interlude phil frags


  • Climacus begins this part as a kind of musical interlude, comically, to cover the 184 years that intervene between Christ's death and resurrection and the present day. 


This is absurd of course and SK knows that and does it for that very reason. It is absurd to interpose a few pages of writing to cover 184 years and equally absurd to expect people to wait 1843 years for what is to come. This adds to the general absurdity of the Xn proposal. 

He opens with a very complex riff on existence and essence, and their relationship to possibility, actuality and necessity. Along the way he criticizes Aristotle, who to that time had written the definitive sentences on such matters, for confusing essence (being as pure thought, what it is possible to think) with being or existence, the fact that X is or is not or comes to be. 

The first stage of the analysis gets to its nub on page 75, where Climacus rejects Ari's idea that "the possible can be predicated of the necessary." 

What can this mean? Climmie means that if something is necessary it cannot be possible because in existence, as opposed to in pure thought, when some Y necessarily exists it always already exists. It cannot come into existence, because if it did it would be a possible existent, and were it possible, it also might not be, and if it might not be it cannot be necessary. Therefore whatever is necessary has no relationship to possibility.

The subtext here, as elsewhere, is that if God is necessary being then he cannot appear in time as an existing individual because the very act of coming into existence from non-existence means the move from the possible to the actual and that is not possible for a necessary being; ergo, God cannot come into being in time, and yet Climacus has argued that if we assume that the truth is not in us, only a god can bring us the truth, and only in time, and yet reasoning tells us that god as necessary being cannot appear in time! So, what we were waiting for for 1843 years, the return or reappearance of God as an existing individual, cannot happen, according to reason. And yet it is the only answer that reconnects us to truth, if we assume that Socrates was more right when he worried that he did not know who he was than when he assumed that the truth is in us. 

Now we get a decisive and controversial paragraph, in which Climacus argues that all coming into existence must begin in freedom. Why does he say this? He argues that even when comings-into-existence (your birth or mine, as an example) seem caused and therefore necessary, they never are because ultimately the transition from possibility to actuality is, in a very serious sense, a completely blind spot in the progression from non-existence to existence. Clim's idea is that since there is nothing in non-existence that includes existence, existence cannot emanate from non-existence as a result. Hence there has to be a break, and a break that is not subject to conceptual imagining. This is what Clim means by 'freedom'. So, ultimately nothing can move from a state of non-existence to existence unless a "freely acting cause", which of course must already exist, chooses that transition, and such a choice and such a transition can never be forced, or necessary.

There is then, a radical and unbridgeable difference between existing things and necessary things, as well as a conceptually impenetrable freedom at the heart of all coming-to-be. It is not a long stride from all this to the conclusion that the ultimate "freely acting cause" has to be a necessary being (God?).



Climacus' riff on the historical (75-76) comes to this: having a history means having some form of beginning. Nature, in this decade before Darwin, still seems, at least to Climacus, only barely, but truly, historical, in the sense that for him nature only came into existence once and thus came into existence 'simultaneously', by which he means, with everything in it side by side, all starting at the same instant and then going on as an ensemble, in lock-step. We know today that this is ain't evolutionarily so. But the point is that nature has a history though a different sort of one than living subjects.

Living subjects in history are marked by what Climacus calls a 'redoubling'(76) which for C is the very essence of the dialectic of the historical: "a possibility of coming into existence within its own coming into existence."So, the strictly historical is that within which some being comes freely into itself within its already coming into being as an existing being. We become ourselves inside the act of becoming ourselves in the natural, less reflexive sense, and this tension of doubling constitutes the dialectic of history. And at the very heart of this coming to be inside coming to be is "a relatively freely acting cause (me choosing me within me) which in turn definitively points to an absolutely freely acting cause (God, or me choosing God paradoxically, or both?)

Our boy gets pretty systematic, nicht wahr?


Climacus also has some interesting and potentially radical things to say about the past, all of which speak to the Christian proposal in an indirect, philosophical way.

First, when we assert that the past cannot be changed in the present and say that what happened in the past is therefore in some sense necessary we are not being accurate. What happened then cannot now be changed, but it is not necessary because first it could have been different, because whoever acted in the past could, because they are free, have acted inside the act of coming to be, in a way different than they did, and so the unchangeability of the past has nothing to do with necessity but with the non-necessary fact that things went down in the way they went down. 

Second, and this is the secret radical element that motivated all that preceded it in this section, one can now actually change the past by repentance, "a higher change that nullifies" the past dialectically. This introduces a characteristically Xn category into the heart of the proceedings and enunciates one of  the central tenets of the existentialist (and oddly, self-help and 12 step) view of the world: we can, by our actions, alter the meaning of past events, not by obliterating them but by placing them in a different, non-determinative relationship to the present. I can then deny my past not by saying it did not exist but by withdrawing my relationship to it, or, by redrawing that relationship.

Climacus (and SK) see (77-78) the contemporary belief in the laws of history as an explicit rejection of this possibility and by extension as a mockery of the central idea of human freedom. If the past necessarily leads to, that is, causes, the future, and if that future has a determinable shape, then we have to say that when people act either to become something inside their becoming or to repent of what they have become, both these acts, which seem free, are  really not free, but as determined and caused as everything else. Climacus and SK find this position both repellent and conceptually flawed, and reject it because it makes repentance impossible and, on as deep a level, makes existence into a secondary and derivative category.



Here Climacus reflects on what, under his description, the past has to be.

First, he says that something genuinely historical, unlike nature which for him does not have a proper history, there is (79) "an intrinsic duplexity".

This means that at some moment everything now in the past was present; but, if present, it could always have been otherwise than what it was. So, even though it is "perpetually gone", it might not have been gone in just this way and so, it is both certain that it actually occurred and on some level not certain because as something that could have been willed to be otherwise, we cannot think of it as having had to be the way it was. So what has happened is always a dialectical tension between its actuality and what it also might have been. For Climacus the past cannot be seen as necessary, either as a construction or as a manifestation. 

By 'construction' here Climacus means the idea that each past event is a particular instance of a universal type, that the event indicates, or exemplifies, a more abstract principle. Climacus wants ultimately to reject such explanations as fictions. They might be useful in certain circumstances but they are always misleading, and they are especially dangerous when applied to past events in the life of the individual because they misrepresent the uncertainty, the might-not-have-been-ness, of each event. If every event is not an occasion, an accidental trigger for something timeless, but an irreducible free event, then every past event still matters because it is still 'live', uncertain, and its value can be remade via, per exemplium, repentance.

The key in all this is that when we know the past we do not know necessity; nothing must have happened. It could all have been otherwise and therefore what is now is equally tinged with uncertainty.

And this is where passion re-enters our picture. (80) Climacus clearly attributes philosophical wonder, which both Plato and Aristotle see as the source of philosophy, to knowing that the past is uncertain. If events are examples of necessity there is nothing to wonder about, no opening out and (possibly) up out of the iron system.  

The nub of this, on bottom 80, top 81, is the idea that when we look at the past we can see the presence of events but not their origin; the coming-into-existence is always "illusive" (not 'elusive'), in the sense that we imagine it but can neither think nor experience it. Events, for Climacus, erupt out of non-existence into existence with no process or transition. What is, just is, and always could either not have been or could have been otherwise. 

Climacus gives a nice little analysis, on page 81, of what apprehending an event is like. We will not reproduce it here but do it in class. The upshot is this lovely passage:


"It is clear, then, that the organ for the historical .... must have within itself the corresponding something by which in its certitude it continually annuls the incertitude that corresponds to the uncertainty of coming into existence -- a double uncertainty:the the nothingness of non-being and the annihilated possibility, which is also the annihilation of every other possibility."



"This is precisely the nature of belief. Thus, belief believes what it does not see" We cannot see coming-to-be, and must believe that whatever is present must have, and also that it might be other than it is. (top of 82)

There follows a highly sophisticated take on Greek skepticism, which according to Climacus had nothing to do with doubting the immediate deliverances of the senses, which are always just what they are, but involved suspending judgments about what these meant, thus making skepticism not a matter of epistemology, in which one is forced into doubt, but of will and attitude and spiritual position, in which, to produce inner tranquility, one suspends judgments that could lead one astray while maintaining one's belief in the deliverances of the senses. And this suspension of judgment, this unwillingness to judge, has ultimately everything to do with the recognition of how uncertain we must always be about the coming-into-existence of what is present. (82-83)

This leads to a more complete formulation of the nature of belief:

(83)"Belief is not a knowledge but an act of freedom, an expression of will. It believes the coming into existence and has annulled in itself the incertitude that corresponds to the nothingness of that which is not."

It also wills to 'forget' the inherent otherness involved in coming into existence, namely the idea that what is present either might not have been or might have been present in a different way.

In both circumstances (84) belief is not "a conclusion, but a resolution, and thus doubt is excluded." 


And Climacus goes further -- neither belief nor doubt are cognitive acts, "they are opposite passions" (84) because 

"Belief is a sense for coming into existence, and doubt is a protest against any conclusion that wants to go beyond immediate sensation and immediate knowledge."

He ends the section with an equally subtle riff on historical knowledge. He says that to get history we have make what is past present by experiencing it in its immediacy and therefore also in its irreducible uncertainty (it popped into existence and could have been otherwise), so that (85) what is historical can never be seen as necessary but as always made contingent by its radical coming-into-beingness. If the historical were necessary then it would never come into existence. The necessary is the purely, conceptually possible, never the actual.

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