In 1843 Soren Kierkegaard published Either/Or, an 800 page book that was like no other book that anyone had ever read. Many books have been written about his books just as many have been written about the writings of Shakespeare, Bacon, Descartes and Locke. Kierkegaard wrote the following:
When you belong to the “readers’ sect,” when in one way or another, you get a reputation for being a diligent and attentive reader, the supposition grows among other people that you probably will become an author of sorts, for, as Hamann says: “Out of children grow people, out of virgins grow brides, out of readers grow writers.” Either/Or Part I, Swenson p. 243
To write a book is the easiest of all things in our time, if, as is customary one takes ten older works on the same subject and out of them puts together an eleventh on the same subject. In this way one gains the honor of being an author just as easily as one gains, according to Holberg’s advice, the rank of being a practiced physician and the possession of his fellow citizens’ money, trust, and esteem by getting a new black suit and writing on one’s door: “John Doe Physician.” Prefaces, Soren Kierkegaard 1844 translated by Todd W. Nichol, 1997, Princeton University Press p. 35
As more people read the same books over time they write books about those books. First one book is written then another and another and so on. The initial idea was good but it becomes changed with all the commentary and interpretation. It becomes difficult to get back to the basics. It becomes a question of authority. Would King James’s Bible be the only Authorized Bible in England? Would Luther’s Bible be the only Authorized Bible in Germany? Would Protestantism rule or Catholicism?
René Descartes (1596—1650) Frenchman – Father of Modern Philosophy The “old” philosophy is Aristotle’s -
He wrote Meditations on First Philosophy, subtitled, In which the existence of God and the immortality of the soul are demonstrated.
Passions of the Soul
Oliver Cromwell 1599 – 1658 Executioner of King Charles I
John Locke (1632-1704) Englishman – Father of Liberalism
Joseph Butler 1692-1752 Presbyterian Bishop
Browning and Butler by John Churton Collins (1912)
Kierkegaard read Descartes works in college, just like students do today. Modern philosophy takes its beginning point, or as Kierkegaard likes to say “point of departure” from Descartes’ Meditations. Kierkegaard took an interest in everything just like college students do today. He couldn’t see how any student would ever say he didn’t want to do his lessons. Kierkegaard saw it as a duty so he studied diligently.
The Thirty Years‘ Wars. 1618-1648 & 1733-1763. Wars of religion or wars for political power? The Catholics against the Protestants or the French against the Germans? These wars had disastrous results for the area now known as Germany.
The Thirty Years War You Tube
The Thirty Years War by Friedrich Schiller 1759-1805 Parts one-six (audio) The Danes were all reading German books when Kierkegaard was in college. Schiller was a good friend of Johann Goethe 1749-1832
Descartes decided it would be best if he could find a method by which he could come to believe in God without having to fight his neighbors about his belief. He proposed that an individual, like himself, could reflect upon himself. He could try to discover what he thought he knew and differentiate between that and what he knew he knew. He could then live by the light of his understanding and try to gain more solid ground from that point on. He wondered how he could even know if he existed. Nothing was presupposed, not even his own existence. He’s famous for several lines of thought. Je pense, donc je suis; English: I think, therefore I am – this was the same way he advocated that the sciences should discover new ideas. They should continually say, lets say we didn’t know anything about x now let’s see what we can discover through observation. In Kierkegaard’s time (1811-1855) philosophers were thinking that everything must be doubted in order to get a fresh start so they set about the task.
Coincidentally, wars of religion were being fought in England at the same time. John Locke tried to find a method for peace in England just as Descartes had in France. History, on the quick, says these wars were all religious wars. But that means these people were one dimensional. People commonly say that Christianity was the cause of all these wars. Take a look and a listen and see what you think. I don’t know if Kierkegaard read Locke or not but I do know that every university students learns about him. Locke thought along the sames lines as Descartes. Lets go back to the beginning. He argued that human beings are born with a “tabula rasa” blank slate. So every individual begins life with nothing written on their minds or consciousness or soul or spirit or whatever and wherever it is that experience leaves its mark.
His first conclusion is that the child’s mental condition at birth is appropriately figured by “white paper, void of all characters,” or, as it was afterwards expressed in Some Thoughts, “wax to be moulded and fashioned as one pleases.” Amongst other things the similes were intended to deny that man is born in possession of an equipment of general principles which spontaneously reveal themselves as occasion offers. ” It is an established opinion amongst some men that there are in the understanding certain innate principles, some primary notions, characters as it were, stamped upon the mind of man, which the soul receives in its very first being and brings into the world with it.” Against this established opinion Locke maintained his figure of the blank sheet or tabula rasa; ideas as they existed in an individual mind were the consequence of ‘ that mind’s individual history. Experience is the writer who covers the blank sheet with characters, the sculptor who moulds the wax into well-defined shapes.
p. 6 Educational Writings
John Locke wrote three letters concerning toleration in 1685. The first letter is the one scholars discuss the most. Below is a link to the letter and a reading from librivox.org.
Below is the audio recording of the letter.
Now the works of Descartes have taken on their own authority. One could say, “Will Descartes rule or Locke?” Their works are the authorized readings in most Universities. (Unity in Diversity=many views in one place). They’re both talking about how one might go about finding out a truth that has some meaning for himself or herself. Professors seem to apply their principles on a universal scale so that everyone reads the same books.
Kierkegaard wanted to get away from authorities because they become rigid and don’t allow for growth. He accepted the authority of the Bible but he didn’t want the book mediated by the views of Descartes or other philosophers or theologians. He read his assignments with the spiritual element in mind. He said to himself:
“It is spirit to ask about two things. (1) Is what is being said possible? (2) Am I able to do it?
It is to lack spirit to ask about two things: (1) Did it actually happen? (2) Has my neighbor done it; has he actually done it?
In asking with regard to my own actuality, I am asking about its possibility, except that this possibility is not esthetically and intellectually disinterested but is a thought-actuality that is related to my own personal actuality-namely that I am able to carry it out. The how of the truth is precisely the truth.
Concluding Postscript to Philosophical Fragments, Soren Kierkegaard 1846, Hong translation p. 322-323
It’s possible that Descartes and Locke were successful in appropriating what they thought and putting it into use. Kierkegaard didn’t judge them by saying, “Was Descartes a Christian?” That was between Descartes and God and Kierkegaard didn’t want to meddle in their business arrangement. Kierkegaard just thought about coming to his own understanding of his relationship with God and living by the light he had received.