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Søren Kierkegaard

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Introduction to Philosophy

Søren Kierkegaard, "God's Existence Cannot Be Proved"

Abstract: Søren Kierkegaard explains why the existence of something cannot be proved. He argues that the use of logic merely develops the content of a conception and concludes the existence of God can only be known through a leap of faith.

  1. What is Kierkegaard's argument relating God's existence to proof?
  2. Explain: "I reason from existence, not towards existence." Is the example of Napoleon and his deeds a good one?
  3. According to Kierkegaard, where are the works of God?
  4. Why doesn't the existence of God come out of proof?
  5. How could the proof of God's existence be discredited?
  6. What is "the leap"?
  7. Explain the statement, "The Reason has brought God as near as possible, and yet he is as far away as ever."
  1. Kierkegaard wrote during the decade of the 1840's—historically, the same decade as Marx and Engels's Manifesto, August Comte's Cours de Philosophie Positive, Ludwig Feuerbach's The Essence of Christianity, John Stuart Mill's A System of Logic, and Charles Darwin's Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle.
    1. Kierkegaard's motto was "I had perished, had I not perished."
    2. He writes, "Alas, I was never young" and [the important thing is] "What I am to do or be, not what I am to know."
    3. Kierkegaard's resolution was to become a Christian writer Christendom—what he considered "the question of questions" was "How can I become a Christian?" His life was spent "in service of the Idea."
    4. Christianity, according to S.K., has two enemies: the Hegelian and the unreflective church-goer.
  2. The study questions are taken from James A. Gould and Robert J. Mulvaney, "Faith, Not Logic Is the Basis of Belief," in Classic Philosophical Questions, 11th ed. (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2004) 261.
    1. Notes are arranged in response to the questions stated above pertaining to "Chapter Three: The Absolute Paradox: A Metaphysical Crotchet" from Søren Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments trans. David F. Swenson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1962) 31-36. This selection is available in many introductory philosophy readers and is online as Philosophical Fragments at D. Anthony Strom's Commentary on Kierkegaard and as "The Absolute Paradox: A Metaphysical Crotchet" at religion-online.org. Another online site to find the passage is "God's Existence Cannot Be Proved" at The Radical Academy.
      1. What is Kierkegaard's argument relating God's existence to proof?
        1. Let us look at a generalized standard-form categorical syllogism purporting to be proof for God's existence.
          • An [unknown thing] is an existent thing.
          • God is an [unknown thing].
          • Therefore, God is an existent thing.
        2. The syllogism appears to be of the valid form:
          • All B's are C's.
          • All A's are B's.
          • Therefore, all A's are C's.
        3. Notice how we have assumed in the very premisses of this syllogism the very point we wish to prove. As Kierkegaard says, all we have done is to develop the content of a conception.
        4. Such a manner of arguing is similar to the following joke: If we ask who most people voted for in the past Presidential election, and also we ask who can increase spending for the military, education, social security, and so on, as well as balance the budget and not increase taxes, then the answer is clearly that "Nobody" could. Hence, it would seem reasonable to conclude that "Nobody" should be President.
      2. Explain: "I reason from existence, not towards existence." Is the example of Napoleon and his deeds a good one?
        1. In an argument, one gives reasons, grounds, and evidence for the acceptance of a conclusion. Existence must be assumed in the premisses; it cannot be proved. Occasionally, this point is expressed in Immanuel Kant's words as "Existence is not a predicate."
        2. Consider the following inferences from the Square of Opposition:
          1. All philosophy students are awake —[subalternation]—> Therefore, least one philosophy student is awake.
          2. All unicorns have horns —[subalternation]—> Therefore, at least one unicorn has a horn.
        3. If the subject of the conclusion exists and the conclusion is true, then we must have assumed the existence of that subject in the premisses of the argument.
        4. For example, one cannot prove Napoleon's existence from his deeds by arguing …
          • An [unknown] invaded Russia, lost the Waterloo campaign, was exiled to Elba, and so on.
          • Napoleon is the [unknown].
          • Therefore, Napoleon exists.
      3. According to Kierkegaard, where are the works of God?
        1. The works or deeds of God are not immediately given. It could be a serious philosophical mistake to look at the deeds of God as the works or nature, the governance of the world, or natural law because of plague, pestilence, earthquakes, and other natural disasters (nonmoral evil).
        2. One would have to take an ideal interpretation that only the good things in the world are done by God—the same kind of ideal interpretation implied as in the aphorism, "It's an ill wind that blows nobody good."
      4. Why doesn't the existence of God come out of proof?
        1. If we tried to prove the existence of God by a posteriori means, then we could never finish listing all of the events in the natural order of things. Thus, the proof would be incomplete—we 2would be anxiously awaiting future events.
        2. Again, existence explains the deeds, but the deeds do not prove existence.
        3. Thus, Kierkegaard says we would be living in suspense until the proof is complete. The proof would hang on future occurrences.
      5. How could the proof of God's existence be discredited?
        1. If we use the facts of nature for proof, a tragic disaster or new discovery could change our mind about the acts of God.
        2. For example, many persons say upon the birth of a newborn baby, "How could one not believe in the miracles of God?" Yet, the future occurrence of a crib death or deformity might alter the belief. Often the defense of God's existence as exemplified in such occurrences is ultimately circular.
        3. Consider Edmund Grosse's account of Charles Lyell's geologic studies. (Lyell's geology was extensively used by Charles Darwin.) Lyell recognized that the fossil record extended over many millions of years but also believed that the world was created in 4004 BC. He claimed that God put the fossil record on earth as a test of man's faith.
      6. What is "the leap"?
        1. The "leap" is a metaphor for the "ah ha" phenomena of suddenly seeing the point of something. In a word, God's existence or nonexistence does not hinge on our ability to see the point of an argument.
        2. In a word, God's existence or nonexistence does not hinge on our ability to see the point of an argument.
      7. Explain the statement, "The Reason has brought God as near as possible, and yet he is as far away as ever."
        1. Reason and intellect attempt to prove God's existence. But God is absolutely different and totally beyond our comprehension and beyond our language to describe.
        2. The qualities of God cannot be captured in the predicates of language. Blaise Pascal makes a similar point when introducing his Wager in the Pensées.
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“An existential system cannot be formulated. Does this mean that no such system exists? By no means; nor is this implied in our assertion. Reality is a system—for God; but it cannt be a system for any existing spirit. System and finality correspond to one another, but existence is precisely the opposite of finality. It may be seen, from a purely abstract point of view, that system and existence are incapable of being thought together; because in order to think existence at all, systematic thought must think it as abrogated, and hence not existing.” Søren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, trans. David F. Swenson and Walter Lowrie (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1941), 107.

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