It is the intent of this essay to sketch a comparison between the thought of Hegel and Kierkegaard. I will argue that their respective understanding of the logic of identity and difference, taken together, offers a dialectically holistic analysis of authentic spirit-full selfhood. By isolating a basic category of disagreement, we can possibly retain their penetrating insights while sidestepping some of the unfortunate implications in their respective positions. I hope to show that this analysis and synthesis offer a powerful model for understanding the dynamics of becoming a self, and is instructive as to the epistemic status of our various philosophical and theological projects.
- Like the strife of lovers are the dissonance of the world.
In the midst of conflict is reconciliation, and all things that are parted find
one another again. The veins separate from and return into the heart, and all
is one eternal glowing life.
Great spirits now on earth are sojourning...
Hegel and Kierkegaard were men of their times. Epoch making thinkers who, each in their own context, birthed not merely philosophies, but spirit-full vision. Merleau-Ponty said of Hegel, “All the great philosophical ideas of the past century—the philosophies of Marx and Nietzsche, phenomenology, German existentialism, and psychoanalysis—had their beginnings in Hegel…” (Merleau-Ponty 63). In the Heideggerian concepts of “Angst”, “Care” and “Idle talk” (Poole 52-53), or the Sartreian ideas of “man” as freedom and consciousness as transcendence, one hears a Kierkegaardian echo in the not too distinct background. (Perhaps louder then either of them would care to admit.) Thinkers such as Jaspers, Gadamer, Barth, Bultman and Tillich have admitted to Kierkegaard’s influence on their thought. Postmodern theorists have claimed Kierkegaard as prophet in his understanding of authorship, indirect communication and language (Westphal 8-17). Both wrote prolifically, perhaps neurotically so. They have spawned whole traditions of thought in philosophy and theology and have been a source of inspiration in social and literary theory.
Their relationship to each other is for from simple. It is, we might say, dialectical. Paul Ricoeur writes,
We began with a simple and naive opposition between Kierkegaard and Hegel. …The question is not to attenuate it but precisely to think it as a meaningful opposition. …It signifies that Kierkegaard decidedly cannot be understood apart from Hegel…[his] thought is not thinkable apart from Hegel. (Ricoeur 335-336).
Kierkegaard himself might concur with this assessment,
I feel…at times…an enigmatic respect for Hegel; I learned much from him, and I know very well that I can still learn much more from him… His philosophical knowledge, his amazing learning…and everything else good than can be said of a philosopher I am willing to acknowledge as any disciple—willing to admire, learn from him. (Journals and Papers 1608)
In investigating the thought of these giants, commentators run the spectrum of subsuming Kierkegaard into Hegel’s system to declaring Hegel vanquished in the face of Kierkegaardian criticism. There seems, however, to be a well established center who see their relationship as dialectical. To undergo a comprehensive comparison of their thought would be im/possible in a single essay. The only scholar to do so in a manageably comprehensive way is Mark C. Taylor in his book, Journeys to Selfhood. In my analysis I am primarily drawing on Taylor’s work, while selectively referencing other commentators and relevant primary texts. It is the intent of this essay to sketch a comparison between the two in order to possibly forge a “synthesis” or perhaps “mediate” between their respective positions. I hope to, with the help of Taylor and others, isolate a basic category of disagreement. If at this basic level we can suggest a possible “mediation” or “synthesis” we may be able retain their penetrating insights while sidestepping some of the unfortunate implications in their respective positions. I will argue that their respective understandings of the logic of identity and difference, taken together, offers a dialectically holistic analysis of authentic spirit-full selfhood. I hope to show that this analysis and conjoining of the respective contributions of Hegel and Kierkegaard offer a powerful model for understanding the dynamics of becoming a self, and is instructive as to the epistemic status of our various philosophical and theological projects.
Spiritlessness is fragmentation… Hegel’s project began in his acceptance of Schiller’s social criticism offered in On the Aesthetic Education of Man. In this work, Schiller synthesizes a variety of ideas from such diverse thinkers as Goethe, Lessing, Ferguson, Herder, and Kant (Taylor 25). He argues that in the emergence of industrial economies, class division, and “machinery” of the state, the individual is “chained to a single fragment of the whole, man himself develops into nothing but a fragment” (Taylor 25). Schiller holds up the ancient Greeks as paradigmatic of an integrated and harmonies culture. A culture where (purportedly) there was no disjunction between their “subjective purpose and objective forms of life” (Taylor 26).
Hegel picks up this line of analysis in his early theological writings. Hegel saw the religious life of people intrinsically linked to the sociopolitical matrix of culture. Echoing Schiller’s cultural analysis, Hegel argued that the locus of the fragmentation and spiritlessness of his age lie in the disjunction between objective and subjective religion.
In The Tubingen Essay of 1793 Hegel writes,
…objective religion suffers itself to be arranged in one’s mind, organized into a system, set forth into a book, and expounded to others in discourse (Taylor 33-34).
Though he sees this aspect of religion as essential to a living faith, his interest lie in the tendency of objective religion to become divorced from the subjective life of believers (Taylor 34). When the objective aspects of religion are reified and repressively maintained by a coercive authority, living faith becomes spiritless; or “superstitious adherence to purely external formalities”, what Hegel calls “fetishism”. By contrast subjective religion, or what he terms Volksreligion, is the full individuation of the objective forms; where faith is alive and effective both in the internal life and outward behavior of the believer. The reintegration of people’s subjective purpose with their outward form of life became the intention of Hegel’s entire theological and philosophical project and informed his understanding of spirit-full becoming.
Hegel saw Judaism and traditional (I would suggest Platonized) Christianity as endemic of objective spiritless religion and Kantianism as a natural philosophical outgrowth of this tradition. Hegel points out that Kant presupposes a primordial subject/object disjunction, the ideal of pure “I” (Gadamer 77), implying at the outset the impossibility of knowledge—the noumenal in-itself (Taylor 43). This leaves the epistemological subject alien to objects in the world—to the very world itself. This subject/object disjunction leaves the subject in a “restless searching, and its very searching declares that the satisfaction of finding is a sheer impossibility” (Science of Logic 45). This disjunction is further illustrated in Kant’s moral philosophy. Practical reason leaves the subject in a continual effort to join moral ideality with empirical reality (Taylor 45); a task that is, by the very nature of Kant’s system, impossible. For Hegel, Kant leaves the individual alienated from the world and alienated from his or her self.
Overcoming the alienation engendered by the subject/object disjunction requires a fundamental rethinking of certain presupposition basic in the Western tradition. Hegel points out that positing the reality of the noumenal presupposes knowledge of it. Rather than there being a fundamental disjunction there must be a fundamental connection between subject and object, self and world. This connection demonstrates, contra Kant, that the noumenal is not only rationally knowable, but constitutive of reality itself—hence Hegel’s dictum “the real is the rational and the rational is the real”. The reintegration of subject and object must involve a “union of union and non-union”—this reintegration must be “both unyieldingly realistic in [its] acceptance of non-union and unyieldingly idealistic in [its] assertion …of union” (Taylor 145). According to Hegel, there is a fundamental identity between God and humanity, spirit and world, and self and other. This identity or union, for Hegel, is both primordial and eschatological. Hegel writes,
…the identity of the subject and God comes into the world when the fullness of time has arrived: the consciousness of this identity is the recognition of God in his truth. The content of truth is spirit itself, the living movement in itself (Philosophy of History 323).
There is an immanent presence of Spirit in humanity constitutive of identity. Hegel’s “preoccupation with religion persuades him that the Christian drama of Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection” is paradigmatic of the reintegration of opposites and symbolizes “the way that must be followed if spirit is to achieve self-realization” (Taylor 145). Primordial connectedness and the completion of the immanent process of self-realization demonstrate that “traditional analytic reflection,” and a logic built upon abstract rules of identity, difference, and non-contradiction “can neither penetrate the most fundamental features of concrete actuality nor grasp the ideality of spirit” (Taylor 145). Hegel proceeds to develop a speculative logic capable of rendering intelligible the “contradictions inherent to experience and the dialectical structure of spirit” (Taylor 145). The most important part in his lengthy argument in the Logic is a “reinterpretation of the notions of identity, difference and contradiction” (Taylor 145). This logical revision becomes the formal foundation of Hegel’s entire system.
The law of identity in traditional logic asserts that everything is identical with itself: A = A. According to Hegel,
[Those who affirm this] do not see that in this very assertion, they are themselves saying that identity is different, for they are saying that identity is different from difference; while this must at the same time be admitted to be the nature of all identity, their assertion implies that identity, not externally, but in its own self, in its very nature, is this, to be different (Logic 413).
The implication is identity establishes itself through the negation of otherness and the other is itself the negation of the identity it opposes—each member becomes itself through the negation of its own negation (Taylor 149). Hegel writes,
Each therefor is, only in so far as its nonbeing is, and is in an identical relation with it (Logic 425).
Taylor says, “the assertion ‘A is A’ necessarily entails the claim that A is not non-A”: A = ~~A (Taylor 150). A is the negation of it’s own negation. Also, “non-A becomes itself through relation to its opposite…non A also forms itself through a process of double negation”: ~A = ~(~~A) (Taylor 150). Hence opposites relate to themselves in otherness. For Hegel, this structure is infinite and absolute. It grounds difference but also establishes absolute infinite unity (Taylor 150). Neither member of the relationship is unreconcileably other—when this “negativity is grasped in its infinity and absoluteness, it reveals itself to be the essence of everything (Taylor 150). Hegel writes,
There are three distinct moments: essence, being-for-self which is the otherness of essence and for which essence is, and being-for-self, or knowledge of itself in the other. Essence beholds only itself in its being-for-self; in this externalization is only with itself; the being-for-self that shuts itself out from essence is essence’s knowledge of its own self. It is the word which, when uttered, leaves behind, externalized and emptied, him who uttered it, but which is as immediately heard, and only this hearing of its own self is the existence of the Word. Thus the distinctions made are immediately resolved as soon as they are made, and are made as soon as they are resolved, and what is true and actual is precisely this circular movement (Phenomenology of Spirit 465).
Hegel identifies essence and spirit. He writes,
Spirit is essence, or that which has being-in-itself; it is that which relates itself to itself and is determinate, it is other-being and being-for-self, and in this determinateness, or in its self-externality, abides within itself; in other words, it is in and for itself (Phenomenology 14).
Relation then, for Hegel, is not “external and accidental to antecedent identity but are internal and essential to unique particularity” (Taylor 148), hence relation is reality itself (Gadamer 58), the very ground of being. Identity and difference necessarily include their opposite within themselves; they are inherently self-contradictory (Taylor 147). This contradiction is the root of all movement in Hegel’s system. Hegel terms this dialectical movement, the reconciliation of internally related opposites, “Aufhebung” or mediation.
The fundamental identity-within-difference constitutes the absolute whole. An “inwardly variegated totality within which each member becomes itself through reciprocal relation to otherness” (Taylor 153). Concrete particularity is the appearance or immanent incarnation of essence, the Par-ousia (Taylor 151). Taylor says, “when determinate being is comprehended as the self-determination of essence, it is re-collected or resurrected in the eternity of essential becoming. Through this process, essence becomes actual and actuality becomes essential” (Taylor 151). Here we will highlight Hegel’s conception of possibility and actuality and it’s implications for his understanding of necessity and freedom.
Hegel uses the term actuality “to define the rational unity-within-distinction of reality and ideality” (Taylor 156). Hegel attempts to show that actuality and possibility are “coimplicates whose inextricable unity constitutes necessity” (Taylor 156). Again he mediates between opposites: the actual is possible, if it weren’t it would not be actual. The actual then must be implicitly identical with possibility. He defines real possibility as the “totality of conditions” presupposed by a certain actuality (Taylor 157). Taylor writes,
If A is the set of conditions that constitutes the real possibility of B, then A itself is the possibility of B. Given the actuality of A, B must likewise be actual. In other words, the real possibility of B is the actuality of A (Taylor 157).
For Hegel, the dialectical unity of possibility and actuality is necessity. This leads Hegel to conclude that implicitly, necessity is freedom. Hegel writes,
…freedom revels itself as the truth of necessity (Logic 578; 6:246)
Freedom is the “self-relation in difference which is born from of ‘pure self-recognition in absolute otherness” (Taylor 158).
Hegel’s entire system rests on his speculative logic, his reinterpretation and redefining of the traditional notions of identity, difference, and contradiction. Self and other are internally related, each deriving its identity and difference in each other. The resulting self-contradiction grounds the whole process of immanent becoming. The fundamental identity of reality is a dynamic relational becoming. History then is the dialectical process of the ideal, immanent Spirit, coming to know itself. The individual’s becoming is an incarnating of spirit, a moment in the divine life of history. The Par-ousia, the eschatological end of history will culminate in the final integration of subject and object, reality and ideality: Absolute knowledge (Stace 289). Hegel saw his system as the culmination of the western philosophic and religious tradition and as offering the cure to the fragmented spiritlessness of his age.
Spiritlessness is dissipation… Kierkegaard’s thought, like Hegel, was born in response to what he perceived as the maladies of his age. He was in agreement with Hegel that the fundamental problem was “spiritlessness.” Kierkegaard writes,
This is [spiritlessness’s] misfortune, that it has a relation to spirit which proves not to be a relation. Spiritlessness may therefor…posses the whole content of spirit—not as spirit, be it noted, but as jest, galimatias, phrase, etc. It may posses truth—not as truth, …but as old wives tales… In fact, spiritlessness can utter the same words the richest spirit has uttered, only it does not utter them by virtue of spirit. When a man is characterized as spiritless, he has become a talking machine, and there is nothing to prevent him from learning a philosophical rigmarole just as easily a confession of faith and a political recitative repeated by rote (The Concept of Dread 84-85).
Spiritlessness for Kierkegaard is not in individual and social fragmentation; it is in the dissipation of the individual, of concrete human existence, within bourgeois social institutions (Taylor 53). Kierkegaard thought that modern humanity, represented in 19th century Danish society, had “forgotten what it means to exist, and what inwardness signifies” (Concluding Unscientific Postscript 223). In a comical illustration of this dissipation, he compared the “low class” farce with the “aesthetic concretions of polite society”—the bourgeois theater attendee. In his analysis he was interested in how the audience played an active role in the performance of the farce and how no two performances were ever the same. In contradistinction, he wryly comments of the theater attendee,
[The individual has not] sufficient self confidence—confidence to think for himself without consulting others as to whether he enjoyed himself or not (Repetition 160).
For Kierkegaard, spiritlessness is the inauthentic existence of the (non) individual, dissipated in their ethico-social context—people who allow themselves to be completely defined by their context. Such a person,
…forgets himself, forgets his name (in the divine understanding of it), does not dare to believe in himself, finds it too venturesome a thing to be himself, far easier and safer to be like others, to become an imitation, a number in the crowd (Sickness unto Death 186).
Authentic concrete existing, the differentiation of subject and object, the self from the mob—creative self-transcendence, became the intention of Kierkegaard’s entire theological and philosophical project.
As with Hegel, Kierkegaard saw the religious life of his culture as feeding the “disease of spiritlessness,” (Taylor 61) and endemic of the maladies of his age. As Hegel identified Kantianism as a natural philosophical outgrowth of traditional Judeo-Christian religion, Kierkegaard saw Hegelianism as giving theoretical expression to the dissipation of his age (Taylor 65). Interestingly, Kierkegaard saw this not only expressed in Hegelianism, but as descriptive of the complacence of traditional (Platonized) Christian orthodoxy. Kierkegaard not only attacks Hegel, and the philosophical/theological tradition he initiated, he attacks conservative Christian orthodoxy as well. While Hegel contends Judaism is paradigmatic of spiritlessness, of fragmented subject/object disjunction, Kierkegaard holds up Judaism as paradigmatic of authentic spirit-full existence. For Kierkegaard, Job, and especially Abraham, are archetypes of what it means to become a self (see Repetition and Fear and Trembling). They are symbols who prefigure Christ, who (as with Hegel), is the ultimate archetype of authentic existing. Both Hegel and Kierkegaard see the Christian drama of Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection as paradigmatic of spirit-full becoming.
For Kierkegaard, the main problem is the objectification of the individual. He saw Hegelianism as relegating the individual to a cog in a machine and, with a complacent orthodoxy, hopelessly lost in abstractions. He saw both as abrogating concrete existence by retreat into otherworldly speculation, by absolutizing ethical ideality. Kierkegaard’s first target was Hegelianism—what he thought to be the fullest expression of the problem of spiritlessness.
Kierkegaard contends that Hegel’s speculative logic of identity, difference and contradiction is both existentially and logically problematic (Taylor 165). He writes,
Hegel is…wrong when, forgetting the abstraction of his thought, he plunges down into the realm of existence to annul the double aut with might and main. It is impossible to do this in existence, for in so doing, the thinker abrogates existence as well (Postscript 271).
…the proposition: the principle of contradiction is annulled, itself rests on the principle of contradiction, since otherwise the opposite proposition, that is not annulled, is equally true (Fragments 137).
In the existential assertion of the rescission of the rule of contradiction, one contradicts oneself. The attempt to annul the principle of contradiction in Hegel’s logic is itself based on the principle of contradiction. Contradiction, then, affirms itself in the attempt to negate it (Taylor 166). Hegelian Aufhebung or mediation finds itself in an unresolvable dilemma. It both requires and annuls difference. If difference is real, as it must be on Hegel’s own terms, opposites can not be mediated, they must remain in antithesis to one another (Taylor 166). If there is actual mediation, opposites are only apparently opposite and are really identical (Taylor 166). Taylor writes, “Kierkegaard concludes that the choice is between a monism in which otherness and difference are epiphenomenal and a dualism in which otherness and difference are abiding features of experience…(Taylor 166). Kierkegaard thinks Hegel chose the former. It is the logical implication of his entire system: “Essence absorbs existence, infinitude encompasses finitude, ideality incorporates reality, necessity unravels freedom, eternity engulfs time, universality dissipates individuality, self is lost in society” (Taylor 166). Kierkegaard sees Hegelianism as both an expression and exacerbation of the spiritlessness of his age. In reaction to Hegel, Kierkegaard sees the principle of contradiction as essential to the authentic existence.
Recalling our discussion of Hegel, the structure of spirit is in a negative movement. Self and other become themselves through their own negation in each other, a negative unity. For Kierkegaard, spirit—the structure of self-relation within which opposites meet, can’t be a negative unity, “but must be a ‘positive third’ constitutive of a genuine coincidentia oppositorium. In other words, since opposites are not implicitly identical or necessarily related, they must be contingently conjoined” (Taylor 170).
Kierkegaard emphasizes that the self is not the relation, as he contends is the case in Hegel’s negative unity. He therefor employs the term “synthesis” which involves the conjoining of mutually exclusive opposites effected by a “positive third” (Taylor 171). This positive third makes synthesis possible and is, according to Kierkegaard, spirit itself. He writes,
…the synthesis is a relationship, and it is a relationship which, though it is derived, relates itself to itself, which means freedom (Sickness unto Death 162).
But what, then, is this self of mine: If I were to define this, my first answer would be: It is the most abstract of all things, and yet at the same time most concrete—it is freedom (Either/Or 2:218)
Hegel intentionally avoided the term synthesis, “the very expression…easily recalls an external unity and mere combination of entities…” (Logic 589). For Hegel, relationship is internal and essential. Kierkegaard contends that relationship is external and accidental. Opposites are synthesized through the individuals free conscious activity, and thus free resolution overcomes the dissipation of the individual (Taylor 171). Here we will highlight Kierkegaard’s conception of possibility and actuality and it’s implications for his understanding of necessity and freedom.
Given the constitutive character of freedom in his structure of self, Kierkegaard develops the parallel polarity of “necessity and possibility” in his analysis of spirit (Taylor 174). He writes,
Just as finitude is the limiting factor in relation to infinitude, so in relation to possibility it is necessity that serves as a check…the self [kata dunamin] is just as possible as it is necessary; for which it is itself, it has to become itself, it is the necessary, and inasmuch has to become itself. Inasmuch as it is itself, it is the necessary, and inasmuch as it has to become itself, it is a possibility (Sickness unto Death 162).
The self is not necessary in the sense that it could not have been otherwise, the self’s necessity is its facticity from which all becoming proceeds (Taylor 175). Necessity explains what the self is or has become, possibility shows what the self is not or might become (Taylor 175).
With this analysis, Kierkegaard turns Hegel on his head. Recalling our discussion of Hegel, he attempts to show that actuality and possibility are “coimplicates whose inextricable unity constitutes necessity” and consequently “…freedom revels itself as the truth of necessity” (See Above). Kierkegaard retains these terms, yet reorders the relationship; he argues that freedom constitutes the joining of necessity and possibility in actuality (Taylor 176). The issue is primarily epistemological. In Fragments he essentially repeats Kant’s argument in distinguishing between ideality and facticity (Pojman 29). History and futurity are, contra Hegel, contingent upon the free conscious activity of individual transcendent subjects rather than the result of a deterministic chain of immanent development (Taylor 177). Taylor writes, “Futurity is the absence that masks the divine presence that forms the horizon of experience for the existing individual” (Taylor 177).
Kierkegaard’s understanding of authentic existence is unpacked in his theory of “the stages on life’s way.” Bearing resemblance to Hegel’s “stations” in the Phenomenology, Kierkegaard distinguishes his “stages” as “existence spheres”, as modes of being-in-the-world. For Kierkegaard there is not the “necessary progression” of the Hegelian stations. People can and do, abrogate authentic existence. There are three stages, the aesthetic, ethical, and religious.
The aesthetic stage is often identified with hedonism, though inclusive of the intellectual pleasures of “high culture” and philosophical (Hegelian/Platonic) speculation (Raymond 104). The ethical stage is a period bound to notions of duty and affirmation of the social order. According to Kierkegaard, both these stages are spheres within immanence; spheres where the individual is completely defined by their context.
The religious stage is the stage of authentic selfhood. Kierkegaard holds up Abraham and Job as paradigmatic of authentic spirit-full existing and uses their stories to illustrate this as well as his concept of repetition. In this stage a person becomes themselves by suspending the ethical in light of a higher individual telos—the sphere of self-creative transcendence. There has been much confusion over Kierkegaard’s understanding of the teleological suspension of the ethical. Kierkegaard’s point is that any particular social order is not absolute, it never fulfills (and often subverts) its own ideals. The religious stage consists in a dialectical interplay between the aesthetic and the ethical. The aesthetic stage is the sphere of passion and particularity. The ethical stage is the sphere of commitment and universality. Kierkegaard claims that authentic existing is in the free conscious individuals paradoxical synthesis of passion and commitment, of particularity and universality. However this synthesis consists of relativizing or recontextualizing the ideals of the social order in light of a higher telos. A “going-outside” or transcending the system to justify or invalidate the system. Kierkegaard’s repetition is the formal description of this discursive double movement.
The first movement is a resigning of the ethical-social order in and embrace of the passion of pain and conflict this entails. Here the individual is awakened to their eternal consciousness (Fear and Trembling 48) and embraces pure ideality. Here they are still in immanence because “they are not open to help from the outside” (Westphal 184), their identity is still defined by context even in its resigning-from. The second movement is a paradoxical “receiving back”. A move where the individual is higher than the universal in immediate relation to the Absolute—the noumenal non-objectifiable Other. This receiving is simultaneously a transcending and return. One “receives back” the world—the re-embrace of the finite, the immanent, the particular. Thus authentic existing is in a self-creative transcending of the ethico-social order in order to embrace and engage said order. In this double movement, the individual becomes a living incarnation of the their higher telos. They become a being-toward. Their identity is found in the noumenal Absolute where they are empowered to authentic embracing and engagement of the social context they inhabit.
Kierkegaard’s thought rests on his assertion of the normative definitions of identity, difference and contradiction. Self and other are externally related constituted through a free conscious synthesis. The individual’s becoming is a paradoxical incarnation of essence and existence, the infinite and the finite, ideality and reality, actuality and possibility, universality and individuality, self and other, constituted through free decision—a self-creative transcendence. Kierkegaard saw history and futurity as contingent and the paradoxical synthesis of self as existential moments of Parousia. Kierkegaard saw himself as offering the antidote to the dissipated spiritlessness of his age. He implicitly accepts the Kantian critique of metaphysics and reasserts the transcendence of consciousness. By reasserting the normative logic of the Western philosophic tradition, he chastised Hegelian speculation and the illusory “objective” certitude of a Platonized Christendom. He emphasized the passionate subjectivity of religious belief (or any individual worldveiw) and showed that authentic selfhood—spirit—is in incarnation; in the concrete living or being the ideality one affirms.
Both Hegel and Kierkegaard give us attractive models for understanding spirit-full existence. In Hegel we see that we are not unreconcileably other. There is a fundamental connectedness to reality, a connectedness that’s knowable, a world that’s knowable, and a God that’s knowable. In Hegel we can find a home and a have a responsibility to that home. We are a part of a grand project, the becoming of the divine. Spirit-full living is in recognizing our social existence and responsibly engaging in that existence. For Hegel, Kierkegaard is a fragmented unhappy consciousness.
In Kierkegaard we see that we have a unique identity. Human consciousness is not reducible to the totality of its natural and social context. There is a fundamental difference in reality that fuels our seeking and awakens us to mystery. In Kierkegaard we can find creativity and adventure—there is always more “out there.” We are engaged in a grand quest, the free becoming of ourselves before an infinite noumenal reality beyond our actuality. Spirit-full living is in recognizing our own freedom and responsibly engaging existence in creative self-becoming. For Kierkegaard, Hegel is a dissipated unhappy man.
Both models have some unfortunate implications. In Hegel our uniqueness is illusory. Our identity is bound to a completely knowable (and hence object-definable) whole. We are cogs in a great “machine.” For Hegel “freedom” is but recognizing the we are determined—and is then, not real freedom. In the end, we aren’t really ourselves but identical to the other and the whole. Perhaps the most unfortunate implication is the we are ethically bound to our placement in the “machine.” Society and the state becomes the embodiment of the absolute. We are left no ground for change or dissent and have no freedom of self-creation.
In Kierkegaard we can become homeless wanderer, estranged from social relationships. Our identity can become completely self defined making relationships inherently antagonistic. We can become the estranged solipsistic “I” in a chaotic sea of unmitigated possibility—as Sartre would say “condemned to freedom.” Taken to this extreme, reality is an anarchic mass of hostile atomic consciousness’.
Are these our only options? Are we confronted with the “either/or” of Hegel’s ultimately undifferentiated monism and the potential excess of solipsism in Kierkegaard’s dualism? I would suggest no. I would suggest that their respective positions are dialectically related. I would like to suggest a third option: existential pluralism. This will include the strengths of both Hegel and Kierkegaard and an attempt to side step their excesses.
Existential pluralism accepts the Kierkegaardian structure of spirit and the normative definitions of identity, difference and contradiction. In this model, Hegel explains the inter-dynamics of externally constituted relationship and Kierkegaard the external structure of relationship. In Hegel there is a horizontal comportment of self and other in determinant identity-with-in-difference. Self is the relation in otherness. Hence there is uni-polar/dialectical structure of becoming. In Kierkegaard there is a vertical comportment of self to the Absolute by which spirit is constituted. Hence there is a bi-polar/dialectical structure of becoming. Existential pluralism recognizes both a horizontal and vertical comportment to other and the Absolute. Hence there is a tri-polar/tri-alectical structure of becoming.
Hegel understands relation to be determinate, internal and essential. Kierkegaard understands relation to be accidental, external and existential. Existential Pluralism understands relation to be essentially accidental, determinate externally, and existentially internal. By understanding relation this way, it retains identity and difference and reveals the creative nature of relation. The synthesis of opposites through freedom establishes an existentially internal relation. The relation literally creates or births being. The transcendent I and transcendent You becomes transcendent Us—an Us that was not and now is—Us is literally spirit. In finite free relation each member both is and is not and the Us born of I and You grounds the finite becoming of both. The being and nonbeing of each member of the free finite relation mutually reveals new possibilities of becoming to each other. Where I has being and You nonbeing, a new possibility is presented to You that was previously unknown and incapable of being actualized. The being of I not only reveals possibility but offers an empowering to actualize the possibility. This power is extrinsic to the being of You, a power only realized in the relation to I and the creation of Us. Thus the spirit of Us creates a context of particular being and nonbeing that reveals and empowers particular becoming. Though empowered through relation, the particular becoming of You—the actualizing of particular possibilities can only be willed by You. (Because in I the possibility is already actual.) So in the particular Us there is an immanent dialectical relation that creates new particular possibilities and empowers each toward actualization. Yet the relation is mutually freely constituted by the transcendent I and You and new particular possibilities are actualized through a free decision of the transcendent I or You. Hence the I-You finite relationship is paradoxically both external and internal, transcendent and immanent. There is identity in mutually recognized particular being and difference in mutually recognized particular non-being. The existential internal relation of I-you is essential to the being of their Us.
The relation to the Absolute entails a similar dynamic as relation to other finite being. The I freely constitutes an internal relation to the Absolute. There is a reciprocal relation between I and the Absolute, a created Us that is literally spirit. The Absolute reveals I’s nonbeing and the Us created by the I-Absolute relation grounds I’s becoming. In contradistinction to finite relation, the Absolute is—pure is, and I is and is not. The Absolute is infinite and therefor context-less, I is finite and context-dependent. The factical context of I limits the relation and the possibilities revealed in the relation. I can only see potentialities relating to its current there, and its past actuality. The I-Absolute relation constitutes a new context that transcends I’s current context. The spirit of the I-Absolute’s essential Us empowers I’s movement to that context. This movement entails a repetition of past actuality with creation of new possibility within the new context. This movement transforms I’s facticity and comportment within the new context. The Absolute is the infinite, non-temporal (or multi-temporal) source of all possibility and power of becoming—it is dynamic actuality. It awakens finite being’s non or multi-temporal consciousness. It recontextualizes I’s current context through a repetition of past actuality and creation of new possibility. It grounds and empowers all becoming. There is identity in mutual being/Being and difference in I’s nonbeing. Hence the I-Absolute relationship is paradoxically both external and internal, transcendent and immanent. The existential internal relation of I-Absolute is essential to the being of their Us.
The I’s relation to itself is spirit. The I negotiates its own facticity, its relation to the other, and it’s relation to the Absolute. It both recognizes its facticity, it’s possibilities, and action-potential to become. It actualizes current possibilities through free relation to the other and repeats past actuality through its relation to the Absolute. The I both is and becomes, both is and not yet. When I is completely determined by You it is an indeterminate object. Here I is dissipated by the nonbeing of You and their current context is absolutized. When I completely determines itself by its relation to the Absolute it posits itself as Absolute and remains an inauthentic determinate object—a posited ideal “is” that is always not yet. Here I hiddenly finitizes and objectifies the Absolute and reifies its own nonbeing. When I is completely defined by itself it implicitly affirms itself as Absolute—in solely affirming affirms an absolute freedom it never becomes anything but its own facticity. Hence in affirming nothing but its own freedom it becomes determined by purely external relation. Here I deifies its own nonbeing.
Existential pluralism avoids the dissipation of self in an Absolutetized context; avoids the reifying of self in the Absolute; and avoids the deifying of self in the self. Only be recognizing the triadic structure of becoming can one live a spirit-full existence, or rather, be spirit-full. The triadic structure grounds alterity and constitutes and maintains connection. There is alterity without absolute difference and connection without absolute identity. Doesn’t this picture represent a restless state, a pure dynamism in which I never finds rest, a state where I never just is? This question reveals a fundamental misconception in the Western philosophic tradition. Being is equated with stasis. To fully become means to reach stasis. To know a thing is to know it in the entirety of its being—the thing itself. Hence Hegel claimed that Kant’s epistemology leaves the subject incapable of knowing, and hence of true relationship. Existential pluralism recognizes two forms of knowing.
Episteme is understood as phenomenal. Objects present themselves to consciousness and consciousness defines them in a variety of ways. We come to know/episteme their function or use in our specific context. This can include the other and the Absolute. But their very there-ness confronts me with the possibility of multiple contexts. The ideal of my consciousness doesn’t necessarily correspond to the reality of the objects being. Thus the thing itself is never completely epistemically knowable. Authentic relationship entails another kind of knowing.
The Koine Greek word ginosko describes spirit-full knowing. It means “to learn to know” or “to become known”. It implies process. Interestingly it was a Jewish idiom for sexual intercourse between man and woman. Spirit-full knowing is the knowing/ginosko we experience as rest. The freely chosen internal relation to the other and the Absolute—the relation is a willed constant and in the relation we find rest and home as well as empowerment to quest—become. When relation is broken off in either direction—all three polarities, self, other, and Absolute are statically objectified. They merely are and context is reified. Gemma Corradi Fuimara puts it this way,
…at the very moment in which we “arm” ourselves with a cognitive model we are, paradoxically, justified in losing interest in the object. We no longer consider it enigmatic since it is our turn to speak…It is almost as though a dense cloud of theory, interpretation, and explanation around the object, blunting its prospective elegance (Mooney 302).
There is a place for theory/episteme, the dynamics of which we will investigate another time. Hegel and Kierkegaard’s insights into spirit-full existence understood as an existential pluralism gives a powerful model for understanding identity and difference. A spirit-full existence where self is neither fragmented nor dissipated but is ever engaged in a dynamic of home and quest. A knowing/ginosko of itself, other and the Absolute. A knowing/ginosko maintained by engagement—in the triadic structure of becoming.
Gadamer, Hans-Georg. Hegel’s Dialectic, Five Hermeneutical Studies. trans. P. C. Smith (New Have: Yale Univ. Press) 1976.
Hegel, G. W. F. Phenomenology of Spirit. trans. A. V. Miller (New York: Oxford Univ. Press) 1977.
—Philosophy of History. trans. C. J. Friedrich (New York: Dover Pub.) 1956.
—Science of Logic. trans. A. V. Miller (New York: Humanities Press) 1969.
Kierkegaard, Soren A. The Concept of Dread. trans. Walter Lowrie (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press)1957.
—Concluding Unscientific Postscript. trans. David F. Swenson and Walter Lowrie (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press) 1941.
—Either/Or. trans. Howard V. and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press) 1995.
—Fear and Trembling. trans. Howard V. and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press) 1983.
—Journals and Papers. trans. Howard V. and Edna H. Hong (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press) 1967.
—Philosophical Fragments. trans. David F. Swenson (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press) 1967.
—Repetition. trans. Howard V. and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Univ. Press) 1983.
—The Sickness unto Death. trans. Walter Lowrie (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press) 1970.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Sense and Nonsense. trans. Herbert L. and Patricia Allen Dreyfus (Northwestern Univ. Press) 1964.
Mooney, Edward F. “Repetition: Getting the world back” in The Cambridge Companion to Kierkegaard. edited by Alastair Hannay and Gordon D. Marino (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press) 1998.
Pojman, Louis P. The Logic of Subjectivity. (University, AL: The Univ. of Alabama Press) 1984.
Ricoeur, Paul. “Two Encounters with Kierkegaard” in Kierkegaard’s Truth: The Disclosure of Self. editor John H. Smith (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press) 1981.
Raymond, Diane Barsoum. Existentialism and the Philosophical Tradition. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall) 1991
Stace, W. T. The Philosophy of Hegel. (USA: Dover Publication Inc.) 1955.
Taylor, Mark C. Journeys to Selfhood. (Berekly: University of California Press) 1980.
Westphal, Merold Becoming a Self, A Reading of Kierkegaard’s Concluding Unscientific Postscript (West Lafayette: Purdue Univ. Press) 1996.
 For an interesting contemporary correlation to this observation in social theory, see William C. Gay’s “Nonsexist Public Discourse and Negative Peace: The Injustice of Merely Formal Transformation”. The Acorn: Journal of the Gandhi-King Society 9, n1 (Spring 1997): 45-53.
 Kierkegaard explores this in Repetition and Fear and Trembling. See Mark Lloyd Taylor, “Ordeal and Repetition in Kierkegaard’s Treatment of Abraham and Job”, Foundation of Kierkegaard’s Vision of Community ed. George B. Connell and C. Stephan Evans (New Jersey: Humanities Press) 1992.