Kierkegaard's concept of spheres of existence
Gwaltney, Marilyn E.
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The purpose of this thesis is to discover the meaning of, and relationship among, what Kierkegaard refers to in his writings as the aesthetic, the ethical and the religious spheres of existence. The sources consulted cover the majority of Kierkegaard's pseudonymous writings. In the first chapter it is shown that Kierkegaard developed the concept of spheres of existence in an effort to show that philosophical categories must be derived from the structure of existence rather than the structure of thought. Contrary to Hegel, Kierkegaard maintains that in existence thought and being can never be identified, but are dialectically related in the sense of being in dialogue with each other. It is the principle of mediation to which Kierkegaard most objects. The consequence of the identification of thought and being is to put them into an immediate relationship to each other and thereby remove from thought its traditional philosophical function of elucidating and directing being. Kierkegaard uses the word existence to refer to the giveness of being, the facticity of the individual. It is in recognizing that the Hegelian attitude toward the dialectical character of existence represents a possible mode of consciousness and that his own attitude represents an opposing mode that Kierkegaard distinguishes between the aesthetic and the ethical spheres of existence. The third sphere of existence, the religious, arises from the possibility that consciousness may relate itself to that which underlies existence, i.e. God. The identification of the spheres of existence with the self-conscious development of human subjectivity is further supported by Kierkegaard's discussion of the self in Sickness Unto Death. Kierkegaard maintains that if one is to secure a position in the flux that is existence, consciousness must cease to be passive and establish itself through resolution. Hence a sphere of existence is defined not only by its moce of consciousness but by its telos. In the second chapter it is shown that the aesthetic consciousness is an immediate, non-reflexive consciousness which has its telos in the external world. It reveals itself as an essentially unstable and unfree consciousness in that it is vulnerable to events over which it has no control. This vulnerability is the sign of despair, which is the occasion for consciousness to heal itself in self-choosing or abdicate its task to exercise itself as free spirit in the dialogue of thought and being. In the phenomenon of irony Kierkegaard finds an illustration of what he calls "boundary zones" to the spheres of existence, by which he means the consciousness of the ideal and all it involves without the choice of it. In the "boundary zone" there is no telos in the proper sense as consciousness entertains the telos of both spheres it bounds. In the third chapter ethical consciousness is seen to be a reflexive, self-choosing consciousness. The self that is chosen is personal existence, which reveals itself as given, in virtue of which one has a history and because of which one must repent. The ethical telos is the eternal validity of the self, which reveals itself as the universal human. Kierkegaard characterizes the ethical choice as absolute, and thus, even though the choice is of subjectivity, the qualification of absolute rules out the possibility of capricious and anarchic subjectivity. such an absolute choice, Kierkegaard believes, must give continuity to the self and must recognize its relation or dependence on something other than itself as it immediately is. With the subjectivity of choice arises the danger of temptation in the form of the possibility of a teleological suspension of the ethical. With this possibility arises the awareness that the self did not create itself but was created by Another, to Whom consciousness may establish a relationship. At this point consciousness may again enter a "boundary zone" of existence as the humorous consciousness, prior to the decision to relate itself to God. In the fourth chapter it is seen that consciousness, in its awareness of itself as dependent is also aware of itself as separated from that on which it defends, and hence that it can assume two attitudes toward this separation, that of resignation and that of faith. When the religious consciousness is characterized by resignation, Kierkegaard calls it religiousness A. When it is characterized by faith, he calls it religiousness B. In religiousness A the dialectical character of existence becomes fully explicit and consciousness becomes a sufferin; consciousness because the continuity it desires cannot be achieved in existence. Hence, in religiousness A consciousness resigns itself to a life of strife. In religiousness A consciousness has arrived as close to the truth as it is able through its own effort. Religiousness B is possible only if the condition for truth is given by God. The condition is faith, not as an exercise of thought, but as a mode of being. The temporality and finitude that characterized personal existence and separate it from its eternal happiness are made compatible with the religious telos in the person of Christ. That is, Christ is the only true mediction. However, Kierkegaard emphasizes that belief in this mediation is possible only at the offense of thought. In the last chapter it is asserted that the significance of Kierkegaard's conception of spheres of existence is that existence is not absurd, and that while man is not self-creating, he is self-choosing.
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