Printer Friendly

The explosive maieutics of Kierkegaard's Either/Or.

Soren Kierkegaard published Either/Or: A Fragment of Life in 1843. (1) The first bloom of the extraordinary literary efflorescence that made his name, the book announced the existence of a vital and fecund soul. Kierkegaard's poetic children--unique individuals all--include multiple pseudonymous authors and their distinctive offspring: rich, lively volumes of aesthetic and cultural criticism, psychological exploration, metaphysical inquiry, ethical and religious exhortation, and existential drama; composed of letters, essays, diaries, aphorisms, parables, lectures, sermons, and dialogues; and written in the registers of comedy, pathos, humor, and irony (2)

Either/Or, a work of vast scope fashioned by multiple hands, incorporates the essential elements of Kierkegaard's authorship as a whole. Its main author/characters--an accidental editor, an alienated litterateur, a didactic judge, a solitary pastor--reveal the dialectical instability of the primary modes of human existence (aesthetic, ethical, and religious) that Kierkegaard explores throughout his ouevre. Speaking from different border zones on this broad existential map, all nevertheless stand at the threshold between literature and life, and not simply because their status as distinct individuals is questionable even on the book's fictional premise. (3) For they relate to one another exclusively or primarily in writing and reading, and they are volatilized--as Kierkegaard's readers must also feel themselves to be--by the destabilizing, yet also potentially productive, effects of these literary activities.

Kierkegaard's upsurge of literary creativity may be traced to his 1841 dissertation, The Concept of Irony with Continual Reference to Socrates, in which the paradoxical figure of Socrates, a poetic triangulation from the distinct perspectives of Aristophanes and Plato, fluctuates between presence and absence, sterile emptiness and fertile substantiality. While the ethereal philosopher of Aristophanes' Clouds points toward the problem of metaphysical seduction--the arousal of longing for a reality that exists neither in the seducer nor at the heart of the world--Socrates' solid carapace of manly virtue conceals, in Plato's Symposium, a womb teeming with images "divine and golden and altogether beautiful and amazing." (4) For Kierkegaard, this oscillation between void and plenitude, surface and depth, produces a fructifying spiritual electricity; the dissertation has rightly been called "a program for life" and "a life task." (5)

Either/Or exhibits the same potentially generative polarities as The Concept of Irony. Like Johannes de Silentio's Fear and Trembling (1843) and Johannes Climacus's Philosophical Fragments, or a Fragment of Philosophy (1844), the book contains multiple shocks and collisions with intransigent realities. Trapped as they are in cultural eddies of romantic alienation and late-modern triumphalism, however, Either/Or1 s protagonists are generally oblivious of the meaning, and sometimes even the existence, of these deep and intense collisions. Kierkegaard nevertheless seems to hope that they might prove to be birth pangs for his readers, issuing them into a life that is open and responsive to absolute reality--the mysterious, wounding, and yet ultimately quickening reality that presents itself to Abraham as YHVH, and that Socrates, in his maieutic ignorance, calls "the god. (6)

In his "Lecture on Ethics," Wittgenstein asserts that "if a man could write a book on ethics which really was a book on ethics, this book would, with an explosion, destroy all the other books in the world." (7) Perhaps he was thinking of Kierkegaard's accomplishment in Either/Or, a work he read and admired. (8) Part 2 of the book consists of three letters by a certain Judge William; these culminate in a muffled explosion--in a sermon the judge recommends but fundamentally misunderstands--of the foundations of the ethical existence he has described in the previous 300 pages. The pastor uses Jesus's prophetic lament for Jerusalem to shatter the rational conception of divine providence that grounds (at least for cultivated, morally earnest Christians like William) the sphere of concrete ethical life and social practice Hegel calls Sittlichkeit. In leaving those who comprehend the meaning of his own prophetic speech alone and vulnerable before an inscrutable God, the pastor nevertheless reveals a potentially inexhaustible source of ethical and spiritual renewal: the infinite love of the other that repeatedly conquers even the most terrible doubts about God and world.

This article aims to clarify the ethical and theological importance of Either/Or's conclusion. I argue that the book's fundamental psychological, philosophical, and theological contradictions and conflicts are most radically expressed in the Ultimatum (the sermon and its epistolary frame), and are no less radically resolved therein. This resolution is not theoretical but strictly personal and practical. The sermon is written for a congregation, but the pastor speaks directly to individuals, attempting to build up his audience for the essential tasks of human existence: doing justice and loving God and neighbor. The first three sections of this article concern the literary structure and existential drama of the book as a whole; the last three examine the sermon itself.


Either/Or is a magnificent literary construction of elements nested within one another "like the boxes in a Chinese puzzle." (9) In the book's preface, Victor Eremita presents himself as the editor of a collection of papers, evidently written by two different men, that he finds inside a desk. Part 1 contains aphorisms and essays by the unknown author Eremita calls "A," followed by a diary of seduction that is editorially prefaced by A (who claims to have removed it from yet another desk) and written by an astonishingly manipulative, romantic Houdini identified only as Johannes. Part 2 contains letters to A by William, whom Eremita for the sake of consistency calls "B"; the last of these includes the sermon, which is prefaced by B and authored by an unidentified pastor of the Danish Lutheran church.

Formally, Either/Or is a fractal, a term derived from the Latin fractus ("fractured") that describes objects displaying the same structure at different levels of magnification. As the following diagram shows, each part of the book reflects the bifurcation of the whole, and elements that appear on one level reappear on others:

The formal reduplication of divisions Kierkegaard builds into Either/Or echoes the theme of existential fragmentation announced in the title. It also invites us to compare the book's parts, both within and across divisions and subdivisions. The preface and the Ultimatum, a nonnegotiable Last Word, are related as the bookends of Either/Or, the first word and the last. The importance of the sermon is suggested by the fact that it is literally the last word of the Last Word. But because the Ultimatum is the final section of part 2, it is also implicitly connected with "The Seducer's Diary," the final section of part 1. Johannes's diary and the sermon are, in turn, the innermost cores of Either/Or: two peculiarly scandalous and incendiary texts, hidden deep within the matching Chinese boxes that contain them.

What is the significance of these relationships? What does a seducer's story of illusion and abandonment have to do with a pastor's sermon on the problem of theodicy? And what does the preface have to do with either of these? With these questions in mind, let us turn to the relationship between A and B that stands at the heart of Either/Or.


In his preface, Eremita tells the story of how he succumbed to the "prodigal" and "sophistical" desire to purchase a secondhand writing desk in which he later discovered the papers of A and B. (10) A similarly prefaces "The Seducer's Diary" by relating how he succumbed to the "temptation" of illicitly removing the diary from Johannes's desk. (11) It is thus unsurprising that the writings of A and (less obviously) of B reflect different yet equally unfulfilled and unreciprocated longings.

A is a highly cultured and profoundly disillusioned romantic idealist. Although his own wealth allows him to live a life of cultivated idleness, he despises what he regards as the bourgeois shallowness of the good Christian citizens of Copenhagen, among whom he finds no "enthusiasm that endure[s] everything," no "faith that move[s] mountains," no "idea that join[s] the finite and the infinite"--the only things, he jadedly asserts, that "could divert me." (12) Having withdrawn from everyday pursuits and activities, A exists mostly in the spheres of literary imagination and reflective enjoyment, consuming music, poetry, and drama and occasionally writing erudite critical reviews and essays. His particular obsession with seduction and betrayal suggests that he is intimately acquainted with faithlessness in love (and not, we are led to infer, simply the romantic kind), which he seems both to have discovered in himself and suffered at the hands of others. Mozart's devil-may-care seducer Don Giovanni offers him the vicarious experience of a vital erotic and musical energy he cannot summon within himself. (13) In "Silhouettes: Psychological Diversion," (14) A nevertheless writes with deep sympathy about the anxiety and confusion of the jilted women of poetry and song. His intensive exploration of erotic conquest and the wounds it inflicts on its victims reflects his sense of the faithlessness of the world in general--he advises that hope be "thrown overboard" in life, as it is "an untrustworthy shipmaster" (15)--and raises questions of central importance in Kierkegaard's authorship: whether anyone or anything is truly lovable, and if so, whether we ourselves are capable of wholehearted and faithful devotion. Living and loving are so closely related for A that he describes his lovelorn existence as "dying death," not living life. (16) Inactive, bereft of fruitful companionship, and uninvolved in any actual community, he is incapable of spiritual conception and birth. "How sterile my soul and my mind are," he laments, "and yet constantly tormented by empty voluptuous and excruciating labor pains!' (17) He passes his time fashioning lectures for an ideal audience he calls Symparanekromenoi, a Greek coinage of Aristophanean flavor that means "corpses collected alongside one another."

A's anonymity suits his diffuse, flexible, and inwardly empty nature. B at one point compares him to a jellyfish: a "gelatinous mass" that drifts with the current, expanding and contracting at will, and that has no genuine interior inasmuch as "it is itself a pouch and nothing more.' (18) B lives a very different life, one as civically engaged and morally earnest as A's is ethereal and detached. Unlike A--who perversely resigns his position as a schoolteacher, a post for which he was "completely qualified," because "if I had continued in my job, I would have had everything to lose, nothing to gain" (19)--B has a respectable title and a proper name. Seemingly untroubled by doubt or anxiety, Judge William is concretely rooted in the very community A scorns. His letters admonish A, a man seven years his junior, (20) to follow his own dutiful example of marriage, work, and worship.

B argues earnestly and eloquently for an ethically substantial life--an existence that fulfills the shared norms of the community in all of its fundamental spheres, including the family, civil society, state, and church. He particularly emphasizes the inner beauty of married life, the quiet virtues of patience, humility, and moderation, and the psychologically unifying power of choosing oneself as an ethically serious person. He seeks to convince A that everyday existence has its own aesthetic perfection and even its own heroism--that it is not merely good, but beautiful. Living ethically, B explains, is the art of expressing universality through particularity. Just as any regular verb (but what of irregular ones?) could serve as a grammatical paradigm for the purpose of learning a language, "every person, if he so wills, can become a paradigmatic human being." (21)

In his "Either/Or: An Ecstatic Discourse"--ecstatic (but not joyful) because A "view[s] everything aeterno modo"--A, whose sense of the vanity of all things has earned him the name of a "Danish Qohelet," (22) presents as "the quintessence of all the wisdom of life" the doctrine that we will regret any fundamental choice we make, up to and including the choice of suicide. (23) B adamantly opposes this view. He urges A to make just one absolute or self-grounding choice: the choice to live under the categories of good and evil embedded in the concrete social practices of the present day. In this choice, the individual wills himself into being as a concretely ethical and historical self, and enters into "absolute continuity with the actuality to which he belongs"; "made pregnant by himself ... [he] gives birth to himself." (24) Like an experienced obstetrician of souls, B offers A the prospect of relief from his empty and excruciating labor pains.

In the richly developed characters of A and B, Kierkegaard fleshes out two basic modes of contemporary human existence. A's aesthetic existence, which reflects an unfulfilled erotic yearning for some transcendent and redeeming meaning, is intrinsically decentered and limnal. The fundamentally unhappy aesthete restlessly haunts the border of some other, vaguely intuited kind of life. B's ethical existence finds life's meaning in actively embracing the customs, traditions, and practices of one's time and place. In fact, both A and B are creatures of their age. While A's longings--which take form not in action but in imaginative intellectual explorations--are filtered through the gauzy ideals of early nineteenth-century romanticism, B embodies in practice the triumphant social philosophy of Hegel, whose followers in Kierkegaard's day included leading Danish theologians and philosophers. (25) Arguing that history has reached its ultimate goal of human freedom in the equilibrium of I and We, of individual particularity and social universality, uniquely available in the post-Napoleonic liberal states of Europe, Hegel presents history as "the manifestation of Religion as human Reason. (26) B's confident embrace of historically embedded categories of good and evil, including those of cultural Christianity, shows that he has absorbed the essence of Hegel's practical philosophy. The idea that joins the finite and the infinite in human existence--the idea that Christianity presents in figurative or imaginative language, which A longs for but cannot find--is actualized in Sittlichkeit, the concretely articulated ethical life that is right under his nose. (27)

B's character, habits, and ideas are fine tuned to social and historical actuality. His language and life-mood are indicative and imperative, not subjunctive or optative; (28) his real and definite existence is a powerful retort to A's vaporous and hypothetical one. In an important sense, however, B's ethical life--like the unhappy consciousness of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, [section][section]207-30--also has its center outside of itself: it is rooted in faith in God's providential governance. "Of a hundred men who go astray in the world," he asserts, "ninety-nine are saved by women, and one is saved by an immediate divine grace." (29) (As Eremita observes, however, B "is not very good in mathematics, inasmuch as he gives no place to those who are actually lost.") (30) B furthermore rejects out of hand the notion that God "wishes to torment people with the most horrible conflicts, and if there actually were a conflict between love of God and love of human beings, the love of whom he himself has implanted in our hearts, it would be hard to imagine anything more horrible." (31) Yet Fear and Trembling explores precisely this conflict between the absolute duty to an ultimately inscrutable God and the heartfelt imperatives of ethical life. (32) Most important, B shrinks from questioning the foundational presupposition of his vocation as a judge, an educated, literate Christian, and an ethical human being: that individuals are morally responsible agents whose suffering is commensurable with "offense" and "guilt." (33) While he repeatedly counsels A to "despair," and so fully to absorb "the consciousness of the nothingness of ... [his] life-view," (34) he is unwilling to take his own advice. "I know of only one sorrow that could bring me to despair," he writes, "and plunge everything into it--that repentance is an illusion, an illusion not with respect to the forgiveness it seeks but with respect to the imputation it presupposes." (35) B has no room for such philosophical sorrow. He avoids despair and protects his claim to fully transparent, universally intelligible, and certifiably substantial selfhood only by drawing a bright line that he will not cross in thought or feeling.

"To whom do you respond more strongly," Either/Or implicitly asks the reader, "A or B?" This is in some sense a trick question. One the one hand, A's alphabetic primacy suggests a certain superiority of understanding. Two qualities do seem to place him closer to the measures of reality than B: his longing for transcendence, and his despair at the possibility of finding any salvation through baptism in the social conventions and practices that good and important men hold dear. For contrary to B's opinion, A has despaired, and not simply of his aesthetic existence. His essay "The Tragic in Ancient Drama Reflected in the Tragic in Modern Drama" (36) shows that he despairs of being healed or made whole by ethical life. A sees that modernity's emphasis on individual freedom of choice has two crucial consequences. It renders contingent on personal preferences fundamental elements of individual identity that were previously understood to be ineluctably given, and it thereby makes particular individuals responsible for things that had previously been taken to be beyond individual control. The peculiar conditions of modern freedom thus entail that we alone are to blame for the serious errors (hamartiai, in the language of tragedy) into which we will inevitably fall over the course of constructing our lives. Ours is not, A observes, "a kingdom of gods"--yet this is precisely how B describes the ethical community. (37) In burdening us with the guilt only a god could bear, modernity deprives us of the maternal consolations of a genuinely ethical community, one that, coming together in public lamentation for the sufferings that every individual "child of God," sprung from "the womb of time," must experience, is still capable of participating in the peculiar "sadness ... and healing" of tragedy. (38)

On the other hand, B's existence is undeniably more expansive, substantial, and replete than A's, for he has allowed love, affection, and passion to draw him into ever wider relationships of marriage, friendship, work, and citizenship. Many readers today--nostalgic, perhaps, for a more self-confident age--would furthermore agree that, if A were to embrace the shared life and work of the community, he could hope to be saved from the twin plagues of late and postmodernity: depression and boredom. Practically speaking, then, B would seem to be the wiser man. But this impression is undercut by his deep and anxious need for recognition. Between the lines of his exceedingly lengthy letters, one may read the vain hope of obtaining from A--who never mentions B and does not acknowledge his letters (39)--an explicit confirmation of the superiority of his existence. For B, in other words, the intrinsic goodness of the ethical life is insufficient to establish its ultimate value; it must also be certified as beautiful and poetic by another kind of judge, an acknowledged authority on aesthetic matters. Although B fancies himself a benevolent master, he is in fact in bondage to the slave he proposes to free. (40) What is more, B has no hope of receiving the social validation he craves; A's disdain for the measures of convention, besides being the very thing that makes him so attractive to B, is a fixed and essential component of his identity. In his preface, Eremita tells us that he placed the papers of A and B in a box designed to hold dueling pistols. (41) As this detail underscores, each man is a living refutation of the other; their twinned writings constitute a universe of negativity and dependence in which both authors are seemingly trapped.


Were Either/Or to end with B's words, it would be a case of premature labor. The book would double back on itself without thrusting out into the wide world and confronting the true terrors and joys of reality. But the neither/nor of unfulfilled yearning I have just described is not the book's last word, or even its first. Eremita tells a story in the preface about how he came, a biblical seven years previously, to possess the writings of A and B. This story is rich with symbolism and meaningful on multiple levels. It foreshadows the inner experience of both men and anticipates the possibility of existential rebirth with which the book concludes.

Eremita explains that he is immediately attracted by an expensive writing desk he spots one day in a secondhand shop. Like a seducer studying an erotic prospect, he contrives to pass by it in the street every day. But it is he who is ultimately seduced. He aims to make a match on terms convenient to himself, but the desk's owner will not budge from his asking price. Eremita finally succumbs to what he calls his "sophistical" and "prodigal" desire, pays top dollar, and takes the piece home. At this point, his "infatuation" enters a more intimate phase. He gets to know the desk's "many drawers and compartments," and grows "in every respect happy with it." (42) The relationship deepens and brings him pleasure, but at the critical moment his beloved resists him, threatening his entire material and amorous investment.

One morning, Eremita awakens at four o'clock for a journey at five, but falls back to sleep until he is roused by his servant at six-thirty. Hurriedly preparing to visit the beautiful countryside about which he has just been dreaming, he goes to withdraw cash from the desk's money drawer. The coachman's horn is sounding its "poetic motifs," as Eremita puts it, but the drawer sticks; like its original owner, it simply will not budge. Eremita is provoked. In a rage, he strikes the desk with a hatchet, "just as Xerxes had the sea whipped." The drawer remains closed, but a heretofore unnoticed compartment pops open, revealing the papers of A and B." (43)

Eremita's story of love gone bad establishes the basic dramatic pattern of Either/Or, a drama in which Kierkegaard also participates. For his tale is on one level an allegory of the erotic activity of authorship. It anticipates the frustrations experienced by A and B in trying to fulfill their deepest longings through the medium of writing--longings that have, in turn, been nourished and shaped by reading. Eremita assumed he knew his desk inside and out, but he saw only what he wanted to see; its hidden depths were invisible to his erotic and poetic eye. His anger in the face of the desk's recalcitrance shows that he has confused thumotic mastery with erotic openness, self-love with the love of another. A and B suffer from a similar limitation; with characteristic human perversity, each lives in a dream world constructed by neediness and longing. Either/Or nevertheless suggests that reading and writing might have the potential to awaken, if not these men to reality, then perhaps its readers.

I have already hinted that Eremita's story anticipates "The Seducer's Diary." At the end of part 1, A is himself seduced by the sight of an "exquisitely bound" volume in the open drawer of another man's desk. (44) This volume, which he hastily removes, reads, and copies with great uneasiness, is the diary of Johannes. A expresses in a strange way the shock he receives from his experience. "When I recall the situation now," he writes, "I feel the same way a policeman must feel when he enters a forger's room." But, artistically transforming his recollection, he adds that "I would have reacted differently. I would have felt the double weight of the truth that I was on an unlawful path' (45)--double, because he obtained the diary illicitly, and because its content exposes the profound depravity of the idea of the reflective seducer that, as Eremita observes, A "had often vaguely entertained." (46) A speaks here in the peculiarly hypothetical language of poetic imagination. Was he, in fact, sufficiently shaken by this double weight of truth to reform his life? We do not know. But he should have been.

The story of Eremita's writing desk and its echo in the "The Seducer's Diary" also anticipate the sermon the pastor sends to B, thinking, perhaps, to jolt him out of his warm bath of ethical and philosophical self-satisfaction. For Eremita's narrative is at bottom a religious allegory, in which his alluring desk and its hidden literary contents represent increasingly deep experiences of providence and faith. His name provides a clue to this level of meaning. An eremite is a religious recluse or desert monk--one who, recognizing that he is bereft (eremos in Greek), attempts absolutely to accommodate his life to the demands of God. At least initially, of course, Eremita is something else, an independent urbanite who sets a high value on his accustomed liberties. He twice describes his behavior in purchasing the desk as "prodigal," like the son in the parable who sinfully wastes the inheritance of his heavenly as well as his earthly father. (47) Although at first he regards the desk as an unnecessary luxury, he makes room for it in his home, grows comfortable with it, and gets to know it after a fashion. This means something like: he goes to church, attends to what is taught from the pulpit, and appreciates at least those lessons of Christianity that can be readily domesticated. But he has no intimate or inward understanding of faith or of the intransigent realities with which true faith contends. Seen in this context, Eremita's early morning dream of the beautiful land he would soon be visiting seems like the self-congratulatory anticipation of a life and a reward he has paid for in the social currency of Danish Christianity, but by no means earned through genuine spiritual labor. He will in any case soon be roused by the coachman's "poetic motifs," a phrase that urges us to interpret in a nonliteral fashion the horn blast that calls him to order.

If this literary echo of the ram's horn announcing God's dramatic appearance at Mt. Sinai were not enough, Kierkegaard elsewhere compares (in a book called Judge for Yourself!) the radically sobering impression of what he calls "the unconditioned" to the terrible lash that the royal coachman, standing high in his box, brings down on a high-spirited horse in order to make it concentrate every trembling muscle on standing still. The fiery animal, for whom "stand[ing] still is an act, an effort, the greatest," learns one fundamental thing from the royal coachman's whip: "who it is who wields the lash." (48) In Eremita's story, it is he who wants to move, and the desk that arrests his motion. The drawer's stubbornness causes him to strike the desk in a towering rage, like the Persian emperor whipping the sea after a violent storm had destroyed the pontoon bridge by which he sought to yoke the Hellespont. Herodotus reports that the indignant Xerxes commanded his slaves to speak as follows as they struck the Hellespont:
   Bitter water, your master is imposing this penalty upon you for
   wronging him even though you had suffered no injustice from him.
   And King Xerxes will cross you whether you like it or not. It is
   for just cause, after all, that no human offers you sacrifice; you
   are a turbid and briny river! (49)

As this clue suggests, Eremita's anger implicitly anticipates the problem of theodicy that the pastor will explore in his sermon. The sea was an image of chaos not just for the Hebrews (the primordial waters of Genesis 1:2), but also for the ancient Greeks--seasoned mariners who nevertheless dared not venture past the pillars of Heracles into the Atlantic. What is more, the sea was a Persian deity; in Aeschylus's Persians the ghost of Darius refers to the "holy Hellespont." (50) The tragedy of Xerxes, who in the Persians experiences divine retribution in the form of a crushing military defeat, was his inability to distinguish the whipper from the whipped. Just so, Eremita's violence releases from the desk a surge of hidden power, like God bursting forth from the Ark of the Covenant--a wave that builds and intensifies as it moves through Either/Or, targeting not just A and B, but all readers who recognize themselves in these men.

In the first words of his first letter, B says he will address A as the prophet Nathan did when he spoke truth to David's power in a parable, reminding him, "You are the man, O King." (51) This is deeply ironic, for Judge William--a man of honorable office, secure prospects, and cultivated opinion--is the epitome of unselfconscious social power and epistemic imperialism. As Silentio writes in Fear and Trembling, Hegel's Sittlichkeit is all encompassing: "It rests immanently in itself ... [and] is itself the telos for everything outside itself, and when the ethical has assimilated this into itself it goes no further." (52) On this understanding, nothing is left of the divine beyond the universal obligations of ethical life; "God becomes an invisible vanishing point, an impotent thought, his power being only in the ethical, which completes existence.' (53) This theoretical and practical onmivorousness is reflected in B's ultimate and summary recommendation of his friend's sermon to A on the ground that it expresses exactly what he has been trying to say all along. "Take it, then; read it," B advises A, (54) deliberately echoing--but with unintended irony--the miraculous words that famously prompted the religious conversion of St. Augustine. Opening his Bible, Augustine tells us in the Confessions,' (55) his eye falls on Romans 13:13, which begins, "Let us walk honestly, as in the day." The immediately preceding verses declare that "it is high time to awake out of sleep.... The night is far spent, the day is at hand." But B is a deep sleeper--so deep that he cannot hear the tremendous gong he has just sounded. His remark that the sermon can be understood by any peasant "because it is precisely the beauty of the universal that all are able to understand it" (56) is ignorant in the extreme. For the pastor speaks in the authentically disruptive voice of prophecy, a voice that, if B could only hear it, would shatter his assumptions about himself, God, and providence.


The Ultimatum is composed of B's short introductory letter and the sermon itself. The title seems to be Eremita's, (57) but to what final word or demand does it refer? B writes that his pastor friend was only initially disappointed to have been "stuck out in a little parish on the heath in Jylland." For alone on the heath, the pastor found that he
   forget[s] every actual listener and gain[s] an ideal one; I achieve
   total absorption in myself. Therefore, when I step into the pulpit,
   it is as if I were still standing out there on the heath, where my
   eyes see no human being, where my voice rises to full power in
   order to drown out the storm. (58)

We are reminded of an abandoned Job, shouting beneath a darkening sky against "the noise of His rumbling [and] the sound that comes out of His mouth." (59) The sermon--on the passage in Luke where Jesus weeps as he prophesies for Jerusalem that her enemies "will dash you to the ground and your children within you"--thus contains two last words: the inarticulate roar of God, and the pastor's astonishing reply to this tempestuous incoherence.

Like the rest of Either/Or, the sermon is a fractal. Its title, "The Upbuilding that Lies in the Thought that in Relation to God We Are Always in the Wrong," is also the title of the second of its two parts. The pastor furthermore introduces his subject in a curiously repetitive way: "The Holy Gospel is written in the nineteenth chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke." (60) These formal repetitions alert us to two essential features of the sermon. The first is its reduplication of the prophetic voice of Jesus in addressing a proud new Jerusalem of the Christians: the transparently rational ethical sphere trumpeted by B. The second is its use of two spiritual registers, one distinctively Jewish and the other distinctively Christian, in articulating two practical responses--each suited to a different sort of soul--to the intellectually insoluble problem of theodicy. The pastor speaks first of the inwardly felt demand to love justice and contend with God, and then of the joy of the infinite love that springs from the defeated heart--a love that wishes always to be in the wrong against God. The hope of the sermon, in which we hear echoes of the voices of both A and B, of transcendent longing and ethical engagement, is that these demanding and loving words might help us to discover a wellspring of vital energy in the face of life's hard and inscrutable realities.

"Father in Heaven! Teach us to pray rightly," the sermon beings. The pastor then turns to his text, Luke 19:41-48:
   And when he [Jesus] drew near and saw the city, he wept over it,
   saying: Would that even today you knew the things that make for
   peace! But now they are hid from your eyes. For the days shall come
   upon you when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and
   surround you and hem you in on every side, and then will dash you
   to the ground and your children within you and will not leave one
   stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of
   your visitation. And he entered the temple and began to drive out
   those who sold, saying to them: It is written, "My house is a house
   of prayer," but you have made it a den of robbers. And he taught
   daily in the temple. But the chief priests and the scribes and the
   principle men of the people sought to destroy him, but they did not
   find what they should do, for all the people clung to him and
   listened to him. (61)

The visitation of which Jesus speaks is the historical "repudiation of the Chosen People" in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. (62) The passage is implicitly a repudiation of B's belief in a "rational order of things" reflected in the historically prepared "calling" and "place" that ethical life prepares for "every human being. (63) Hegel identifies the rational arc of history with God, but in destroying Jerusalem God breaks freely and unpredictably into history. He thereby shatters not only the theological economy of Jewish life (ritual practice, priestly authority, the sacred locus of contact with the divine), but also, and more importantly, its fundamental moral architecture.

It is Jesus who first disturbs the accustomed peace. In driving out from the temple those who sell there, he teaches that faith cannot be reduced to any quid pro quo between man and God, no matter how it may be denominated. The pastor approaches Jesus's lesson obliquely, focusing first on the curious anthropomorphism of "proud Jerusalem." Strikingly, Jesus speaks not to individuals, nor to the Jewish people as a whole, but to the city. "He does not prophesy--there is no more time for that--he weeps over Jerusalem. And yet the city still stood in all its glory, and the temple still carried its head as high as always, higher than any other building in the world." (64) The "we" that is in the wrong in relation to God--and that, according to the pastor, is always so--is in the first instance a social and religious edifice that has no doubt of its rightness: "the chief priests and the scribes and the principle men of the people." But as the pastor reads it, this passage contains a grave warning for the even more glorious social and religious edifice of contemporary Christendom, in all of its ethical and intellectual blessedness.

Like Jesus, who is himself channeling Isaiah, the pastor speaks prophetically in suggesting the stunning possibility of God's repudiation of the modern Jerusalem in any or all of its incarnations, including the proud establishment of Danish Lutheranism. As Louis Mackey observes in another connection, "[W]hen it is a question ... of reintroducing Christianity in all its majesty and terror to self-assured matter-of-fact mass-produced Christians who have waxed overconfident in their possession of this great treasure, then only the shock of contradiction will do." (65) And the shock of Luke 19 is great indeed. The pastor's essential point is that "the destruction of Jerusalem was a punishment, and it fell on the innocent just as hard as on the guilty," engulfing future generations as well. (66)

How should we respond to God's punishment of innocent people? "Should we say: It will be two thousand years since those days; a nightmare such as the world never saw before and will presumably never see again.... We will hope and trust that our days and our children's days may proceed in tranquility, untouched by the storms of life!" The pastor rejects this kind of talk as utterly "cowardly" and "dismal":
   Does it explain the unexplainable to say that it has happened only
   once in the world? Or is this not the unexplainable--that it has
   happened? And does not this, that it has happened, have the power
   to make everything else unexplainable, even the explainable?  ...
   [And] what assurance [is there] that that was not the true, and
   what ordinarily occurs is the untrue? (67)

Today one can appreciate just how penetrating--and how dangerous to our self-conception as essentially rational beings--these questions really are. They anticipate some of the deepest responses to the Holocaust, including Jean Amery's argument that the experience of Auschwitz revealed both the true nature of reality and the fundamental incompetence of the human intellect to deal with it. (68) Yet in his own remarks on Jesus's lament for Jerusalem, B refuses to acknowledge that innocent people were also punished. The judge asserts that "it was not only the generation living just then that was guilty; there was the guilt of the forefathers that rested upon it," And in further consoling himself with the thought that "the world surely has not seen many tragedies like the one when the chosen people were rejected," (69) he demonstrates precisely the kind of cowardly talk the pastor condemns. (70)

But what, after all, are we to do with the terrible problem to which the pastor calls our attention? While Jesus weeps with compassion, the pastor speaks of a God who is distant and inscrutable--"God in His own nature and majesty," as Luther writes, who "neither deplores nor takes away death, but works life, and death, and all in all," and who is, he warns, "to be left alone." (71) This seems like good advice, in as much as the thought that "the lot of the righteous [is] on a level with the lot of the unrighteous" threatens to derail faith altogether:
   Does then godliness have no promise for this life that is; is then
   every uplifting thought that once made you so rich in courage and
   confidence only a fancy, a jugglery that a child believes in, a
   youth hopes for, but in which someone a little older finds no
   blessing but only mockery and offense? (72)

If this is the risk one runs in facing up to the God that works all in all, why do so?

Kierkegaard's answer to this question is that the faith that sustains us in life is always at risk. We need not seek out reality, for it will come knocking; as Silentio observes, life inevitably fractures what is "united in the child's pious simplicity." (73) Real faith does not confuse success with merit, good fortune with divine approval; it comes to grips with the fundamental reality that in this world, the righteous suffer no less--and in the worst of times, far more--than the wicked. And yet, the pastor insists that we regard the path of righteousness as a blessing, and that not in another life but in this one. If he can help us to experience life in this way--to keep afloat in the rough seas of existence, if only by joyfully bailing out the leaky boat of the soul (74)--he will have done far more than compel us to acknowledge the fragility of all human constructions in the face of what is. He will have given us a practical solution to the problem of theodicy, something infinitely more valuable to an existing human being than a theoretical one. This is the burden of his sermon.


The pastor in fact offers two distinct sorts of speeches, each aimed at persuading a different kind of character or type of soul. One urges reverence for divine law and is meant to encourage those for whom the moral voices of the Hebrew prophets resonate most strongly. The other unpacks what it means to love someone and is intended to persuade those who are especially drawn to the teaching of God as love. One speech is directed toward primarily erotic souls, the other toward what the Greeks called thumotic ones--spirited individuals moved above all by the call of justice. Provided we recognize that both the Hebrew and the Christian scriptures direct us to love God and do justice, we may say that the first speech is characteristically Jewish in tone and emphasis, and the second Christian.

The "Jewish" speech is less than a page long, much shorter than its "Christian" counterpart. It is meant to appeal to strong willed, morally resolute individuals. The words Jesus hurls into the temple in Luke 19, "my house is a house of prayer," are drawn from the fifty-sixth chapter of Isaiah, which begins with God's exhortation to "observe what is right and do what is just." (75) "Happy is the man who does this, the man who holds fast to it," Isaiah proclaims, (76) although we are given to understand that this happiness is internal to the being of righteous men and women, independently of what happens to them. For some good people--and at some times and places, many good people--will in fact find their lives choked off like "withered tree[s]," in Isaiah's image. God promises to give to these "in My House and within My walls, a monument [lit. 'hand'] and a name" (77)--yad vashem, now the name of Israel's memorial in Jerusalem to the victims of the Holocaust.

Following the trail blazed in Isaiah, the pastor vigorously insists that the teaching of godliness cannot be a "mockery and offense." "This thought revolts you," he proclaims:
   [I]t cannot and must not gain the power to beguile you, must not be
   able to dull your soul. Justice you will love; justice you will
   practice early and late. Even if it has no reward, you will
   practice it. You feel that it has an implicit demand that still
   must be fulfilled. You will not sink into lethargy and then at some
   point comprehend that justice did have promises but that you
   yourself had excluded yourself from them by not doing justice. You
   will not contend with men; you will contend with God and hold on to
   him; he is not going to get away from you without blessing you!

You will, you must: these are noble imperatives, echoed most strongly in the philosophical tradition by Kant. To cling to righteousness with the doggedness of Jacob wrestling with the angel of the night, to hold fast to God in the love of justice, come what may--this is blessedness, because in life it is the greatest blessing not to lose one's grip on the things that matter. Jacob's struggle earns him the name of Israel; (79) this name, which means something like "contends with God," is not what men call him, but the true name he receives at the hand of God. This divine yad vashem nevertheless cannot make us forget that Jacob is permanently wounded by the angel he wrestles through the dark hours of the night. That is to say, the way of Israel and Isaiah is hard and painful, and most suited to hearts of heroic temper. It is one that few individuals will see to the end, and many of those, limping. True, the House of Israel abides even if the temple does not, and the seemingly miraculous fact of its survival has certainly strengthened many nonheroic individuals. The pastor, however, is addressing a Lutheran congregation in a place where Christianity has for many centuries enjoyed a comfortable cultural ascendency. That is why he proposes also to "speak in a different way." (80) He does not deny that he might already have sufficiently encouraged some great souls. Perhaps there is even a Christian Socrates in his audience, for whom it suffices merely to know the good in order to do it. But most, lacking the heart to keep fighting the good fight, come what may, will have to follow another route to the blessings of faith.

The pastor's new way of speaking, which he introduces by observing that "Scripture says: You are not to argue with God," (81) involves a fundamental reconception of our relationship to what Silentio calls "the whole of actuality." The pastor replies, avant la lettre, to Silentio's claim that our actual world is for him incommensurable with God's love, "both in a direct and inverse sense." (82) He begins by attacking a bit of cheap wisdom that purports to reassure us when we experience this incommensurability for ourselves. When even those to whom we "look up ... in trust and confidence" may be seen "wavering in life," when we hear a "soft voice" whispering that "life [is] but bad troubles, and faith but a snare that wrenches us out into the infinite, where we really are unable to live," we may seek comfort in the thought that God is certainly reasonable enough to accept that "one does what one can." But if you have ever experienced "unrest," he says, because "you did not know for sure how much one can do," or worried "that you might not have done what you could," or seen in another's "skeptical and imploring look" the question "whether it was not possible that you could do more," you know that this seemingly "easy, cozy conclusion" only produces new anxieties and doubts. (83) If we lack the self-knowledge to measure our powers, how can we avoid condemning ourselves for not doing what we might have done? Paradoxically, the pastor proposes to calm our doubts and cares about what we can do by deliberating on what we cannot. No less paradoxically, his assertion that in relation to God we are always in the wrong--a thought that directly contradicts B's understanding of the matter (84)--seems to take us straight out into the infinite.

The pastor observes that is painful to admit that one is in the wrong. Perhaps, however, we are encouraged in doing so by the prospect that such admissions will more and more rarely be necessary. But if the hope of moral improvement sustains us, how can the view that we are always in the wrong also do so? When we are wronged by others who do not "love justice and righteousness," we find "a satisfaction, a joy" in the thought that we are in the right. (85) Then how can the knowledge that we are always in the wrong have the same effect? The answer is supplied not by reason, but by love--for things are different when we have been wronged by someone we love fervently. "Ah, if you loved him," the pastor observes, "then it would not calm you" to know you are in the right. "Oh no! If you loved him, this thought would only alarm you":
   You would wish that you might be in the wrong; you would try to
   find something that could speak in his defense....   [Y]ou would
   reach for every probability, and if you found none, you would tear
   up the accounting in order to help you forget it, and you would
   strive to build yourself up with the thought that you were in the
   wrong. (86)

The difference, he says, is that "in the one case you loved, in the other you did not--in other words, in the one case you were in an infinite relationship with a person, in the other case in a finite relationship.... Hence it is upbuilding always to be in the wrong--because only the infinite builds up, the finite does not!" (87)

Righteous individuals who have not the heart to continue fighting with the world may nevertheless find, in defeat, that love can build them up for the tasks of justice. But what does it mean to say that love is an infinite relationship, and how does it build one up? The pastor later remarks that "the love within you" is "your total being"; (88) we may add that love loves the total being of another. Love is of and for the whole person; and if it truly is love, it is infinite in that it would do anything for the essential good of the other. Like Isaiah and Jesus, and Socrates, too, the pastor conceives of this essential good in moral and spiritual terms. In particular, he assumes that "you" have already internalized the biblical obligation to love justice and righteousness, and are alarmed at the possibility that the one you love has not. But he also assumes that you harbor secret fears about your own fidelity to what is right and good--that you are anxious, in other words, about sin. You must therefore consider the possibility that it is you who are at fault, because of something you did or failed to do in relation to the other. And here is the beautiful twist on which the whole argument turns: you are glad to do so. Because you love the other truly, that is, infinitely, it is this very possibility that comforts you and inspires you to action, for it means that there is something you can do to right the wrong.

The pastor makes it absolutely clear that it is the heart--not the mind--that builds you up. The knowledge that you are always in the wrong in relation to God could be said to be contained in the tautology that God is greater, wiser, and holier than you are. But a conclusion that you are forced to reach by logical necessity is not practical knowledge, actionable in the face of life's cold reality, because it does not build you up. Only the passion of love can do so, because only when your "sole and supreme wish" is to be in the wrong will you happily and enthusiastically strive to do better to others. (89) You freely wished to be in the wrong in relation to another because you loved that individual. So it is in relation to God. "Thus it was not through deliberation that you became certain that you were always in the wrong," the pastor declares, "but the certainty was due to your being built up by it." This knowledge, one might say, is love's knowledge; it is backed not by arguments but by passion, by the soul's demand to love deeply, for "only in that could you find rest and peace and happiness." (90)


The sermon at the end of Either/Or is in equal measures destructive and productive. In radically undermining confidence in the rightness of the "we" of Sittlichkeit, it forces the individual to confront God directly, without the comfort and control of mediating social structures. Yet it goes on to present love as an inexhaustible ground of ethics as well as faith. Love's infinitude, however, tears down the constructions of convention even while building up the individual, for it disturbs the clarity and definition of socially acknowledged ethical structures. These structures make moral obligation finite and calculable, as Eremita reminds us when he conjectures that B would probably "reproach him" for publishing the papers, and "wash his hands" of responsibility for them. (91) But in an infinite relationship, obligation and responsibility are potentially unlimited and therefore incalculable. The sermon's ethically explosive radicalism, as well as its rejuvenating power, spring from its fundamental message of direct, infinite openness to the other. (92)

Toward the end of the sermon, the pastor asks whether the thought that one is always in the wrong in relation to God might "lull" one "into a sleep in which he dreams of a relationship with God that is no actual relationship ... vitiat[ing] the power of the will and the strength of intention." "Not at all!" he answers, although his understanding of the question turns out to be rather peculiar. The one who wished to be always in the wrong in relation to another was by no means "apathetic and idle," but did "all he could to be in the right and yet wished only to be in the wrong." "Does not this thought make him happy to act," the pastor asks, "for when he doubts he has no energy to act; does it not make his spirit glow, for when he reckons finitely, the fire of the spirit is extinguished?" This thought, he insists, can sustain one through any trial. If you have "to deny yourself your highest wish"; if you have to "betray your duty"; "if you lost not only your joy but even your honor"; "if the punishment that the iniquity of the fathers had called down came upon you"--"you are still happy in your work ... because in relation to God you are always in the wrong." (93)

What is peculiar about this reply is that all the emphasis is on the experience of love and the way this experience is translated into action, into work in the face of adversity. The pastor does not address the question of whether God, or at least this God, might himself be a mere dream. Could one have an actual relationship with an imaginary being? Could one faithfully love a phantasm conjured by one's own neediness--especially if one has doubts about one's ability to love anyone faithfully? These are the same questions that torment A, and perhaps anyone who has been deceived in love. The very last words of the sermon, of part 2 of Either/Or, and of the book as a whole speak to them in a powerful way:
   One more question before we part, my listener. Would you wish,
   could you wish, that the situation were different? Could you wish
   that you might be in the right [against God); could you wish that
   that beautiful law which for thousands of years has carried the
   generation through life and every member of the generation, that
   beautiful law, more glorious than the law which carries the stars
   on their paths across the arch of heaven, could you wish that that
   law would break, an even more terrible catastrophe than if the law
   of nature lost its power and everything disintegrated into dreadful
   chaos? Could you wish that? ... [I]n very truth it is a matter of
   salvation. Do not interrupt the flight of your soul; do not
   distress what is best in you; do not enfeeble your spirit with half
   wishes and half thoughts. Ask yourself and keep on asking until you
   find the answer, for one may have known something many times,
   acknowledged it; one may have willed something many times,
   attempted it--and yet, only the deep inner motion, only the heart's
   indescribable emotion, only that will convince you that what you
   have acknowledged belongs to you, that no power can take it from
   you--for only the truth that builds up is truth for you. (94)

This final exhortation, which in a way recapitulates the sermon as a whole, directs us inward in intensive self-examination. It is as if the soul, rebounding from its collision with intellectually intractable reality, is driven back into itself. This is a characteristically Kierkegaardian turn (95) for which the sermon offers at least two arguments. First, we must recognize that we are individually as well as collectively responsible for preserving all that is good and beautiful in our lives. When we do not act with justice and compassion, human order is submerged in violence and brutality. The "beautiful law" to which the pastor refers is thus perfectly ambiguous. It is, to be sure, the revealed law of God--the justice and righteousness demanded of us by the Hebrew prophets, and if Kant is right, by reason itself. But it is also the law of love modeled in the person of Jesus--the infinite love of others, and of one's neighbor as oneself. The essential point is that the laws of justice and love are sustained only through the passionate striving of human beings. God might be as real as one could wish, but without this saving passion, these laws would have no real effects in this world. Second, theoretical reflection about the independent actuality of God is both untimely and unavailing. The law is revealed, the prophets have spoken, and now we must act. We cannot know whether God's love will sustain us or--what perhaps amounts to the same thing--whether our love of God will be, to borrow an expression from Isaiah, "like a spring whose waters do not fail." (96) But if we dig down into our souls, past the knowledge we may forget and the will that may fail us, we might open a spring of infinite action in the deep inner motion of our hearts. This silent upsurge, the pastor suggests, is the hand of God; it is an unstinting source of joy in the face of everything--life, and death, and all in all--that holds us above the abyss.

There is an old expression for a certain kind of widespread intellectual error: "The wish is father to the thought." In teaching that what does not build you up is no truth for you, the pastor unabashedly flies in the face of this objection. And yet, Either/Or's readers cannot avoid questioning what I have called love's knowledge, the silent argument of the soul's deepest motions. This is because the sermon stands in part 2 of Either/Or precisely where Johannes's diary stands in part 1. It is as if Kierkegaard, not content with the pastor's attempt to calm the anxieties we feel in the face of the infinite, wanted to torment us with the demonic possibility that talk of God--the God of love, the God whom both Moses and Jesus exhort us to love "with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (97)--is a seduction and a deception. But the pastor prophesies that, if we believe this, we shall forsake "that beautiful law" and end in chaos. We have in any case already answered, and will continue to answer, the questions of who God is and who we are in what Kierkegaard suggests is the only meaningful way: in the lives we insist on living.

University of Tulsa

Correspondence to: Department of Philosophy and Religion, The University of Tulsa, 800 South Tucker Drive, Tulsa, OK 74104.

(1) Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, part 1 and part 2 (hereafter, EO1 and EO2), ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987).

(2) Kierkegaard's Pseudonyms, ed. Katalin Nun and Jon Stewart, vol. 17 of Kierkegaard Research: Sources, Reception, and Resources (Surrey: Ashgate, 2015) includes articles on twenty-one different pseudonymous authors, not counting the "S. Kierkegaard" who edits some of their books.

(3) See EO1, 13.

The Review of Metaphysics 70 (September 2017): 107-35. Copyright [C] 2017 by The Review of Metaphysics.

(4) Symposium 217a.

(5) Hans Frederik Helveg in Dansk Kirketidende 51 (1855): 829-30, quoted in Tonny Aagaard Olesen, "Kierkegaard's Socratic Hermeneutic in The Concept of Irony," in The Concept of Irony, ed. Robert L. Perkins (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2001), 102-03, emphasis in original. For further discussion See Jacob Howland, "A Shimmering Socrates: Philosophy and Poetry in Kierkegaard's Platonic Authorship," in A Companion to Kierkegaard, ed. Jon Stewart (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015), 23-35.

(6) See Plato, Theaetetus 149a-51a with Philosophical Fragments (hereafter, I'F), in Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1985). In Fragments and Climacus's Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments, the passions of Socratic philosophizing and religious faith ultimately converge in relation to the mystery of what is. See my Kierkegaard and Socrates: A Study in Philosophy and Faith (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

(7) Ludwig Wittgenstein, Lecture on Ethics, ed. Edoardo Zamuner, Ermelinda Valentina di Lascio, and D. K. Levy (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014), 46.

(8) Wittgenstein stated that Kierkegaard was "by far the most profound thinker" of the nineteenth century and learned Danish in order to read him. Charles L. Creegan, Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard: Religion, Individuality and Philosophical Method (New York: Routledge, 1989), 17-18.

(9) EO1, 9.

(10) EO1, 4-5.

(11) EO1, 303.

(12) EO1, 37.

(13) See esp. EO1, 47-51. The names Giovanni and Johannes (from the Italian giovan and the Latin iuvenis, "young") underscore A's vampiric relationship to youthful ardor and fertility--a doubly removed vampirism, as these romantic illusionists and escape artists themselves feed on the love they arouse. (Thus Johannes, A writes, discarded the women he seduced "as trees shake off their leaves--he was rejuvenated, the foliage withered"; EO1, 308.) Mozart's musical eroticism offers A the vicarious experience of the "eternal youth" that Abraham and Sarah experience directly through faith. See Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling (hereafter, FT), ed. C. Stephen Evans and Sylvia Walsh (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 15. As Anton Barba-Kay shows in "Kierkegaard's Don Giovanni and the Seductions of the Inner Ear," The Review of Metaphysics 69, no. 3 (2016): 583-612, A's reflections on the opera Don Giovanni in "The Immediate Erotic Stages or The Musical Erotic" (EO1, 45-135) prioritize the sense of hearing in a manner that relates essentially to the inwardness of faith, as well as to the contrast between the inner and the outer with which Either/Or begins.

(14) EO1, 165-215.

(15) EO1, 293.

(16) EO1, 37.

(17) EO1, 24.

(18) EO2, 38.

(19) EO1, 33.

(20) EO2, 87.

(21) EO2, 262.

(22) Vincent A. McCarthy, "Narcissism and Desire in Kierkegaard's Either/Or, Part One," in Either/Or, Part I, International Kierkegaard Commentary, vol. 3, ed. Robert, L. Perkins (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1995), 58 n. 13.

(23) EO1, 38-39.

(24) EO2, 248, 259.

(25) See Jon Stewart, Kierkegaard's Relations to Hegel Reconsidered (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 45-89.

(26) G. W. F. Hegel, The Philosophy of History, trans. J. Sibree (Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 1956), 335.

(27) Sittlichkeit is the title of the third part of Hegel's Philosophy of Right. The word refers to "the concrete morality of a rational social order" (Hegel's Philosophy of Right, trans. T. M. Knox [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967], 319), a morality supported by a conception of history as the providential expression of Reason. "Whether he knows it or not," Merold Westphal concludes, "Judge William is an Hegelian"; see "Kierkegaard and Hegel," in The Cambridge Companion to Kierkegaard, ed. Alastair Hannay and Gordon D. Marino (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 106.

(28) See EO1, 304.

(29) EO2, 207; see 13.

(30) EO1, 11.

(31) EO2, 245; see also 15 with FT, 12.

(32) Lest one suppose that Christianity involves no collision like God's command that Abraham sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22), Silentio cites Luke 14:26, where Jesus asserts that "if anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple" (FT, 63). In attempting to close "the door to the historical infinity" of moral relativism, B maintains that "there has never been a nation that believed that children should hate their parents" (EO2, 265). He thus overlooks another kind of trap door opened by the Bible itself.

(33) EOS, 237; see also 292.

(34) EO2, 194.

(35) EO2, 238.

(36) EO1, 137-64.

(37) EO1, 145; EO2, 292.

(38) EO1, 145.

(39) See EO2, 299.

(40) See Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, [section]192.

(41) EO1, 6.

(42) EO1, 4.

(43) EO1, 5-6.

(44) EO1, 303.

(45) EO1, 304.

(46) EO1, 9.

(47) Luke 15:11-32.

(48) Soren Kierkegaard, For Self-Examination/Judge For Yourself! ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990), 107-08.

(49) The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories, ed. Robert B. Strassler (New York: Pantheon Books, 2007), 7.35.

(50) Hellesponton hiron, 745.

(51) EO2, 5; see also 2 Samuel 12:1-7.

(52) FT, 46.

(53) FT, 59.

(54) EO2, 338.

(55) Augustine, Confessions, 8.12.29.

(56) EO2, 338.

(57) See EO1, 10.

(58) EO2, 337-38.

(59) Job 37:2.

(60) EO2, 341.

(61) EO2, 341. Jesus quotes Isaiah 56:7.

(62) EO2, 342.

(63) EO2, 292.

(64) EO2, 342.

(65) Louis Mackey, Kierkegaard: A Kind of Poet (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971), 244.

(66) EO2, 341, emphasis added.

(67) EO2, 342-43.

(68) See "At the Mind's Limits," in Jean Amery, At the Mind's Limits, trans. Sidney Rosenfeld and Stella P. Rosenfeld (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980), 1-20, and see Jacob Howland, "Intellectuals at Auschwitz: Jean Amery and Primo Levi on the Mind and its Limits," Holocaust and Genocide Studies 29, no. 3 (2015): 353-73. The pastor's questions also anticipate Climacus's remark that the attempt to prove God's existence from God's "goodness or wisdom in Governance" oblige one "continually to live in suspenso lest something so terrible happen that my fragment of demonstration would be ruined" (PF, 42).

(69) EO2, 239.

(70) M. Jamie Ferreira's recent challenge to the view (advanced in the articles by Law and Perkins cited in n. 84 below) that "the pastor's sermon gives us something radically new and qualitatively different from William's account" overlooks these remarks and, more seriously, ignores the first pages of the sermon and the problem of theodicy stressed therein. See "One's Own Pastor--Judging the Judge," Kierkegaard Studies Yearbook (2008): 200-15.

(71) Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, trans. J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston (Grand Rapids, Mich.: James Clark & Co. Ltd., 1957), 170.

(72) EO2, 344.

(73) FT, 7.

(74) Climacus uses this image in Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments, vol. 1, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992), 225.

(75) Isaiah 56:1. Translations are drawn from JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1999).

(76) Isaiah 56:2.

(77) Isaiah 56:5.

(78) EO2, 344.

(79) Genesis 32:29.

(80) EO2, 344.

(81) EO2, 344; see also Job 40:2.

(82) FT, 28.

(83) EO2,345.

(84) See David R. Law, "The Place, Role, and Function of the 'Ultimatum' of Either/Or, Part Two, in Kierkegaard's Pseudonymous Authorship," in Either/Or, Part II, International Kierkegaard Commentary, vol. 4, ed. Robert L. Perkins (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1995): "B generally conceives of the God-relationship as coming about through 'one's being in the right'; that is, in realizing the universal and fulfilling the demands of the ethical sphere the individual comes into a relationship with the power undergirding the universal human, namely God" (252). As Robert L. Perkins shows in "Either/Or/Or: Giving the Parson His Due" (in Perkins, Either/Or, Part II, 207-31), the pastor's understanding "is in complete and utter contrast to the views of Judge William" (222).

(85) EO2, 347.

(86) EO2, 348.

(87) EO2, 348.

(88) EO2, 350.

(89) EO2, 349.

(90) EO2, 350.

(91) EO1, 14.

(92) David J. Kangas has noticed that Kierkegaard anticipates Emmanuel Levinas's teaching that ethics involves the ego's "assuming a responsibility for the Other in excess to its calculable obligations and duties" ("The Very Opposite of Beginning with Nothing: Guilt Consciousness in Kierkegaard's 'The Gospel of Sufferings' IV," in Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, International Kierkegaard Commentary, vol. 15, ed. Robert L. Perkins [Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2005], 288; Kangas discusses the sermon of Either/Or at 290-93). According to Levinas, however, it is metaphysical desire, not love, that opens us to the infinitude of the Other; see Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1969). The pastor's view seems closer to that of Dostoevsky's Elder Zosima, who learned from his brother Markel the joyful wisdom that "each of us is guilty in everything before everyone, and I most of all" (The Brothers Karamazov, trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky [San Francisco: North Point Press, 1990], 289).

(93) EO2, 353.

(94) EO2, 354.

(95) See, for example, the chapter of Postscript entitled "Subjective Truth, Inwardness; Truth is Subjectivity," in which Climacus remarks "the paradox ... thrusts away by virtue of the absurd, and the corresponding passion of inwardness is faith" (Concluding Unscientific Postscript 1:209).

(96) Isaiah 58:12.

(97) Deuteronomy 6:5; Luke 10:27.

Caption: Ei ther/Or: A Fragment of Life (ed. Victor Eremita)
COPYRIGHT 2017 Philosophy Education Society, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2017 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Howland, Jacob
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Critical essay
Date:Sep 1, 2017
Previous Article:Aquinas on the individuality of thinking.
Next Article:Atkins, Richard Kenneth. Peirce and the Conduct of Life: Sentiment and Instinct in Ethics and Religion.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters