Monday, May 07, 2007

FEAR & TREMBLING: "Preliminary Expectoration"

On re-reading this text after many years, I am struck by how much I have been marked by it, how much I have over the years been discovering my own question in the traces that this text had long ago left in my mind and spirit. I confess that it is not only an intriguing and deeply moving text to me, but I also that I am convinced it bears some extremely important truth about faith, and therefore, it seems to me, about hope and about the meaning of our humanity. At the same time, I wonder whether this truth is limited by the polemical, anti-Hegelian context of the argument – like so much European philosophy of the 20th century, I would be inclined to say. In mid-century France, at least, it seems that Hegel’s claim that reason itself was identical to his system – that Hegelian philosophy (or its Marxist development) was the unsurpassable culmination of Reason – was practically a given among those who favored it and, especially, among those who opposed it. (Thus Sartre: Marxism is incontournable.)

This is not at all to say that I would confine Kierkegaard to the limits of, say, Sartre. (And not to say, for that matter, that Sartre can teach us nothing.) For one thing, Kierkegaard’s insights into pre-modern philosophy (Socratic philosophy, broadly speaking) are often very profound. Still, my very tentative question, the main point I need to understand better in order to know what my faith has to do with what Kierkegaard is describing, or, rather, evoking, concerns the prominence of the category of “the absurd.” Is the moment of the absurd really a necessary moment in faith, or is this rhetoric a part of an anti-Hegelian polemic that is not necessarily central to the deepest question? This is what I would like to know. I suppose I am enough of a lingering Thomist, in a very general sense, that I resist this category of “the absurd.”

It occurred to me on this re-reading that this “Preliminary Expectoration” can be read as Kierkegaard’s dialogue with “philistinism.” K. is one moved by greatness, by the extraordinary. “I am not unfamiliar with what the world has admired as great and magnanimous.” (33c) But beyond all worldly admiration is faith; one might say it is truly “beyond praise;” it is beyond the categories human are competent to praise; it is incommensurable with worldly greatness. And yet it must be praised.

I’ve been saying, “Kierkegaard,” but of course I should say, “Johannes de Silentio.” I am at a loss as to the meaning of this distancing from Kierkegaard’s ownmost voice. When JdS says that he cannot understand faith, or make the movements of faith, does this leave open the possibility that K does understand and make them? Is this an “aesthetic” presentation of a trans-ethical truth; somehow an impersonal presentation of what is most personal, “subjective,” existential? (I read what the editors say about this in the Historical Introduction, but I’m not sure that I follow it.) So, with this caveat, I continue to refer to the author as “K.”

Kierkegaard seeks to praise what is beyond praise: faith. Faith is more heroic than heroism and more transcendent than the object of pure philosophic contemplation. K. does not understand it and cannot account for it … and yet he is sure of its greatness. So great a marvel is the knight of faith that “I have not found a single authentic instance…I have not found anyone like that…” (38c,e) But on second thought “every second person may be such an instance.” (38c) Can it be that the “all bourgeois philistinism I see in life” is in fact the “marvel” of faith (51c), that what is most extraordinary is altogether at home in the utterly ordinary? This is the possibility that one might say haunts this whole essay – the possibility that the meanings of the ordinary and of the extraordinary are somehow completely scrambled, at least insofar as the appear before the contemplation of a writer with a taste for the extraordinary, a writer keen to praise himself in his affinity with the extraordinary. (Ah, now maybe this is why K needs JdS: the ordinariness, the philistinism of faith cannot speak for itself; and so it needs an extraordinary, literary spokesman … but then this spokesman must miss something essential in his taste for extraordinary, the heroic, the splendid – “But I do not have faith; this courage I lack… my joy is not he joy of faith.” (34b-c) And so perhaps the polemic of the “absurd” could be ascribed to a necessity of this literary-philosophical standpoint, concerned as it is with “greatness.”)


The opening paradox is acute: faith as a “work.” “Only one who works gets bread.” But this “work” is precisely that of “anxiety” and faith: the work of abandoning the logic of works.

(35f. :)Philosophy is finally the sacrifice of the finite for the eternal: it is resignation. This is profoundly true, I think, of the fundamental spirit of philosophy, only masked somewhat by the transformative, humanistic project of the moderns. (Hegel is here, as always, a synthesizer: humanistic transformation … but finally as an object of … contemplation!) The genius of faith appears in the contrast with this spirit of resignation. In sacrificing Isaac, Abraham does not resign himself to his loss, as is shown by his immediate joy in receiving him: Abraham doesn’t miss a beat: he performs what appears to be the most extraordinary sacrifice, but then lands on his feat, as prosaically as can be, loving his son as fathers love sons – not otherwise, one might say, but more: “he received Isaac more joyfully than the first time.”

This seems to me perhaps K’s central, his finest insight – or let’s just say my favorite. The one who is willing to sacrifice everything is the same one who receives it perfectly “in stride.” The philosopher, the “knight of infinite resignation,” knows how to let go of the finite; he loses the princess “because in the eternal sense he recollects her… he has grasped the deep secret that even in loving another person one ought to be sufficient to oneself.”(44c-d). “The act of resignation does nto require faith, for what I gain in resignation is my eternal consciousness.” (48b) But the knight of faith sacrifices everything and yet somehow renounces nothing. “Temporality, finitude – that is what it is all about.” (49c)

To the bafflement of the poet-philosopher, the man who praises himself by praising what is great, it turns out that the category of greatness collapses: the “contrast to existence [transcendence, otherness, the extraordinary] expresses itself as the most beautiful and secure harmony with it [immanence, the ordinary.]” (50b) Meaning does not show up in the world hierarchically; the truly other is somehow ordinary because it is incommensurable.

For this reason K’s richest example may not be the most dramatic (the princess) but the most apparently prosaic: all praise to the [apparent] philistine who fully expects his wife to have a roast lamb’s head with vegetables waiting for him. But she doesn’t, and “curiously enough, he is just the same.” (40b) This is the man JdS envies – whom he understands to achieve everything “by virtue of the absurd. (40d-e) Elsewhere “the absurd” is presented as faith in something impossible, but here, in this perhaps subtler analysis, the essence of faith seems to be the ability to except the finite as a gift of the infinite - beings as a gift of Being, I’m tempted to say – but, unlike Heidegger, really to accept the gift, with “delight in it as if finitude were the surest thing of all.” Everything common or ordinary: a roast, the sight of a rat scurrying or children playing, even an interesting little capitalist calculation -- all this presents itself “as a new creation by virtue of the absurd.”

What is “absurd” to the “self-possessed” philosophical mind, the mind that has learned to resign the miracle of beings in order to secure its own self-possession, is not so much any particular impossibility or contradiction as the miracle of gratitude for the particular – that God, the Eternal Being, could bless this particular father with this particular son, that this bond could somehow be grounded in Eternity.

For a soul formed in the admiration of “the great and magnanimous” to conceive that “temporality, finitude – that is what it is all about” (49c) – this is indeed “amazing,” if not, perhaps, precisely “absurd.”

Separate thought-strand:

Compare Kierkegaard’s radical severing of reason and revelation with Pascal’s – Protestant and Catholic versions, respectively, of extreme, trans-rational transcendence. Somehow Pascal’s radical transcendence remains colored by the contemplative philosopher as the ultimate figure of greatness, whereas Kierkegaard’s results in the possibility of an infinitely deep “philistinism.” Compare the latter with the inner-worldy asceticism of the Calvinists, according to Max Weber.


Blogger Robert C. said...

Ralph, I think you're right that there's a strong anti-Hegelian current in the writing here, and that it is a bit of a distraction from the deeper and more profound points that K. is making. One of the dangers I can't help think about is what I think is a self-congratulatory implication of the knight of faith's double move.

Before elaborating, let me apologize in advance: There's something in this reading that's rubbing me wrong which I can't quite put my finger on. As a result, there's a rather unattractive tone and quality in my comments below for which I'm simply going to apologize and post as-is, despite these comments being too confessional and devoid of real content. Consider what's below something intended for a diary which got posted accidentally:

I think I'm probably reading poorly the passage about the young girl's faith, so that might be a good place to take up this double-move faith issue more carefully. JdS says about the girl, "her assurance does not dare, in the pain of resignation, to look the impossibility in the eye" (p. 47, last sentence of the first full paragraph). What I think is dangerous is, as Adam seemed to be getting at in the previous post, how we might be tempted to look at child-lke faith, which has not been through the fires of doubt, condescendingly: "well, sure the child has faith, but that faith hasn't been tried so it isn't 'real' faith." Another way to put my concern is that I don't think it passes Jim's "Grandma test": "well, sure, Grandma has faith, and we can even call it mature/tried faith because of the hardships she has endured in her life, but it's not as real or mature as an intellectual faith that has truly stared doubt and absurdity (at least in all its intellectual richness) in the eye."

I also find JdS's knight of faith examples a bit . . . unconvincing, I suppose. The shopkeeper seems too abstract and idealized, ironically. I like his point about philistinism, but somehow the examples don't seem real enough. I think I've met many outstanding examples of faith in my life, but all of them have their own weaknesses, and I think their weaknesses are a very necessary part of their faith (Ether 12:24 comes to mind...). But perhaps this is just a confession of my own problematic understanding of faith, because I sometimes feel that Jesus was too divine and "untemptable" to really relate to. I'm inclined to imagine Abraham as struggling with many of the doubts and temptations like JdS variously described in the Exordium, even while I imagine that Abraham successfully resisted such temptations. In other words, I think Abraham's faith takes on significance and meaning only inasmuch as he was subject to (touched by) all of these kinds of temptations.

So, whether or not I'm misreading JdS and assuming he's saying something different than what follows, I'm inclined to look at child-like faith in awe and wonder, even while I pray that such faith and innocence will be maintained in the face of temptations and trials. "Comparisons are odious" they say, and I think this applies to what seems like an implicit comparison in this chapter between child-like/naive faith and philosophically-tried, staring-doubt-in-the-face faith (not to mention Grandma's faith; I don't mean to disparage philosophically-tried faith--if I sound overly harsh against such, it's b/c I'm tempted myself to take pride in the struggles I've had with doubt...). To me, both kinds of faith should simply be praised, and to try to rank the two is more misleading than helpful.

Frankly, the other knight of faith example, the love for the princess, strikes me as a bit silly, sorry to say. (I say this at the risk of sounding arrogant and condescending toward JdS because I hope someone will "put me in place" and help me understand this passage better--and let me add, I think it does not take away from K.'s genius to say that his love for Regina made him a bit silly at times--love makes fools of us all, no?) The knight of faith says, "Nevertheless, I have faith that I will get her" (p. 47, 8 lines from the bottom). With a slight though crucial emendation, I can perhaps see a lot of value in this example: the knight of faith does not need to believe that he will get her, but has faith that his deepest desires will be met "in time and[/or] in eternity." Fortunately this comment is already too long and rambly, so I'll refrain from sharing my own experience along these lines--rather, let me simply confess that perhaps I am being a bit silly myself based on my own experiences with love and dealing with the loss of a rather idealized love....

10:24 AM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

Ralph and Robert: I hope to the return to the issues of "philistinism" and "the faith of a child" sometime this weekend when I finish the reading selection. But, in the meantime, I'd like to pose a question.

A few months ago Jim had a post on T&S entitled "Santa-god and the Second Naivete." I've thought about this post off and on ever since. There, he wrote:

'For others, when that kind of faith shatters a kind of atheism results, but this isn’t the atheism of the faithless. It is a refusal to believe in the Santa-god. That atheism is the same as a more mature faith, a faith in the real God where doubt makes belief authentic. (See Terryl Givens’s devotional at BYU.) That is a legitimate and profound experience of faith. It is a mature faith, the kind of faith that Søren Kierkegaard’s philosophical personae sought but could not reach. I think, however, that there is yet another move to make in faith, the move to what Paul Ricoeur calls “the second naivete.”'

What I'm wondering is if it might not be better to align "infinite resignation" with this "faithful atheism" and the faith of which JdS is not capable with a second naivete? Do you agree?

In many ways, I'm even more interested to hear if you do not. And if you do not, why not?

My best,

1:34 PM  
Blogger Robert C. said...

Adam, I keep thinking I'll have time to think and study your question more carefully, but I'm not sure if or when I will. So, very briefly, I think these map up quite closely as you suggest, but I strongly prefer Jim's discussion and terminology because of the "innocence-regained" flavor (I say this b/c I think it parallels the Fall and a "return to Paradise/God's presence). Similarly, I like "tried faith" as a description, because it implies more qualitative constance rather than a "new kind of faith." I'm not sure I'm making this distinction clear, and I'm not sure how justified I am in seeing this distinction, but I think this is an important distinction. More later (hopefully)....

5:26 PM  
Blogger Joe Spencer said...

Where does Ricoeur explore this question of second naivete? I just found reference to it in a book I was perusing, and I'm interested in taking it up. It mentioned a secondary source on it, but I'd probably rather go straight to Ricoeur.

I'm wondering how this kind of atheism might be matched up with hope....

8:27 PM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...


I'm no expert on Ricoeur, but I believe he discusses the second naivete in the final chapter of the Symbolism of Evil. There are, doubtless, a number of places where he takes up this question, but I don't have a reference handy.

As for a "believing atheism" and its relationship to hope: if one is not "hoping against hope" does it still count as hope? Is hope necessary if the thing hoped for is (as Paul says) seen? If one is not an atheist (or, minimally, a disbelieve in the promises of God), then why would hope be necessary?

10:28 AM  
Blogger Robert C. said...

Adam, thanks for pointing to Roman 8:24, I think this is an important passage for Mormons to think very carefully about. I think Givens in his BYU devotional (also published in some BYU Studies 2006 issue) captures the more prominent Mormon view on faith, that it is not so much hope-against-hope as much as a lack of compelling evidence:

"In the case of us mortals, men and women are confronted with a world in which there are appealing arguments for God as a childish projection, for modern prophets as scheming or deluded imposters, and for modern scriptures as so much fabulous fiction.

But there is also compelling evidence that a glorious divinity presides over the cosmos, that God calls and anoints prophets, and that His word and will are made manifest through a sacred canon that is never definitively closed. There is, as with the ass of Buridan, nothing to compel an individual’s preference for one over the other."

Does Givens' view contradict Romans 8:24? I don't think so, and my sense is that Givens' view is closer to faith as described in scripture (of course I'm over-generalizing here…) than a hope-against-hope view. Paul seems to be contrasting faith and hope with that which is physical and seen, not doubt. I we also see Jesus trying to get his followers to see that which can't be seen by physical eyes. It seems there are passages in the BOM where people don't believe because faith is "not reasonable," but I think this is the exception in scripture, not the rule, and that although doubt is one of many pitfalls that can deter us from faith, doubt is not a necessary ingredient for faith (although perhaps it is necessary for those of us living in modern society...).

On the other hand, I trust you and Jim much more than myself when it comes to reading Romans….

4:51 PM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...


I agree with your reading of Romans. It is much more faithful to the context of Romans 8 than my allusion in the previous comment. Thanks for the helpful thoughts.

My best,

7:09 PM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

A comment on a passage from near the end of the Preliminary Expectoration.

K: “Faith is no esthetic emotion but something far higher; it is not the spontaneous inclination of the heart but the paradox of existence.” (47)

On this basis, much of what we might normally describe as “faith” may be ruled out by K’s description. Faith for K cannot be naïve, innocent, or spontaneous.

An apt parallel (and K’s own) is love. In a popular vein, love is (and ought to be) a kind of aesthetic emotion that is spontaneous and natural. It is possible, though, to argue that young love, however deep and spontaneous, is not really love (or, at least, not yet). Give that “love” ten, twenty or fifty years and then, if it is rigorously disciplined and resolute, it may qualify as love.

This may seem a little harsh to the young, innocent and naive lovers - but really it is not. To want to distinguish their spontaneous love from fifty years of fidelity is not to denigrate the marvel of spontaneous “romance” but to preserve the possibility of something other - and, perhaps, something more.

I take this to be the primary sense of K’s distinction here: a spontaneous faith in God that grows wild without any conscious intent is like falling in love (romance). This is all well and good. But it is not the same thing as a disciplined faith or a resolute fidelity. All this is terribly unromantic of me, but I think that it may be correct. Love is not a feeling. And, according to K, faith is not a “feeling” either. Love, like faith, is a certain kind of decision, the quality of which depends on its persistence and consistency.

The question at hand centers on what it takes in order for faith to no longer be naïve or spontaneous. Let’s grant that faith must pass through some fire that requires a decision and persistence in the decision. What kind of fire must this be? We are correct, I think, to want to resist the notion that this must be some kind of “intellectual” fire (though it may be). However, whatever the fire is, it appears to me to necessarily be something that will require of the one passing through it a movement beyond "faith as a given" to "faith as a conscious decision."

This seems to me to come to the heart of the problematic Ralph considers under the name of philistinism. Ralph is right to want to preserve the beauty of the "finite," but K's argument seems to be that one cannot even have the finite if one does not also have the infinite - and the path through the infinite to finally arrive at the finite is the path through absurdity (fire!).

Is it possible to have the finite without K's absurd? K doesn't seem to think so. I wonder myself. Especially insofar as the kind of movement beyond naivete (either in love or faith) is genuinely necessary.

What think ye?

12:30 PM  
Blogger Robert C. said...


I think your reading of Kierkegaard and your thinking about the implications is right, and although I agree with 99% of it, I think you have helped me identify the 1% that is rubbing me wrong. I don't think it's wrong to distinguish between tried faith/love and untried faith/love, but I think K. is making a bit too much of the distinction. So, to argue semantics, I don't think it's wrong to call naive faith faith, or puppy love love. Perhaps I'm just clinging to a romantic view, but I think there is quite a bit at stake here. Let me see if I can make my thoughts on this somewhat coherent:

I've redently been trying to makes sense of Hebrews 11:1 (see some rough-hewn thoughts on the wiki here and here). What strikes me as important there is the interplay between faith and hope, where I take hope as that which is not-yet (somewhat analogous to the interplay of the infinite and finite that you are talking about). I'm inclined to take faith as described/defined here as something like the trace of the future (or Other) in the present (I'm not very comfortable using the word "trace" b/c I don't think I grasp its meaning that well, so read accordingly...). My point is that I don't think there can be a completely naive faith, a faith that is not based on anything. (Perhaps here is where I would ultimately part ways with Badiou? Perhaps I am just restating Jim's point about the immemorial basis for community?) Similarly, I don't think there can be completely naive love.

Let me take up love more carefully because I think there's an obvious counter-argument to consider, namely lust. Making the sharp distinction between naive faith vs. mature faith that you are pointing out in Kierkegaard, I think runs the risk of conflating an essential difference between puppy love and lust. Perhaps we should simply think of these three kinds of "love" as all being separate (i.e. disconnected), reserving "love" only for the highest form of love. I would disagree with this approach because I think there is something fundamentally the same between puppy love and mature love that differentiates it from lust. It is this similarity between naive faith/love and mature faith/love that I am worried Kierkegaard is not doing justice to. If one is true to the original feelings that spring from pupply love, then I think real, mature love will be attained (even if this mature love only becomes a genuine friendship rather than marriage...). Perhaps the lust-apsect of puppy love will be lost when mature love is attained, but if it is only a feeling of lust in the first place, I think it is not properly called puppy love, and that what we normally think of in terms of puppy love actually has many significant traces (...) of real love already present (e.g. an appreciation of certain positive traits in the other person). Without these traces of real love, I think puppy love would be something much scarier (e.g. feelings that a rapist or want-to-be rapist or molestor would feel...).

To respond more directly to your comment, you make a distinction between "faith as a given" and "faith as a conscious decision." I'm inclined to think of faith (and love) once it is attained (perhaps better: received, or encountered) as always a given, at least in some non-trivial sense, even when such faith is [re-]embraced more consciously. So, rather than "moving beyond" a naive faith or love, I think faith and love mature or grow as we continually reaffirm what originally gave rise to our love or faith in the first place. Incidentally, I think the common misreading of Alma 32, where faith is thought of as the seed rather than the word being compared to the seed actually might not be too far off the mark because faith is described there as increasing (cf. Alma 32:29). Although this growth might occur, my point is that there is an important continuity or connection with the first experience of faith. ("Connected" and "continous" are interesting mathematical terms, and I'm quite curious if Badiou ever uses them because they seem central, in my mind at least, to understanding his philosophy: is an event disconnected or discontinuous with previous thought, or simply something that goes off in a completely new dimension? I would think the latter because any way I try to think about the former is either incoherent or riddled with problems, like pretending the past doesn't exist....)

Now, let me also respond to your final question more directly. You ask:

"Is it possible to have the finite without K's absurd? K doesn't seem to think so. I wonder myself. Especially insofar as the kind of movement beyond naivete (either in love or faith) is genuinely necessary."

Although what I've just said is largely an argument against Kierkegaard's double move (from the finite to the infinite, and then back again from the infinite to the finite), I actually would be inclined to agree that the finite must include something at least roughly akin to K.'s absurd. But this seems simply an acknowledement that any other is effectively infinite (i.e. not completely knowable to me; here is where I wish I understood Continental philosophy better, so again thanks for your patience with me in trying to think through and articulate these issues...).

My critique of K., then, perhaps amounts to this: whereas K. describes a double move that is required, I would say the distinction upon which the move is described is itself an illusion---to think about finitude seperate from (i.e. disconnected from, or discontinuous with) infinitude is deceptive.

I haven't, of course, thought through all the implications of this critique. For example, it seems that following this way of thinking would lead toward a view of the Fall as also somewhat of a deception, that we only think we are able to separate ourselves from God, and that the Fall is essentially a problem of self-deception. Once we realize that we cannot hide from God (as Adam and Eve thought they could do; in other words, we are not and cannot be truly disconnected from God...), then we are already on the path toward reconciliation, repentance (turning-toward God), etc. (Part of my thinking here is a result of thinking about a comment you made a while ago on the blog regarding Adam and Eve, sorry if I've perverted your thought into something unrecognizable and reprehensible!)

10:32 AM  
Blogger Joe Spencer said...

I'm wondering whether we might read the gap between the naive and the mature as a gap between faith and love, rather than as a gap between a naive kind of faith/love and a mature kind of faith/love. (Note that I recognize that Kierkegaard is not thinking the question this way... at least not explicitly.) Though there might be something akin to love (call it "interpersonal relation") in faith, it is structured differently from love.

I'm hesitant to allow love (as mature) to be something chosen, existentially realized, or thematized, however. That is, I don't want to draw the distinction between the naive and the mature as a question of authenticity. Or, perhaps I'm fine with that, but I would displace love to some place beyond (yes, I know all the problems with that word!) the question of authenticity. In other words, perhaps there is the naive, the mature, and then love. In this model, I would place faith in the realm of the naive and hope (a kind of intentional faith) in the realm of the mature. I like this, actually, because it allows love to outstrip the language of naivete/maturity.

So you can all see my faith, hope, and charity thing arising again here. But I really think this is a key to thinking about Kierkegaard: he uses the word "faith" for both of Paul's terms "faith" and "charity." And that causes some problems (making charity something like a return to faith rather than a restructuring of faith and hope in a radical moment).

Perhaps this is why Lacan is of increasing importance in my thinking here: if faith is naive identity and hope is a kind of mature solipsism/neurosis, then love articulates the restructuring of both of these that happens when the Real calls us to responsibility.

Or something like that.

7:40 AM  
Blogger Robert C. said...

Joe, I'm not sure I follow your comment very well, but I think it's indeed quite helpful to think about the extent to which JdS's writing is solopsistic. To (mis[?]-)appropriate your model of faith, hope and charity in order to make the point I was aiming at above, it seems that JdS's double move "only" gets us from faith to hope without moving beyond solopsism, and I think this is ultimately why JdS must talk in terms of absurdity, because without moving beyond this solopsism, faith is groundless (better: self-grounded). But I think that once God as an immanent(/intervening) other is considered, then "absurdity" becomes a misnomer for faith. So my point, again, is that although faith is not something that can be rationally justified, I don't think that it is unjustifiable in a larger sense.

When we take up the next two chapters, I want to think more about a modification of this point, that although faith is something that may not be publicly justified (i.e. justifiable to the world, universally), I think there's an important sense in which we can say Abraham's faith is justified/grounded, perhaps only privately, and/or by taking up God's real intervention in the world (or at least Abraham's world) more seriously. Otherwise, I think we would all think that Abraham is a murderer. This is something that Givens' devotional got me thinking more about, how an important difference between science (or philosophy?) and faith might be that with science there is evidence given which everyone can see and agree to seeing, whereas with faith the evidence is only seen by the elect "with eyes to see" (subjectively). And so, inasmuch as faith is a response to something that can be seen by the individual, then faith is not truly absurd (though surely it seems absurd from a public/worldly horizon...).

Adam, I noticed the reading schedule has disappeared from the sideblog (at least on my computer...). Am I right in thinking that Jeff was to take up "Problema I" last week and that I'm supposed to take up "Problema I"I this week? I'd propose trying to catch up by taking up "Problema I" early this week (I could post some of my impressions of the chapter if no one else has time early this week...) and postpone "Problema II" to this weekend--but perhaps others have a better suggestion (after all, this blog has already heard too much from me relative to everyone else!).

4:58 PM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...


Feel free to post about Problema II whenever you're ready. You can also feel free to offer a few comments about Problema I as well.

My best,

6:42 AM  
Blogger Joe Spencer said...


I think your comment ultimately marks science (with its reliance on evidence) as fundamentally political or public. That is, its standards and aims, as well as its means of arriving at conclusions, are arbitrated in the political sphere (and boy do American politics bear that out lately!).

But are you then suggesting that faith is something private? That faith is something on display for the whole world but about which there is not political arbitration? In the end, I'm not sure whether you were suggesting this, but I think it well articulates the foundations of the questions we are asking---perhaps of the questions Ralph most especially is asking. We could read Kierkegaard as suggesting that (mature) faith is the absurd precisely because it moves beyond the political or the public.

Again, if mature faith is something like the believing atheism we have here spoken of, I think I buy this, although I think it is precisely this believing atheism---this beyond of the public---that grounds the public as such. That is, naive (inauthentic) faith (as inherited, as public) is grounded on mature (authentic) faith (as chosen, as private).

What I suppose I'm trying to sort out is where and how love trumps all of this (cf. my comments on 1 Cor 15 in my recent Freudian post on the feast blog). That is, might we understand the political per se to be brought into being in the relation between faith and what I am calling hope, because naive faith and hopeful atheism (just as the psyche or psychic economy comes into being in the tension between the conscious and the unconscious)? The Geist (which I will choose here to translate as "mind" rather than as "spirit" to keep with the psychological theme of the feast post) of which Hegel speaks comes to be in the dialectical play between the naive "they-world" and mature "being-in-the-world"?

What I suppose I am suggesting is that there is a whole other way of dealing with all of this, a third way if you will (or perhaps a second way, depending on how all of this is read). The dialectical play of the world/Being (the play of faith and hope) can be (typologically?) distracted by Love (charity).

Or something like this. I'm working through Henry's I Am the Truth right now, and our recent discussions on the feast blog about Marion's God Without Being, mixed with my Freudian ruminations (on the blog and in studying Lacan) and several recent discussions in our local youth study group (about the meaning/place of post-modernism), are making me rethink quite a bit of this. I eager anticipate further work in Kierkegaard....

9:36 AM  
Blogger Robert C. said...

"We could read Kierkegaard as suggesting that (mature) faith is the absurd precisely because it moves beyond the political or the public."

Thanks for this statement, Joe, this really helps me see what's been bothering me. What first piqued my interest in Kierkegaard was how relevant I thought his writing on 'being a Christian in Christendom' was to my situation of belief at BYU (and growing up in Idaho Falls where Mormonism is the dominant religion). So, if I follow your suggestion to retranslate "absurdity" to "private belief," then I can go back to appreciating JdS's point without getting hung-up with the word-choice "absurdity."

Also, Joe, this brings me back to wondering about some of the issues of private vs. public faith that we discussed over email way back when. I agree with your point that modern science is ultimately political, and it makes me wonder about the role of this kind of politics in a faith-based community. I think Nate Oman's take on what constitutes Church doctrine makes this role of politics central to the Church community. Although I think Nate makes a good point, I can't help thinking he's overlooking some really important issues of what should form the basis for a Zion-like community (which, admittedly, may be different than what should or does form the basis for the Church community).

I think this is where Adam's SMPT paper on marriage sheds interesting light (and I use the term light purposefully, because I think the way that light is used in scripture--I'm thinking particularly of my study of the Gospel of John for Sunday school--has interesting implications for how we think about this private-public distinction). It seems that the marriage relationship that Adam describes requires a recognition (i.e. bringing to light) of each private thought and desire by the other marital partner(/s, if we think more communally, e.g. Zion as the marriage of Christ and the Church).

Also, there seems to be an interesting parallel with how faith itself works. Inasmuch as faith (or hope, I'm thinking of Hebrews 11 again) is the irruption of that which is not seen or not-yet into the present, then this seems intriguingly similar to how the private thought or desire of a member of an ideal community is brought to be public. So, if each member of the community is eternally committed to be unconditionally faithful to the others of the community, then the will of the community might be described as Truth itself. This raises the question of who and how one is considered/admitted as a member of the community. Is it enough to simply be eternally and unconditionally committed to the community? I think this might also be an interesting way to approach grace and works: the divine community/council graciously invites everyone in the world to become a member with "only" the condition that each member is faithful to the righteous will of each member--i.e. the one will of the community, since members of the community will by definition only have righteous desires. Hmmm. I think part of this may be circular....

(By the way, for reference, here is the link to Joe's Feast blog post he mentioned above....)

11:10 AM  
Blogger Ralph said...

I have followed your comments with interest, though I’m far from able to sort out all the possibilities you have raised.
My main wish, I suppose, would be somehow to sort out what strikes me as the deep truth of faith as receptivity to the blessedness, the quality of gift, of “ordinary” (thus, from the standpoint of agonistic philosophy, “philistine”) goods – to separate this insight from the polemically anti-Hegelian insistence on the “absurd.” I think the blessedness of the ordinary is not at all simply contrary to “reason”; it is wondrous, luminous, even in a way “natural,” insofar as every being in its undistorted being is saturated with the Light of Christ. The gift of the ordinary only becomes “absurd” from the standpoint of a “reason” committed to its own ruling self-sufficiency – which in its own way is “natural,” insofar as it is natural to “rely on the arm of flesh” – to insist on being the ground of one’s own good.

I learn from Abraham that good gifts can only be received when we are willing to receive them through faith and not as if they could be guaranteed by our own power. This is why I so like the homely little example of the stew that Kierkegaard’s philistine was so ready happily to receive – but then, miraculously (from the standpoint of self-sufficient reason), quite content to forego.

“Faith” is finally the furthest thing from the absurd, because it in fact reveals itself to be the “principle of all action.” This formula, which seems at first anemically universal, is, I think, in fact very rich. (See Elder Bednar’s talk at  additional talks  Learning by Faith.) All action implies a step into the unknown, a hope that some powers beyond ourselves will complete our limited acts, and turn them to some good we can only dimly glimpse. The faith must be faith in Jesus Christ, because only the atonement (of which the Akeda is a similitude – Jacob 4:5) can ground the faith necessary to abandon our trust in the arm of flesh. Only by faith can we lose our lives and thus gain them. When we have learned to sacrifice all things, then the homely stew will taste better than ever. Or we will be content to wait.

Faith is not “private” but is in the light of another “public” – that realized in loving communion with the Savior. Reason is redeemed when it defers to this love.

This leaves very much open the question of the status of “public reason,” the political question of “reason” today – and thus, in a way, the status of the Western rationalist tradition, which I am very far from believing we can, or ought to, simply discard. The political responsibility of “reason” is a special and very big problem within the larger question of faith and reason. Since God has left us to organize ourselves in human communities largely by our own lights, then we must take responsibility without assuming absolute power (either democratically or oligarchically); we must frame a provisional horizon with a view to “natural” human interests and ends, but without closing this horizon to goods graspable only by faith. There is a sense in which liberal democracy, properly understood (as by Tocqueville, I would suggest), may be said to accomplish, or to point towards, something like this. But the dangers of degeneration are all too apparent.

3:39 PM  
Blogger Robert C. said...


9:51 AM  
Blogger Robert C. said...

Ralph, I really like all of your ideas here, I hope esp. that you'll expound at some point on this last bit about liberal democracy and faith.

I'm curious about your statement that "all action is a step into the unknown." I think this is right, but I think it implies something that it isn't usually taken to imply (I'm disagreeing with what I think this is usually taken to imply, not what you are saying it implies--I think...). That is, all action is a step into to the unknown, and thus, faith-based action is, relative to action that is not faith-based, more grounded than other types of action, at least in a certain (but important) sense. Faith is a genuine response to a call from God (this ties into your point about receiving the blessedness of the ordinary...) and thus might be said to be grounded in this call from God. Other type of action, however, cannot be similarly grounded. And so, I think we find philosophy grasping for a grounding that I think is ultimately either merely self-authenticating (metaphysics) or points to that which is pre-given (which Badiou calls "antiphilosophy," like that done by Heidegger, Neitzsche, Lacan etc.).

(I'm planning to post something on "Prolema I" later today, and it should address this issue a bit more, though perhaps not any more coherently....)

10:04 AM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

A few comments on comments.

1. Ralph says: ‘I think the blessedness of the ordinary is not at all simply contrary to “reason”; it is wondrous, luminous, even in a way “natural,” insofar as every being in its undistorted being is saturated with the Light of Christ.’

I really like Ralph’s description of faith as something that coincides with the “ordinary.” In my opinion, it’s crucial to be able to think the immanence of grace. The trick, though, is to find a way to think about it that doesn’t either make it so ordinary that it is no longer gracious or so gracious that it is simply other-worldly. One way to do this is to invoke a kind of original or “natural” or “undistorted” existence that must be recovered. Ralph seems to me to be leaning in this conservative direction: faith as the restoration of a kind of primordial harmony. I’m hesitant, however, to head in this direction.

2. Ralph says: ‘The gift of the ordinary only becomes “absurd” from the standpoint of a “reason” committed to its own ruling self-sufficiency – which in its own way is “natural,” insofar as it is natural to “rely on the arm of flesh” – to insist on being the ground of one’s own good.’

Again, I couldn’t agree more and think that this is also a crucial point: what’s at issue is the commitment of “reason” to its own ruling self-sufficiency. I suppose I’d say, however,by way of amendment, that the only really “natural” thing is the natural man. Nothing could be more natural than the perspective dictated by one’s own interests and by the desire to be self-sufficient.

The difference here may simply be that I don’t think that there is any original, “natural” graciousness interrupted by the “natural” man. The original unity has always already been broken or split or interrupted; otherwise it couldn’t have been broken or split or interrupted. I’d argue that the original unity is a retroactive fiction produced by the fact that the break has occurred.

There may have been a “pre-self” world (world in which there is no self-consciousness), but it does not seem to me there could be a world that is both pre-selfish and pre-self. We hope for a world that is post-selfish but still filled with selves. But this hope for a post-self is not the same as a desire for a return to a pre-self. In fact, one could argue that the desire for a return to a pre-self is symptomatic of the kind of desire one would expect of a selfish-self – though I’m not saying you’re selfish Ralph :)

From my perspective, the result is that faith, as what contradicts this pervasive and natural self-centeredness, is necessarily absurd. Not, of course, from faith’s own point of view, but from the world’s. The difference is that I don’t think that there is an “original” point of view that would normalize the absurdity of faith’s venture into the non-natural. Or – to try to say this one other way – faith may give us a new (absurd!) world in which grace shines through, but faith does not give us back a “natural” world that had previously been lost.

3. Ralph says: ‘“Faith” is finally the furthest thing from the absurd, because it in fact reveals itself to be the “principle of all action.”’

I can certainly appreciate this point as well – though, again, I’d like to argue for the necessity of the absurd. It seems to me that genuine “actions” such as love and faith are sufficiently absurd that it is honestly an open empirical question whether or not such things even exist.

For instance, both love and faith require freedom – but as Kant shows it is impossible to demonstrate that there is any such thing. Empirically, what we see again and again is that there may very well be no such thing as free will. The “natural” world is the world of cause and effect and such a world allows for no acts of grace (an act of grace being an act without an identifiable previous [economic] cause). In this sense, we might say that faith is absurd precisely because it is the principle of every genuinely non-selfish action. What could be more absurd (less natural) than to hold that there is such a thing as freedom (or anything free – like a gift)?

On each of these points, though, I think that Ralph and I are in fundamental agreement. It seems primarily, to me, to be a question of emphasis.

3:23 PM  
Blogger Robert C. said...

"I’d argue that the original unity is a retroactive fiction produced by the fact that the break has occurred."

Adam, I think this an interesting viewpoint and I'm guessing I'd be inclined to agree with your arguments to make this point. However, this seems to lead to a difficulty regarding the pre-existence as typically conceived by Mormons, first that 1/3 of the host of heaven chose to follow Satan whereas the rest of us didn't, and second, that some became noble and great ones (like Abraham) in teh pre-existence. Any thoughts on this? Perhaps I'm only imagining that a difficulty exists (the latter point esp.), or perhaps these are only folk doctrines without much basis (the former p[oint esp.)--I simply haven't thought about these issues very carefully myself....

3:40 PM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...


Good question. I'd take our notion of the pre-existence as supporting the view that there was no original unity. In traditional Christianity, there is an original unity. For Mormons, even heaven is a varied place filled with disagreement and multiplicity. Moving from heaven to earth is, for us, an improvement - not a tragedy to be lamented and mourned.


5:14 PM  
Blogger Robert C. said...

Thanks for clarifying, Adam. Actually, I think your comment to Ralph made this clear, I just got muddled in my thinking after reading your comment. In particular, I was trying to rethink the Fall in light of Jim's Genesis 2-3 article (for the Journal of Philosophy and Scripture). I need to go back and read that article again, but I remember thinking from that article about the idea of a pre-existent state of unity before the Fall, and the Fall being essentially tantamount to a type of first real exercise of our agency that destroyed this unity (that is, in what sense was our agency real and meaningful if we always followed the will of God?). It is this type of view that your point seems to call into question. So, in all your free time, perhaps you can explain the implications of your point for understanding the Fall....

In the mean time, you've motivated me study up on Christian interpretations of the Fall, and how they depend on this idea of pre-existent unity--thanks.

6:26 PM  

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