Reasons Why I Love Kierkegaard – Part Two

Kierkegaard has been a favourite of mine since I first discovered his work when I was seventeen. I developed a bit of an obsession (which, if I’m honest, continues to this day) and have recently unearthed a load of notes on scrappy pieces of paper, from when I first read Fear and Trembling and a couple of his other books. This is the mind of seventeen-year-old Scar, working her way through Kierkegaardian philosophy.

“It is the duty of the human understanding to understand that there are things which it cannot understand, and what those things are.”

“The individual is and remains the anchor in the confusion of pantheism.”

“I am the ultimate phase of the poetic temper.”

“Some things are so important that they cannot be communicated directly.”

Valentin Weigel in Astrology Theologised: “And because it is true – that every internal is more noble and more worthy than his external, in which it is and dwells; that even all of us do witness, nilling or willing, knowing or not knowing.” –> parallels with Kierkegaard; truth as subjectivity

Fear and Trembling: “Certainly [Abraham] was surprised by the outcome, but by means of a double movement he had come back to his original position and therefore received Isaac more joyfully than the first time.”
1. Necronomicon: magical rituals involving “death” that isn’t actual death
2. Circular nature of life/Biblical/folk stories; important for resolution that people go back to the beginning – Romany death traditions

“The ethical as such is the universal, and as the universal it applies to everyone, which can be put from another point of view by saying that it applies at every moment.”

“Faith… is this paradox, that interiority is higher than exteriority, or to recall again an expression we used above, that the odd number is higher than the even.” –> A few pages earlier he talked about Pythagoras believing that the odd numbers are the most perfect.

It’s in the transcending of the abnormal to the supernormal; read good book – average speed; read very good book – fast; read excellent, life-changing book – slowish. Same with Kierkegaard’s knight of faith. (I have no idea what I’m getting at here.)

At some point I’ll start actually looking through all these notes properly and seeing if there might be anything useful in them, rather than just blogging about them as they happen to come up.

Who are your favourite philosophers?


Notebook Scribblings – Part Two

The other day, my computer broke and I had to find the receipt to check whether it was still in warranty (it wasn’t). This led to a frantic scrambling through the drawers in my office, where I found several cardboard boxes marked ‘receipts’. When I opened one of them, out fell a load of pieces of paper that definitely weren’t receipts, which turned out to be notes I made on scraplets of paper between the ages of about 17-21.

I don’t know what I meant by some of them, but perhaps typing them up will jog something in my memory and I’ll end up solving the Riemann hypothesis. More likely, I’ll never work out what most of them meant and will remain as confused as I no doubt was when I wrote them.

Anyway. Here goes.

Did they need their solitude? Wise women and cunning folk in pre-Christian society. Set apart because “wisdom” (of their sort) springs partly from solitude, but everyone knew who they were. When Christianity came along, it was all about the community becoming a homogenous mass of belief; anyone on the outskirts was immediately and automatically viewed with suspicion?

Role of imagination in forming the world. Strong desire. Will.

The overcoming of matter

JpegInterior glasses through which knowledge passes
Falling into the traps of the antinomies

(No, surprisingly, I wasn’t on drugs. Just weird.)

Perhaps I wore a hairnet of the mind,
To stop trailing tendrils
Across my thoughts.

(Still not on drugs. Somehow.)

Why is it that the very successful always have to break out of the cycle? If the cycle were really that great, wouldn’t the most successful be the ones who stayed in it?

JpegIs this the bread? I think it is. But maybe that’s just because we’re observing it; maybe it’s not really there at all. And maybe we’re not really going to eat it. And maybe the universe is fractal and Einstein was wrong. But right now it’s 4.00 in the morning and I don’t really care.

It’s all about definitions. Once you know the word, you know the thing.

Is there a universal linguistic form?

Correlation between subjects chosen to study at A-level and personality type/susceptibility to certain types of mental illness

To cut a long story short: An essay on contemporary culture

Why is human life so full of grotesque irony?

Disappear in a puff of logic

Ayez donc le coeur si plein, que la vengeance ne peut y trouver place.

Boethius – simultaneous observation
Existence as a temporal concept

Can you predict that which is undetermined?
Is Jung talking?

Can potentiality have a history?


To make a promise is to vouch for oneself as future. Such is the long history of the origin of responsibility. Responsibility without promises?

Pregnant with the future

Without causation, would life be suspended?

“Some things are so important that they cannot be communicated directly.” – Søren Kierkegaard

If we project words onto god, how do we know we’re hitting our target? Couldn’t we equally be projecting god onto words? The priority is god’s speech about godself, and everything else flows from that.

“Deus est circulus cuius centrum est ubique, cuius circumferentia vero nusquam.”

Is Jung talking about god, or about an aspect of the self that he’s calling god? Is there an aspect of the self with which we can know the reality of god? Or is this god?

God transcends the categories that the human mind can use, but the knowledge of god is caused by “psychical collision”. With what?

“The movement towards god is through interiority.”

Dieu est lieu?

Does god lie on the outside of the limits of what our reason can handle?

The inner reality of selfhood; how do you know that ‘the god’ encountered in the self is really distinct from the self?

Is religion what you do with your solitude?

Prayer is a ritual whose point lies in itself

JpegStrange, isn’t it, how  you can suddenly wake up and see the world through a haze, as if it isn’t really there. Or perhaps it is there, and you’re not.

Is movement any more than imagination?

“‘If a tree falls in the forest and no one’s there to hear it, is there a sound?’ Forget the sound, is there a tree?” – Peter Gallagher

What is life a tangent from?

“It is in mathematics that our thinking processes have their purest form.” – Penrose, Shadows of the Mind. Looking at his views re. Goedel’s theorem, does this mean that thought, in its purest form, is not sound? 😉

Might the cosmos not exist without our understanding? And might that not be true of ouselves? “Things are the way they are because we understand them.”

Can an actual infinite ever ‘exist at a particular time’?Jpeg
What if paradox IS the answer? pcq souvent on y arrive !

Do there have to be words about god for human beings to know god?

…reach the final point, where self-consciousness is conscious of itself.

What is it like to be, and to know non-being as my horizon?

Could we apply the notions of nonbeing and non-existence discussed in the introduction to Plato’s Sophist in a direct relationship with the concept of nothing in philosophy of mathematics?

There are several more, but I’ll leave it there for now. I do enjoy ploughing through old notebooks, though. It allows me to reknow myself as I was several years ago. And in some ways, I strive to recapture the time when everything was philosophy. I’ve lost some of that, in going to work all day and doing jobs that require my mind to be turned to them. When I was at university, I was working in a shoe shop, which meant that I could spend all day thinking about philosophy and no one was any the wiser (pun unintended…). Now, however, my mind is taken up by spreadsheets and clients and to-do lists, and I’d like to get back to a stage where that isn’t entirely the case.

But, you know, philosophy’s not such a feasible career option these days, and a girl’s gotta make rent.

Your challenge for today: I dare you to find an old diary, notebook or blog, reread it and remember fondly the parts of yourself that have been swallowed up since you had to become a Responsible Adult.

Reasons Why I Love Kierkegaard – Part One

My first ever introduction to philosophy was reading Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder when I was twelve. I was quickly hooked, and devoured as many philosophy books I could throughout my teenage years. I’d still say, though, that my first true introduction to philosophy was through Kierkegaard.

I’m not sure quite how to define the difference. I’d loved chewing over the big philosophical questions for years; I read Plato on the train, imagining myself at the Academy, taking part in the conversations. But Kierkegaard was how philosophy became personal to me.

I was seventeen years old and trying to decide what to do with my life. A lecturer at one of the universities I’d applied to sent me some quotes from The Sickness Unto Death, which he thought would be helpful. They were.

I went to my local library and asked if they had The Sickness Unto Death. I wanted to read the whole thing. They didn’t, but they did have a copy of Fear and Trembling. I checked it out, took it home and read it. And philosophy became real to me. All of a sudden I understood how I could create my own philosophical arguments; how I could look around at the world and think more deeply about it, without having to lean on texts that had already been written. It also helped me to make my decision about what to do with my life. It is a very special book to me. And I’ve had the same experience ever since: whenever I pick up a book by Kierkegaard, it seems to have entered my life at precisely the right time.

A couple of weeks ago I was wandering around London when I found myself in a bookshop. You know how it goes. Suddenly you have eighty-three books and no money. It wasn’t quite that bad, but I did find a biography of Kierkegaard for £7. It had to be mine.

Usually, I read obscenely quickly, but this is one of those books which I enjoy so much that I’m savouring it – reading slowly, reading other things in between – because I never want it to end. One of my favourite extracts so far:

“When I look upon the many and varied examples of the Christian life, it seems to me that instead of strength, Christianity… has deprived such people of their manhood, and that in comparison to the pagans they are like a gelding compared to a stallion.”

This amused me. In context, it also spoke of a similar phenomenon to one which we have studied as part of the Pilgrimage Project: that Pagan rituals are often less structured and ‘freer’ than Christian ones. By this I don’t mean that they’re superior. There’s a lot to be said for ritual that includes a level of gravity. The Catholic rituals we encountered on the Pilgrimage Project were often serious, perhaps even sombre: each part of the ritual including a sort of solemnity that underlined just how sacred the Catholics’ god is to them.


The Pagan rituals, by contrast, often felt like more joyful affairs. Perhaps to some this might seem inappropriate for a religious or spiritual setting, but it is representative of Pagan spirituality in general, or at least the parts of it I’ve studied. The goddesses, gods and spirits of the Pagans are more earthy, more real. They don’t bring to mind a faraway, unreachable being who may or may not be listening to entreaties from its followers, so much as a cacophony of voices who are accessible and somehow quite human – or perhaps not human, so much as ‘having personhood’.

A Pagan Beltane ritual
A Pagan Beltane ritual

Well, there you go. I have a few other quotes in my notebook and I was going to write about all of them, but this has taken up more words than I’d thought it would, so I shall leave it there for now and continue my raving about Kierkegaard in some future posts.

photo credit: Beltane 33 via photopin (license)

photo credit: White Wafer, Body of Christ, Film ‘Angels and Demons’, “Cardinal Strauss”, fictional depiction of the Catholic faith via photopin (license)

Ten Classic Philosophy Texts

A while ago, one of my Twitter friends (@SDMumford) tweeted about his ten classic philosophy texts to read before you die. His picks:

  1. Plato – Republic
  2. Descartes – Meditations
  3. Locke – Essay Concerning Human Understanding
  4. Hume – Treatise of Human Nature
  5. Kant – Critique (which one? I’d go for one of the ‘reasons’. Probably both).
  6. Spinoza – Ethics
  7. Aristotle – Metaphysics, Physics or Ethics?
  8. Berkeley – New Theory of Vision
  9. Mill – System of Logic
Hmm, that seems to be only nine. Unless you count Kant’s critiques as two, which would make sense.
This got me thinking about my top ten philosophy books – or the ones I think everyone should read. Honestly, it sort of depends which stage of philosophy you’re at, but assuming you haven’t read any at all, I’d go for:
  1. Russell – History of Western Philosophy
  2. Plato – Republic
  3. Descartes – Meditations
  4. Aristotle – Metaphysics
  5. Kant – both critiques
  6. Kierkegaard – Fear and Trembling
  7. Locke – Essay Concerning Human Understanding
  8. Hobbes – Leviathan
  9. Montaigne – Essays
  10. Sartre – Being and Nothingness
What would your recommendations be?

Fear & Trembling

Fear & Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard is one of my favourite books of all time. I first read it when I was seventeen, trying to decide what to do with my life, and have re-read it repeatedly over the years.

I read it again last week. As always, it was excellent. As always, I took a notebook with me and wrote down the bits that I thought were particularly interesting.

The book focuses on the Biblical story of Abraham journeying to Mount Moriah at God’s instruction to sacrifice his son Isaac: the son God gave him in order for the continuation of his line to be ensured. Kierkegaard (originally writing under the pseudonym of Johannes de Silentio) presents a treatment of this story, looking at the meaning of faith as implied by Abraham. He hones in on the idea of faith being separate from ethics, this latter being by definition “universal”, and faith being an action or belief that requires a movement beyond the universal, into the absolute.

I didn’t explain that well. Kierkegaard does it better. Anyway, the passages I found interesting this time round:

Certainly [Abraham] was surprised by the outcome, but by means of a double movement he had come back to his original position and therefore received Isaac more joyfully than the first time.

We see the notion of circularity pop up time and again in religion and in day to day life. Folk tales of yesteryear consistently bring up the idea of death and rebirth, usually moving with the seasons: autumn “killing off” the life that has been thriving throughout summer, the cold dead period of winter, and the joy of spring when new life is reborn. Countless religious rituals and social stories highlight the importance of this circularity.

The Abraham story is similar in many respects, taking the idea of a death and rebirth without Isaac actually being killed. Abraham’s faith that God would somehow resolve the situation did not stop him from feeling anguish that Isaac had to be sacrificed. And when his son was symbolically brought back to life by means of the replacement ram God provided so that the sacrifice was no longer needed, Abraham’s joy equalled that of the day when his son was first born.

The ethical as such is the universal, and as the universal it applies to everyone, which can be put from another point of view by saying that it applies at every moment.

I found this interesting. It’s on my list of things to think about further: can the ethical apply at every moment? I always seem to be the person who finds the exception to the rule in most situations (often I am the exception to the rule), and am intrigued at the thought of something that is universally applicable in the literal sense. Is that even possible, I wonder? Food for thought.

Faith… is this paradox, that interiority is higher than exteriority, or to recall again an expression we used above, that the odd number is higher than the even.

I’ll be honest: I mainly liked this because I have a slightly strange obsession with odd numbers. Kierkegaard harks back to Pythagoras’ belief that odd numbers are more ‘perfect’ than even ones. This makes me happy. Go figure.

Then faith’s paradox is this, that the single individual is higher than the universal, that the single individual… determines his relation to the universal through his relation to the absolute, not his relation to the absolute through his relation to the universal.

Faith is this paradox, and the single individual is quite unable to make himself intelligible to anyone.

The ethical is as such the universal; as the universal it is in turn the disclosed.


Repentance is the highest ethical expression but for that very reason the most profound ethical self-contradiction.


Quotes – The Analysis of Mind

Bertrand Russell was one of my favourite authors when I first became interested in philosophy, and he’s still someone whose work I refer to often. Here are some quotes from The Analysis of Mind, an excellent introductory text to the philosophy of mind.

‘A consistent fairytale is a different thing from truth, however elaborate it may be.’

‘A recollection is aroused by something which is happening now, but is different from the effect which the present occurrence would have produced if the recollected event had not occurred.’

‘All our data, both in physics and psychology, are subject to psychological causal laws; but physical causal laws, at least in traditional physics, can only be stated in terms of matter, which is both inferred and constricted, never a datum. In this respect psychology is nearer to what actually exists.’

‘Moral considerations are the worst enemies of the scientific spirit and we must dismiss them from our minds if we wish to arrive at truth.’

‘The primitive non-cognitive element in desire seems to be a push, not a pull, an impulsion away from the actual, rather than an attraction towards the ideal.’