D. Anthony Storm's Commentary on Kierkegaard

Second Period: Indirect Communication (1843-46)

Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions

  • Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions
  • Tre Taler ved tænkte Leiligheder
  • 1845
  • KW10, SKS5, SV5

During the years of his indirect, pseudonymous philosophical works, Kierkegaard published direct, religious discourses under his own name, sometimes published on the same day or in close proximity to their dialectical partners. For an overview of the discourses see Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses. Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions, otherwise known as Thoughts on Crucial Situations, was published concurrently with Stages on Life's Way.

In Stages On Life's Way Kierkegaard posited three stages of life, or spheres of existence: the esthetic, the ethical and the religious. While he favored the term "stages" earlier in his writings, we are not to conceive of them necessarily as periods of life that one proceeds through in sequence, but rather, as paradigms of existence. Moreover, many individuals might not traverse a certain stage, for example, the religious.

The esthetic sphere is primarily that of self-gratification. The esthete enjoys art, literature and music. Even the Bible can be appreciated esthetically and Christ portrayed as a tragic hero. The ethical sphere of existence applies to those who sense the claims of duty to God, country, or mankind in general.

The religious sphere is divided into Religiousness A and B. Religiousness A apples to the individual who feels a sense of guilt before God. It is a religiousness of immanence. Religiousness B is transcendental in nature. It may be summed up by St. Paul's phrase: "In Christ". It consists of a radical conversion to Christ in the qualitative leap of faith. Kierkegaard also mentions intermediate stages, each of which he calls a confinium, or boundary. Irony lies between the esthetic and the ethical, and humor lies between the ethical and the religious.

Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions consists of three discourses, each of which corresponds to one of the three stages. Thus the work, though devotional, has a correspondence with the philosophical works. A confession refers to the past, and hence participates with the concept of recollection. The first portion of Stages On Life's Way is introduced with an essay on recollection, which relates to the past, and specifically to Plato's theory of recollection. A marriage refers to the ethical future, and participates in repetition. This conforms to the pseudonym Judge William's long work on marriage entitled "Reflections On Marriage". Part three, the religious portion of Stages On Life's Way, is entitled "Guilty?"/"Not guilty?", and relates to the religious since it is on the end (goal, purpose) of life. "At a Graveside" also relates to the (literal) end of life. Notwithstanding the thematic relationship these discourses bear to the philosophical works, they are dialectically distinct, being decidedly religious discourses.

1: On the Occasion of a Confession

(Notes forthcoming).

2: On the Occasion of a Wedding

This has as its theme the text, "Love Conquers Everything". The ethical stage, as we have said, is tied to the future (see Repetition), since marriage requires the commitment of love.

And yet, love must here become a duty. And what is more transparent and intent upon the future than a sacred promise, and what is less concerned with the future than the presence of love in the lovers! And yet, love here demands a promise.... But it is a free matter, and just as the lovers become free by being bound to one another, so is this step a resolve of the will (p. 43).

Though ostensibly the biblical theme of love conquering all refers to God's love, this love is to thrive in the marital relationship. Kierkegaard's main theme is that love has conquered, and therefore we must simply persist in that love. The battle is already one, but requires commitment. He then compares the relationship of the poet, who is in the esthetic stage, to love. The poet is concerned esthetically with love, specifically with erotic love. Mere erotic (poetic) love ultimately fails and is recollected esthetically.

There is the poet's sadness. For the poet is no proud and haughty person, but his soul extends into the infinite. And when he must say to an individual, or of an individual, "No, it is not he," or "It was not she," then he has no wish to offend. Himself distressed, he seeks the consolation of song. Therefore we must not be angry with the poet; he loves existence and perhaps feel the most pain that this or that individual was the rare example. "And yet," says the poet, "no one can make himself this rare thing. He is a paragon, and thereby the miracle." Now, if this paragon existed, and one should talk with him about what this address is concerned with, he simply would not understand it, nor would he answer as that objector answered, for no speech can disturb so rare a genius. But an illusory echo from poets' songs, a delusive repetition of poetic works, this he finds disturbing.... Who performs [the wedding ceremony]? Is it a poet? No, it is a man of authority (p. 57).

In his journals Kierkegaard often called himself a poet, with specific reference to his philosophical works. He also repeatedly said that he was "without authority", especially in religious matters.

Now the young man thinks, misled by an accidental experience, that when the external circumstances of prosperity and happy relations of life favor love, then it is secure, and he does not perhaps consider that the liberty of action which the mental state thus attains may generate difficulties.... Now one becomes despondent because the repetition about him makes him bored with his own; now another's first happiness makes him impatient; now he compares, now he remembers, now he loses—who could ever finish recounting all this; no address can do it, and this makes little difference, but no human being can do it, and that is what is terrifying. Only one power is capable of doing it; that is resolution, taking heed in time.... And love is the best adornment for the beloved, but resolution is a power in the heart of him who is imperfect. So the resolution of marriage is that love conquers all (p. 59f.).

Resolution is not only ethical commitment, it is passionate commitment. Kierkegaard repeatedly said that the problem with his time period was that people lacked passion. They possessed mere self-referential thought. Kierkegaard moves on from the ethical to the religious, in anticipation of the third discourse.

And then there is required for the resolution of marriage a real conception of life and of oneself; but herein there is already contained the second great requirement, which is like the first: a real conception of God. The one corresponds to the other; for no one can have a real conception of God without having a corresponding one about life and himself, nor can he have a real conception of himself without a similar one about himself.... The lovers are happy, and on the day of happiness, one is surely nearest to God. But there is required a real conception of God, there is required an understanding between God and the happy individual, and thus there is required a language in which they can speak with one another. The language is resolution, the only language in which God wills to have intercourse with man.... A wise man is a human being, and so something external, and in so far someone may say with truth, even if he talked foolishly, that he had talked with a wise man; but God exists only inwardly (p. 63f.).

In Kierkegaard's writings we are ultimately responsible to God in our inward being as individuals. But since this is a discourse on marriage, he means to show that the inner talk with God is necessary to sustain marriage. God's love sustains marital love. Judge William, by contrast, is apparently ignorant of this inwardness. He practically confounds the ethical and the religious. Here, Kierkegaard can speak more directly that truth is inwardness. For more on subjective, inward truth see Concluding Unscientific Postscript.

3: At a Graveside

(Notes forthcoming).