Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Johannes Climacus as Kierkegaard's Discourse on Method

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Johannes Climacus as Kierkegaard's Discourse on Method

Article excerpt

Rene Descartes is the author of several excellent jokes, for which he rarely receives credit. For example:

Good sense is the best distributed thing in the world: for everyone thinks himself so well endowed with it that even those who are the hardest to please in everything else do not usually desire more of it than they possess. (DM 111)1

Not content with knowing everything which is intelligibly explained in their author's writings, they wish in addition to find there the solution to many problems about which he says nothing and about which perhaps he never thought. . . . In this they seem to resemble a blind man who, in order to fight without disadvantage against someone who can see, lures him into the depths of a very dark cellar. (DM 147)

The high degree of perfection displayed in some of their actions makes us suspect that animals do not have free will. (CP 5)

I have almost never encountered a critic of my views who did not seem to be either less rigorous or less impartial than myself. (DM 146)

Philosophy gives us the means of speaking plausibly about any subject and of winning the admiration of the less learned. (DM 113)

While Descartes almost never gets the attention he deserves as a writer of comedy, there has been no shortage of recognition for him as a master of methodology. Descartes is the author not only of the Discourse on Method-the quintessential statement of modern philosophy's obsession with method-but also of two other unpublished works which attempt to lay down the law on the practice of philosophy: Rules for the Direction of the Mind and The Search for Truth by Means of the Natural Light. Some may doubt that Descartes had a sense of humor, but no one doubts that he was deeply committed to giving philosophy a solid methodological foundation.

Soren Kierkegaard is also the author of many excellent jokes. In fact, some have suggested that his entire authorship can be understood as one long and rather complicated joke. Even if one doesn't go to that extreme, it is clear that an author who wrote under more than ten different pseudonyms, who composed an entire book consisting of nothing but prefaces, who wrote no less than five different conclusions to his work as a pseudonymous author,2 whose master's thesis was titled The Concept of Irony, and who also penned the immortal lines-

Were there no hell, it would have to be made in order to punish the professors, whose crime is such that it can scarcely be punished in this world. (JP 3: 3589)

-is someone who cares about comedy. While not everyone has appreciated Kierkegaard's sense of humor, nearly all of his readers have at least acknowledged that he had one.

On the other hand, virtually no one has thought of Kierkegaard as someone who had even the slightest interest in philosophical method. In this essay I propose to rectify that fact. I will argue that Johannes Climacus, or, De Omnibus Dubitandum Est can be read as Kierkegaard's statement of methodology, his own version of the Discourse on Method. Johannes Climacus is a strange text-unpublished in Kierkegaard's lifetime-which has been interpreted in many ways, but to my knowledge it has not yet been fully appreciated as something of a methodological manifesto.3 In what follows I will argue for such a reading by focusing on three key issues of methodology: time and its relation to the philosophical investigator; the nature of doubt and its role in philosophy; and the connection between philosophy's method and the philosopher's "health."

All of these matters of methodology are occasioned for Johannes Climacus by Descartes' attempt to give philosophy a legitimate beginning, so we will begin with that beginning.4

Prelude: Philosophy's Dubious Beginning(s)

"The Dialectic of Beginning: Scene in the Underworld"

Characters: Socrates, Hegel

Socrates sits in the cool [of the evening] by a fountain, listening. …

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