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Transforming Vision: Imagination and Will in Kierkegaardian Faith.

Ferreira, Jamie M. Transforming Vision: Imagination and Will in Kierkegaardian Faith. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991. 176 pp. $39.95--Thanks in large part to a stimulating article by David Wisdo, Kierkegaard scholars have of late been very much taken up with the question, Was Kierkegaard a volitionalist on matters of faith? That is, did Kierkegaard understand faith to be an act of will or an ineffable gift of grace? In this signal contribution to Kierkegaard scholarship, Ferreira tries to deconstruct this and other dichotomies.

Against the nonvolitionalists, Ferreira rightly contends that the claim that faith is a gift is compatible with the view that its bestowal requires a certain activity on the part of the individual who is to receive it. Moreover, even if faith be a miraculous largess, ft still exists as a human activity, and as such is open to description.

There can be no doubt that Kierkegaard begs for a volitionalist reading. From one end of the corpus to the other he stresses the importance of the will, choice, and decision. In two of myriad instances Kierkegaard writes, "What is it to believe? It is to will (what one ought and because one ought) . . ."; and again, "The conclusion of belief is no conclusion but a resolution." While I will leave the reader to judge whether or not the author of this book does justice to such passages, Ferreira reasons that there can be no "either/or" between the will and grace because for Kierkegaard the will never functions in isolation but rather "informs or is to be predicated of all our activities" (p. 33).

Kierkegaard offers many descriptions of what it means to believe in God, the most widely circulating of which is his image of the "leap of faith." The leap has traditionally been understood in volitionalist terms, as a conscious choice to live within the categories of faith. In a fresh reading of this image, Ferreira argues that what Kierkegaard meant to emphasize with this description was the "qualitativeness and freedom of the transition" (p. 33) to faith. Ferreira suggests that the best mirror with which to capture Kierkegaard's vision of the transition to faith is the image of a gestalt shift in perspective. While God must provide the condition for this radical revision, the passage to faith is best understood as the cumulative work of imagination. One cannot choose to see the world in a new way; nevertheless, this radical shift in perspective engages the will in the sense that it could not take place without the individual's active attention. While Ferreira acknowledges that choice may come to play a role in the life of faith, it is the act of concentration rather than conscious decision that Ferreira associates with Kierkegaard's understanding of the will.

One of the most important virtues of Ferreira's study is her ability to bring a number of Kierkegaardian concepts to bear upon one another. Thus, Kierkegaard's views on choice are made to answer to his beliefs about the surrender of reason. And Kierkegaard's often repeated claim that faith is a passion is applied as a corrective to the leap of faith imagery. On this second score, Ferreira argues that if faith is passion then the way we come into faith must resemble the transition into other passional states. After scrutinizing various theories of emotion, Ferreira concludes that we do not choose what we feel, and so the leap of faith cannot be a conscious choice.

There is much that I would gainsay in Ferreira's study and a number of issues that I wish she would have investigated, such as the impact of her analysis on the critical subject of Kierkegaard's understanding of sin. Just the same, Transforming Vision is without a doubt one of the premier works of Kierkegaardian scholarship to come out in years. It is rigorously and yet gracefully reasoned, nuanced in its readings, rich in resonances; considered as a meditation on Kierkegaard's understanding of the imagination, Ferreira's work is nonpareil.
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Author:Marino, Gordon D.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Words:664
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