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BOOK REVIEWS 363 George J. Stack. On Kierkegaard: Philosophical Fragments. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1976. Pp. 127. $5.00, paper. Stack attempts to unearth in this book the principal philosophical themes of Kierkegaard, especially those that bear upon his philosophical anthropology. Unfortunately, the book is marred by Stack's often murky repetitious treatment of various philosophical topics--particularly, on Kierkegaard 's existential category of possibility. Readers of an analytic bent are bound to be exacerbated by Stack's high-handed writing style, and readers of whatever philosophical persuasion are unlikely to appreciate the numerous errors in copy editing. All of this is dishearteningbecause one gets the impression that Stack has some interestingthings to say if only they were said in a more comprehensible philosophical language. For example, Stack presents some bold views on Kierkegaard's notion of choice, trying to show that it does not involve irrationality, as the received opinion would have it, and in the offering nicely outlines some Aristotelian affinities of Kierkegaard's existential ethics. Stack is especially helpful in explaining the Kierkegaardian distinction between "aesthetic choice" and "absolute choice" (see pp. 94-95), and he also presents a good heuristic exposition of Kierkegaard's existential categories. Since a substantial portion of the book is spent unravelingthe Kierkegaardian notion of possibility , one is likely to be dismayed by the unclear exegesis and argument behind Stack's claim that there are "unique human possibilities" not subsumable under empirical possibility, which human possibilities are said by Stack to be representative of man's primal "potentiality-for"! A good numberof philosophers have argued that there are psycho-physical laws governinghuman behavior, and while Stack does not give this deterministic stance due acknowledgment (although he does speak of man as "a dynamic synthesis of necessity and possibility," p. 120), had he done so, he might have found that spiritual or existential (human) possibility is no different than empirical possibility. "If it is reason which enables us to understand the necessary, it is experience which enables us to understand the probable. But it is the endeavor to exist authenticallywhich enables us to understandpossibility. The transcendental basis for the possibilityof possibilityis not Being, but the particular, contingent existence of actual human beings" (p. 125). Ironically, Stack seems to appreciate this recalcitrant deterministic-counter although he does not directly confront it: "The necessity 'in' the self is never entirely overcome though it is transformed through the choice of existential possibilities" (p. 28). I might add, contra Stack's optimistic account of human possibility , that Kierkegaard spoke of himself as a "free bird" in "the fetters of melancholy," suggesting in The Point of Viewfor My Work as an Author that it was (empirically) impossible to throw off his "melancholy from which and from its attendant suffering [he] was never entirely free even for a day." While Stack seeks to uncover the philosophical core of the Kierkegaardian corpus, he nonetheless admits that "there can be no radical bifurcation between the philosophical presuppositions in Kierkegaard's thought and his 'theological' contributionsin the aesthetic writings" (p. 30). I agree. However, Stack then proceeds to claim that the basic question for Kierkegaard was, What is man? and only "secondarily" What does it mean to be a Christian? (see pp. 35-36). But rashly to aver that the latter question has only "secondary" status in Kierkegaard's corpus clearly demands considerable defense, and readers will be disappointed to find none in the book. Ironically, Stack's constant allusionsto Socrates neglect Kierkegaard's "Socratic task" spelled out in Attack Upon Christendom "to revise the conception of what it means to be a Christian." As Kierkegaard says in The Point of Viewfor My Work as an Author: "the religious is present from the beginning,"and the "problem of the whole authorship" is "how to become a Christian." Stack seems guilty, accordingly, of what Kierkegaard in Two Edifying Discourses of 1844 called the reader's grasping with the right hand what is held in the author's left hand. Stack's chapter "Kierkegaard and Estheticism" is quite well done, particular in its description of the evanescent character of immediacy and the resultant hedonistic paradox that culminates in 364 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 363-364
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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