Kierkegaard And Wittgenstein

Kierkegaard And Wittgenstein The connections between Ludwig Wittgenstein and Soren Kierkegaard as philosophers are not at all immediately obvious. On the surface, Wittgenstein deals with matters concerning the incorrect use of philosophical language and Kierkegaard focuses almost exclusively on answering the question ‘how to become a Christian’. But this account belies deeper structural similarities between these men’s important works. Thus, this paper suggests that their methods, rather than exclusively content, contain a strong parallel on which a natural and hopefully fruitful examination of their work can be based. I claim that on at least four counts, Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein present clearly analogous form: indirect communication; examination of the ‘limit of thought’ as applied to their respective spheres of inquiry; and the relationship to nonsense or the absurd.

I claim that a careful study of these categories with respect to the philosophers’ major works will reveal sufficient similarity to have warranted our inquiry: hence a clear understanding of one philosophy should help to explain the other’s. I will assume a reader has only cursory familiarity with Kierkegaard’s ideas for the purposes this paper. To begin, a brief outline of Kierkegaard’s background and philosophy is germane. He was a Danish philosopher, literary figure, and ardent Christian living in the 19th century. As was mentioned above, his self-proclaimed intent was to examine what it means to be a Christian and how precisely to become one.

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Hence all of Kierkegaard’s works (Either/Or; A Sickness Unto Death; Concluding Unscientific Postscript; Fear and Trembling being among the most notable) have a decidedly religious flavor to them. For his adamant insistence on subjectivity rather than objectivity (in reaction to Hegel) when dealing with questions of personal importance, he has been labeled the father of modern existentialism. Kierkegaard’s works are not straightforward proclamations of his philosophy: he wrote under pseudonyms and assumed the persona of these fictional characters in his writing. Thus, one must be careful when attributing a particular position to Kierkegaard – often the view is advanced by a pseudonym, so various inferential processes must be applied in order to substantiate a claim that Kierkegaard really meant any statement. Foremost among the structural similarities between Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein works is the use of indirect communication: as paradoxical as it may sound, both authors deliberately obfuscate their philosophy for the purposes of clarifying it. Clarification of the preceding assertion is obviously required.

Each author felt that, due to inherent properties of their subject matter, outright delineation of their conclusions would somehow be a self-contradiction. Clearly their respective subject matter, the logical structure of language and the task of becoming a Christian, is inherently disparate. But let us examine more closely particular instances of indirect communication from both of the philosophers with the intention of finding similarity. “By indirection, find direction out.” – Polonius, (Hamlet: II, i, 72) Soren Kierkegaard The use of pseudonyms: The purpose of pseudonyms was to present a viewpoint which the reader was initially to sympathize with. As the work developed, further assertions by this persona were to be found objectionable by the reader.

The initially sympathized viewpoint would now be seen to be flawed and therefore have been rejected. Thus the reader was to have reached through self-reflection a conclusion that would not have been internalized if it had been simply communicated directly. Kierkegaard was writing for self-proclaimed Christians whom he believed were not truly faithful. Any clear suggested improvement in behavior would have been regarded by the reader as not applying to him or herself. Pseudonyms qua indirect communication helped readers to achieve personal understanding, rather than merely intellectual apprehension of an idea without application. Stories: Many portions of Kierkegaard’s work contain fictional narratives to help illustrate or illuminate some of his points. As is explained in his book, The Point of View for My Work as an Author, Kierkegaard takes advantage of the engaging quality of fiction to prevent the reader from disinterestedly analyzing his points, and to focus on how the reader feels personally about his ideas contained within the story.

As indirect communication, story uses concrete instantiations of ideas rather than presenting an objectified, analytic theory to pick through and not relate to oneself. Heavy irony: An element of all forms of Kierkegaard’s writing include stating assertions that he does not completely agree with, in order to get the reader thinking. An extension of other forms of indirect communication, heavy irony in his work helps to indicate which statements Kierkegaard emphasizes, positively or negatively. Oftentimes, many pages can be taken up in what seems to be an extensive description of something unimportant, idle philosophizing, or heaps of glorious praise. The content of these digressions may not necessarily be ironic, though it sometimes is.

More often, the form or motivation for the digression contains the irony. For example, he writes an extremely verbose essay from the perspective of a person debating whether or not to walk to the park, implying by it that this kind of extensive fascination with a topic should permeate our religious lives every moment, not just on Sundays for an hour. Again, as indirect communication, Kierkegaard’s irony serves to elucidate his points without coming out and directly saying them. Ludwig Wittgenstein Logical format of ‘Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus’: In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein’s points are ordered in a recursive numerical way, without explanation or elucidation. Concise and patterned, the Tractatus reads like a mathematical proof, except that proofs contain more justification. “What can be said at all can be said clearly.” We must assume that any attempt at further clarification Wittgenstein believed would have obscured the veracity of his presentation.

Lack of enlightening exposition in this case is enlightening since we can deduce that nothing more need be said: the Tractatus must be able to speak for itself, in a sense. Showing, not saying: ‘Some things cannot be said; they show themselves’. As one of Wittgenstein’s major contentions, he tends to abide by it, systematically refusing to explain where an example will do instead. Thus many general assertions are left unjustified, leaving to the reader to see the logical form of an argument from specific instantiations (how a painting pictures the world cannot be explained, etc.). This is nearly as indirect as communication can be – leaving a reader to infer the author’s point from facts about the world.

Saying things which admittedly cannot be said: Over and over in different ways, Wittgenstein states that what cannot be spoken of must be passed over in silence. Yet the Tractatus was written despite the full knowledge of its author that the premise of the book is that such a book cannot be written; if what the Tractatus says is true, the Tractatus is nonsense since it says the very kinds of things it claims cannot be said intelligibly. How much more of a perplexing contradiction can a work contain? Any attempt at direct communication of the truths in the work must inevitably fail; the author must ‘spout nonsense’, so to speak, in order to show the reader that what he says (and therefore, what many others say) is in fact nonsense. The reader is left to see how what he says is nonsense, rather than having no book to read. Indirect, indeed.

The authors share the common assumption that the nature of their conclusions demands that they convey those conclusions by indirect methods. For Kierkegaard, any casual listing of his ideas about subjectivity and the self would be taken objectively – the very opposite of his intentions for writing them. Therefore, through alter egos, stories and irony he attempts to draw the reader into a nonintellectual grasp of the material as it relates to the individual. For Wittgenstein, nearly any attempt at discussing the logical form of ‘what cannot be said’ r …


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