When we read SK (Kierkegaard) we have to be very very careful because, like any really good philosopher, he can lend himself to a smart, plausible reading that is deeply misleading. I know that this sounds mighty suspicious of me but I am convinced that most readings of the Big Guys/Gals fill me with trepidation.


So, in this spirit, let's proceed to look at SK' Fragments.


We start with his analysis of the project of philosophy. He begins, as Climacus, with Socrates and Plato, and with the Meno and the Phaedo. Here Climacus first sketches out, with some precision if not textual length, a very insightful reading of what Plato was intending.

SK/Climacus takes this as indicative of the philosophical project in general, at which I will get in a moment.

What does Plato say? He argues that the question, 'Can we learn the truth?', is central to philosophy, and it is, for obvious reasons. If we cannot learn the truth then there is nothing for philosophy, which is a search for wisdom, to do. If we always already knew the truth philosophy's job would be done before it began. But if we do not currently know the truth there must, pari passu, be a problem, namely that although we might be able to learn the truth, we do not at the moment know how to learn it, and therefore cannot currently know whether any of the beliefs we have are true or not. (This, by the way, is also close to where Descartes begins his Meditations 2,000 years later, with the question of how he can trust his current beliefs if cherished beliefs he once honestly held to be true have now been proven false.)

Plato's question, If I do not now know the truth how can I possibly learn it? If I do not possess the truth then I cannot know when I am presented with it, and so no one can teach me how to discern it. The problem hinges on the relationship between having the truth and then having the condition that allows me to recognize it. 

I must somehow have the condition, the inner ability to discern what is true from what is nontrue, before I can learn the truth but I cannot learn this condition any more for example than my dogs can learn the condition of thinking of things in terms of property lines or political divisions like cities and towns. No matter how well and clearly and often I explain counties and states to Bella and Coltrane they will understand nothing because they do not previously possess the condition for knowing these things.

Plato's very clever answer to this seemingly unanswerable conundrum, a conundrum that must have an answer or people would never know that such a thing as truth existed, and they do, is that human beings must always already be is possession of the condition that makes learning truth possible. That is they must already know what the truth is, and what truths there are, and they must always haveknopwn.

Thus the wise person or teacher cannot actually teach in the sense of telling people something that they do not know -- this is for Plato an impossibility -- but he/she can remind the learner of what she already knows. Thus, being a philosopher does not consist in finding out the truth but in helping others to bring it basck, and in organizing and naming correctly what has been brought back. 

The assumption here has to be that everyone is always in the truth and that the temporary condition of not knowing this can be overcome by the learner. 
Under this description -- and this matters terribly to Kierkegaard -- the occasion under which one gets reminded of the truth is not important in itself because it is accidental to getting the truth. The historical instant may have sentimental importance but is not metaphysically crucial. One can miss this moment but catch the next and nothing is lost because the truth is always timelessly there and thereforeany occasion can lead to it. Plato's view of truth entirely devalues history, or momentary existence, and also devalues the individual as the  who learns the truth because the truth that one learns or recalls is not one's own individual truth but the truth in the most general sense, which belongs in exactly the same way to everyone who remembers it.

This is one of the unnoted tensions in Plato's Phaedo, his dialogue about the immortality of the soul. Socrates interlocutors, Simmias and Cebes, are not so much skeptical about whether the soul survives the death of the body -- they admit that Socrates has proven his case -- but are to the end of the piece dispirited by the fact that the soul whose immortality the Socrates so cleverly and so often proves is an impersonal one with no reference to the thoughts and feelings of the individual who dies. What survives is Reason, the Truth, not me as an historical. accidental individual. And it is this that Kierkegaard is interested in and which Plato never takes up. 


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