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Kant and Kierkegaard on Freedom and Evil

  • Alison Assiter (a1)
Extract

Kant and Kierkegaard are two philosophers who are not usually bracketed together. Yet, for one commentator, Ronald Green, in his book Kierkegaard and Kant: The Hidden Debt, a deep similarity between them is seen in the centrality both accord to the notion of freedom. Kierkegaard, for example, in one of his Journal entries, expresses a ‘passion’ for human freedom. Freedom is for Kierkegaard also linked to a paradox that lies at the heart of thought. In Philosophical Fragment Kierkegaard writes about the ‘paradox of thought’: ‘the paradox is the passion of thought […] the thinker without the paradox is like the lover without the passion.’

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1 Green, M., Kierkegaard and Kant: The Hidden Debt, (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1992).

2 Kierkegaard, S., Journals and Papers, 7 Volumes, trans. Hong, H. and Hong, E., Volume 1a (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1967–78), 72, and see Green, Kierkegaard and Kant, 147.

3 Kierkegaard, S., Philosophical Fragments: Johannes Climacus, trans. Hong, H.V. and Hong, E.H., (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985), 37.

4 Green, Kierkegaard and Kant, 158.

5 Ibid., 160.

6 Kierkegaard, S., The Concept of Anxiety, ed. and trans. Hong, H.V. and Hong, E.H., (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980), 50 – quoted in Green, Kierkegaard and Kant, 161.

7 Kierkegaard 1851 Journal entry; elsewhere Kierkegaard writes: ‘Speculative thought has understood everything, everything everything! The ecclesiastical speaker still exercises some restraint; he admits that he has not yet understood everything; he admits that he is striving – poor fellow that is a confusion of categories! – ‘If there is anyone who has understood everything’ he says ‘then I admit that I have not understood it and cannot demonstrate everything’ Kierkegaard, S., Concluding Unscientific Postscript, vols. 1–2, trans. Hong, H. and Hong, E. (Princeton, NY: Princeton University Press, 1992), 31.

8 Lewis White Beck counts five different notions of freedom in Kant's work, see Beck, Lewis White, ‘Five Concepts of Freedom in Kant’ in Philosophical Analysis and Reconstruction, eds. Korner, S. and Scredznick, J.T.J. (Dortrecht: Nijhoff, 1987), 3151.

9 For one such prominent interpretation, see Korsgaard, C., The Sources of Normativity, (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

10 Kant, I., The Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Smith, N. Kemp (Macmillan, London, 1970), 29.

11 Schmid, C.C.E., Versuch Einer Moralphilosophie (Jena: Cröcker, 1790), 50.

12 Guyer notes that ‘there are numerous passages in the second Critique that suggest that, as in the Groundwork, Kant still conceives of the moral law as the causal law of the noumenal will. The possibility – in these circumstances – of freely chosen immoral actions remains inconceivable’. Guyer, P., Kant (Oxford: Routledge, 2006), 225–6.

13 This problem may befall all attempts to argue that reasons can be causes. See Kosch, M., Freedom and Reason in Kant, Schelling and Kierkegaard, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006) note 13, 52; and also Wood, A., Kant's Ethical Thought, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

14 See Kant, I., Critique of Judgment, trans. Pluhar, W. (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1987) See also Kant, I., Gesammelte Schriften, 5 (1902).

15 Kant, I., Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, trans. Greene, T., (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1960).

16 This is a second interpretation of the relation between freedom and moral law in Kant's thought. When he is criticising the Stoic view that evil consists in the mere lack of knowledge of what is good, Kant writes: ‘So it is not surprising that an Apostle represents this invisible enemy, who is known only through his operations upon us and who destroys basic principles, as being outside us and indeed an evil spirit […] As far as its practical value to us is concerned, moreover, it is all one whether we place the seducer merely within ourselves, or without; for guilt touches us not a whit less in the latter case than in the former, in as much as we would not be led astray by him at all were we not already in secret league with him’ (ibid., 52). A deep problem with this interpretation, however, is that if someone chose to act in accordance with the devil, then they might lose the capacity to act from the moral law.

17 Michalson, G.E., Fallen Freedom: Kant on Radical Evil and Moral Regeneration, (Cambridge: Cambridge Univeristy Press, 1990), 41. I find something like this interpretation also in Alenka Zupancic, Christine Korsgaard, Onora O'Neill, and Henry Allison, see Zupancic, A., Ethics of the Real: Kant, Lacan (London: Verso, 2000), Korsgaard, C., The Sources of Normativity, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), O'Neill, O., Constructions of Reason, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989) and Allison, H., Kant's Theory of Freedom, (C.U.P., Cambridge, 1991), 208. Allison suggests that the Gesinnung is the practical counterpart of the transcendental unity of apperception. Is there not, however, as Zupancic claims, a difference between the Gesinnung and the active choice of disposition? (Zupancic, Ethics of the Real, 37). Zupancic argues that the Gesinnung is the ‘blind spot’ that separates the phenomenal from the noumenal (Zupancic, Ethics of the Real, 37).

18 Kant, Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, 6:21.

19 Michalson, Fallen Freedom, 84.

20 Ibid., 84.

21 Kant, Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, 42–43.

22 Beck, Lewis White, Commentary on Kant's Critique of Practical Reason, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960 (1984)), 266267.

23 Zupancic, Ethics of the Real, 37.

24 See Wood, A., Kant's Ethical Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 172.

25 On this point see also, Korsgaard's, The Sources of Normativity.

26 This is what leads Kant to say, in Religion, that the ‘disposition must have been adopted by free choice for otherwise it could not be imputed’ Kant, Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, 20.

27 Wood, Kant's Ethical Thought, 172.

28 O'Neill argues that the Categorical Imperative is the ‘supreme principle of all reason’, O'Neill, O., Constructions of Reason: Explorations of Kant's Practical Philosophy, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), Ch.3.

29 The difficulty with doing this stems, it seems to me, from problems with the view of evil that continues to see it as a privation of the good. Evil, on this view, is simply the negation of the good, as the Stoics believed, rather than a counter-force in its own right. Kant, we know, wanted to see evil as a positive force, but this interpretation, it seems to me, may bring him back to the earlier notion of evil.

30 See Frankfurt, Harry, ‘Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a PersonJournal of Philosophy, 68, (1971), 520.

31 See Newton, I.Philosophical Writings, ed. Janiak, A., (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

32 Kant, Critique of Judgment, 400.

33 Ibid., 318.

34 Kant, Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, 38.

35 Ibid., 17–18.

36 Ibid., 35.

37 Kierkegaard agreed with Leibniz that an ‘indifferent will is an ‘absurdity and a chimera’ (Kierkegaard, Journals and Papers, vol. 1, 359). Kierkegaard was also critical of Descartes, writing ‘if I am to emerge from doubt into freedom, then I must enter in doubt in freedom’.

38 Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety, 19.

39 Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety, 85.

40 Schelling, F.W.J., ‘I’, in Schelling Werke, ed. Schroder, Manfred (Munchen: E.H. Back, 1959), vol. 1, 367; Kosch documents Schelling's influence on Kierkegaard. She argues that it is true that Kierkegaard attended Schellings lectures in 1841–2 to hear Schelling and was at first very enthusiastic and then hugely disappointed. But she points to a very strong influence of the Freiheischrift on the Concept of Anxiety. Kosch documents Schelling's influence on Kierkegaard. She argues that it is true that Kierkegaard attended Schellings lectures in 1841–2 to hear Schelling and was at first very enthusiastic and then hugely disappointed. But she points to a very strong influence of the Freiheischrift on the Concept of Anxiety. (Kosch, Freedom and Reason in Kant, Schelling and Kierkegaard.).

41 In Philosophical Fragments, Johannes Climacus represents doubt as inherent in thought. Kierkegaard, S., Philosophical Fragments: Johannes Climacus, ed. and trans. Hong, H.V. and Hong, E.H. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), 129157.

42 Kierkegaard, Journals and Papers, vol. 1, 777.

43 Kierkegaard, S., Either-Or, Part one, ed. and trans Hong, H.V. and Hong, E.H., (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1987), 19.

44 Kierkegaard, Concept of Anxiety, 12.

45 Kierkegaard, S., Sickness Unto Death, ed. and trans. Hong, H.V. and Hong, E.H., (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), 69.

46 Ibid. 69.

47 Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety, 13.

48 Kierkegaard, Sickness unto Death, 93.

49 Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety, 26.

50 Ibid., 26.

51 See Kosch, Freedom and Reason in Kant, Schelling and Kierkegaard, for a very useful discussion of this.

52 Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety, 29.

53 Ibid., 25.

54 Ibid., 31.

55 Ibid., 32.

56 Ibid., 33 (my italics).

57 Kierkegaard, S., Stages on Life's Way, ed. and trans. Hong, H.V. and Hong, E.H, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), 72.

58 Ibid.73.

59 Ibid.74.

60 Young, I., On Female Body Experience: “Throwing like a Girl and Other Essays” (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005).

61 Irigaray, L., An Ethics of Sexual Difference, trans. Gill, G. and Burke, C., (London: Continuum, 2004).

62 See Kierkegaard, Either-Or, Part one, 54–56.

63 Grant, I., On an Aritificial Earth: Philosophies of Nature After Schelling, (London: Continuum, 2006), 37;

64 See Ibid. 162; I discuss the influence of Schelling on Kierkegaard in more detail in Assiter, Alison, ‘Kierkegaard and the Ground of Morality’, in Acta Kierkegaardiana, (in press).

65 Schelling, F.W.J., The Ages of The World, (1815) trans. Wirth, Jason (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2000), 44.

66 Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety, 42.

67 See Schelling, Ages of the World and Grant, On an Artificial Earth, 61.

68 Schelling, Ages of the World, 5.

69 Lawrence, Joseph P., ‘Schelling's Metaphysics of Evil’, in The New Schelling. Eds. Norman, Judith and Welchman, Alistair, (London: Continuum, 2004), 180.

70 Quoted in Kosch, Freedom and Reason in Kant, Schelling and Kierkegaard, 185–6.

71 Kierkegaard, Sickness unto Death, 13.

72 Kosch, Freedom and Reason in Kant, Schelling and Kierkegaard, 213.

73 Lawrence, ‘Schelling's Metaphysics of Evil’, 182.

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