Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Motivation to realize the ethical and moral imperatives

Dr. Larval, As to your comments on original sin, drive, and the political: a Kierkegaardian religious understanding of this would suggest that you can’t have a free and just society until there’s equality. Given sinfulness, though, and human finitude, that is impossible. Only God has the ability to see each in an equal way, without socio-cultural accretions occluding one’s view.
OTOH, through an awareness and continuing awareness of sinfulness and the attempt to stay on guard vis a vis that sinfulness, one can begin to follow the commandment to love neighbor and enemy. This only occurs, of course, when one realizes that given other circumstances and contingencies I would or could indeed be in the same situation as that other. Yet, it’s only with an awareness of something that provides a transcendent horizon, where nothing is ever final and ultimate in this life except death that I can find the motivation to realize the ethical and moral imperatives of that awreness.
Death is the horizon within which all things in some way gain a proper perspective. Kierkegaard doesn’t so much see death as a drive, as he does as a shirking of responsibility in one regard, an easy way out in another. This lines up with one aspect of despair, but only the passive despair that despairs of ever being oneself. Because we can’t be who we are, especially who we think we should be, then we want to die.
Westphal in his book on God, Guilt and Death, marshals Freud and Kierkegaard, throwing in Heidegger to boot, to examine the relationship between the transcendent desire to be who I am–eg, a good person, a fulfilled person–and the facing of death. In face of that, there’s a form of resentment that forms and humans begin to take out their resentment on themselves and others. Using this framework, Westphal analyzes Freud’s atheism in terms of his father’s sheepish responses to antisemitism.
Westphal has noted in another work that Kierkegaard’s political attitude begins from within the notion that all is questionable and nothing is absolute. He calls it Religiousness C, which is a form of ideology critique that takes to task any ideology that might set itself up as absolute and beyond question. At the same time, the motivation behind such critique is the awareness of sinfulness and that this brings with it an identification with the persecuted other.
Others have taken the Kierkegaardian insights in secular directions: early Marcuse, Heidegger, Sartre, Habermas, and Matustik. Most demythologize sinfulness and replace it with supposed secularized cognates. Matustik is the most consistent and most Kierkegaardian.
In her analysis of how Heidegger (mis)appropriated Kierkegaard, Patricia Huntington notes that Heidegger de-ethicizes Kierkegaard’s category of authenticity. He turns it into an ontological category, eschewing the ontic, and by doing so identifies the authentic self with an ethical substrate borne by culture and social institutions, as well as wayward ontologies. In doing this, Huntington, argues, Heidegger abstracts authentic being and thereby identifies coming to know myself as who i truly am with fate. In this regard, only some are born to be great and true selves, while others are minions of the great They.
Kierkegaard does not ontologize authenticity in this way, aware as he is that sinfulness is an individual event of personal history. The task of regaining a true self is never identified with that realm of historical sin which he recognizes as original sin and which, it seems, Heidegger inappropriately identified as a form of necessary historical unfolding.

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