Kierkegaard And Wittgenstein

.. esults in a contradiction.

By abiding by his stringent conclusions where possible, and committing the same mistakes he criticizes others for when necessary, he manages to say both too much and not enough. Both authors creatively use indirect methods to advance their ideas when those ideas have to be shown, rather than said. In another vein, both Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein spent much of their writing concerning the limit of thought, as applied to their respective fields. What exactly is the limit of thought? For Kierkegaard, it involved the point at which no further rational analysis of religious concepts can take place, and the individual must accept that logic ceases to apply to non-rational ideas in religion.The significant moment in this realization comes with the ‘leap of faith’ toward God, which can have no justification.

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Most of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus is taken up with the notion that there exist limits of thought and language beyond which discussion is literally nonsensical. In it, he carefully describes what he considers to be the logical structure of the world and how that structure necessarily imposes limits on any language used to picture it. A careful examination of particular aspects of their ideas concerning the limits of thought will no doubt further our understanding of both. For the purposes of helping to clarify what it means to be a Christian, Kierkegaard invents a useful characterization of the stages or developments in a person’s life.These stages, or spheres as he often refers to them, characterize how an individual appropriates truths about his or her world. The first and most basic is the aesthetic sphere, in which individuals acknowledge only sensory truths and live life according to hedonistic pleasure/pain principles. This progresses into the ethical sphere, which is achieved by recognizing the importance of making decisions, universalization, and the community. The ethical sphere is logical and involves the justification to others of decision-making.

This is in distinct contrast to the final sphere, the religious. The religious sphere for Kierkegaard transcends logic and is intimately subjective (read: personal, not arbitrary), involving a one-on-one relationship with God.Since language is public and shared, it lies in the realm of the universal ethical sphere, and hence has no relevance in the religious sphere. Hence those who are religious cannot communicate their knowledge of religious matters. No explanation of or justification for the religious sphere can exist, since it would take place in language, which is not available as an option. Further application of the limit of thought for Kierkegaard includes the notion of subjective truth. Subjective truth deals with how one apprehends ideas, rather than the ideas themselves, which is in the realm of objective truth.

According to him, objective truth is by its nature public, verifiable, and hence uninteresting and unimportant. We can all agree what color a given chair is, or any other objective fact of science. Even if there were a contention among people as to a fact, facts about the world are not what matter to individuals – it is how one personally apprehends them that matter. As an example, Kierkegaard praises Socrates for vehemently questioning the existence of God over a Christian who believes he or she has all the right answers and need no longer be concerned. It is how one is connected to a topic that is important, rather than the topic itself. This creates a limit to rational thought, in that rational objective consideration only amounts to so much.To wit, since what is most important in one’s life is subjective and not available for public scrutiny, ethics for Kierkegaard are entirely internal; others are not capable of being judged, as we cannot know their subjective apprehension of ethics. Contrast and compare that with Wittgenstein, who believes that ethics cannot be discussed for different reasons.

For him, the meaning of the world is not in the world, and therefore ethics are entirely transcendental and hence are incapable of being discussed intelligibly. The idea of the ‘limit of thought’ permeates the Tractatus. The clearest exposition I can find offered in it comes from 4.12: Propositions can represent the whole of reality, but they cannot represent what they have in common with reality in order to be able to represent it – logical form.In order to be able to represent logical form, we should have to be able to station ourselves with propositions somewhere outside logic, that is to say outside the world.

This seems to be the most basic contention about concepts unable to be properly expressed in language, that the content of a nonlinguistic fact must somehow pertain to logical form. The logical form is the structure of the simple components in a complex object. So the logical form of a photograph is what it has in common with what it pictures. The logical form of a sentence is what it has in common with the fact it states.To return to the concept of ethics for a moment, we can see that any statement that purports to contain ethical content cannot, since it would necessarily show the logical form of the state of affairs beyond logic and therefore the world, which is impossible. Therefore since whatever can be thought can be said, the limit of thought for Wittgenstein is the boundary between statements and the logical form of those statements. The relationship between Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein intensifies then, as we examine more how the structure of their work displays another strong parallel.

The religious sphere and its associated properties of subjectivity and non-rationality set the limit of thought for Kierkegaard. The inherent structure of logic and language creates natural boundaries for Wittgenstein.Which leads us to the final point of comparison between the two: absurdity and nonsense. These concepts stem from their parallel construction of the limits of thought, but are obviously unique.

Kierkegaard’s ‘absurdity’ is motivated by the desire by many to explain the religious sphere through the ethical sphere. The central focus in this discussion is on faith and the religious sphere’s placing more importance on the individual over the universal, which according to the ethical sphere is absurd. The subject of his work Fear and Trembling, the Bible’s Abraham was asked by God to sacrifice his only son without explanation. An exemplar of faith, Abraham remained dutiful and prepared to do what his God asked of him without qualm.This conflicts with ethical ideas we all generally share about right and wrong: it seems unethical to kill any child, let alone one’s own child for no reason. But Kierkegaard maintains that the religious transcends the ethical, and therefore that faith will always remain unjustified and hence absurd. Wittgenstein’s notions of nonsense ultimately stem from the misuse of language and violating the limit of thought.

By nonsense, he means statements that are neither true nor false or questions that have no answers. In this way, many of the so-called deepest philosophical problems resolve by dissolving, or showing that they are really nonsense in disguise.It is in this spirit that he says that if one understands him, one will recognize what he says as nonsense: that he is abusing language in order to show how there can be such a thing as language abuse.

It should become clear at this point that Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein share enough methodology to warrant significant comparison. Is this result trivial, though? Had Wittgenstein merely read Kierkegaard and adapted or incorporated his mode of thought? There is documented evidence that Wittgenstein had at least read some of Kierkegaard’s work, but nothing to indicate he appreciated anything more than its religious content. Regardless of possible influence, these philosophers’ works exhibit so many parallels that an understanding of one should greatly help in understanding another. Further, the emphasis by both on the limits and delineations of their respective fields serves to remind us to pay attention to them in our own work.

And finally, they offer a new way of thinking about problems when faced with the inability to communicate directly that we can undoubtedly learn from. Philosophy Essays.