Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard, the father of existentialism, equates the human responsibility of achieving self-hood (subjectivity) with truth. Kierkegaard’s notion of self is the union of acts that relate between dualities such as finite/infinite, necessity/possibility, and temporal/timeless. This is a negative space of the Hegelian synthesis of duals that moves from descriptive to prescriptive ethics. Truth or the realization of the self is known through the active choice of relating between duals without identifying too closely with either poles (failure results in forms of despair). An important case concerns the religious duality between sin/faith which is powered by the tension between Christianity’s paradox to reason and the necessity of a leap to faith. Although Kierkegaard’s process of individuation (achieving selfhood) occurred predominantly along religious lines, he introduced a number of general concepts that speaks to the human condition.

Kierkegaard

The responsibility of achieving selfhood compels one to make conscious choices at every moment. Each moment entails a great number of choices, and their multiplicity of consequences to consider lead the subject to experience a “dizziness of freedom” or angst/dread. This paralysis by analysis, or the anticipation of consequences render one immobile and unable to make a choice for fear of sin. Conversely, it is the experience of anxiety that allows one to move away from unconscious ignorance and into one’s potential for action, self-recognition, and identity.

Kierkegaard posits three existential stages of life along the way of becoming a true self:

  1. The aesthetic (the hedonist) lives for sensory experience and pleasure as a way to combat boredom; Boredom is characterized as “the root of all evil-the despairing refusal to be oneself” as it is an undifferentiated or an undirected state of consciousness. The aesthetes who avoid boredom through the pursuit of novelty also avoids commitments as it requires repetition. Common techniques to suspend boredom is through anticipation which delays gratification, and the so-called “rotation method” where one cycles between activities so that no one activity’s novelty is exhausted.  However, the mode of living is self-serving and ultimately meaningless as it ignores the dimension of other individuals or society.
  2. The ethical is the antithesis of the aesthetic where one lives a life according to well-defined rules for the good of society rather than for the self. In the process acting according to higher principles, new pleasures may be realized that could not by the aesthetic. For example, while the novelty of marriage wears off, the act of giving to your spouse and children is rewarding.
  3. The religious is the final stage of the true self which requires a commitment to the moral absolutes of God. Such absolutes are communicated not through social institutions such as the church, but through a personal relation or revelation of God. Such absolutes require a “teleological suspension of the ethical” as they may contradict that of social norms; one may have to sacrifice pleasures of both the aesthetic and the ethical to reach this. Thus, one can consider revelation (disclosure of divine moral absolutes) as the synthesis of the pursuit of novelty (now the spiritual sphere) and the repetition of commitment (now in the subjective sphere).

 

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Kierkegaard describes the experience along these stages of life in terms of despair that arise from an unbalanced identification with poles of duals (lack of  finitude/infinitude, necessity/possibility). Three levels are given:

  1. The lowest level is the ignorance of one being in despair or of having a self (unconscious of self). One may be unable to realize one’s potential in life as he/she is fully in pursuit of novelty or of sensuous dichotomies of agreeable/disagreeable. He/she imagines himself happy but is actually dependent on the various objects of pleasure (materialist). Conversely, the system-builder who lives inside abstractions is divorced from experience. The system is merely a scaffold over an abyss from which the self’s relation to the concrete is  hidden.
  2. The next level is conscious despair where one understands the condition of having to relate to duals but not the specific causes. One may despair against becoming oneself and run away by becoming someone else; he/she may refuse to become a self through feelings of unworthiness. The person may even be able to identify his weaknesses but become identified with the weaknesses themselves and refuse help by God.
  3. The final level is demonic despair against the eternal itself where one is hardened by suffering and so defies any help; the person identifies with despair itself as suffering lifts him/her in uniqueness above everyone else.
Kierkegaard

Bergson

BergsonMindmap

Bergson’s philosophy distinguishes two forms of time which provides a counter-argument to Kant’s free-will as partly subject to causality. Kant, along with most philosophers have adopted spatial or mathematical-time which borrows from our intuitions on the divisibility of space; time acquires discrete units and can be measured. Bergson argues that pure time or duration is both continuous and indivisible; events evade comparison and so there neither can be mechanistic determinism nor teleology. Duration is initially described as qualitative multiplicity (heterogeneous-temporal) as opposed to quantitative multiplicity (homogeneous-spatial);  a typical example follows the experience of interpenetrating feelings (one feeling transforming into another) which evade non-conceptual comparison (akin to the difference senses).  A lesser image is one of color gradient/spectrum where different colors are represented but do not interpenetrate. Thus, duration can be characterized by heterogeneous moments that blend or progress from one form to another; it evades conceptualization as language imposes structures that demarcate categories and would separate duration.

Intuition for Bergson is the experience of entering into oneself (sympathy); it escapes the divisioning of things into parts and then the re-synthesis into categories that only give relative knowledge (regularized by our needs). By entering into a thing (a Buddhist principle), we are able to move between others through effort by sensing differences (other durations). This movement allows extremes in heterogeneity to be connected (e.g. red to blue) and thus unify dualistic positions. The prolongation of past movement with the current moment, Bergson calls memory and equates with intuition or image. Image is a middle-ground between material in realism and representation in idealism; representation is a sectioning of the image for utility’s sake whereas material lacks the power to cause representations. The canonical example of memory follows the image of the inverted cone intersected with the plane; the apex represents the present, the base is pure memory or the unconscious, and the plane is the representation of the world (if the apex intersects with the plane, then the image of the body participates in the world).  Thinking  focuses the cone on distant memories to produce singular images; this is a movement from interpenetration into fragmentation. Action contracts the singular images so that only one is selected; the scene contracts to a single image whence a generalization can be made.

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Bergson’s third principle of creative evolution reconciles the continuity/interpenetration of duration (time) with the practical utility of representation (space); the theory consists of four parts:

  1. Vital impulse: This is an all-embracing impulse at the beginning of life to explain change and the tendency towards consciousness/complexity. It is unlike mechanism which is specific enough to account (drive) all novelty from low-order parts. It is unlike finality which explains complexity in hindsight (w.r.t. final causes).
  2. Principle of divergence/differentiation: Life differentiates itself according to opposing instinct and intelligence. Within instinct are more opposites such as mobility/immobility (e.g. animals/plants). Intelligence or the production of representations in humans and lesser primates are differentiated from tool use/creation to abstract thought. Human, whose ego is the product of intelligence is at a loss from instinct which is necessary for understanding time and ultimately, vital impulse (source of change).
  3. Intelligence/Instinct: This is the claim that a shred of instinct remains within man’s being; both intelligence and instinct are tendencies that have origins in the production of change. For example, one can both read how to swim (intelligence) and actually swim by immersing oneself into water (instinct).
  4. Intuition or the process of getting in touch with things themselves within themselves  (navigating heterogeneous interpenetrating  moments) allows man to gain knowledge of the absolute.
Bergson