“And as for the relationship of the subject to the truth when he comes to know it, the assumption is that if only the truth is brought to light, its appropriation is a relatively unimportant matter, something which follows as a matter of course. And in any case, what happens to the individual is in the last analysis a matter of indifference. Herein lies the lofty equanimity of the scholar, and the comic thoughtlessness of his parrot-like echo.”
S. Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Princeton 1968, p. 24.
[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 28-10-2009, oddly enough one of just a few Kierkegaard quotes (and a really bad quought)! I must already have been getting old ;-]
A friend of mine put my mind again on Kierkegaard. Although I won’t praise the lord for it, I’m thankful for reading him early on in my life. He cured me of many things (one of them trying to be too serious about anything for too long a time). Most notably he cured me of religious group-think (and, consequently but with quite a significant delay, of all and any religious – or with more modern terms: deep, sincere, authentic – sentiment (although not of sentiment as such, see later)). He also cured me of feeling compelled to what is commonly preferred sentence-wise: i.e. short sentences. And of the need to avoid starting sentences with the word “And”.
So I dug in. At random because I read Kierkegaard well before I started with this habit of dog-ear’ing (Dutch speaking visitors maybe don’t recognize the term as English for “ezelsoor”; dogs turn effortlessly into donkeys in the area of language) and unfortunately also before I started reading in German. I came across lots of the type of funny thing that makes somebody like me despair in the realization that they may, after all, not be as good as they think they are at writing. And I came across a section on old virgins that waited and waited for the moment just to realize when they thought they got to it that nobody was interested anymore – not in sharing it with them, that is, at least.
I laughed, then settled for the above dry and sober quote. Risking, in so doing, to be scaring off one or two visitors here for the atheistic joy of reading somebody that is unashamedly religious. Christian even, and for him not by co-incidence.
Oughtn’t I get around to the point?
To my defense: I did get around it – which was, more or less, the point. ‘Dawkins’ he said and ‘agnosticism’. I like Dawkins, mostly. I dislike agnosticism, all of the time (that is a bit harsh, really, but the way Dawkins appears to understand this busines of agnosticism it is true enough). It hit me: I hated the link between both. ‘Why that?’, I thought (I’m making things simple here, so please thank me for it while I shift gear from ‘banging-the-same-nail’ status I got into in the last posts).
Well – I will tell you why!
Because the guy really should pay his dues to Kierkegaard. He can’t hide behind the fact Dawkins cannot know everything that has been written. Kierkegaard’s essential to anything in the field of criticizing religion, ANYTHING. Leaving him out can only be negligence, or foul play; I leave it up to Dawkins which it is, as I have not the least interest in what is on his mind. But I can imagine it is awkward to recognize that the stupidity of any proof of God’s existence was demonstrated in the 1st half of the 19th century by an avowed Christian.
Which brings me back to things I was cured of by a really great Dane: scientism, or the belief that science in and of itself can be the solution (‘Solution of what?’, is a sufficiently à propos response to it, by the way). It can’t and I am not saying Dawkins is saying it can, but he is at least neglecting to say it can’t. I’ll need to be prudent here as I didn’t read most of what Dawkins had to say lately (as it appears to me he said all he had to say in his first two books). More prudently then: I, sincerely, believe that the evidence points in the direction of Dawkins (et al) making his (their) life(s) easier for themselves (in converting the converted) by neglecting a challenge which is quite to the heart of their point. If so they are with respect to critical attitude far inferior to Kierkegaard who started from the opponent’s angle and point of view. He started from the worst possible place, for what he thought was the intuitively correct position.
In the end, what science cannot be, the scientific spirit and the critical mind surely are. It’s at least discomforting to give the impression to loose out on the home qualities to the away team, isn’t it.
There is not enough time now or place here to go in the real detail but let me say – and one of these days I’ll get the old virgins in this bed and come back to it – that: the omission (if it’s there) is non-trivial also from the content point of view. It is of the type exposed by Bergson and more mathematically attacked by a Churchland (or was it Alonzo Church?, I really have to find that paper back): in the real world and the world of real numbers, there’s no straightforward transformation of facts and of matters of fact. There is a subject there that makes the relations ‘dirty’ – maybe in Davidson’s anomalous monism way. This dirtiness needs to be faced; for if not – it will, once again, be confused for ‘something’ higher, deeper, more authentic, super- or supra-human .. and the misery of human inhumanity – in the name of – can start all over again.
To close: look at the end of the quote above: “parrot-like echo”. It’s dead on, as is clear from the above. Exaggerating in science leads not only to mysticism and late converts, but also leads to a destruction of creativity. There is just no point in being right, right?
My only difference here with Kierkegaard is that I don’t see where that’s funny.
[Whilst writing this I was listening to the jazz program on klara.be, called, aptly, “Jazz”. (but, more interestingly, whilst thinking about it I was listening to Valentin Silvestrov, The Seven Verses of Alexander Blok, by the Gryphon Trio)]