Destroying Strongholds Essay:
Kierkegaard's Philosophical Fragments
By Todd Lewis

This paper will attempt to describe Kierkegaard's Philosophical Fragments. I will to give a condensed description of Kierkegaard's basic theme in my own words. In the Philosophical Fragments Kierkegaard's pseudonym Johann Climacus tries a thought experiment where he pretends to start from unbiased reason to reach the truths of the Christian faith, in a rather humorous way. Before I go into the details a brief outline is necessary. Kierkegaard worries that Hegel's world-historical method will dissolve man's subjective nature in a sea of objectivity and will attempt to point out problems in Hegel's theory which should, he thinks, lead to its abandonment. Kierkegaard focuses on the subject-object relationship of humans to history, of the paradox of the incarnation (the necessary becoming contingent) and the problem of being a contemporary to Christ.

Kierkegaard in his preface is expressing his worries of a mass society; a society in which the individual is lost within a mass culture. Kierkegaard fears that in such a society banality and credulity would triumph over creativity and wisdom. Kierkegaard sees Hegel as the ship's captain of mass culture. In Hegel's historical model, history is described scientifically as one might describe a rock. This reduces history to necessity, negating man's subjectivity and thus sublimating the individual in a sea of objectivity (i.e. Hegelian history). Kierkegaard worries that the Hegelian view that all history is reaching a culminating point, renders previous human lives irrelevant and makes them unhuman, because they are relegated to irrelevance. After laying down his worries about Hegel's system he moves into a discussion of the inadequacies of Socratic education, in a prelude to his own explanation of the acquisition of knowledge.

Kierkegaard begins by considering Socrates. Socrates' notion of recollection is seen as infusing the student with all knowledge and the only purpose of the teacher to awaken it. If this is true then the student is not learning, but recollecting. This is problematic for education, because education presupposes that the student must be taught, thus negating recollection.

The greater problem emerges with Christianity, for in Christianity we have the decisive moment of achieving saving knowledge of God and internalizing it. If a man already knew all knowledge and had only to be reminded of it, then this decisive moment would not exist, but this decisive moment is for the Christian of central significance.

For Christianity to make any sense three concepts must be granted: 1) there is something of which we are ignorant, 2) this is followed by the realization that we are ignorant of that particular truth, but not only are we ignorant of it, we lack the condition to even understand it, and 3) God tells us that the reason we lack the condition to understand this truth is that we have voluntarily given it up and willingly suppress it.

The moment of decisiveness is when the infinite (God) and the finite (man) come together in a finite period of time. This is a rebirth. For Socrates the teacher is a midwife giving birth to something we already had, but God makes man anew, i.e. rebirth. Yet before this moment of decisiveness we cannot understand God. It is only after such an event that we can understand him.

Socrates claimed that the teacher is equal to the student, yet if the teacher is God this is impossible. Thus the teacher is greater than the student. The problem of inequality emerges not only for us, but for God. Kierkegaard highlights this principle with the parable of the King and the humble maid. The King loves the humble maid, but if he appeared to her in his entire regal splendor he might: 1) overwhelm her or 2) offend her. If he overwhelmed her she would not understand his intentions, or she might become offended, thinking this to be a cruel joke; how can a king marry a humble maid?

God is like the King and humanity is the maid. Yet God cannot deceive us, he cannot raise us to his level, but he can lower himself to ours. God gives us something we did not have, a gift, thus God is beckoning us from non-being to being. Non-being is not just the state of ignorance of God's truth, but the state of not even being able to comprehend it. Being is being aware of that truth. After endeavoring to describe Kierkegaard's views on the incarnation, we shall move to his view of the problem of mental ascent to the incarnation.

The human mind, Kierkegaard claims, seeks its own downfall. It seeks to learn all that is humanly possible, but then discovers its own limits. In discovering its own limits it is unable to learn more, which was the desire that motivated it in the first place. The truths beyond this limit are paradoxes. When the limit is reached some gravitate to skepticism, or others become born again by the teaching of God and begin to become aware and even, in some small way, understand the paradoxes. The paradoxes of God cannot be discovered by our own efforts, for we would be left with the Socratic. Only God himself can reveal these paradoxes to us. The greatest paradox is the incarnation of Christ.

There is a unique problem in human thinking that we have the notion of something totally other than us. If something is totally other, it is presumed that we can know anything about it, yet to know that you can know nothing about a thing is to know something about it. If something about it is known, then it is not totally other.

In becoming human, God has revealed to us the inequality between him and us. This distinction between him and us reveals our own sinfulness. As a man, God reveals to us the knowledge we were ignorant of. Yet we did not even know we were ignorant of it, prior to this revelation. We also learn that, prior to his revealing this knowledge to us, we were not only ignorant of the truth, but lacked the capacity to even understand the truth. Furthermore, we were the cause for our own loss of capacity. God merely resets the button to restore our lost function. Yet only God can restore the function.

Kierkegaard argues that you cannot prove God's existence inductively by moving from his works to him, for only if we presupposed him would we posit him as an explanation for the works. Kierkegaard gives the example of Napoleon. If we only had Napoleon's works then we would not extrapolate those works to him, since we would only assume Napoleon as the explanation if we already knew who Napoleon was. We would merely know that a French monarch waged war with Europe between 1803-1815 and the various battles he waged. The problem is that we already assume that God exists as we seek to demonstrate him, thus our demonstration is in fact not a demonstration.

The paradox God gives us is that we should live like the birds and not care for the future. This seems to insult us for Aristotle believed that only an animal or a god could live in such a way. The paradox that we discussed gives rise to offense in some. Some will be offended because they feel insulted that they cannot understand the paradox. This kind of offense is derived from pride.

Kierkegaard seeks to attack the common belief that if we had been a contemporary with God when he became man, then we would have faith in Christ or some such thing. Kierkegaard believes that this is an incorrect way of thinking. If you were contemporary with Christ then you would have sensed experience of his human body, but not his divinity which is beyond sense perception. Thus when a Christian knows God it is in his divinity which is transcendent, and because of this the relation of man to God's divine essence is always contemporary.

The paradox of God is that we cannot understand him, unless he comes to us to give us the ability to understand him. This paradox is mysterious for one looking in at Christianity from the outside, but being in a living relationship with God reduces the offense of such a paradox.

In a response to Hegel's historical method and the fact that he reduces Christ to a historical event no different than Napoleon, causes Kierkegaard to protest against it. Specifically Kierkegaard protests the notion that a historical event could be necessary. If something is necessary then it could not have been otherwise. History can be otherwise, thus it is not necessary. Historical events are contingent; any number of possibilities could have occurred to change that historical event. It is only in hindsight when we see all the forces leading up to an event do we think that it was inevitable.

The problem with making events in history necessary is that it destroys freedom in history denying human free will. History cannot be the realm of necessity, since it is the realm of becoming. If things are becoming then they are not necessary. If things are becoming then they are contingent and contingency allows for free will.

Kierkegaard mentions that the ancient skeptics believed that our sense perception could be trusted, but we were deceived when we tried to draw conclusions from them. In trying to avoid error they tried to be agnostic about all inferences made from sense perception. The problem of perception is the same in any age, so a contemporary of Christ will have no more advantage than a person today.

For the contemporary of Christ the problem is this: that the necessary God comes into history, the place of the contingency. How can the necessary begin to become? This is the paradox that the contemporary must deal with. This unexplainable paradox either leads to skepticism of the offended unbeliever or faith in the believing proselyte.

If this truth of God's incarnation is eternal and necessary, then it does not matter what age a person lives in for he will always be contemporary with God. The person who wants to be a contemporary forgets that our relationship with God is not based on a physical sense perception, but on a spiritual connection. This knowledge of God is either above or below reason.