Kierkegaard and the Limits of the Ethical

Kierkegaard and the Limits of the Ethical

Kierkegaard and the Limits of the Ethical

Kierkegaard and the Limits of the Ethical

Synopsis

This book is a discussion of some of Kierkegaard's central ideas, showing their relevance to contemporary debates in epistemology, ethics, and the philosophy of religion. Anthony Rudd's aim is not simply to expound Kierkegaard's ideas but to draw on them creatively in order to illuminate questions about the foundations of morality and the nature of personal identity, as discussed by analytical philosophers such as MacIntyre, Parfit, Williams, and Foot. Rudd seeks a way forward from the sterile conflict between the view that morality and religion are based on objective reasoning and the view that they are merely expressions of subjective emotions. He argues that morality and religion must be understood in terms of the individual's search for a sense of meaning in his or her own life, but emphasizes that this does not imply that values are arbitrary or merely subjective.

Excerpt

In this chapter I will discuss Kierkegaard's theory of knowledge, his critique of Hegelian metaphysics, his treatment of scepticism, and his conception of subjective truth. These are not only important and interesting in themselves; they also provide a background against which to understand his ethical and religious writings. Kierkegaard's conclusion is that the purely disengaged approach to knowledge can eventually lead only to scepticism, which is not theoretically refutable, but which can only be broken with by an act of will, a refusal to accept the validity of the wholly disengaged stance. This is true of all claims to substantive (as opposed to purely formal--for example, mathematical) knowledge, but it is particularly important in the case of ethico-religious knowledge, where the stance of disengagement is wholly out of place. Here, however, a different kind of knowledge becomes possible, based not on the effort to be objective, but on a commitment to subjectivity, on passionate concern, rather than dispassionate observation.

2.1. kierkegaard's critique of metaphysics

Kierkegaard's polemic against Hegel's 'System' is not directed so much at the detail of Hegel's arguments, as at the presuppositions and the general structure of his thought. Hence it retains a general interest and relevance apart from any particular concern with Hegel. Kierkegaard's overriding aim is to criticize the ideal of disengagement as it applies to the cognitive realm. As against all those--whether idealist metaphysicians or contemporary materialists--who claim that knowledge is, or should be, fundamentally impersonal, dispassionate, and objective, Kierkegaard insists that a thinker, no matter how objective he may try to be, remains a person, and always has the task of relating his thought to his existence as a particular individual.

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