The Human Embrace: The Love of Philosophy and the Philosophy of Love: Kierkegaard, Cavell, Nussbaum

By Ronald L. Hall | Go to book overview

Two

MARRIAGE AND THE ETHICAL ILLUSION OF FAITH

In my (peculiar) reading of Kierkegaard, it is the human figures, historical or literary, that carry the most weight when it comes to giving us a picture of the life-possibilities that the stages represent. I trust these figures more than I trust Kierkegaard's more abstract conceptual analyses, which I find can be inconsistent.1 In particular, the three figures who best exemplify for me the three stages are A, the aesthete ( Either/Or I), Judge William, the ethical ( Either/Or II), and Abraham, the religious (religiousness B), the knight of existential faith ( Fear and Trembling).

My approach to the stages also recognizes variations within the three basic stages, but again in terms of human figures. For example, within the aesthetic stage there are Don Juan, Faust, Johannes the Seducer, and others; within the religious, Socrates is the primary exemplar of religiousness A, but we could also include the monk and the mystic; and of course, within reli

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1
It is certainly possible to take a reading of Kierkegaard from his more conceptual work, rather than my approach that focuses on the human exemplars of the stages. For example, if one were to begin with Concluding Unscientific Postscript, we might come to very different conclusions about the stages, especially the ethical modality. In that work, Kierkegaard's pseudonym, Johannes Climacus, interprets the ethical as though it were the embrace of ethics within the faithful embrace of human existence. Here the ethical (and religiousness A) is (are) part of what Climacus calls the "existential pathos." With regard to the ethical, Climacus says, for example, "Ethically, the individual subject is infinitely important" ( CUP, 132). Nevertheless, even in this work, Kierkegaard holds consistently to the idea that the ethical individual falls short of existential faith. That is, he continues to hold to the idea of the ethical that was expressed by the pseudonym Frater Taciturnus in Stages on Life's Way who says, "[T]he ethical [is] the sphere of requirement (and this requirement is so infinite that the individual always goes bankrupt)" (trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong [ Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988], 476).

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