For a philosophical analysis of repentance and self-knowledge, in a volume on wisdom in the Christian faith, it might seem strange to turn to Aristotle and Sartre for conceptual resources. Let us wait, however, and see if it proves fruitful.
In Aristotle's account of the intellectual virtues, the word wisdom (in English translation) shows up twice. As I read Book VI of the Nicomachean Ethics, there are basically three intellectual virtues. One we might call contemplation, if that term did not seem too narrowly to suggest aesthetic or religious meditation. Let us call it theory instead. It has three dimensions for Aristotle, although he treats them as distinct virtues: nous, the intuitive-inductive apprehension of the first principles or premises of syllogistic science; episteme, the ability to draw syllogistic conclusions from the discoveries of nous; and sophia, the net result of the first two dimensions, the body of knowledge that deserves to be called knowledge. Sophia is standardly translated as wisdom or theoretical wisdom, but this is misleading, because sophia is pure theory, not intended to guide the knower into living well. It is therefore closer to what we mean by science than to our sense of wisdom.
It is often said that existentialism has passed into the history of philosophy. But that is a problem only if we think of that history as a kind of museum in which we become antiquarians who observe animals no longer living or artifacts no longer useful. It has nothing to do with us. But if we have an existential spirit we will not read any of the history of philosophy that way. We will hear the texts of the great thinkers as voices that address us directly, offering interpretations of our being-in-the-world full of possibilities for our beliefs, our actions, and our affects or attitudes. It has everything to do with us.
No doubt this means that our title is less than perfect. “Religion” suggests an observable object or phenomenon. Thus we have Religious Studies departments where religion is what is studied. There's nothing very existential about being a scholarly observer. Existentialism is about the urgency of deciding what to do with our lives, more specifically, what to do with my own life. That is why in Plato's Gorgias, Socrates, perhaps the first existentialist philosopher, says to Callicles, “For you see, don't you, that our discussion's about … the way we're supposed to live.
The story of German idealism is the story of Kant and the aftermath. By aftermath I mean the Aufhebung of critical philosophy in the speculative idealisms of Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. The latter, of course, took himself to be the Aufhebung of Fichte and Schelling as well as Kant, to say nothing of Plato and Aristotle, Anselm and Aquinas, Descartes and Spinoza, and so forth.
The gods are jealous and do not tolerate such hubris. So German idealism involves a second aftermath, this time with Hegel rather than Kant as the subject of simultaneous critique (cancellation) and appropriation (preservation). Speculation, mediation, reconciliation, and the Idea are names by which Hegel designates a single strategy for trumping the tradition and becoming its fulfillment. The most unkindest cut of all for Hegel was to be himself out-trumped by Feuerbach, Marx, and Kierkegaard. The various ways in which his massive Aufhebung was aufgehoben in the 1840s make up one of the most fascinating stories in the history of philosophy.
Kierkegaard is a major figure in this story; he is one of the great anti-Hegelians. There are other illuminating ways to read his writings. He is a religious thinker in the Augustinian tradition. As such he is also an existentialist, a postmodernist, and a critical social theorist. But each of these stories will have to include an account of his complex relation to Hegel. The relation is complex precisely because it is an Aufhebung. There is appropriation as well as negation, and Kierkegaard is never simply anti-Hegelian.
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