation of the aesthetic gaze." Note that Husserl is not saying that the aesthetic gaze is close to the eidetic reduction, although he could have said that as well. When we see Shakespeare's Othello acted memorably we discern the eidos of jealousy, and when we read Hopkins's "Hurrahing in Harvest" we grasp what it is to have religious joy. One cannot be a poet without performing the eidetic reduction. (One cannot be anything much.) Yet Husserl goes further and says that the aesthetic gaze is kin to the phenomenological gaze. The writing or reading of a poem, such as Hofmannsthal's "Vor Tag," edges us out of the natural attitude, allows us to stand at the very limit of the world and to contemplate our experiences without holding a thesis about them. What may appear to be judgments made by the poet are really no more than quasi-judgments. The aesthetic gaze encourages reflection without holding a position or a thesis about being, although of course Husserl would want to add that the phenomenological gaze is more rigorous and more radical than the aesthetic gaze: it disconnects us more thoroughly from the world of fact, neutralizes it more surely, and enables us to reflect more deeply on our experiences. Images can only go so far, the philosopher thought.


Excerpted from KIERKEGAARD AS PHENOMENOLOGIST Copyright © 2010 by Northwestern University Press. Excerpted by permission of Northwestern University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations of Works Kierkegaard vii

Introduction Jeffrey Hanson ix

Part 1 Beginnings and Method

The Elusive Reductions of Søren Kierkegaard Kevin Hart 5

Kierkegaard Between Fundamental Ontology and Theology: Phenomenological Approaches to Love of God Jeffrey Bloechl 23

Part 2 Self-Consciousness and Self-Givenness

Divine Givenness and Self-Givenness in Kierkegaard Merold Westphal 39

Freedom Through Despair: Kierkegaard's Phenomenological Analysis Daniel Dahlstrom 57

Self-Givenness and Self-Understanding: Kierkegaard and the Question of Phenomenology Arne Grøn 79

Part 3 God and Experience

A Phenomenological Proof" The Challenge of Arguing for God in Kierkegaard's Pseudonymous Authorship Heiko Schulz 101

Kierkegaard and the Phenomenology of Temptation Brian Gregor 128

The Meaning of "Negative Phenomena" in Kierkegaard's Theory of Subjectivity Dario González 149

Part 4 Conclusions and Questions

Kierkegaard: Reenchanting the Lebenswelt Mark Dooley 169

Kierkegaard and the Limits of Phenomenology George Pattison 188

Contributors 209

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