Kierkegaard – Philosophical Fragments

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It is obviously inappropriate to try to present Kierkegaard’s thinking like it’s an overarching philosophical system by extracting one part from a mosaic of his thought and demonstrating how it connects to another part. The best way to misunderstand Kierkegaard is to mistake his philosophy for a ‘system.’ I won’t, therefore, try to write some sort of overview of this work, but simply concentrate on one aspect of his Philosophical Fragments, which has been the practice of our blog posts anyway.

Although the bulk of Philosophical Fragments concerns itself with outlining how a concrete historical personage can represent eternal truth (as an answer of sorts to Lessing’s ugly ditch of history), I’m going to concentrate this blog post on Chapter III and Kierkegaard’s discussion of the arguments for the existence of God, a topic which has of late been preoccupying my thinking.

How does one demonstrate the existence of God? This is a difficult question, usually answered by the broaching of certain, now almost classically codified arguments, grouped under titular genuses that claim to show that God is the demonstrable corollary of their deductive (or inductive) powers. For Kierkegaard, this endeavour is pure folly. Firstly, why does one attempt to demonstrate the existence of God? Of course, if God does not exist, then this renders his demonstration impossible. But the proponent of this type of natural theology must have already concluded that God exists, or else he would have realized the laboriousness of his task in attempting to prove the existence of something that does not exist. Kierkegaard writes, “The whole demonstration continually becomes something entirely different, becomes an expanded concluding development of what I conclude from having presupposed that the object of investigation exists” (40).

Further, the arguments for the existence of God seek to demonstrate God from his works: the world is what is given and God is what is sought (from the given). As Kierkegaard avers, one does not demonstrate that the stone exists, but that what exists is a stone; in the same way, a court of law does not demonstrate that the criminal exists, but that who does indeed exist is a criminal (ibid.). Natural theology does not demonstrate that God exists, but that the world which exists is from God (or the world which exists is a creation of God, and by being a creation of God, God must therefore exist to create it). Arguments for the existence of God are not, then, per se about God, but about the world.

Kierkegaard agrees that in God essentia involvit existentiam and that God’s works are works only God can do (42). But, God’s works are not directly visible to us. As Luther wrote, if we are to judge the creation of the world and its governance by ways visible and known to us than we must conclude that either God is a malicious tyrant or that he simply does not exist. For Kierkegaard, we cannot demonstrate the existence of God though this method of syllogistic ratiocination, all we can do is “elucidate the God concept” (43). “For the fool says in his heart there is no God, but he who says in his heart or to others: just wait a little while and I shall demonstrate it – ah, what a rare wise man he is!” (ibid.).

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2 Responses to “Kierkegaard – Philosophical Fragments”

  1. Jeremy Says:

    Thanks for this. Why have the proofs for God’s existence been on your mind as of late? Have you changed your position?

    • A.J. Smith Says:

      I was reared with analytic theology so a spent a lot of time thinking about the arguments for the existence of God. Thinking about how stupid they are have been the fruition of this strand of my thought, helped through by Tillich.

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