Søren Kierkegaard

1. Either/Or: "Victor Eremita" is editor.  The part we read is by "A".  There is an ethical portion by "Judge Wilhelm".  And a seducer’s diary by "Johannes". 

·        Don Juan loves women for being what he can see them as: women.  The line is repeated by A: “if she just wears a skirt, you know well enough what he does.”  Don Juan wants women for being women, rather than for being the particular individuals they are.  He does not look for anything unusual.  But in doing so, he is looking at what all women have in common—femininity, something abstract, universal, repeatable.  While he is aware of the differences between women, they are not what moves him.

·        Each woman is equally a woman, and he sees the beauty of femininity in them all.  “The old ones he rejuvenates into the beautiful middle age of womanhood;  the child he almost matures in an instant;  everything that is woman is his prey.”  Thus, each one is completely satisfactory to Don Juan.  If Don Juan is with Elvira—one of the women he has seduced in the past—he does not think of the 1002 other women.  Elvira is enough, since she is a woman, and that’s all he needs.  When Don Juan is with a woman, she is everything to him.  After he has seduced her—after they have had sex—he leaves.  She is no longer anything special to him.  It is not that he has conquered her.  Rather, it is that he no longer has a desire.  When the desire comes again, the desire for a woman, he will seduce a woman who is close to hand.  He does not call after the one night stand, for what’s the point?  He’s had what he wanted.

·        What matters for Don Juan is not any feature of the woman that can be described.  All that matters is his sensual awareness of her as a woman, which then moved him.  There is nothing rational, wordy (logos as both word and reason in Greek) here.  It is not that he sees a woman, says to himself: “Ah, a woman.  I like women.  Therefore, I want to have her.”  Rather, he sees and seduces.  If we try to understand in a verbal way, we will fail.  Don Juan can only be expressed in music.  Music has the kind of sensuous universality.  By universality the philosopher means what Jennifer Whiting calls repeatability.  Music is repeatable: the very same music, the very same motif or even whole piece, can be played again and again.  And yet it is entirely sensuous

·        But A writes about Don Juan in words.  Does A contradict himself there?  Maybe: maybe this is why it is A who is writing this, not Kierkegaard.

·        Author A intends no moral judgment upon Don Juan.  Indeed, he does not think in terms of morality at all—he is entirely an esthetic character.  At the same time, Kierkegaard thinks that sensuous love is at the lowest stage of the human character.

·        Note the contrast with the Symposium.  According to the Symposium, at the very lowest and most sensuous level one loves a single individual.  Only later does one gain the understanding that there are other individuals who share certain repeatable qualities with the first individual.  But for Kierkegaard, the lowest sensuous level is in fact the level where one already loves the universal.  Don Juan loves each woman for being an instance of the Form of Womanhood—he loves her for the universal in her.  Don Juan thus is not quite at the bottom of the ladder—his love reaches out to all women already.  However, unlike the fellow at the second step of the ladder, Don Juan does not reflect on the fact that all these women have Womanhood in common.  He is thus both higher and lower than the guy at the bottom of Diotima’s ladder.

·        This, I think, contains Kierkegaard’s judgment on Plato’s account of love.  For Plato, sensuous love did not involve any abstraction.  Love of a single concrete individual in her concreteness was at the very lowest stage.  On the other hand, Kierkegaard recognizes that sensuous love cares only for repeatable features, and hence does not love the concrete individual as an individual.  Kierkegaard thinks that concreteness of the object of love is essential to the love being valuable.  Otherwise, the love abstracts.  The person is not loved for being herself, but for being good, or beautiful, or female.  And none of these are satisfactory. 

·        Don Juan is not Kierkegaard’s ideal lover.  Don Juan exhibits the lowest stage: the sensual esthetic.  He does not exhibit the ethical stage of marital love, or the religious stage of love between God and human beings.

2. Faith according to Kierkegaard in his journals is something that does not need reasons.  (Excerpt from Diary 201): “It is possible to talk half humorously about reasons: So, at long last you want to have a few reasons.  I am happy to oblige. Do you want to have 3 or 5 or 7? How many do you want? But I can say nothing higher than this: I believe. This is the positive saturation point, just as when a lover says: She is the one I love, and he says nothing about loving her more than others love their beloveds, and nothing about reasons.”  Maybe one can do things like give arguments for the existence of God or for the truth of the Christian faith.  But this is a sort of game.  The religious person doesn’t take it seriously.  Her faith does not rest on these arguments. 

·        Likewise in love there is no giving of reasons.  Love is tied to the particularity of the beloved—she is the one for me.  It is not because she is beautiful, or smart, or virtuous.  No: it is just that she is who she is, in her own particularity.  One does not love her because of any qualities she has.  If one says: “I love her because …”, the because subtracts from the love.  It is not because of any quality she has that one loves her.  One just loves her.

·       This isn’t the only possible approach to religious faith, of course.  In his own time, many people sought to prove the Christian faith with certainty.  Other Christian groups have a more nuanced approach.  Thus, Catholics think you can give solid arguments for the existence of God—e.g., because somebody had to have created the universe if the universe is the sort of thing that did not have to exist—but believe that other things, like the doctrine of the Trinity, one cannot prove and has to accept on faith, though there is some evidence there, too:  “The Gospels were written by honest people and so it is almost surely true that Jesus rose from the dead and hence that what He taught is right.”  These are not proofs, but historical arguments. 

·        A moderate view that accepts the insights of Kierkegaard is that of John Henry Cardinal Newman.  One can give these sorts of arguments and they will make the Christian faith probable, but Newman insists that even if someone accepts all the arguments, she still needs to make a further step to have faith: she needs to go from probability to certainty.  It is not faith if all one has are arguments.  One needs to make the leap beyond the probabilities into commitment.  The same is true, one might think, of the case of love.  At some point one must let go of the reasons, and become committed absolutely.  In the case of faith, there are some hints that Kierkegaard might not substantially disagree with Newman, though the emphasis is different.  Would Kierkegaard then allow one to have initial reasons, as long as one makes a commitment that goes beyond these reasons?  The love, understood as full, committed love rather than the sensuous eros of Don Juan, only exists when one has made that commitment.  I do not know how faithful this more moderate approach is to Kierkegaard.

·        There are two kinds of reasons one could give for love.  One could say: “She is smart and beautiful, therefore she should be loved.”  This kind of a reason depends on qualities the beloved has, and Kierkegaard rejects it. 

·        But likewise Kierkegaard, I think, will reject reasons based on qualities that I, the lover, have.  One cannot say: “Everyone who is smart should love her;  I am smart;  therefore, I should love her.”  In doing that, one is comparing one’s love to the love of other people—or the love that other people should have—and the true lover does not do it.  Neither does it go like this: “I see her as lovable;  I am a good judge;  therefore, probably she is lovable;  so, I will love her.”  If one is doing that, then one isn’t relying on one’s conviction just because it is one’s own, but because it belongs to a smart person.  Imagine a person who argues to herself: “I am Christian.  I am pretty smart.  Therefore, Christianity is correct and I am right to be a Christian.”  Kierkegaard thinks this is pretty silly.  Already in the first step you express your faith—I am a Christian—so you should stop with that.  You do not need to compare yourself with other people.

·        Love dwells in a double subjectivity, in sense that there are two subjects, two people who have their own perceptions, consciousness and activity, and the love is grounded in this, rather than any qualities they might have.  Love is its own justification, just as faith is.

·        But what about the fact that other people sometimes love someone they shouldn’t?  Shouldn’t I worry that I might be in such a position?  No.  Here’s something that Kierkegaard might say.  If I love, then I have the absolute conviction that it is right to love.  As long as I love, I have this conviction.  Thus, to drop this conviction is to drop the love.

3. But how do I know whether I love?  Kierkegaard says that love, like faith, is known by actions.  The following thing can happen to a Christian, particularly a Protestant.  You wonder: “Am I good enough to get into heaven?”  Someone helpfully tells you: “You don’t have to worry about that.  If you have faith, you will be saved by faith not by what you do.”  But even if it is true—and Kierkegaard thinks it is—that you are saved by faith and not by what you do, this is rather bad advice.  For you are now going to be worrying about whether you have faith.  Now, faith is something in the heart, something invisible.  So your worry is only going to get larger.  You will be searching your heart: “Is there faith in my heart?”  According to Kierkegaard, Luther does not fall into this trap.  #2423.  You shouldn’t be searching your heart to see whether you have faith.  You tell whether you have faith by what you do, and so you do not need to engage in navel-gazing.  Likewise for love.  You shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that love is a feeling, something you search for.  I’m sure you’ve seen people in real life and movies agonizing: “Do I really love him or her?”  Searching their hearts, digging around in themselves.  What a pointless occupation, Kierkegaard will say.  Rather, they should just do the works of love—do good to the other person—and then they will know that they love the other person.

·        It is important for many of Kierkegaard’s sayings that we remember that love is not a feeling.  “But from a Christian point of view love is the works of love.  Christ’s love was not intense feeling, a full heart, etc.;  it was rather the work of love.”

·        Love is self-denial.  It has nothing to do with the benefits one has received (gratitude) or with the benefits one will receive (selfishness).

4. But back to the big question.  Loving for reasons.  Why do we love?  If we love for a reason, doesn’t that limit our love?  Make it conditional?  This is particularly true if our reason is selfish.  If we love someone for our own sake, even for the sake of being loved back.  (If you love something, let it go…)  Kierkegaard thinks that we shouldn’t love for the sake of ourselves...

5. Sacrifice in love.  Loving someone who has unintentionally hurt one while trying to do something good for us—for then it is clear that we are not being selfish, while we are recognizing someone’s doing something good for one.