D. Anthony Storm's Commentary on Kierkegaard

Second Period: Indirect Communication (1843-46)

Philosophical Fragments

  • Philosophical Fragments, or a Fragment of Philosophy
  • Philosophiske Smuler eller Smule Philosophi
  • Johannes Climacus, ed. S. Kierkegaard
  • 1844
  • KW7, SKS4, SV4

Kierkegaard begins here what he brings to completion in the Concluding Unscientific Postscript, namely, the subjective approach to knowledge acquisition. Johannes Climacus is the author of the Fragments and the Postscript, as well as the posthumous Johannes Climacus, or De Omnibus Dubitandum Est. He might thus be deemed the author of Kierkegaard's greatest philosophical works. The style of Climacus varies from each of the three productions, but they are singular as to their dialectical mission. Kierkegaard took this name from a Greek monk (c. 570-649) who was the abbot of Saint Catherine's of Alexandria on Mt. Sinai. He was the author of the work Klimax tou Paradeisou (translated into Latin as Scala Paradisi), or Ladder of Paradise (klimax being the Greek for ladder). This book, incidentally, was the first book to be printed in the New World, translated into Spanish (Mexico, 1532). Climacus' work was written for a monastic audience. He says that no one should attempt the contemplative life without first warring against and subduing the passions. The ladder is thus a series of thirty steps which ultimately lead to impassibility and imperturbability, not entirely unlike the ataraxia of the Epicureans, except that Epicureans seek to escape the troubles of the world for quiet contemplative pleasure while Climacus strove for the heavenly vision. As The Imitation of Christ is one of the most popular devotional works outside of the Bible in the West, the Ladder has long achieved the same importance in the East. It is read every Lent in Orthodox monasteries, and is appointed to be read aloud in church or in the refectory.

For Kierkegaard, the pseudonym Johannes Climacus represents the subjective approach to knowledge, though this Climacus is not a believer. The ladder is not then the ascent to God but is meant to call to mind an ascending series of logical plateaus, where the logician, represented particularly by Descartes and Hegel, proceeds from one premise to the next. Johannes rejects this method in spiritual matters, thinking it ridiculous to approach the Absolute in any way except through faith. He is concerned with subjective knowledge and with the leap (for more on the leap see A Primer on Kierkegaardian Motifs). Objective knowledge, which is the avowed goal of rational philosophers, is impossible to appropriate by subjective creatures. Moreover, Kierkegaard was concerned with knowledge that would encourage the soul to turn to God. But Johannes claims not to be a Christian, since he has not yet reached that knowledge of God. The rigorous ascent to God toward impassibility has been replaced by the very passionate and subjective approach to truth whereby the believer, by virtue of the absurd, finds himself before Christ.

Kierkegaard, like Plato, though using different methods and conclusions, sought to ground knowledge in the ineffability of subjectivity. For Plato, knowledge comes subjectively (internally); for Kierkegaard, it comes by God's grace through faith. Socrates becomes the facilitator for the slave in the Meno, as does God for the man of faith. Again, Kierkegaard is also concerned with passion. "...the paradox is the passion of thought, and the thinker without the paradox is like the lover without passion; a mediocre fellow" (p. 37). The paradox is necessitated by the metaphysical nature of the inquiry. Only knowledge through faith can approach the paradox since it is by definition beyond our knowledge. Passion must accompany the leap of faith, since knowledge acquisition for the man of faith is guided by God. Philosophical Fragments reflects Kierkegaard's intense interest in epistemology and Plato's theory of recollection, as well as his distaste for apologetics. It would seem to be a work close to his heart since he lists himself as editor, and had listed himself as author in earlier drafts.

Under the subtitle of the work—a Fragment of Philosophy—there is a sub-subtitle: "Can a historical point of departure be given for an eternal consciousness; how can such a point of departure be of more than historical interest; can an eternal happiness be built on historical knowledge?" This directs the entire study, in that it is practical as well as theoretical. In the preface Kierkegaard calls this work a pamphlet "without any claim to being a part of the scientific-scholarly endeavor in which one acquires legitimacy..." (p. 5). This is evident in the title. Smuler means fragments or scraps. Kierkegaard is not endeavoring to write anything like a treatise, much less form a system like Hegel. This is understandable because he simply presupposes several of his points.

I: Thought-Project

Chapter one is a Propositio, under which it says, "The question is asked by one who in his ignorance does not even know what provided the occasion for his questioning in this way." Kierkegaard will argue below that deity provides the occasion necessary for knowledge acquisition. Perhaps the pseudonym Johannes is saying that he himself is unaware of the mysterious workings of the teacher he is about to describe. Kierkegaard is concerned with how we acquire knowledge, that is, how we learn. He addresses the Platonic dilemma of epistemology. In Plato's Protagoras Protagoras claims that virtue can be taught, that he in fact is a great teacher of virtue. In contrast, Socrates denies that virtue can be taught and asserts that wrongdoing is done only through ignorance. Related to this Socratic viewpoint is that he found it inconceivable for someone to know what is just and then fail to perform it. Related to this issue is the Platonic theory of recollection as put forth in the Meno, Philebus and Phaedo. In the Meno, Socrates guides a slave through geometric proofs, illustrating that the slave already possessed the knowledge; hence "learning" is not acquisition but recollection. Plato maintains that the slave is simply recalling knowledge learned in a former incarnation. Though Plato used recollection to help prove the immortality of the soul in the Phaedo, his solution does not solve the problem since the knowledge was learned at some point, in some incarnation—but this is no matter here.

Kierkegaard is not anxious to dispute Plato. Rather, Greek thought is a springboard from which Kierkegaard can address the epistemological question as it relates to subjectivity. He summarizes Plato's theory of recollection.

...a person cannot possibly seek what he knows, and, just as impossibly, he cannot seek what he does not know, for what he knows he cannot seek, since he knows it, and what he does not know he cannot seek because, after all, he does not even know what he is supposed to seek (p. 9).

Concerning Socratic questioning, Kierkegaard says,

...for the ultimate idea in all questioning is that the person asked must himself possess the truth and acquire it by himself. The temporal point of departure is a nothing, because in the same moment I discover that I have known the truth from eternity without knowing it, in the same instant that moment is hidden in the eternal, assimilated into it in such a way that I, so to speak, still cannot find it even if I were to look for it... (p. 13).

This leads Kierkegaard to consider three things: the preceding state, the teacher and the follower. These will guide the rest of the chapter. The preceding state of the learner is ignorance, but he is not a proselyte because he does not come to the truth. In his ignorance he goes away from the truth, because he needs the teacher to retrieve it as the slave boy did in the Meno. But his ignorance is such that he is not aware of his ignorance. Kierkegaard says the learner "is, then, untruth" (p. 13). It would appear that if the teacher wishes to remind the learner of his ignorance, all he can do is inform the learner of his ignorance. By this the learner is thrust away. His new state is worse than the first.

To this act of consciousness, the Socratic principle applies: the teacher is only an occasion, whoever he may be, even if he is a god, because I can discover my own untruth only by myself, because only when I discover it is it discovered, not before, even though the whole world knew it....

Now, if the learner is to obtain the truth, the teacher must bring it to him, but not only that. Along with it, he must provide the condition for understanding it, for if the learner were himself the condition for understanding the truth, then he merely needs to recollect....

But the one who not only gives the learner the truth but provides the condition is not a teacher. Ultimately, all instruction depends upon the presence of the condition; if it is lacking, then a teacher is capable of nothing, because in the second case, the teacher, before beginning to teach, must transform, not reform, the learner. But no human being is capable of doing this; if it is to take place, it must be done by the god himself (p. 14f.).

This is a departure from the Platonic view. Though Plato points the way by making the knowledge inwardly situated, Kierkegaard goes beyond him and questions the mode of extracting this knowledge. For Plato, each man knows everything and the teacher draws it out. For Kierkegaard, the problem is that each man must find the teacher who provides the means to come to know.

Socrates spoke of "the god" [ho theos] or "the divinity" [to daimonion]. Though some have ably argued that Plato was laying the groundwork for monotheism (see the Timaeus), the Greek term "the god" does not mean the one and only god, but merely the particular god in question, perhaps Apollo, or perhaps a deity of his own acquaintance. Sometimes Socrates called this god a divinity. Divinities are described by Socrates in The Symposium (202e) as performing intermediary functions. Kierkegaard maintains the use of the term "the god" so as to keep the work grounded in the Socratic issue, and since he has a specific god in mind: the Christian God. H. and E. Hong maintain the definite article in their translation, and also lower case "g". The Danish word for god is gud. The article is en, and is attached as a suffix when definite, but appears separately before the noun when indefinite: thus en gud means "a god" and guden means "the god". H. Hong comments on this usage.

The Danish text here and throughout Fragments (with few exceptions) has Guden, a noun with the definite article. This unusual form emphasizes the Socratic-Platonic context of the hypothesis and its development in the entire work.... In the entire Kierkegaard authorship, Guden is very rarely found except in Fragments (p. 278).

Kierkegaard assumes that the learner originally possessed the condition for learning. God gave him the condition, otherwise he would be merely animal; but he has lost it. He has not lost it by accident, for, Kierkegaard asks, how can something inferior "vanquish something superior"? Nor is it due to an act of the god, for this would be a contradiction, since he originally imparted it. He concludes that the learner, "who is untruth" is not only outside of the truth "but is polemical against the truth" (p. 15). The argument continues its shift from the strictly philosophical to the philosophical-theological.

The teacher, then, is the god himself who, acting as the occasion, prompts the learner to be reminded that he is untruth and is that through his own fault. But this state—to be untruth and to be through one's own fault—what can we call it? Let us call it sin (p. 15).

The Socratic view lacks a concept of sin. All wrongdoing is from ignorance. If a man knows what is right, he will do it. No one can endure such a contradiction of will at variance with knowledge. Kierkegaard expands on this view, and grounds the learner in ignorance, but ignorance due to his own act. But Kierkegaard asks whether the learner, who has lost the truth by an act and has become "untruth", can re-acquire the truth by a volitive act. He answers in the negative. He asks what we should call such a teacher, and with his answer thereby enters into the religious: the teacher is a savior, deliverer, reconciler, and judge. Thus, the learner needs to be converted.

Kierkegaard finally addresses the third element of the chapter's construction: the follower. When the follower follows the teacher into truth, there is a "conversion", and the follower becomes a "new person".

II: The God as Teacher and Savior (A Poetical Venture)

Kierkegaard continues by considering Plato's Socrates. Socrates has always appealed to Christians because he claimed that actual justice is to be preferred over the appearance of justice (see The Republic). There are similarities between Socrates and Christ. They both taught free of charge and had disciples. They told stories to illustrate their ideas. They both used the maieutic approach (from the Greek maieutikos, meaning "giving birth"), that is, eliciting the truth by asking questions. Indeed Socrates compared himself to a midwife who assists with the birth of knowledge in the individual. They both asked questions as if they already had the answers. Whereas Christ spoke of the Father who sent him, Socrates said that a god (or the divinity) spoke to him often from his youth, dissuading him from certain activities: "A certain voice comes, which whenever it comes, always turns me away from whatever I was about to do, but never turns me toward something" (Apology 31d). Kierkegaard's concern is how the god teaches.

As is well known Socrates, as opposed to the sophists, did not accept pay for his teaching. Kierkegaard explains that this was because he considered himself a learner as well.

Between one human being and another, this is the highest: the pupil is the occasion for the teacher to understand himself; the teacher is the occasion for the pupil to understand himself.... But the god needs no pupil in order to understand himself, and no occasion can act upon him in such a way that there is just as much in the occasion as in the resolution (p. 24).

Another way in which the Socratic and Kierkegaardian teachers differ is that in the latter view, love is the motivating force. There are two broad ways for the god to deal with the learner. The first way is for the learner to make an ascent. Kierkegaard likens the teacher (god) relationship to a king who loved a lowly maiden (p. 26ff). The king loves the maiden and wants to reveal his love for her. If the king reveals himself in full in all his hidden sorrow, he would debase his love or frighten the beloved. Thus, he cannot fully disclose himself. The god wants to be the teacher, "and the god's concern is to bring about equality" (p. 28). There is no actual equality between man and the god, and the god has no need of the learner. But love changes the relationship. Kierkegaard then invites the poet—and he often considered himself to be one—to find a solution. First, he might appear to him and bring him into the realms of joy. Kierkegaard recalls the God of the Old Testament, whose sight meant instant death (Exodus 33.20).

Who grasps the contradiction of this sorrow: not to disclose itself is the death of love; to disclose itself is the death of the beloved (p. 30).

The second way that the teacher can reveal himself is to make a descent, in the form of a servant.

Between one human being and another, to be of assistance is supreme, but to beget is reserved for the god, whose love is procreative, but not that procreative love of which Socrates knew how to speak so beautifully on a festive occasion [see The Symposium]. Such a love does not mark the relation of a teacher to the pupil but the relation of the autodidact to the beautiful as he, ignoring dispersed beauty, envisions beauty-in-and-by-itself and now gives birth to many beautiful and glorious discourses and thought.... He has the condition, therefore, within himself, and the bringing forth (the birth) is only an appearing of what was present, and that is why here again in this birth the moment is instantly swallowed by recollection (p. 31).

Oh, to sustain heaven and earth by an omnipotent "Let there be," and then, if this were to be absent for one fraction of a second, to have everything collapse—how easy this would be compared with bearing the possibility of the offense of the human race when out of love one becomes its savior!

But the form of the servant was not something put on. Therefore then god must suffer all things.... The suffering of death is not his suffering, but his whole life is a story of suffering, and it is love that suffers, love that gives all and is itself destitute. What wonderful self-denial to ask in concern, even though the learner is the lowliest of persons: Do you really love me? For he himself knows where the danger threatens, and yet he knows that for him any easier way would be a deception, even though the learner would not understand it.

For love, any other revelation would be a deception, because either it would first have had to accomplish a change in the learner (love, however, does not change the beloved but changes itself) and conceal from him that this was needed, or in superficiality it would have had to remain ignorant that the whole understanding between them was a delusion (this is the untruth of paganism). For the god's love, any other revelation would be a deception....

Yet it has to be this way, and it is love that gives rise to all this suffering, precisely because the god is not zealous for himself but in love wants to be the equal of the most lowly of the lowly (p. 32ff.).

Kierkegaard employs two different concepts in this chapter: the occasion, the condition. The occasion is the point in time in which the learner relies on the teacher in his cognitive task. The condition can only be provided by the teacher, and is the means whereby the learner can learn. The condition is provided at the god's discretion. More on this below.

III: The Absolute Paradox (A Metaphysical Caprice)

Kierkegaard states that subjective truth creates a paradox for whoever encounters it, which becomes an offense. This idea is addressed in greater detail under Kierkegaard's pseudonym Anti-Climacus in Practice In Christianity. The truth of Christianity is based entirely upon the offense created by the paradox that Christ claimed that he was, for example, both God and man.

But one must not think ill of the paradox, for the paradox is the passion of thought, and the thinker without the paradox is like the lover without passion: a mediocre fellow. But the ultimate potentiation of every passion is always to will its own downfall, and so it is also the ultimate passion of the understanding to will the collision, although in one way or another the collision must become its downfall. This, then, is the ultimate paradox of thought: to want to discover something that thought itself cannot think (p. 37).

Kierkegaard's main concern was with knowledge of God through faith. Faith is the individual's reaction to the inherent paradox of Christianity. Since essential truth is far beyond our comprehension to the extent that we cannot approach it objectively, it appears to us in the form of a paradox. A paradox is a tension of sorts between at least two focal points. In terms of religious paradox, we may refer to the Christian doctrine of Jesus as fully divine and fully human. No one can comprehend how such a thing could be. However, it is not a flat contradiction. A logical contradiction posits two mutually exclusive premises, such as "James is a man and is not a man", where the word "man" means the same thing on both sides of the statement. This point is frequently misunderstood. Kierkegaard would not have us believe, or come into relation with, the impossible or the contradictory, but rather with the inconceivable. Furthermore, any attempt to remove the paradoxical is either an attempt to objectify what we cannot know objectively, because we are in the process of becoming, or, to dismiss the role of faith as silliness, which, again, implies that we can understand to a degree that we dismiss something absolutely as if we dwelled outside of the system (or the universe)—as if from an objective standpoint. To us, who are in the process of becoming, some truths are perceived as impenetrable paradoxes. Thinking and being are too remote from each other for us to see them as anything else. The paradoxical incites offense in the non-believer. This offense is a necessary reaction to Christianity. Kierkegaard next addresses the unknown thing which is the paradox.

But what is this unknown against which the understanding in its paradoxical passion collides and which even disturbs man and his self-knowledge? It is the unknown. But it is not a human being, insofar as he knows man, or anything else that he knows. Therefore, let us call this unknown the god. It is only a name we give to it. It hardly occurs to the understanding to want to demonstrate that this unknown (the god) exists. If, namely, the god does not exist, then of course it is impossible to demonstrate it. But if he does exist, then it is foolishness to want to demonstrate it, since I, in the very moment the demonstration commences, would presuppose it not as doubtful—which a presupposition cannot be, inasmuch as it is a presupposition—but as decided, because otherwise I would not begin, easily perceiving that the whole thing would be impossible if he did not exist. If, however, I interpret the expression "to demonstrate the existence of the god" to mean that I want to demonstrate that the unknown, which exists, is the god, then I do not express myself very felicitously, for then I demonstrate nothing, least of all an existence, but I develop the definition of a concept.... For example, I do not demonstrate that a stone exists but that something which exists is a stone (p. 39f.).

Kierkegaard continues that Napoleon's works do not prove his existence, but demonstrate generalship. In other words, he is not absolutely related to his works; but God is. However, his works are not easily identified.

God's works, therefore, only the god can do. Quite correct. But, then, what are the god's works? The works from which I want to demonstrate his existence do not immediately and directly exist, not at all.... Therefore, from what works do I demonstrate it? From the works regarded ideally—that is, as they do not appear directly and immediately (p. 42).

In order to assist the demonstration, Kierkegaard proposes several things: first, we must let go of the demonstration to help it, realizing that we cannot prove the existence of God.

...so long as I am holding on to the demonstration (that is, continue to be one who is demonstrating), the existence does not emerge, if for no other reason than that I am in the process of demonstrating it, but when I let go of the demonstration, the existence is there.... Therefore, anyone who wants to demonstrate the existence of God (in any other sense than elucidating the God-concept and without the reservatio finalis [ultimate reservation] that we have pointed out—that the existence itself emerges from the demonstration by a leap) proves something else instead, at times something that perhaps did not even need demonstrating... (p. 42f.).

Next, we must posit the leap, and in doing this we must shun a mere amassing of arguments, arrayed in a logical chain. Kierkegaard seems to have acquired the idea of the leap from Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-81), who in ways was groping toward some of his conclusions. He was a noted German esthetician, dramatist, and critic. His drama abandoned neo-classical forms and assumed more personal and ideal themes. Kierkegaard's leap is a qualitative leap of faith. This is not a blind leap as is often thought. Kierkegaard's concern was that faith is never easy or probable. Faith in God is an agonistic and often fearful struggle to cast one's entire person into relation to God. There is no gradual accumulation of sensory data or rational proofs for God's existence or for the resurrection of Christ, etc. One performs a willed act of faith despite fear, doubt and sin. The leap is not out of thoughtlessness, but out of volition. The leap is sheer and unmediated, and is not made by quantitative movements, stages, or changes. It cannot be mediated by proofs or reason. It is a sheer leap from doubt, or more specifically, from the doubt that exists by virtue of the paradoxical (the absurd), or in reaction to the offense of Christ, by faith to God. The amassing of proofs, known as a sorites, (Greek soreites from soros, meaning heap or quantity), is a series of arguments whereby one is led gradually from self-evident truth to other related premises. This chain of arguments is represented by the ladder (Greek klimax, see introduction above), and is utterly countermanded by Kierkegaard's leap.

Perhaps Descartes' method most aptly illustrates the use of the sorites. He began his Meditations by seeking to remove all presuppositions, except that which is unassailably self-evident. Unlike Descartes, Kierkegaard was anxious to ground philosophical truth in something more concrete than human consciousness. One can explain the effect of a phenomenon, if one cannot explain the phenomenon itself. Immediacy, which he later defines as "reality", is that which the thing is in and of itself without the mediation of language, which he calls ideality (see Johannes Climacus). Utter reality cannot be absolutely determined in itself. Language's description of it is ideal, and not the thing itself. Moreover, to finite consciousness all immediacy (reality) is true or untrue equally until it is mediated. In other words, unmediated reality is opaque to us. In Johannes Climacus Kierkegaard says,

Immediacy is reality; language is ideality; consciousness is contradiction. The moment I make a statement about reality, contradiction is present, for what I say is ideality (p. 168).

Contradiction appears in the expression (through language) of reality (immediacy, that is, that which is not mediated by something). The contradictory nature of consciousness is Kierkegaard's answer to the various interpretations of things and to our ability to express them. In other words, thinking and being cannot be unified in human consciousness. As a result of these prescriptions Kierkegaard says that the existence of God must be presupposed if we are to have meaningful discourse about deity. Again, this measure does not in any way pass for a proof. This is because God is the "unknown". Influenced by Kierkegaard's work, Karl Barth, the neo-orthodox theologian, would later use the term "wholly other" about God. On the incarnation Kierkegaard says,

This human being is also the god. How do I know that? Well, I cannot know it, for in that case I would have to know the god and the difference [everything that is not the god], and I do not know the difference, inasmuch as the understanding has made it like unto that from which it differs (p. 45f.).

Readers of Kierkegaard have often detected what is called negative theology, that due to human limitations we can only say what God is not, rather than what he is. While that view may prove helpful, literally speaking, Kierkegaard would say that a statement about a negative (what God is not) is still an act of positive cognition. If I should say that God is not finite, I am still asserting something positive about him. "Not finite" is actually a positive term to which one need only substitute a more obviously positive term, such as "infinite". We can be distracted by the word "not", or other negative affixes; yet the positive assertion of a negative remains a positive assertion. The ultimate negative statement, "There are no absolutes", is itself a contradiction in that it is an absolute (positive) statement. Moreover, the person who utters it tacitly claims to have had direct contact with all knowable constituents before having determined that no absolute exists among them.

How can we, like Descartes, remove all presuppositions from our minds? In fact, the epistemological dilemma is heightened when we consider the god, for the god is the teacher.

Someone may now be saying, "[It] is so unreasonable that I would have to lock everything out of my consciousness in order to think of it." That is exactly what you have to do, but then is it justifiable to want to keep all the presuppositions you have in your consciousness and still presume to think about your consciousness without any presuppositions. ...for if the god is absolutely different from a human being, then a human being is absolutely different from the god—but how is the understanding to grasp this? At this point we seem to stand at a paradox. Just to come to know that the god is different, man needs the god and then comes to know that the god is absolutely different from him (p. 46).

Next, Kierkegaard steps beyond the epistemological dilemma of the division of thinking and being by positing sin.

What then is the difference? Indeed, what else but sin, since the difference, the absolute difference, must have been caused by the individual himself.... Thus the paradox becomes even more terrible, or the same paradox has the duplexity by which it manifests itself as the absolute—negatively, by bringing into prominence the absolute difference of sin and, positively, by wanting to annul this absolute difference in the absolute equality [the incarnation] (p. 47).

Thus, the epistemological problem is also an existential and dogmatic issue, which returns us to the subjective issue of cognition, which Plato approached with his theory of recollection, wherein all knowledge is already at hand and simply needs a (human) teacher to extract it. Kierkegaard substitutes the god-teacher for the human teacher. But sin interferes with the teaching process. The Socratic process excluded volition. The answer to ignorance was knowledge, which resides in each man, needing only the prompting of the teacher. The Christian process includes a limited volition. The answer to ignorance is for the god to remove the sin. Four days after Philosophical Fragments appeared, Kierkegaard published The Concept of Anxiety, where he would further explore the dogmatic issue of sin from a psychological standpoint.

The epistemological paradox is so profound that volition becomes misconstrued, and brings about its own demise.

But is a paradox such as this conceivable?... The understanding certainly cannot think it, cannot hit upon it on its own, and if it is proclaimed, the understanding cannot understand it and merely detects that it will likely be its downfall. To that extent, the understanding has strong objections to it; and yet, on the other hand, in its paradoxical passion the understanding does indeed will its own downfall. But the paradox, too, wills this downfall of the understanding, and thus the two have a mutual understanding, but this understanding is present only in the moment of passion (p. 47).

The Socratic view of ignorance discounted the role of volition. If a man knows the truth, he will do it. If a man does wrong, it is because of ignorance. Kierkegaard extends this ignorance to include the function of will and the concept of sin. Our sin actually brings about the downfall of our understanding, so that we, like our counterparts under the Platonic system, are truly ignorant—until the teacher comes. But Kierkegaard introduces the theme of passion, which he addresses in other places, most notably in Two Ages. Passion is the full activity of the self engaged in the cognitive process. It is not passive or self-referential, but is energized toward God. In Philosophical Fragments Kierkegaard likens this passion to erotic love when it is motivated by self-love: it wills its own downfall.

Appendix: Offense at the Paradox (An Acoustical Illusion)

Kierkegaard continues the simile, comparing the learner, who is trapped in sin, to a lover. The "paradox and the understanding" must each recognize their difference, and unless this encounter occurs, there is unhappiness. However, if understanding is repelled at the paradox, it becomes offense. Kierkegaard would pursue the theme of offense in more detail in Practice In Christianity, using the pseudonym Anti-Climacus, who is dialectically related to, and superior to, Johannes Climacus. "At its deepest level, all offense is a suffering" (p. 49).

We can, however, very well distinguish between suffering offense and active offense, yet without forgetting that suffering offense is always active to the extent that it cannot altogether allow itself to be annihilated (for offense is always an act, not an event), and active offense is always weak enough to be incapable of tearing itself loose from the cross to which it is nailed or to pull out the arrow with which it is wounded (p. 50).

In a footnote to this, Kierkegaard distinguished between offense, which is passive, and taking offense, which is active. The "Acoustical Illusion" refers to how the paradox "resounds" within the offense, since the offense can only result from it.

So the offense is not the origination of the understanding—far from it, for then the understanding must also have been able to originate the paradox. No, the offense comes into existence with the paradox; if it comes into existence, here again we have the moment, around which everything indeed revolves. Let us recapitulate. If we do not assume the moment then we go back to Socrates, and it was precisely from him that we wanted to take leave in order to discover something. If the moment is posited, the paradox is there, for in its most abbreviated form the paradox can be called the moment. Through the moment, the learner becomes untruth; the person who knew himself becomes confused about himself and instead of self-knowledge he acquires the consciousness of sin etc., for just as soon as we assume the moment, everything goes by itself (p. 51).

Kierkegaard employs three different concepts in this work: the occasion, the condition, and the moment. The occasion, again, is the point in time in which the learner relies on the teacher in his cognitive task. The condition can only be provided by the teacher, and is the means whereby the learner can learn. The moment refers to a particular element, a part of the whole, which in this case is the paradox. It is qualified temporally since it is provisional, based in part on the volition of the learner. The paradox precedes our understanding. When we encounter this moment of the paradox, we are further grounded in a lack of understanding. This invites offense. This occasion can lead one in faith to the teacher (the god), who provides the condition for knowledge, which is necessary due to the learner's being in a state of sin. If we do not allow for the moment of the paradox, we are still back in the Socratic, since the volitional reaction to offense has been excluded.

IV: The Situation of the Contemporary Follower

Here Kierkegaard returns to the theme of the god as teacher, and that the god himself provides the means for the teaching to be accomplished. A logical extension of this view is that the crowds around Jesus were not necessarily disciples. Thus, Kierkegaard seeks to demonstrate that a contemporary of Christ would also need to approach Christ in faith. So how does the learner learn from the god?

How then does the learner come to an understanding with this paradox, for we do not say that he is supposed to understand the paradox but is only to understand that this is the paradox. We have already shown how this occurs. It occurs when the understanding and the paradox happily encounter each other in the moment, when the understanding steps aside and the paradox gives itself, and the third something, the something in which this occurs (for it does not occur through the understanding, which is discharged, or through the paradox, which gives itself—consequently in something), is that happy passion to which we shall now give a name, although for us it is not a matter of the name. We shall call it faith. This passion, then, must be that above-mentioned condition that the paradox provides. Let us not forget this: if the paradox does not provide the condition, then the learner is in possession of it; but if he is in possession of the condition, then he is eo ipso himself the truth, and the moment is only the moment of occasion (see Chapter I).

It is easy enough for the contemporary learner to acquire detailed historical information. But let us not forget that in regard to the birth of the god [Christ] he will be in the very same situation as the follower at second hand, and if we insist upon absolutely exact historical knowledge, only one human being would be completely informed, namely, the woman by whom he let himself be born. Consequently, it is easy for the contemporary learner to become a historical eyewitness, but the trouble is that knowing a historical fact—indeed, knowing all the historical facts with the trustworthiness of an eyewitness—by no means makes the witness a follower, which is understandable, because such knowledge means nothing more to him than the historical (p. 59).

Kierkegaard continues that faith is not knowledge, nor is it preoccupation with a teaching, but with the teacher. Moreover, because the god as teacher must provide the condition, then faith is not a matter of the will. This, then, is the main difference between the Socratic method and that of Christ. In the Socratic method, the teacher can ultimately be dispensed with. Not so with Christ (p. 62).

Interlude: Is the Past More Necessary than the Future? Or Has the Possible, by Having Become Actual, Become More Necessary that it Was?

The first section is entitled "Coming Into Existence". Here Kierkegaard reasons that existence arises out of freedom, not necessity.

How is that changed which comes into existence, or what is the change (kinesis) of coming into existence? All other change presupposes the existence of that in which change is taking place, even though the change is that of ceasing to be in existence. Not so with coming into existence, for if that which comes into existence does not in itself remained unchanged in the change of coming into existence, then the coming into existence is not this coming into existence but another, and the question leads to a metabasis eis allo genos [change to another type].... This change, then, is not in essence but in being and is from not existing to existing. But this non-being that is abandoned by that which comes into existence must also exist, for otherwise "that which comes into existence would not remain unchanged in the coming into existence".... Can the necessary come into existence? Coming into existence is a change, but since the necessary is always related to itself and is related to itself in the same way, it cannot be changed at all.... The change of coming into existence is actuality; the transition takes place in freedom. No coming into existence is necessary.... Nothing coming into existence comes into existence by way of a ground, but everything by way of a cause. Every cause ends in a freely acting cause (p. 73ff.).

Kierkegaard touches upon or alludes to several related categories in this section: being, non-being, existence, change, essence, possibility, actuality, ideality, and necessity. First, being is not the same as essence. This is a hallmark of existentialism in general. There seems to be a comparison between actual versus ideal being. In a footnote on p. 42f. Kierkegaard denies Spinoza's degrees of being, and differentiates between actual and ideal being. "But as soon as I speak ideally about being, I am speaking no longer about being but about essence. The necessary has the highest ideality; therefore it is. But this being is its essence."

He seems to posit two types of change: a thing that changes from non-being into being, and a thing that already has being, i. e. exists, and changes into another type. When something comes into existence (out of non-existence) there is no change in its essence. This implies—and in fact he openly states—that non-being exists: "But this non-being that is abandoned by that which comes into existence must also exist...." What does Kierkegaard mean by this? His main point seems to be that since, as he says, everything that comes into being has come into being out of freedom and not necessity, then each thing must have the freedom of not having come into being. A thing could only have this freedom if it is not necessitated. If then it has some kind of free potential before it exists (as non-being?) then it remains outside of necessity. It is difficult to know how serious Kierkegaard is here. Plato already worked through the fallacies of calling non-being an existent thing simply because one could name it. But surely, Kierkegaard is aware of this. His main concern is being grounded in freedom. In this same year (1844) Kierkegaard wrote The Concept of Anxiety, which in part dealt with this theme. Adam possessed freedom before the fall and was under no necessity to sin.

In the next brief section "The Historical", Kierkegaard says what might seem too obvious to state: that all that has passed is historical. But when we speak of the historical, we usually want to enter into a dialectical relationship with it, for instance, to examine it, question it, to understand the meaning of an historical event. Kierkegaard says, "The difficulty arises because nature is too abstract to be dialectical, in the stricter sense of the word, with respect to time." History does not have a point, or a destiny, as in Hegel's Zeitgeist or some theory of historicism. History is what has come into being from non-being. Kierkegaard is trying to firmly make his case that one cannot enter into a dialectical relationship with the historical, much less prove an historical event, for example, the resurrection, so as to rest one's faith in it, or derive an eternal happiness from it.

The next section is "The Past". That the past cannot be changed is obvious. But Kierkegaard asks, "Is this Unchangeableness the Unchangeableness of necessity?"

The past can be regarded as necessary only if one forgets that it has come into existence.... The future has not occurred as yet, but it is not, because of that, less necessary than the past, inasmuch as the past did not become necessary by having occurred, but, on the contrary, by having occurred, it demonstrated that it was not necessary. If the past had become necessary, the opposite conclusion could not be drawn with respect to the future, but on the contrary it would follow that the future would also be necessary (p. 77).

The final section of this chapter is entitled "The Apprehension of the Past". This is one of the central themes of the work. How can one make a leap of faith towards an historical event? And secondly, how can one apprehend an event that has passed?

It is presumed, however, that there is knowledge of the past—how is this knowledge acquired? Because the historical intrinsically has the illusiveness of coming into existence, it cannot be sensed directly and immediately. The immediate impression of a natural phenomenon or of an event is not the impression of the historical, for the coming into existence cannot be sensed immediately—but only the presence. But the presence of the historical has the coming into existence within itself—otherwise it is not the presence of the historical.

Immediate sensation and immediate cognition cannot deceive. This alone indicates that the historical cannot become the object of sense perception or of immediate cognition, because the historical has in itself that very illusiveness that is the illusiveness of coming into existence.... Belief is the opposite of doubt. Belief and doubt are not two kinds of knowledge that can be defined in continuity with each other, for neither of them is a cognitive act, and they are opposite passions. Belief is a sense for coming into existence, and doubt is a protest against any conclusion that wants to go beyond immediate sensation and immediate knowledge (p. 81).

Kierkegaard treated this theme in his unfinished work Johannes Climacus, namely, the disparateness of thinking and being. If we could receive direct, that is, unmediated knowledge of something we would not be deceived, nor need faith for that matter. Since we cannot directly perceive an historical event, reason, sense perception and even doubt are useless. Reason requires sensory data from the event, but the event is long passed, so there is no sensory data. Lastly, doubt is, as Kierkegaard has just said, "a protest against any conclusion that wants to go beyond immediate sensation". It is reason that shuts down when it realizes that sensory data is absent. Faith arising from subjective knowledge is the only valid approach to the claims of religion.

V: The Follower At Second Hand

Kierkegaard returns to the theme of whether belief would be more difficult for someone nearer to the historical events as opposed to someone centuries later, and answers in the negative.

There is no follower at second hand. The first and the latest generation are essentially alike, except that the latter generation has the occasion in the report of the contemporary generation, whereas the contemporary generation has the occasion in its immediate contemporaneity and therefore owes no generation anything (p. 104f.).

(More notes forthcoming).