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Kierkegaard et la philosophie existentielle

(1936)

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Kierkegaard and the Existential Philosophy Kierkegaard and the Existential Philosophy
II
You do not, of course, expect me to exhaust the complicated and difficult subject of the work of Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky during the hour allotted to me. I shall therefore limit myself to speaking of how Dostoevsky and Kierkegaard understood original sin; in other words, my subject will be speculative and revealed truth. But I must say first that in so short a time I shall hardly be able to give as complete an explanation as you might like of what Dostoevsky and Kierkegaard thought and told us about the Fall of Man. At best I shall be able to indicate—and schematically, at that—why original sin caught the attention of these men, two of the most remarkable thinkers of the nineteenth century. I might mention here that even Nietzsche, usually thought to be so far removed from biblical themes, considered the problem of the Fall to be the axis or pivot of his whole complex of philosophical questions. His principal, essential theme is Socrates, whom he saw as a decadent man, that is, as the fallen man par excellence. Moreover, he saw Socrates' fall in that quality which history and the history of philosophy in particular had always found, and taught us to find, most praiseworthy: in his boundless confidence in reason and the knowledge obtained by reason. When you read Nietzsche's thoughts on Socrates, you cannot avoid being reminded constantly of the biblical story of the forbidden tree and those enticing words of the tempter: ye shall be knowing. Kierkegaard tells us more about Socrates than Nietzsche does, and he speaks with greater urgency. What is more surprising is that Kierkegaard considers Socrates the most remarkable phenomenon in the history of humanity before the appearance on Europe's horizon of that mysterious book known as the Book, i.e., the Bible.

The Fall of Man has troubled human thought since earliest times. Men have always felt that all is not right with the world, and even that much is wrong: "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark," to use Shakespeare's words; and they have made tremendous and intense efforts to explain how this evil originated. I must say at this point that Greek philosophy, just like the philosophy of other peoples, including those of the Far East, replied to this question with an answer directly opposed to what we find in the story of the Book of Genesis. One of the first great Greek philosophers, Anaximander, says in a passage that has come down to us: "From that source whence came birth to individual creatures, thence also, by necessity, shall come their destruction. At the appointed time they do penance and accept retribution, one from the other, for their iniquity." This thought of Anaximander's pervades all ancient philosophy: the appearance of individual things (mainly, of course, living creatures, and primarily human beings) is considered wicked effrontery, for which their death and destruction is fit punishment. The idea of genesis and phthora ("birth" and "destruction") is the starting point of ancient philosophy (this same idea, I repeat, was persistently in the minds of the founders of the Far Eastern religions and philosophies). Man's natural thought, at all times and among all peoples, has stopped helplessly, as if bewitched, before fatal necessity which brought into the world the terrible law of death, inseparably bound up with man's birth, and the law of destruction, which waits for everything that has appeared and will appear. In being itself human thought has discovered something wrong, a defect, a sickness, a sin, and accordingly wisdom has demanded the vanquishing of that sin at its roots; in other words, a renunciation of being which, since it has a beginning, is fated inevitably to end. The Greek catharsis, or purification, has as its source the conviction that the immediate data of consciousness, which attest to the inevitable destruction of all that is born, reveal to us a truth that is primordial, eternal, inflexible, and forever invincible. True being, real being (ontôs on) is not to be found among ourselves or for ourselves; it is to be found where the power of the law of birth and destruction ends, that is, where there is no birth and where therefore there is no destruction. This is the point of origin of speculative philosophy. The law, discovered by intellectual vision, of the inevitable destruction of all that has arisen and been created seems to us to be a law eternally inherent in being itself. Greek philosophy was as firmly convinced of this as was the Hindu wisdom, and we, who are separated from the Greeks and the Hindus by thousands of years, are just as incapable of breaking free from the power of this most self-evident truth as those who first discovered it and showed it to us.

In this respect the Book of books alone constitutes a mysterious exception.

What is said in it directly contradicts what men have found out through their intellectual vision. Everything, as we read in the very beginning of the Book of Genesis, was made by the Creator, everything had a beginning. But this not only is not seen as a precondition of the decay, imperfection, corruption, and sinfulness of being; on the contrary, it is an assurance of all possible good in the universe. To put it another way, God's act of creation was the source, and moreover the only source, of all good. On the evening of each day of creation the Lord said, as he surveyed what He had made: "It is good," and on the last day, looking around at everything that He had created, God saw that it was all very good. Both the world and its people (whom God had blessed) were made by the Creator, and it is for the very reason of their creation by Him that they were made perfect, without any defects. There was no evil in the world created by God, nor was there any sin from which evil could proceed. Evil and sin arose later. Whence came they? Scripture gives a definite answer to this question. God planted among the other trees in the Garden of Eden the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And He said to the first man: "Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." But the tempter (in the Bible he is called the serpent, the most cunning of all God's creatures) said: "No, ye shall not die; your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing." Man succumbed to temptation, ate of the forbidden fruit; his eyes were opened and he became knowing. What was revealed to him? What did he find out? He learned the same thing that the Greek philosophers and Hindu sages had learned: the "it is good" uttered by God was not justified—all is not good in the created world. There must be evil and, what is more, much evil, intolerable evil, in the created world, precisely because it is created. Everything around us—the immediate data of consciousness—testifies to this with unquestionable evidence; he who looks at the world with open eyes," he who "knows," can draw no other conclusion. At the very moment when man became "knowing," sin entered the world; in other words, it entered together with "knowledge"—and after sin came evil. This is what the Bible tells us.

The question is put to us, the men of the twentieth century, just as it was put to the ancients: whence comes sin, whence come the horrors of life which are linked with sin? Is there a defect in being itself, which, since it is created, albeit by God, since it has a beginning, must inescapably, by virtue of that eternal law that is subject to no one and nothing, be burdened down by its imperfections, which doom it ahead of time to destruction? Or do sin and evil arise from "knowledge," from "open eyes," from "intellectual vision," that is, from the fruit of the forbidden tree? One of the most notable philosophers of the last century, Hegel, who had absorbed the whole of European thought covering twenty-five hundred years (and in this lies his significance and his importance), maintains without any hesitation that the serpent did not deceive man, that the fruit of the tree of knowledge became the source of philosophy for all time to come. And I must say immediately that historically Hegel is right. The fruit of the tree of knowledge has truly become the source of philosophy, the source of thought for all time to come. Philosophers—and not just the pagan ones, those foreign to Holy Scripture, but also the Jewish and Christian philosophers who recognized Scripture as a divinely inspired book—have all wanted to be knowing and have not been persuaded to renounce the fruit of the forbidden tree. For Clement of Alexandria at the beginning of the third century, Greek philosophy was the second Old Testament. He asserted that if it were possible to separate gnosis (that is, knowledge) from eternal salvation and if he had to make a choice, he would choose, not eternal salvation, but gnosis. All medieval philosophy tended in the same direction. Even the mystics offer no exception in this respect. The unknown author of the celebrated Theologia deutsch maintained that Adam could have eaten twenty apples and no harm would have resulted. Sin did not come from the fruit of the tree of knowledge, for nothing bad can come from knowledge. Where did the author of Theologia deutsch get this conviction that no evil can come of knowledge? He does not raise this question; evidently it did not occur to him that one may seek and find the truth in Scripture. One must seek the truth only in one's own reason, and only that which reason recognizes as truth is truth. The serpent did not deceive man.

Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky were both born in the first quarter of the nineteenth century (however, Kierkegaard, who died at forty-four [1] and was ten years older than Dostoevsky, had already concluded his literary career when Dostoevsky was just beginning to write) and they both lived during the period when Hegel dominated European thought; they could not, of course, have failed to feel that they were wholly in the power of Hegelian philosophy. It is true that Dostoevsky is supposed never to have read a single line by Hegel (in contrast to Kierkegaard, who knew Hegel through and through), but during the time that he belonged to Belinsky's circle he became familiar enough with the basic statements of Hegel's philosophy. Dostoevsky had an extraordinary flair for philosophical ideas, and what Belinsky's friends had brought back from Germany sufficed to give him a clear picture of the problems posed and resolved by Hegelian philosophy. However, not only Dostoevsky but also Belinsky himself, a "perpetual student" and certainly a man whose philosophical insight was far behind Dostoevsky's, truly felt, and not only felt but found the necessary words to express, all that he found unacceptable in the doctrines of Hegel, which then seemed just as unacceptable to Dostoevsky. Let me remind you of the passage from Belinsky's famous letter: "If I should succeed in ascending to the highest rung of the ladder of development, even there I would ask you to render me an account of all the victims of circumstance in life and history, of all the victims of chance, of superstition, of the Inquisition of Philip II, etc., etc.: otherwise I would fling myself headfirst from the highest rung.

I do not wish happiness even as a gift, if my mind is not at rest regarding each one of my blood brothers." [2] Needless to say, if Hegel could have read these lines by Belinsky, he would merely have shrugged his shoulders contemptuously and called Belinsky a barbarian, a savage, an ignoramus, who obviously had not tasted the fruit of the tree of knowledge and consequently did not even suspect the existence of the immutable law by virtue of which everything that has a beginning (that is, those very human beings for whom he interceded so passionately) must have an end; and that therefore there is absolutely no one to whom one can reasonably turn with such demands for an account of creatures which, being finite, are not subject to any protection or defense. These defenseless ones are not just those victims of chance who first come to mind, but even such as Socrates, Giordano Bruno, and many other great, very great men, wise and just; the wheel of the historical process crushes them all mercilessly and takes as little notice of them as if they were inanimate objects. The philosophy of the spirit is the philosophy of the spirit precisely because it is able to rise above all that is finite and transitory. And conversely, all finite and transitory things can participate in the philosophy of the spirit only when they cease to be concerned with their own interests, which are insignificant and therefore not deserving of any concern. This is what Hegel would have said, and he would have cited the chapter in his History of Philosophy which explains that it was quite proper for Socrates to have been poisoned and that this was no great misfortune: an old Greek died—is such a trifle worth making a fuss over? All that is real is rational; in other words, it cannot and must not be other than it is. Anyone who does not understand this is not a philosopher and has not been given the intellectual vision to penetrate to the essential nature of things. Furthermore, the man who has not found this out cannot truly consider himself to be a religious person (all this according to Hegel). For any religion, and especially the absolute religion (that is what Hegel called Christianity) reveals to men through images (that is, less perfectly) what the thinking spirit itself sees in the nature of existence. "The true content of the Christian faith is therefore justified by philosophy, but not by history" (that is, by what is told in Holy Scripture), says Hegel in his Philosophy of Religion. This means that the Scriptures are acceptable only insofar as the thinking spirit admits that they are in agreement with those truths that it acquires itself, or, as Hegel puts it, that it draws from itself. All the rest ought to be discarded.

We already know that the thinking spirit of Hegel drew from itself the idea that in spite of what Scripture says, the serpent did not deceive man and the fruit of the forbidden tree has brought us the very best thing that life holds—knowledge. In a like manner the thinking spirit discards as impossible the miracles described in Scripture. We can see how thoroughly Hegel despised Scripture from the following words written by him: "Whether there was more than enough or not enough wine for the guests at the wedding at Cana in Galilee is a matter of complete indifference. In the same way, it is purely accidental that a certain man was cured of a paralyzed hand: millions of people go about with paralyzed hands and other deformities, and no one heals them. Also, it is related in the Old Testament that at the time of the Exodus from Egypt the doors of the houses of the Jews were marked with red so that the angel of the Lord could identify them. Such a faith has no meaning for the spirit. Voltaire's most venomous gibes are directed against this sort of faith. He says that it would have been better if God had taught the Jews about the immortal soul, instead of teaching them how to relieve the call of nature (aller à la selle). In this way, privies become the content of faith." Hegel's "philosophy of the spirit" treats Scripture with derision and contempt and accepts from the Bible only what can be "justified" before rational consciousness. Hegel had no need of "revealed" truth; to be more exact, he does not accept it, or rather he considers revealed truth to be what his own mind reveals to him. Certain Protestant theologians arrived at this idea without the help of Hegel; in order not to confuse themselves and others with the mysterious quality of biblical revelation, they declared that all truths are revealed truths. The Greek word for truth is alêtheia; by deriving this word from the verb a-lanthanô ("un-veil"), the theologians freed themselves from the obligation, so burdensome to a cultivated man, of acknowledging the privileged position of Scriptural truths. Every truth, precisely because it is a truth, reveals something formerly concealed. Seen in this way, Biblical truth offers no exception and has no advantage over other truths. It is acceptable to us only when it can justify itself before our reason and be viewed with our "open eyes."

It goes without saying that under these circumstances we must reject three quarters of what is told in Scripture and interpret what remains in such a way that reason will not yet find something offensive in it. For Hegel (as for the medieval philosophers) Aristotle is the greatest authority. Hegel's Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences concludes with a long passage (in Greek in the original) from Aristotle's Metaphysics on the subject hê theôria to êdiston kai to hêdiston, which means: "contemplation is the best and sweetest." And also in the Encyclopedia, he writes at the beginning of the third part, in the sections that head "The Philosophy of the Spirit": "Aristotle's books on the soul are even today the best work and the only one of a speculative sort on this subject. The essential goal of the philosophy of the spirit must be simply to introduce the idea of the concept into the knowledge of the spirit, and thus to open the way to the books of Aristotle." Dante had reason to call Aristotle il maestro di coloro, chi sanno ("the master of those who know"). He who wants to "know" must follow Aristotle, and must regard his works—De Anima, the Metaphysics, the Ethics—not only as a second Old Testament, as Clement of Alexandria said, but also as a second New Testament; he must regard them as a Bible. Aristotle is the only master of those who want to know, those who do know. Further inspired by him, Hegel solemnly proclaims in his Philosophy of Religion: "The fundamental idea [of Christianity] is the unity of the divine and the human natures: God has become man. And in another passage, in the chapter on "The Kingdom of the Spirit," he says: "The individual must be imbued with the truth about the primary unity of the divine and the human natures, and this truth is to be grasped through faith in Christ. For him, God no longer seems a being part." This is all that the "absolute religion" brought Hegel. He joyfully quotes the words of Meister Eckhard (from his sermons) and the same words of Angelus Silesius: "If God were not, I would not be: if I were not, God would not be." The content of the absolute religion is thus interpreted and put on a level with the thought of Aristotle or of the Biblical serpent who promised our forefather that "knowledge" would make him equal to God. And it never for a moment entered into Hegel's mind that in this lies the terrible, fatal Fall, that "knowledge" does not make a man equal to God, but tears him away from God, putting him in the clutches of a dead and deadening "truth." The "miracles" of Scripture (i.e., the omnipotence of God) were, as we recall, contemptuously rejected by Hegel, for as he explains in another passage: "It is impossible to require of men that they believe in things in which they cannot believe past a certain degree of education: such a faith is faith in a content which is finite and fortuitous, that is, which is not true: for true faith has no fortuitous content." According to this, "a miracle is a violation of the natural connection of phenomena, and is therefore a violation of the spirit."



[1] Kierkegaard (1813—1855) actually died at forty-two. (This footnote and the two that follow are adapted from those written by James M. Edie and James P. Scanlan for their translation of the Preface. Tr.)
[2] From Belinsky's letter to Botkin, March 1, 1841. Tr.

You do not, of course, expect me to exhaust the complicated and difficult subject of the work of Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky during the hour allotted to me. I shall therefore limit myself to speaking of how Dostoevsky and Kierkegaard understood original sin; in other words, my subject will be speculative and revealed truth. But I must say first that in so short a time I shall hardly be able to give as complete an explanation as you might like of what Dostoevsky and Kierkegaard thought and told us about the Fall of Man. At best I shall be able to indicate—and schematically, at that—why original sin caught the attention of these men, two of the most remarkable thinkers of the nineteenth century. I might mention here that even Nietzsche, usually thought to be so far removed from biblical themes, considered the problem of the Fall to be the axis or pivot of his whole complex of philosophical questions. His principal, essential theme is Socrates, whom he saw as a decadent man, that is, as the fallen man par excellence. Moreover, he saw Socrates' fall in that quality which history and the history of philosophy in particular had always found, and taught us to find, most praiseworthy: in his boundless confidence in reason and the knowledge obtained by reason. When you read Nietzsche's thoughts on Socrates, you cannot avoid being reminded constantly of the biblical story of the forbidden tree and those enticing words of the tempter: ye shall be knowing. Kierkegaard tells us more about Socrates than Nietzsche does, and he speaks with greater urgency. What is more surprising is that Kierkegaard considers Socrates the most remarkable phenomenon in the history of humanity before the appearance on Europe's horizon of that mysterious book known as the Book, i.e., the Bible.

The Fall of Man has troubled human thought since earliest times. Men have always felt that all is not right with the world, and even that much is wrong: "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark," to use Shakespeare's words; and they have made tremendous and intense efforts to explain how this evil originated. I must say at this point that Greek philosophy, just like the philosophy of other peoples, including those of the Far East, replied to this question with an answer directly opposed to what we find in the story of the Book of Genesis. One of the first great Greek philosophers, Anaximander, says in a passage that has come down to us: "From that source whence came birth to individual creatures, thence also, by necessity, shall come their destruction. At the appointed time they do penance and accept retribution, one from the other, for their iniquity." This thought of Anaximander's pervades all ancient philosophy: the appearance of individual things (mainly, of course, living creatures, and primarily human beings) is considered wicked effrontery, for which their death and destruction is fit punishment. The idea of genesis and phthora ("birth" and "destruction") is the starting point of ancient philosophy (this same idea, I repeat, was persistently in the minds of the founders of the Far Eastern religions and philosophies). Man's natural thought, at all times and among all peoples, has stopped helplessly, as if bewitched, before fatal necessity which brought into the world the terrible law of death, inseparably bound up with man's birth, and the law of destruction, which waits for everything that has appeared and will appear. In being itself human thought has discovered something wrong, a defect, a sickness, a sin, and accordingly wisdom has demanded the vanquishing of that sin at its roots; in other words, a renunciation of being which, since it has a beginning, is fated inevitably to end. The Greek catharsis, or purification, has as its source the conviction that the immediate data of consciousness, which attest to the inevitable destruction of all that is born, reveal to us a truth that is primordial, eternal, inflexible, and forever invincible. True being, real being (ontôs on) is not to be found among ourselves or for ourselves; it is to be found where the power of the law of birth and destruction ends, that is, where there is no birth and where therefore there is no destruction. This is the point of origin of speculative philosophy. The law, discovered by intellectual vision, of the inevitable destruction of all that has arisen and been created seems to us to be a law eternally inherent in being itself. Greek philosophy was as firmly convinced of this as was the Hindu wisdom, and we, who are separated from the Greeks and the Hindus by thousands of years, are just as incapable of breaking free from the power of this most self-evident truth as those who first discovered it and showed it to us.

In this respect the Book of books alone constitutes a mysterious exception.

What is said in it directly contradicts what men have found out through their intellectual vision. Everything, as we read in the very beginning of the Book of Genesis, was made by the Creator, everything had a beginning. But this not only is not seen as a precondition of the decay, imperfection, corruption, and sinfulness of being; on the contrary, it is an assurance of all possible good in the universe. To put it another way, God's act of creation was the source, and moreover the only source, of all good. On the evening of each day of creation the Lord said, as he surveyed what He had made: "It is good," and on the last day, looking around at everything that He had created, God saw that it was all very good. Both the world and its people (whom God had blessed) were made by the Creator, and it is for the very reason of their creation by Him that they were made perfect, without any defects. There was no evil in the world created by God, nor was there any sin from which evil could proceed. Evil and sin arose later. Whence came they? Scripture gives a definite answer to this question. God planted among the other trees in the Garden of Eden the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And He said to the first man: "Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." But the tempter (in the Bible he is called the serpent, the most cunning of all God's creatures) said: "No, ye shall not die; your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing." Man succumbed to temptation, ate of the forbidden fruit; his eyes were opened and he became knowing. What was revealed to him? What did he find out? He learned the same thing that the Greek philosophers and Hindu sages had learned: the "it is good" uttered by God was not justified—all is not good in the created world. There must be evil and, what is more, much evil, intolerable evil, in the created world, precisely because it is created. Everything around us—the immediate data of consciousness—testifies to this with unquestionable evidence; he who looks at the world with open eyes," he who "knows," can draw no other conclusion. At the very moment when man became "knowing," sin entered the world; in other words, it entered together with "knowledge"—and after sin came evil. This is what the Bible tells us.

The question is put to us, the men of the twentieth century, just as it was put to the ancients: whence comes sin, whence come the horrors of life which are linked with sin? Is there a defect in being itself, which, since it is created, albeit by God, since it has a beginning, must inescapably, by virtue of that eternal law that is subject to no one and nothing, be burdened down by its imperfections, which doom it ahead of time to destruction? Or do sin and evil arise from "knowledge," from "open eyes," from "intellectual vision," that is, from the fruit of the forbidden tree? One of the most notable philosophers of the last century, Hegel, who had absorbed the whole of European thought covering twenty-five hundred years (and in this lies his significance and his importance), maintains without any hesitation that the serpent did not deceive man, that the fruit of the tree of knowledge became the source of philosophy for all time to come. And I must say immediately that historically Hegel is right. The fruit of the tree of knowledge has truly become the source of philosophy, the source of thought for all time to come. Philosophers—and not just the pagan ones, those foreign to Holy Scripture, but also the Jewish and Christian philosophers who recognized Scripture as a divinely inspired book—have all wanted to be knowing and have not been persuaded to renounce the fruit of the forbidden tree. For Clement of Alexandria at the beginning of the third century, Greek philosophy was the second Old Testament. He asserted that if it were possible to separate gnosis (that is, knowledge) from eternal salvation and if he had to make a choice, he would choose, not eternal salvation, but gnosis. All medieval philosophy tended in the same direction. Even the mystics offer no exception in this respect. The unknown author of the celebrated Theologia deutsch maintained that Adam could have eaten twenty apples and no harm would have resulted. Sin did not come from the fruit of the tree of knowledge, for nothing bad can come from knowledge. Where did the author of Theologia deutsch get this conviction that no evil can come of knowledge? He does not raise this question; evidently it did not occur to him that one may seek and find the truth in Scripture. One must seek the truth only in one's own reason, and only that which reason recognizes as truth is truth. The serpent did not deceive man.

Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky were both born in the first quarter of the nineteenth century (however, Kierkegaard, who died at forty-four [1] and was ten years older than Dostoevsky, had already concluded his literary career when Dostoevsky was just beginning to write) and they both lived during the period when Hegel dominated European thought; they could not, of course, have failed to feel that they were wholly in the power of Hegelian philosophy. It is true that Dostoevsky is supposed never to have read a single line by Hegel (in contrast to Kierkegaard, who knew Hegel through and through), but during the time that he belonged to Belinsky's circle he became familiar enough with the basic statements of Hegel's philosophy. Dostoevsky had an extraordinary flair for philosophical ideas, and what Belinsky's friends had brought back from Germany sufficed to give him a clear picture of the problems posed and resolved by Hegelian philosophy. However, not only Dostoevsky but also Belinsky himself, a "perpetual student" and certainly a man whose philosophical insight was far behind Dostoevsky's, truly felt, and not only felt but found the necessary words to express, all that he found unacceptable in the doctrines of Hegel, which then seemed just as unacceptable to Dostoevsky. Let me remind you of the passage from Belinsky's famous letter: "If I should succeed in ascending to the highest rung of the ladder of development, even there I would ask you to render me an account of all the victims of circumstance in life and history, of all the victims of chance, of superstition, of the Inquisition of Philip II, etc., etc.: otherwise I would fling myself headfirst from the highest rung.

I do not wish happiness even as a gift, if my mind is not at rest regarding each one of my blood brothers." [2] Needless to say, if Hegel could have read these lines by Belinsky, he would merely have shrugged his shoulders contemptuously and called Belinsky a barbarian, a savage, an ignoramus, who obviously had not tasted the fruit of the tree of knowledge and consequently did not even suspect the existence of the immutable law by virtue of which everything that has a beginning (that is, those very human beings for whom he interceded so passionately) must have an end; and that therefore there is absolutely no one to whom one can reasonably turn with such demands for an account of creatures which, being finite, are not subject to any protection or defense. These defenseless ones are not just those victims of chance who first come to mind, but even such as Socrates, Giordano Bruno, and many other great, very great men, wise and just; the wheel of the historical process crushes them all mercilessly and takes as little notice of them as if they were inanimate objects. The philosophy of the spirit is the philosophy of the spirit precisely because it is able to rise above all that is finite and transitory. And conversely, all finite and transitory things can participate in the philosophy of the spirit only when they cease to be concerned with their own interests, which are insignificant and therefore not deserving of any concern. This is what Hegel would have said, and he would have cited the chapter in his History of Philosophy which explains that it was quite proper for Socrates to have been poisoned and that this was no great misfortune: an old Greek died—is such a trifle worth making a fuss over? All that is real is rational; in other words, it cannot and must not be other than it is. Anyone who does not understand this is not a philosopher and has not been given the intellectual vision to penetrate to the essential nature of things. Furthermore, the man who has not found this out cannot truly consider himself to be a religious person (all this according to Hegel). For any religion, and especially the absolute religion (that is what Hegel called Christianity) reveals to men through images (that is, less perfectly) what the thinking spirit itself sees in the nature of existence. "The true content of the Christian faith is therefore justified by philosophy, but not by history" (that is, by what is told in Holy Scripture), says Hegel in his Philosophy of Religion. This means that the Scriptures are acceptable only insofar as the thinking spirit admits that they are in agreement with those truths that it acquires itself, or, as Hegel puts it, that it draws from itself. All the rest ought to be discarded.

We already know that the thinking spirit of Hegel drew from itself the idea that in spite of what Scripture says, the serpent did not deceive man and the fruit of the forbidden tree has brought us the very best thing that life holds—knowledge. In a like manner the thinking spirit discards as impossible the miracles described in Scripture. We can see how thoroughly Hegel despised Scripture from the following words written by him: "Whether there was more than enough or not enough wine for the guests at the wedding at Cana in Galilee is a matter of complete indifference. In the same way, it is purely accidental that a certain man was cured of a paralyzed hand: millions of people go about with paralyzed hands and other deformities, and no one heals them. Also, it is related in the Old Testament that at the time of the Exodus from Egypt the doors of the houses of the Jews were marked with red so that the angel of the Lord could identify them. Such a faith has no meaning for the spirit. Voltaire's most venomous gibes are directed against this sort of faith. He says that it would have been better if God had taught the Jews about the immortal soul, instead of teaching them how to relieve the call of nature (aller à la selle). In this way, privies become the content of faith." Hegel's "philosophy of the spirit" treats Scripture with derision and contempt and accepts from the Bible only what can be "justified" before rational consciousness. Hegel had no need of "revealed" truth; to be more exact, he does not accept it, or rather he considers revealed truth to be what his own mind reveals to him. Certain Protestant theologians arrived at this idea without the help of Hegel; in order not to confuse themselves and others with the mysterious quality of biblical revelation, they declared that all truths are revealed truths. The Greek word for truth is alêtheia; by deriving this word from the verb a-lanthanô ("un-veil"), the theologians freed themselves from the obligation, so burdensome to a cultivated man, of acknowledging the privileged position of Scriptural truths. Every truth, precisely because it is a truth, reveals something formerly concealed. Seen in this way, Biblical truth offers no exception and has no advantage over other truths. It is acceptable to us only when it can justify itself before our reason and be viewed with our "open eyes."

It goes without saying that under these circumstances we must reject three quarters of what is told in Scripture and interpret what remains in such a way that reason will not yet find something offensive in it. For Hegel (as for the medieval philosophers) Aristotle is the greatest authority. Hegel's Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences concludes with a long passage (in Greek in the original) from Aristotle's Metaphysics on the subject hê theôria to êdiston kai to hêdiston, which means: "contemplation is the best and sweetest." And also in the Encyclopedia, he writes at the beginning of the third part, in the sections that head "The Philosophy of the Spirit": "Aristotle's books on the soul are even today the best work and the only one of a speculative sort on this subject. The essential goal of the philosophy of the spirit must be simply to introduce the idea of the concept into the knowledge of the spirit, and thus to open the way to the books of Aristotle." Dante had reason to call Aristotle il maestro di coloro, chi sanno ("the master of those who know"). He who wants to "know" must follow Aristotle, and must regard his works—De Anima, the Metaphysics, the Ethics—not only as a second Old Testament, as Clement of Alexandria said, but also as a second New Testament; he must regard them as a Bible. Aristotle is the only master of those who want to know, those who do know. Further inspired by him, Hegel solemnly proclaims in his Philosophy of Religion: "The fundamental idea [of Christianity] is the unity of the divine and the human natures: God has become man. And in another passage, in the chapter on "The Kingdom of the Spirit," he says: "The individual must be imbued with the truth about the primary unity of the divine and the human natures, and this truth is to be grasped through faith in Christ. For him, God no longer seems a being part." This is all that the "absolute religion" brought Hegel. He joyfully quotes the words of Meister Eckhard (from his sermons) and the same words of Angelus Silesius: "If God were not, I would not be: if I were not, God would not be." The content of the absolute religion is thus interpreted and put on a level with the thought of Aristotle or of the Biblical serpent who promised our forefather that "knowledge" would make him equal to God. And it never for a moment entered into Hegel's mind that in this lies the terrible, fatal Fall, that "knowledge" does not make a man equal to God, but tears him away from God, putting him in the clutches of a dead and deadening "truth." The "miracles" of Scripture (i.e., the omnipotence of God) were, as we recall, contemptuously rejected by Hegel, for as he explains in another passage: "It is impossible to require of men that they believe in things in which they cannot believe past a certain degree of education: such a faith is faith in a content which is finite and fortuitous, that is, which is not true: for true faith has no fortuitous content." According to this, "a miracle is a violation of the natural connection of phenomena, and is therefore a violation of the spirit."



[1] Kierkegaard (1813—1855) actually died at forty-two. (This footnote and the two that follow are adapted from those written by James M. Edie and James P. Scanlan for their translation of the Preface. Tr.)
[2] From Belinsky's letter to Botkin, March 1, 1841. Tr.

  • agree: To agree is to say “yes” or to think the same way.
  • arrive: To arrive is to get to or reach some place.
  • lot: A lot means a large number or amount of people, animals, things, etc.
  • moment: A moment is a second or a very short time.
  • moment: A moment is a second or a very short time.
  • promise: To promise is to say you will do something for sure.
  • create: To create means to make something new.
  • evil: Evil describes something or someone bad or cruel, not good.
  • terrible: If something is terrible, it is very bad.
  • among: If you are among certain things, they are all around you.
  • describe: To describe is to say or write what someone or something is like.
  • ever: Ever means at any time.
  • fail: To fail means you do not succeed in what you try to do.
  • instead: Instead means in place of.
  • solve: To solve something is to find an answer to it.
  • suppose: To suppose is to guess.
  • universe: The universe is the known or supposed objects in space.
  • view: To view is to look at something.
  • avoid: To avoid something is to stay away from it.
  • concern: Concern is a feeling of worry.
  • content: To be content is to be happy and not want more.
  • expect: If you expect something to happen, you believe it will happen.
  • punish: To punish means to make someone suffer for breaking the rules or laws.
  • belong: If something belongs to you, you own it.
  • result: A result is something that happens because of something else.
  • since: Since is used to talk about a past event still happening now.
  • advantage: An advantage is something that helps you.
  • cause: To cause is to make something happen.
  • choice: A choice is the act or possibility of picking something.
  • dead: To be dead is to not be alive.
  • follow: To follow means to go behind someone and go where they go.
  • individual: An individual is one person.
  • pet: A pet is an animal that lives with people.
  • wise: To be wise is to use experience and intelligence to make good choices.
  • claim: To claim means to say that something is true.
  • condition: The condition of someone or something is the state that they are in.
  • difference: A difference is a way that something is not like other things.
  • famous: If someone or something is famous, they are known to many people.
  • harm: Harm is hurt or problems caused to someone or something.
  • protect: To protect someone is to stop them from getting hurt.
  • therefore: Therefore means for this reason.
  • accept: To accept something that is offered is to take it.
  • contrast: A contrast is the sharp difference between two things.
  • familiar: If someone or something is familiar to you, you know them well.
  • necessary: If something is necessary, you must do it.
  • require: To require something is to say that it is necessary.
  • single: If something is single, then there is only one.
  • tear: To tear something means to pull it apart.
  • against: To be against something is to be touching it or opposed to it.
  • discover: To discover something is to find it for the first time.
  • identify: o identify something is to be able to name it.
  • taste: A taste is the flavor something makes in your mouth.
  • certain: If you are certain about something, you know it is true.
  • chance: A chance is an opportunity to do something.
  • essential: If something is essential, it is very important and necessary.
  • far: If something is far, it is not close.
  • image: The image of something is a picture of it.
  • immediate: If something is immediate, it happens quickly.
  • primary: If something is primary, it is the most important thing.
  • remain: To remain somewhere is to stay there.
  • rest: To rest is to stop being active while the body gets back its strength.
  • separate: If two things are separate, they are not together.
  • trouble: Trouble is a problem ora difficulty.
  • creature: A creature is any living thing.
  • introduce: To introduce someone or something is to say who they are.
  • truth: The truth is a fact or something that is right.
  • alone: If someone is alone, they are not with another person.
  • quality: The quality of something is how good it is.
  • thin: If someone or something is thin, they are not fat.
  • blood: Blood is the red liquid in your body.
  • cell: A cell is a small room where a person is locked in.
  • demand: To demand something is to say strongly that you want it.
  • equal: To be equal is to be the same.
  • hole: A hole is an opening in something.
  • owe: To owe is to have to pay or give back something received from another.
  • position: A position is the way something is placed.
  • raise: To raise something is to lift it up.
  • sight: A sight is something interesting to see.
  • whole: Whole means all of something.
  • direct: If something is direct, it goes straight between two places.
  • limit: A limit is the largest or smallest amount of something that you allow.
  • yet: Yet is used to say something has not happened up to now.
  • ancient: If something is ancient, it is very old.
  • century: A century is one hundred years.
  • exist: To exist is to be real.
  • original: If something is original, it is the first one of that thing.
  • process: A process is the steps to take to do something.
  • celebrate: To celebrate is to do something to show that an event is special.
  • level: A level is a point on a scale that measures something.
  • lone: If someone or something is lone, they are the only one of that kind.
  • exact: If something is exact, it is just the right amount.
  • indicate: To indicate means to show, point or make something clear.
  • offer: To offer is to present someone with something.
  • treat: To treat is to act in a certain way toward someone.
  • conclusion: The conclusion of something is the final part of it.
  • foreign: If something is foreign, it is from a different country.
  • however: However means despite or not being influenced by something.
  • mention: To mention something is to talk about it.
  • already: If something happens already, it happens before a certain time.
  • basic: If something is basic, it is very simple or easy.
  • consider: To consider something means to think about it.
  • extra: If something is extra, it is more than what is needed.
  • goal: A goal is something you work toward.
  • lie: To lie is to say or write something untrue to deceive someone.
  • real: If something is real, it actually exists.
  • regard: To regard someone or something is to think of them in a certain way.
  • worth: If something is worth an amount of money, it costs that amount.
  • appear: To appear is to seem.
  • career: A career is a job that you do for a large part of your life.
  • effort: Effort is hard work or an attempt to do something.
  • enter: To enter a place is to go into it.
  • later: Later means after the present, expected, or usual time.
  • though: Though is used when the second idea makes the first seem surprising.
  • earn: To earn means to get money for the work you do.
  • occur: To occur means to happen.
  • behind: Behind means to be at the back of something.
  • course: A course is a class in school.
  • mental: If something is mental, it has to do with your mind.
  • remove: To remove something is to take it away.
  • complex: If something is complex, it has many small parts. It is hard to understand.
  • fit: If something fits, it is small enough orthe right size to go there.
  • passage: A passage is a long area with walls that goes from one place to another.
  • period: A period is an amount of time when something happens.
  • recognize: To recognize something is to know it because you have seen it before.
  • sign: A sign is a notice giving information, directions, a warning, etc.
  • attention: Attention is the notice, thought, or consideration of someone.
  • imply: To imply something is to suggest it without saying it.
  • maintain: To maintain means to make something stay the same.
  • otherwise: Otherwise means different or in another way.
  • gift: A gift is something you give someone.
  • quite: Quite is used to say that something is complete or very much.
  • rather: Rather is used when you want to do one thing but not the other.
  • notice: To notice something is to see it for the first time.
  • own: To own something means to have it. That thing belongs to you.
  • rush: To rush is to go somewhere or do something very quickly.
  • gain: If you gain something, you get more of it.
  • importance: Importance means the quality or condition of being needed or valued.
  • knowledge: Knowledge is information that you have about something.
  • mean: Mean describes someone who is unkind or cruel.
  • respect: Respect is a good opinion of someone because they are good.
  • above: If something is above, it is at a higher level than something else.
  • ahead: If something is ahead of something else, it is in front of it.
  • evidence: Evidence is a fact or thing that you use to prove something.
  • master: A master is a person who is very good at something.
  • proper: If something is proper, it is right.
  • section: A section is a part of something larger.

  • agree: To agree is to say “yes” or to think the same way.
  • arrive: To arrive is to get to or reach some place.
  • lot: A lot means a large number or amount of people, animals, things, etc.
  • moment: A moment is a second or a very short time.
  • moment: A moment is a second or a very short time.
  • promise: To promise is to say you will do something for sure.
  • create: To create means to make something new.
  • evil: Evil describes something or someone bad or cruel, not good.
  • terrible: If something is terrible, it is very bad.
  • among: If you are among certain things, they are all around you.
  • describe: To describe is to say or write what someone or something is like.
  • ever: Ever means at any time.
  • fail: To fail means you do not succeed in what you try to do.
  • instead: Instead means in place of.
  • solve: To solve something is to find an answer to it.
  • suppose: To suppose is to guess.
  • universe: The universe is the known or supposed objects in space.
  • view: To view is to look at something.
  • avoid: To avoid something is to stay away from it.
  • concern: Concern is a feeling of worry.
  • content: To be content is to be happy and not want more.
  • expect: If you expect something to happen, you believe it will happen.
  • punish: To punish means to make someone suffer for breaking the rules or laws.
  • belong: If something belongs to you, you own it.
  • result: A result is something that happens because of something else.
  • since: Since is used to talk about a past event still happening now.
  • advantage: An advantage is something that helps you.
  • cause: To cause is to make something happen.
  • choice: A choice is the act or possibility of picking something.
  • dead: To be dead is to not be alive.
  • follow: To follow means to go behind someone and go where they go.
  • individual: An individual is one person.
  • pet: A pet is an animal that lives with people.
  • wise: To be wise is to use experience and intelligence to make good choices.
  • claim: To claim means to say that something is true.
  • condition: The condition of someone or something is the state that they are in.
  • difference: A difference is a way that something is not like other things.
  • famous: If someone or something is famous, they are known to many people.
  • harm: Harm is hurt or problems caused to someone or something.
  • protect: To protect someone is to stop them from getting hurt.
  • therefore: Therefore means for this reason.
  • accept: To accept something that is offered is to take it.
  • contrast: A contrast is the sharp difference between two things.
  • familiar: If someone or something is familiar to you, you know them well.
  • necessary: If something is necessary, you must do it.
  • require: To require something is to say that it is necessary.
  • single: If something is single, then there is only one.
  • tear: To tear something means to pull it apart.
  • against: To be against something is to be touching it or opposed to it.
  • discover: To discover something is to find it for the first time.
  • identify: o identify something is to be able to name it.
  • taste: A taste is the flavor something makes in your mouth.
  • certain: If you are certain about something, you know it is true.
  • chance: A chance is an opportunity to do something.
  • essential: If something is essential, it is very important and necessary.
  • far: If something is far, it is not close.
  • image: The image of something is a picture of it.
  • immediate: If something is immediate, it happens quickly.
  • primary: If something is primary, it is the most important thing.
  • remain: To remain somewhere is to stay there.
  • rest: To rest is to stop being active while the body gets back its strength.
  • separate: If two things are separate, they are not together.
  • trouble: Trouble is a problem ora difficulty.
  • creature: A creature is any living thing.
  • introduce: To introduce someone or something is to say who they are.
  • truth: The truth is a fact or something that is right.
  • alone: If someone is alone, they are not with another person.
  • quality: The quality of something is how good it is.
  • thin: If someone or something is thin, they are not fat.
  • blood: Blood is the red liquid in your body.
  • cell: A cell is a small room where a person is locked in.
  • demand: To demand something is to say strongly that you want it.
  • equal: To be equal is to be the same.
  • hole: A hole is an opening in something.
  • owe: To owe is to have to pay or give back something received from another.
  • position: A position is the way something is placed.
  • raise: To raise something is to lift it up.
  • sight: A sight is something interesting to see.
  • whole: Whole means all of something.
  • direct: If something is direct, it goes straight between two places.
  • limit: A limit is the largest or smallest amount of something that you allow.
  • yet: Yet is used to say something has not happened up to now.
  • ancient: If something is ancient, it is very old.
  • century: A century is one hundred years.
  • exist: To exist is to be real.
  • original: If something is original, it is the first one of that thing.
  • process: A process is the steps to take to do something.
  • celebrate: To celebrate is to do something to show that an event is special.
  • level: A level is a point on a scale that measures something.
  • lone: If someone or something is lone, they are the only one of that kind.
  • exact: If something is exact, it is just the right amount.
  • indicate: To indicate means to show, point or make something clear.
  • offer: To offer is to present someone with something.
  • treat: To treat is to act in a certain way toward someone.
  • conclusion: The conclusion of something is the final part of it.
  • foreign: If something is foreign, it is from a different country.
  • however: However means despite or not being influenced by something.
  • mention: To mention something is to talk about it.
  • already: If something happens already, it happens before a certain time.
  • basic: If something is basic, it is very simple or easy.
  • consider: To consider something means to think about it.
  • extra: If something is extra, it is more than what is needed.
  • goal: A goal is something you work toward.
  • lie: To lie is to say or write something untrue to deceive someone.
  • real: If something is real, it actually exists.
  • regard: To regard someone or something is to think of them in a certain way.
  • worth: If something is worth an amount of money, it costs that amount.
  • appear: To appear is to seem.
  • career: A career is a job that you do for a large part of your life.
  • effort: Effort is hard work or an attempt to do something.
  • enter: To enter a place is to go into it.
  • later: Later means after the present, expected, or usual time.
  • though: Though is used when the second idea makes the first seem surprising.
  • earn: To earn means to get money for the work you do.
  • occur: To occur means to happen.
  • behind: Behind means to be at the back of something.
  • course: A course is a class in school.
  • mental: If something is mental, it has to do with your mind.
  • remove: To remove something is to take it away.
  • complex: If something is complex, it has many small parts. It is hard to understand.
  • fit: If something fits, it is small enough orthe right size to go there.
  • passage: A passage is a long area with walls that goes from one place to another.
  • period: A period is an amount of time when something happens.
  • recognize: To recognize something is to know it because you have seen it before.
  • sign: A sign is a notice giving information, directions, a warning, etc.
  • attention: Attention is the notice, thought, or consideration of someone.
  • imply: To imply something is to suggest it without saying it.
  • maintain: To maintain means to make something stay the same.
  • otherwise: Otherwise means different or in another way.
  • gift: A gift is something you give someone.
  • quite: Quite is used to say that something is complete or very much.
  • rather: Rather is used when you want to do one thing but not the other.
  • notice: To notice something is to see it for the first time.
  • own: To own something means to have it. That thing belongs to you.
  • rush: To rush is to go somewhere or do something very quickly.
  • gain: If you gain something, you get more of it.
  • importance: Importance means the quality or condition of being needed or valued.
  • knowledge: Knowledge is information that you have about something.
  • mean: Mean describes someone who is unkind or cruel.
  • respect: Respect is a good opinion of someone because they are good.
  • above: If something is above, it is at a higher level than something else.
  • ahead: If something is ahead of something else, it is in front of it.
  • evidence: Evidence is a fact or thing that you use to prove something.
  • master: A master is a person who is very good at something.
  • proper: If something is proper, it is right.
  • section: A section is a part of something larger.

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