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The Paradoxical Rationality of Søren Kierkegaard

Richard McCombs

Publication Year: 2013

Søren Kierkegaard deliberately feigned irrationality in many of his pseudonymous writings in order to present a rational argument about reason and faith. Richard McCombs posits that Kierkegaard’s strategy of revealing the philosophical and religious underpinnings of his thought was both instructive and misguided. Focusing on pseudonymous works by Johannes Climacus and Anti-Climacus, McCombs discusses Kierkegaard’s irrationality and the manner in which it bolsters important truths about rationality. He reveals Kierkegaard striving for a single, integrated self that thinks, feels, wills, acts, and communicates with purpose. This fresh reading of Kierkegaard engages an essential problem in the philosophy of religion—the difference between what is understood by reason and what must be taken on faith.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xii

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1. A Pretense of Irrationalism

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pp. 1-32

Søren Kierkegaard often seems to reject reason, but in fact he affirms it.1 There are two principal causes of his appearance of irrationalism. First, his conception and use of reason, which he calls subjectivity, is so different from conventional versions of rationality that it often seems irrational, especially at first sight.2 Second, and more importantly, Kierkegaard...

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2. Paradoxical Rationality

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pp. 33-82

In Judge for Yourself! Kierkegaard stages the following dialogue: “‘Do become reasonable, come to your senses, try to be sober’—thus does the secular mentality taunt the Christian. And the Christian says to the...

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3. Reverse Theology

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pp. 83-99

In the estimation of Climacus, his contemporaries were uncritical, dogmatic, and altogether too positive about such things as worldly wisdom and the Hegelian System. In order to chasten and correct this foolish positivity, Climacus wielded the power of the negative (CUP, 80–93). As understood and practiced by Climacus, negative thinking...

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4. The Subtle Power of Simplicity

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pp. 100-113

Just as one would not expect to hear a panegyric on meekness and modesty from Nietzsche, the author of the doctrines of the superman and of the “will-to-power,” so one does not expect to hear high praise for simplicity from Kierkegaard, the subtle and sophisticated “indirect...

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5. A Critique of Indirect Communication

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pp. 114-132

In many ways Climacus creates a false dichotomy between indirect and direct communication: He gives the false impression that there is a neat and tidy distinction between these two modes of writing, when in fact they shade into one another, interpenetrate one another, and differ from one another as much in degree as they do in kind; he idolizes indirect...

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6. The Figure of Socrates and the Climacean Capacity of Paradoxical Reason

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pp. 133-159

Philosophical Fragments officially confines human beings within seemingly rigid limits,1 but it also suggests that the man Socrates transcends these limits. For example, Fragments claims that all non-Christians “move away” from the truth of Christianity, but it also intimates that...

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7. The Figure of Socrates and the Downfall of Paradoxical Reason

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pp. 160-180

In the drama of Philosophical Fragments Socrates not only climbs the ladder of paradoxical reason, he also falls. We might suspect that his fall is a tragic climbing accident resulting from ill-advised overconfidence in his climacean capacity, or a divine...

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8. The Proof of Paradoxical Reason

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pp. 181-220

Kierkegaard appears to reject the requirement of reason that he critically evaluate the beliefs grounding both his own and his rival’s ways of life. But in fact he affirms this requirement....


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pp. 221-234


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pp. 235-240


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pp. 241-244

E-ISBN-13: 9780253006578
E-ISBN-10: 0253006570
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253006479

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion

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Subject Headings

  • Kierkegaard, Søren, 1813-1855.
  • Faith and reason -- Christianity.
  • Philosophical theology.
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