Hesperus is Bosphorus

A group blog by philosophers in and from Turkey

Kierkegaard in Antalya

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In February, I had the honour to be invited to speak at the Antalya Philosophy Days, Ethics, Politics and Otherness on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey.  A very beautiful location in which neighbouring mountains could be seen from the Atatürk Cultural Centre, where the event was held.  I had the opportunity to meet great people from the Antalya municipality, and the Department of Philosophy at Akdeniz (Mediterranean) University, in Antalya, along with many other people in Turkish philosophy.  

I’m still thinking about the issues in the paper I wrote and I’ve recently started some more work on that paper, and linked papers, so this seems a pod moment to share a précis of what I was talking about at Antalya.  I am pasting the proposal I sent to the Antalya organisers before, without revision, because it is a continuous bit of writing, rather than staccato summary, and I still think it conveys what I am trying to do in my work on Kierkegaard as a thinker about subjectivity, ethics, literature and politics.  Comments are very welcome. 

In Two Ages, Kierkegaard is concerned with the difference between the revolutionary and the reflective, through its appearance in a novel.  This intersects with a concern regarding the difference between antiquity and modernity, to be found in his thoughts about ancient and modern drama.  This is part of Kierkegaard’s general examination of subjectivity with regard to the aesthetic, the ethical and the religious; the particular, the universal and the ethical.  In this context, the theme is developed in Two Ages of the need to combine prudence and infinite enthusiasm, going back to Socrates.  That issue is taken up by Samuel Fleischacker in A Third Concept of Liberty (1999).  Fleischacker discusses Kierkegaard with reference to the need to present the theoretical through the particular; and with reference to the difficulty of a Christian in visiting the Deer park, given the way that the religious person is concerned with the absolute, and keeping to it. Both these issues appear in Two Ages with regard to the relation between prudence and the absolute.  Though, Fleischacker draws attention to a tension, he lacks Kierkegaard’s sense of the paradox, of the force of conflict and the necessity of that conflict.  Fleischacker’s account draws on Kant’s critique of aesthetic judgement, but is less engaged with literature than Kierkegaard, and in general Fleischacker is dismissive of any strongly aesthetic point of view, or any deeply subjective point of view.  He offers a way of bridging liberty as freedom from external constraint, and liberty as self-mastery, through a third concept of phronetic mastery, leaning towards prudence over enthusiasm.  That harmonising third term is not in the spirit of Kierkegaard, as for him it is opposition, and living through that opposition subjectively which is important.  He demonstrates the nature of the modern public, along with its attitudes to ethics and politics with a deep unifying argument, in the terms of paradox.  The problem Kierkegaard identifies at the basis of any understanding of the political world, or any understanding of the public domain, is one of equality, excellence and envy.  In antiquity, the excellence of a relative few apparently undermining inevitably stimulates envy, dealt with both though comic drama and through ritualised exclusion, as in the Athenian institution of ostracism.  That still allows the community to be shaped by the excellence of the few, by emphasising it in a negative way,  so resisting the emptiness of formal equality of individuals gathered in an aggregate.  In the modern world, Kierkegaard finds an alternation between the revolutionary reshaping of society though form, passion and immediacy; and a reflective emptying out of form, passion and immediacy so that we have only formalism, prudentialism, and reflection.  A public has emerged which cannot accept excellence, and insists on the superiority of majority opinion to any form of excellence.  Associations are experienced as negative limits, since the public is a pure aggregate which cannot form itself in associations of a positive kind.  Kierkegaard’s response includes a commitment to the role of literature in giving shape to the chaos of the times, and for maintaining enthusiasm behind the mask of prudence.  Kierkegaard suggests that monarchy rejected in revolution, can only be accepted in the modern world through its reduction to mere symbol.  He is seeking antique substance and excellence, along with the form and passion of revolution, in oder to transform modern reflectiveness, through concrete institutions, and rules, which recognise individuality.   The loss of the antique vision cannot be simply negative for Kierkegaard, since he sees it as connected with the Christian distinction between the religious and the worldly.  What fits Kierkegaard’s preconceptions is a politics, connected with an aesthetics, which draws us to the absolute through social forms that do not substitute for the absolute or obliterate the individual.  These are the ways we encounter subjectivity and the problems of communication.


Written by Barry Stocker

April 11, 2012 at 7:22 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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