2013 Res Philosophica Essay Prize

Kierkegaard and Rationality

Guest Editor: Antony Aumann

Prize Winner: Eleanor Helms
“The Objectivity of Faith: Kierkegaard’s Critique of Fideism” (click ‘show document’ for the free download)
Abstract (Show/Hide)
Perhaps Kierkegaard’s most notorious claim – though pseudonymous – is that truth is subjectivity. This claim is commonly elaborated to mean that faith is a “how” (an attitude or practice of believing) and not a “what” (a certain objective content). I show through a discussion of examples taken from throughout Kierkegaard’s writings that Kierkegaard accepts a basic insight of Kant’s philosophy: each experience implicitly includes an underlying unity – the object – that does not itself appear. Both Kant and Kierkegaard emphasize the importance of a “continuity of impressions,” which gives experience its unified structure beyond changing superficial appearances. I show that Kierkegaardian faith requires an object in just this Kantian sense: the object of faith (the Incarnation) does not directly appear but is implicitly present in all experience. For Kant, this type of object is not “beyond” experience but is posited by reason as the unity of experience as a whole. In this respect at least, Kierkegaard’s account of faith shows similarities not just with Kant’s practical philosophy (as suggested by C. Stephen Evans) but with his metaphysics as well.
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Author Biography: Eleanor Helms received her PhD from Fordham University in 2011 and is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Her research interests include 19th and 20th century Continental philosophy, aesthetics, and environmental philosophy. Her work draws primarily on resources in phenomenology and existentialism, with articles published in The International Kierkegaard Commentary and Environmental Philosophy, as well as a chapter on Kierkegaard and Kafka in Kafka’s Creatures: Animals, Hybrids, and Other Fantastic Beings (ed. Marc Lucht and Donna Yarri, Lexington Books, 2010). Her current research examines the role of belief, perception, and imagination in literary fiction.
Runner Up: Anna Strelis
“The Intimacy between Reason and Emotion: Kierkegaard’s ‘Simultaneity of Factors’”
Abstract (Show/Hide)
This paper elucidates Kierkegaard’s notion of the “simultaneity of factors” in order to reveal the intimate connection between reason and emotion. I begin with the romantic vision of aesthetic education as embodied in Friedrich Schiller, which Kierkegaard himself inherited, though in a critical and nuanced manner. Next, I explore Kierkegaard’s pointed critique of the romantics, namely through his conviction that they had misrepresented the role of imagination to the detriment of harmony in the individual. Finally, I present Kierkegaard’s positive view of the simultaneity of factors, emphasizing his improvement on the romantics through the central category of “inwardness.” Throughout, I underline that Kierkegaard gave higher status neither to emotion nor reason, taking them as complimentary aspects of human existence and thereby inviting their reunion in the history of philosophy.
Author Biography: Anna Strelis is a PhD Candidate in Philosophy at the New School for Social Research, completing a dissertation on aesthetic education in Kierkegaard. Her areas of interest include nineteenth- and twentieth-century continental philosophy, ancient philosophy, and aesthetics. She has publications in the Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal, the Philosophical Forum, and Women in Philosophy Annual Journal of Papers.
Original Call for Papers (Show/Hide)
2013 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Søren Kierkegaard. In celebration, Res Philosophica (formerly The Modern Schoolman) will devote a special issue to his work on the general topic of reason and rationality. Coinciding with the issue, the journal will hold an essay competition. The winner will receive a $3,000 award and the winner's article will be published in the special issue of the journal. Submissions to the special issue will be entered in the competition unless otherwise requested.

Six decades ago, a long-time member of the journal’s editorial board, James Collins, saw fit to close his groundbreaking monograph, The Mind of Kierkegaard, with words meant to clarify Kierkegaard’s views on reason and rationality. Collins’s laudable efforts notwithstanding, the issue remains as vexing today as it was then. We continue to encounter all manner of interpretations. Some paint Kierkegaard as a counter-Enlightenment thinker who opposed the use of reason in almost every area of life. Others maintain that he merely sought to demarcate the limits of what reason can accomplish. Still others urge that reason played a vital role in Kierkegaard’s thought and that he believed there are rational grounds for making ethical and religious commitments.

Part of the difficulty is that Kierkegaard often eschewed the typical genres of professional philosophers. He did not populate his texts with the sorts of systematic arguments we have come to expect from academic work. Moreover, he had scathing words for those who proceeded in this way. He even discouraged readers from “translating” his writings into a style of prose that fit the fashion. Thus, scholarly efforts to pin down Kierkegaard’s views on any subject face serious challenges, not the least of which is the potential irony of engaging in an un-Kierkegaardian enterprise.

It is therefore with some trepidation that we welcome submissions on the topic of Kierkegaard’s views on reason and rationality. We encourage papers that address the subject by analyzing Kierkegaard’s writings, bringing them into dialogue with the work of his contemporaries, or situating them within the context of recent philosophical developments. Issues of interest include but are not limited to Kierkegaard’s positions on the following:

  • the role of reason in moral motivation and moral development

  • the relationship between freedom and reason

  • the relationship between reason and passion or emotion

  • the place of reason in philosophical or theological writing and communication

  • the limits of human reason

  • skepticism

  • the rationality of religious belief

  • the “absurdity” of faith

  • the “absolute paradox” of the Incarnation

  • subjectivity and objectivity