From Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard: Religion, Individuality and Philosophical Method
© 1989 Charles L. Creegan
Disseminate freely with this header intact. See colophon for citation information.


Chapter Two


Both Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein are well known for having produced philosophical-literary works of an extraordinary kind. An interpretation of their intentions ought to take this into account.

Kierkegaard's 'authorship' (as he himself called it) includes a pseudonymous symposium in which various ideas and points of view are presented. It also includes the 'devotional addresses' and 'edifying discourses,' which are less often read; while they are not a remarkable form of writing in themselves (however remarkable they may be in content), when they are understood in connection with the pseudonymous works which they 'accompanied' - as part of the dialectic - they become part of a remarkable pattern. A third part of Kierkegaard's public writings is the 'attack' of his last months, which must also be seen in connection with the total opus. In addition to his writings, he saw his life as an important part of his communication (as has been suggested above).

The private material from his journals and papers conveniently shows the connection between his personal experience and the public works. As such it provides an added perspective on his work.

The form of Wittgenstein's writings is extraordinary for at least two reasons. The first is that there seem to be two 'authorships.' This idea is supported by Wittgenstein's own statements; in the later works he repeatedly refers to 'the author of the Tractatus' as though he were another person.1 The second remarkable feature of Wittgenstein's production is that both parts of it are equally unusual experiments in communication. The Tractatus is notable for the logical rigor of its presentation. A unique point of view is single-mindedly presented - then matters are made more complex [31] by the material on the 'ethical' and the 'mystical,' which (at first glance) does not fit with this single-minded presentation. The Investigations (and other collections published posthumously), on the other hand, show a discursive diversity of opinions and side issues. They also seem to be completely different in intention.

The private notes take on an added significance in Wittgenstein's case; since only the Tractatus was published by him (although the Investigations, and some other collections of notes, had clearly been edited with a view to publication) they are not merely an interesting source for an understanding of the private development of his thought. They are also the only guidelines for an attempt to grasp the general outline of his thinking in several related areas.

Neither author said much directly in the public forum about the objectives of his writing. But hints exist in various parts of the public works, and (particularly in the case of Kierkegaard) more than hints are available in the Nachlaß. This chapter will attempt to clarify the question of the authors' goals, by an investigation of the methods which they used. In both cases the two are bound up together.


One of the most important influences on the methods used by the two authors is their understanding of the place and limitations of 'philosophy.' Wittgenstein provides a succinct definition in the Investigations: 'Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.'2 This thought can be related to two different bodies of material. The first connection is to the central battle which Kierkegaard fought, against the illusion that in 'Christendom' all are by definition 'Christians.'3 Surely this is also a battle against bewitchment by means of language! Despite the similarity in appearance and derivation between the two words, they are only slightly related in the concepts they express: they have a 'family resemblance,' but they are distant cousins. A metaphor used by Wittgenstein is helpful here. The two concepts can be thought of as related in the same way as are the concepts 'railway train,' 'railway accident' and 'railway law.' Although these all are complex concepts which have to do with railways, they are thoroughly different: one indicates an object, one a momentary event, and one a conceptual codification.4 Similarly, 'Christendom' is a geopolitical relation, and 'Christianity' a spiritual state. [32]

The second direction in which the definition from the Investigations can be related is to the following passages from the Tractatus:

Philosophy aims at the logical clarification of thoughts.
Philosophy is not a body of doctrine but an activity.
A philosophical work consists essentially of elucidations.
Philosophy does not result in 'philosophical propositions,' but rather in the clarification of propositions.
Without philosophy thoughts are, as it were, cloudy and indistinct: its task is to make them clear and give them sharp boundaries. . . .

It must set limits to what can be thought; and in doing so, to what cannot be thought.
It must set limits to what cannot be thought by working outwards through what can be thought.

It will signify what cannot be said, by presenting clearly what can be said.5

Thus at the very beginning, Wittgenstein's definition changes the idea of 'philosophy.' A boundary wall is erected in the traditional subject matter of philosophy. Important things occur on both sides of the wall; but direct statements (sayings) can reach only one side. What is on the other side can only be 'signified' or 'shown.'

Kierkegaard saw a similar wall. The attempt to reach the other side of this wall is a constant temptation, as he notes:

[The] ultimate potentiation of every passion is always to will its own downfall, and so it is also the ultimate passion of the understanding to will the collision, although in one way or another the collision must become its downfall. This, then, is the ultimate paradox of thought: to want to discover something that thought itself cannot think. This passion of thought is fundamentally present everywhere in thought, also in the single individual's thought.6

For both Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein, philosophy is inevitable. But another essential feature of their thinking is that the place of philosophy is limited. It can do some preliminary brush-clearing and straightening out; but when it comes to the truly essential features, another kind of thinking is just as inevitably needed. They are both dedicated to demonstrating the presence of the wall, or [32] 'ugly ditch' (Lessing); they are also dedicated to working toward getting beyond it.

An important kindred feature of both Kierkegaard's and Wittgenstein's thought at this point is their interest in limiting the scope of their discussions. That is, philosophy has a limited place within their total universes of discourse; but even these universes are limited in size. Kierkegaard puts this limitation most clearly; his entire work is

related to Christianity, to the problem of 'becoming a Christian,' with a direct or indirect polemic against the monstrous illusion we call Christendom, or against the illusion that in such a land as ours all are Christians of a sort.7

In reading his works this must never be forgotten. Apparent gaps in his analyses may relate to the fact that they are only constructed for this particular purpose. (For instance, he explicitly says that his definition of truth as subjective only applies to 'the truth which relates to existence.')8 The authorship is a polemical corrective to the problems of the age. It may be recognized as such because it is opposed to the 'evil of the age.' Kierkegaard's championing of 'the individual' is a polemical result of the crowd mentality which he perceived in his age. Any good that there may be in that mentality (from a balanced view) is not his concern as a polemical, religious author.9

Kierkegaard's understanding of the place of philosophy in his task may be better understood when seen in comparison with his description of the power and way of working of the ironist, from The Concept of Irony: 'As the ironist does not have the new within his power, it might be asked how he destroys the old, and to this it must be answered: he destroys the given actuality by the given actuality itself.'10 The biographical root of the method of indirect communication can be found in Kierkegaard's relation with Regine. But its philosophical antecedent is his work on Socrates. Like Socrates, he is able to demonstrate the inadequacies of philosophy by an ironic use of its own categories.

This also recalls Wittgenstein's way of working: 'the work of the philosopher consists in assembling reminders ["given" in the world] for a particular purpose.'11 Wittgenstein's projects are also under a limitation similar to Kierkegaard's. The purpose of philosophy, according to him, is to eliminate itself! Wittgenstein's usual method [34] is to get clear about particular 'philosophical' problems, and in so doing to show some features of philosophy in general. So his reminders may be various in their form. There may be polemical-corrective features in them; that is, if an idea is deeply entrenched, the reminders may have to be sharp beyond ordinary usage. And the reminders may also be incomplete. Wittgenstein's purpose in describing a situation or coining a term is not to give a systematically complete explanation or definition. Often he only notes the features germane to the point at hand. This arises from his task-orientation, and does not constitute a 'mistake' or oversight!

For both Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard, one particular problem demanding this unusual mode of thinking and communication is the ethical dimension of life. Wittgenstein's works also include explicit consideration of another essential feature requiring this other kind of thinking: the way in which language, thinking, and understanding work.

The key to this unusual kind of thinking and representation is contained in a brief statement by Wittgenstein: 'What can be shown, cannot be said.'12 The logical and ethical dimensions are features which 'show themselves' in the world; but they are not directly expressible. Kierkegaard used the term 'paradox' to refer to human apprehension of such phenomena.

Paul Holmer suggests a way of looking at this inexpressibility which connects the early Wittgenstein both with his later works and with Kierkegaard. He points out that since certain dimensions 'cannot be said,' then the locus of certainty about them cannot be any doctrine. Instead, the thinker must be certain. 'Seeing is a capacity and can only be done by people, not sayings.'13

The theme of important material that is inaccessible to investigation is maintained through the later period. A key phrase used to refer to the problem is 'explanations come to an end somewhere.'14 Nothing could be more essential than the features which do not require or permit explanation; it is precisely the fact that they are basic that makes them resistant to further analysis. As they are part of the framework of life, there are no tools available to get at them. Another key phrase is 'the limits of language.'15 The later philosophy is concerned, as is the earlier, to show that there are certain games in which these limits ought to limit us, and certain games in which they may be (rightly) [35] transcended - but also certain games in which they are in fact transcended, but wrongly or with infelicitous results. As Wittgenstein remarks, the existence of a wall or other boundary is not an unambiguous explanation of its purpose.16 This may even depend on circumstances; jumping the tennis net is only a correct move after one wins the game. Wittgenstein takes metaphysical and other second-order attempts to explain the functioning of language to be unwarranted transcendences in an impossible direction; but he takes ethical statements to be permissible expansions.

Similarly, for Kierkegaard the attempt to philosophize sub specie aeterni is a wrong transcendence. It is wrong because it is forgetful of the existential situation and limitations of human beings. 'An existential system is impossible.'17 On the other hand, the leap of faith is permissible, to say the least. Its permissibility is also rooted in the human existential situation - our need for assurance.


There is a feature of Kierkegaard's and Wittgenstein's methods which makes the task of studying them more difficult. This is that statements about the method and uses of the method are often intertwined. Paul Holmer observes concerning Kierkegaard that there are two kinds of sentences in his works. One of these types of sentence expresses in linguistic form the immediate experience of a subject. In this kind of sentence, Kierkegaard's poetic bent shows itself. The other kind of sentence is one which deals with 'other sentences' or concepts. In this kind of work Kierkegaard is at his most philosophical and analytic.18

This distinction is easy to see in the case of The Point of View, which consists largely of statements of the second kind. But the 'authorship' proper (both pseudonymous and acknowledged works) does not by any means consist only of statements of the first kind. Rather, in it they are liberally interlarded with philosophical and programmatic statements. It is often difficult to separate the two kinds. Indeed, sometimes the very same phrase seems to be both an existential or psychological observation, and a philosophical comment. This close connection of the two kinds of work reflects Kierkegaard's particular genius for rooting his writing in his own unified existence as a 'poet-philosopher.'

One of the best examples of this intertwining is the passage from the Postscript in which Johannes Climacus explains the principle of his 'authorship.' Climacus sets himself forth as an indolent student of philosophy. But one day while smoking a cigar in the public [36] gardens, he has realized what he might be able to contribute to the well-being of the age. Since all the great people are making things easier and easier, it only remains for someone to make things more difficult, though of course not more difficult than they really are. This ironic project will be his life's work.19

This passage combines the indirect communication of an important principle of Kierkegaard's thought with the picture of Climacus, itself an indirect orientation as to how this work is to be taken. By the superposition over the course of a work of many such pictures and communications - a technique reminiscent of Wittgenstein's simile of the Galtonian photograph - Kierkegaard brings precision to his delineation of personality and philosophical position.

If this technique is a product of Kierkegaard's particular genius, certainly Wittgenstein shares his talent. Indeed, since in the case of Wittgenstein there is no parallel to The Point of View, the puzzle is even more complex. It is clear that Wittgenstein's works combine attacks on particular philosophical problems with his considerations of the possibility of philosophy; but the two tasks are not divided. More often than not, the same sentence does duty in the two endeavors. At least, the works themselves constitute a 'showing' of the correct way to do philosophy (while they 'say' things about various particular problems); and this is not at all a trivial showing since the form of the books is so radically different from that of previous philosophical works.20

An essential point about this method is that the same features evident in ordinary language use are used in philosophy. Holmer raises the question whether philosophical elucidations of grammatical distinctions might be neither sayings nor showings. He suggests that they constitute 'pointers' instead.21 (At any rate, they would remain indirectly communicated.) The burden of this suggestion seems to be that philosophers call attention to language in a way not done everyday. But pointing is a common phenomenon in which saying and showing are intertwined. It is even used as a method of proof: Wittgenstein was fascinated by the report that, for some Indian mathematicians, 'Look at this!' was a geometrical proof.22 So there is no need to introduce philosophical 'pointing' as an absolutely special phenomenon.

Holmer is trying to make a fine distinction between philosophical and non-philosophical uses, one which Wittgenstein might [37] not like, as it suggests a 'second-order' philosophical endeavor. Wittgenstein consistently denies that there is a 'second-level' 'philosophy of philosophy'; the discussion in this instance may be recursive (that is, one of the most common objects of philosophy is itself), but not second-order.23


One of the central methods used by the two authors is that of 'leading' the reader to a position. Wittgenstein remarks:

We must begin with the mistake and transform it into what is true.

That is, we must uncover the source of the error; otherwise hearing what is true won't help us. It cannot penetrate when something is taking its place.

To convince someone of what is true, it is not enough to state it; we must find the road from error to truth.24

Kierkegaard agrees 'that if real success is to attend the effort to bring a man to a definite position, one must first of all take pains to find HIM where he is and begin there.'25 Kierkegaard stresses psychological reasons for this manner of working: didactic prating is likely to make the listener ignore the message, and in the case of the message of 'becoming a Christian' this would be a tragedy. Wittgenstein's motivations are slightly different: keeping a solid anchor in reality is important to him principally for reasons of philosophical soundness, rather than due to any belief in the essential importance of his message.

The Point of View explains in great detail how this idea applies to Kierkegaard's works. He was always a religious writer; but he produced aesthetic works and philosophical works in an attempt to appeal to various kinds of readers. The fact that the 'Diary of the Seducer' has been published separately from the rest of Either/Or shows how successfully that part of the work mirrors aestheticism. The Fragments and the Postscript 'mirror' philosophy, not so much by their character as by the philosophical terminology and problems of which they make use. But at the same time, the various Edifying Discourses, written in an obviously religious form, exist as proof that he was always a religious writer.

The application of the idea of 'leading' to Wittgenstein's work is not so clear. One way in which it characteristically shows itself is within the individual works, or groups of notes. The remarks on [38] the Golden Bough begin with Frazer's mistaken position, and attempt to show the outline of a better analysis of the facts he reports. The Philosophical Investigations begins with a passage from Augustine on language-learning. And On Certainty begins as a discussion of G. E. Moore's refutation of idealism: 'If you do know that here is one hand, we'll grant you all the rest.'26

What each of these works reflects is Wittgenstein's penchant for tackling one particular problem at a time, and worrying at it until he had gotten everything he could out of it. The individual works are not philosophies, or systems of philosophy: he once reacted violently when someone proposed that he should simply call the Investigations 'Philosophy.'27 They are treatments of specific subjects.

At first glance, it might seem difficult to fit the Tractatus into this mold. It appears to be systematic and all-embracing. This appearance is particularly fostered by the fact that it is 'finished'; that is, it is not in the form of rough notes and discussions, as are the later works. The decimal numbering of propositions and the apparent purpose, to ground a scientific logic on a complete metaphysics, also support this impression. (And he himself calls it a 'system' in a letter to the publisher Ficker.28)

Several considerations militate in the opposite direction. First of all, the Tractatus was written in reaction to the logical work of Russell and Frege. (It is interesting to note that neither of them understood it to Wittgenstein's satisfaction.) So it must at least start with logic if it is to follow his own methodology. Secondly, there is the evidence of Wittgenstein's own understanding of the scope and goal of the work. This is different from the first impression left by the text. The most straightforward expression of this understanding is given in another letter which he wrote to Ficker.

It will probably be helpful for you if I write a few words about my book: For you won't - I really believe - get too much out of reading it. Because you won't understand it; the content will seem quite strange to you. In reality, it isn't strange to you, for the point of the book is ethical. I once wanted to give a few words in the foreword which now actually are not in it, which, however, I'll write to you now because they might be a key for you: I wanted to write that my work consists of two parts: of the one which is here, and of everything which I have not written. [39] And precisely this second part is the important one. For the Ethical is delimited from within, as it were, by my book; and I'm convinced that, strictly speaking, it can ONLY be delimited in this way. In brief, I think: All of that which many are babbling today, I have defined in my book by remaining silent about it.29

Why would anyone write an ethical book that seems to be a logical book, so that those who are most likely to agree with it will not understand it? One possible explanation would be that those most likely to agree are not the intended audience. The audience suggested by the form of the book is logicians. If it is precisely some mistakes in logic that are preventing the logicians (and those influenced by them - in modern society, potentially a huge group!) from 'seeing things aright' ethically, and if the correct ethical view will have repercussions on their logical ideas, then in order to help them to find out the truth one must lead them from logic to ethics.30

Without this understanding, the curious form of the Tractatus seems even more curious when it is compared to the form of the notebooks which Wittgenstein kept at the time he was composing it. These notebooks are in the style which is familiar in the works of the later Wittgenstein, rather than in any systematic style. They reflect his discursive struggle to understand the issues. The material on the 'ethical' in the final form of the book is presented in a form most similar to that of the notebooks. This suggests that the style of the Tractatus is purposely artificial. Not only is it an expression of the best of the material from the notebooks (or of the position finally reached); this expression has been cast in a style which relates to a particular purpose.31

In the preface to the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein explains that he has been unable to develop that work into a unified form, as he had at first wanted.32 But he realized that the somewhat discombobulated style is appropriate to a technique which consists in multiple methods for various problems.33 The form of the Tractatus is appropriate to a technique which promotes one understanding as the solution to all problems.34

All of these features point toward an expansion of the idea of 'finding the reader where he is.' Once one has done this, then some technique must be devised for getting the reader to progress. A didactic method will not be useful, since it assumes the correctness of the speaker's position. [40]

Kierkegaard called the method which he used in a similar situation 'indirect communication.' As he claims in The Point of View, the whole of his work is related to the 'problem of becoming a Christian.' But at first glance, the larger part of his literary production has little to do with this problem. Instead, he describes the life of the aesthete and the ethicist from within, and apes the writings of the philosopher. The purpose of this description is nevertheless consistent with his project.

In a series of notes for lectures on communication, Kierkegaard distinguishes between the appropriate methods for communicating 'science' and 'art.' Science or specific knowledge of content must be communicated directly; art, ability or potential competence, on the other hand, is already within the subject, and hence must be taught in another way. It is a question of 'luring the ethical out of the individual,' rather than 'beating it into him.' The indirect communicator stands in a 'maieutic' relationship to the listener. He is not imparting any new knowledge; instead he is bringing something out in the other. As Kierkegaard says, 'the object of the communication is . . . not a knowledge but a realization.'35

The 'midwife's' role in this case is very delicate. It is a question of maintaining the distinction between 'standing by another's help alone' and 'standing alone - by another's help.' Clearly the second, ironic alternative is the one aimed at. The midwife is attempting to give an advantage - but if the one helped has any idea that he is being helped, then that may become a disadvantage.36 So it is that the indirect communicator must somehow manage to touch the intended recipient of the communication without revealing himself. As Kierkegaard says somewhere, he must pass him going in the opposite direction and yet somehow manage to give him a push!

The expressed purpose of the Tractatus is to show that 'what can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.' In order to achieve this purpose, problems of philosophy are discussed (said), and it is shown 'that the reason why these problems [of philosophy] are posed is that the logic of our language is misunderstood.' But part of the value of the work is yet another showing: 'it shows how little is achieved when these problems are solved.'37 There is a direct and an indirect part to the results.

Two very important explicit parts of the scheme of the Tractatus (as well as the whole scheme of showing) have to do with the need [41] for indirect communication. The first concerns the status of logic. Logical form, as the form of propositions and the world, does not exist in the world and cannot be expressed in words. 'Logic is not a body of doctrine, but a mirror image of the world.'38 It makes the whole scheme of language possible. While occurrences within the world are 'accidental,' and could be otherwise, the logical framework is fixed. It is nonsensical to make statements about something which cannot be otherwise: there is no point of comparison. Thus logic cannot be discussed.

Ethical considerations are also bound up with indirect communication. Here the indirection is double: not only are ethical propositions not candidates for direct expression (according to the Tractatus); but the very communication of this fact is itself indirect. The ethical content of the world cannot be expressed in words; like logic it is 'not part of the world.' Just as logic cannot be 'accidental,' so values (if they are to escape relativism) must not depend on 'what is the case.'39 This analysis squares with Kierkegaard's thesis 'attributable to Lessing' that accidental truths of history cannot serve as proofs for eternal truths of reason.40

Both the phenomena of logic and values are said to be 'transcendental.'41 This is certainly not to say that they do not exist; but they cannot be directly discussed. By discussing the way in which the world is constructed and mirrored in language, Wittgenstein is indirectly showing the importance of those things which cannot be spoken about. The strictly correct way of doing philosophy, he says, would be to say only what can be said. This method would be even more indirect that the method which he actually uses.

Wittgenstein's actual method is to make statements which are (strictly speaking from within the final result) nonsensical.42 The listener's role is to 'transcend' these propositions, in order to reach a vantage point from which he can 'see the world aright.'43 This remains an indirect mode of communication.

Thus there is a redoubled indirection in the communication of the Tractatus. First of all, the ethical purpose is hidden behind the logical appearance of the work. Secondly, the logical apparatus is incapable of carrying its own weight. It does appear to be a direct communication; but on the metaphysical level it cannot be one. The foundations of logic, too, ought to be indirectly communicated.

A modification of the doctrine of indirect communication is at [42] work in Wittgenstein's later works. He repeatedly denies that philosophical points can be made by the advancing of 'theses.'44 Theses can only be about facts, and so everyone would agree to them; it would be impossible to have arguments and various positions. Philosophy is not concerned to give new information, as do the sciences, for example. Instead, it is concerned with 'putting everything before us,' 'assembling reminders,' with the aim of complete clarity. The ideal way of gaining clarity, for the later Wittgenstein, is the method of 'perspicuity': 'arranging the factual material so that we can easily pass from one part to another and have a clear view of it.'

For us the conception of a perspicuous presentation is fundamental. It indicates the form in which we write of things, the way in which we see things. . . .

This perspicuous presentation makes possible that understanding which consists just in the fact that we 'see the connections.' Hence the importance of finding intermediate links.45

If 'a philosophical problem has the form "I don't know my way about,"'46 then perspicuous presentation is intended to suggest an arrangement or map of the facts, to remove the confusions. Or, if philosophy is to be treated like a sickness,47 then the various methods of the philosopher, which clarify the problems, are like various therapies.48

That this is a doctrine of indirect communication should be clear. Direct communication proceeds by the advancing of theses. These are appropriate to science. But philosophy cannot communicate directly. Instead, by arranging what we already know49 the philosopher makes problems disappear. Of course, the satisfaction of the answer is not communicated; every reader or listener must examine and agree with the proposed 'solution.'

Kierkegaard shares with Wittgenstein the interest in a way of working which stresses the transitions rather than the theses. His interest in the polemical and corrective is a good indication of this. But it is easy to forget the stress on transitions when confronted with a 'system' like that of the 'stages on life's way.' Kierkegaard takes care to delineate the operators of the transitions between the stages. The transition between the aesthetic and the ethical is marked by irony, and the transition from the ethical to the religious by humor. [43]

Both humor and irony depend on the clash of perspectives. To see a situation as humorous depends on the ability to step out of it, to see it as another might. The inclosing seriousness of a perspective is shattered. Then there is the possibility that a new perspective can be gained.

Kierkegaard places considerable stress on these transitional categories, although in view of the fact that his dissertation was about the concept of irony in both ancient and modern times, this is not surprising. Wittgenstein has much less to say about them in a theoretical vein. He does comment that the 'depth' of grammatical jokes is like that of philosophy.50 And Malcolm notes that Wittgenstein had once claimed that it would be possible to write a serious philosophical work consisting solely of jokes.51 But the principle evidence of his understanding of the importance of these phenomena in changing one's way of looking at the world lies in the (often heavy-handed) irony and sarcasm of many of his remarks. For instance, in dissecting the grammar of sensations, he answers the assertion 'Well, I believe that this is the sensation S again' by remarking 'Perhaps you believe that you believe it!'52

The importance of disturbing presuppositions is also expressed in Wittgenstein's desire to transform 'disguised nonsense' into 'patent nonsense.'53 Once nonsense is recognized as such, it will be much easier to reject. Humor and irony are excellent methods of beginning this recognition.

The feature of language which Wittgenstein thinks susceptible to these clarifying techniques is what he calls its 'grammar.' The kind of reminders he uses are reminders of the way in which the language is used every day; 'philosophical problems arise when language goes on holiday.'54 One basic type of misunderstanding is that which arises when the surface appearance of a linguistic structure is different from its actual usage - a conflict between the 'surface grammar' and the 'deep grammar.'55 For instance one might be tempted to group 'games' together just because they all are given that name; Wittgenstein reminds us of the variety of phenomena that lurk beneath the common name.56

Wittgenstein's dependance on 'everyday language' is subtle. He is interested in what he or others may be 'inclined to say.' But such an inclination or temptation is merely raw material; the surface inclination may mask a deeper confusion, and this is the province of philosophical 'treatment.'57 [44]

Kierkegaard's psychological investigations perform a similar function. He is recalling people from flights of systematic or religious fancy by recalling the forgotten circumstances of everyday life. Although Christianity might seem to be just another possible lifestyle, Kierkegaard reminds his audience that it is 'deeply' different. It is different because it claims to address the central existential question of finitude.

The mention of 'intermediate links' in the quotation on p. 42 deserves further examination. Such links are an important feature of both Kierkegaard's and Wittgenstein's work. In both cases the links proposed often take the form of stories or invented situations. Two cases are shown to be similar in that they share features with a third case. Here one might recall Wittgenstein's concept of 'family resemblance.' But it is not as though these links have any real life of their own. It is the formal connection between existing cases that is interesting; the link calls attention to the similarity, and at the same time (like 'family resemblance') emphasizes the differences. The links and parables are attempts to call attention to the way of seeing being put forward.58


Important reflections of this technique occur in two of the central discussions of the Investigations: that of 'now I understand, now I can go on' and that of the phenomena of 'seeing' and 'seeing-as.' These discussions also reflect the typical intertwining of philosophical reflections on methodology and the use of this methodology on other problems.

The material concerning 'now I understand' begins at section 143 of the Investigations. One part of the point of this discussion is an elucidation of the grammar of 'to know' and allied concepts. The surface grammar makes us think that 'knowing' or 'being able' is a particular thing or experience that accompanies the performance of correctly continuing a required series. In fact (on closer observation) it is not even the case that some particular content is connected with this performance. An interesting example is the sudden grasping of a crossword answer. The feeling of ability to write the correct word often comes before the word itself; the pen starts moving toward the paper before the word comes to mind explicitly.59 Being able to continue is often the result of 'having a technique,' which of course does not indicate any continuous state of conscious mind. [45]

The point of this discussion as it affects the present argument is that there is not necessarily any additional content which suddenly makes understanding or continuing a series possible. In making the correct arrangement of a jigsaw puzzle, the 'scheme' of the puzzle does not necessarily enter in; rather, the arrangement simply is made. Reasons for choosing a particular answer to a crossword need not be explicit or new information. The usual way in which we solve problems is a good model of the use of the idea of 'perspicuous presentation,' which works for Wittgenstein both in everyday life and in philosophy.

Kierkegaard's idea of the 'perspective of faith' fits well with this model of problem-solving. When a thinker has encountered the Absolute Paradox, there is no further factual information to be gained. It is precisely for this reason that he experiences the Paradox. This paradox cannot be abrogated or sublated (aufgehoben); it can, however, be transformed (by the perspective of faith) from a negative to a positive phenomenon.

The discussion of the grammar of the word 'see' occupies most of section xi, the longest section of part two of the Investigations. Intertwined in normal usage are the photographic 'seeing' which would permit a copy to be made, and the gestalten 'seeing' (or fossilized 'seeing-as') which determines the place assigned to a thing in our thought-world. While the first image may remain the same, the second report may change. Such an optical illusion as a two-dimensional representation of a cube, for example, may be seen as first a cube, and then a concave shape. On the other hand, sometimes only one aspect is noticed.

The phenomenon of aspects may recur on many different levels. The most basic is that of applications of a picture. As Wittgenstein points out, the same two-dimensional cube figure might represent several things: a glass cube, a wire frame, three boards nailed together.60 Other clues in the context are important in determining the interpretation.

Another level of aspects of situations and presentations is their state of fluidity or solidity. Optical illusions are purposely constructed with a lack of contextual cues, so that the interpretation remains fluid. But we tend to see only one aspect of everyday objects. One everyday object which may serve as an example is a mirror. We do not 'take it as' a mirror (as we may 'take' the two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional object in more than one [46] way); rather, it just is a mirror. Yet once we had to learn that it was a mirror, and what could be done with it (what Wittgenstein would call its 'grammar'). A child or a primitive may fail to understand the 'physical grammar' of this object. For ordinary adult persons, at some point the possibility of seeing it differently has been eliminated. In the future, this possibility may need to be reinstated, somewhat as, in a familiar animal-behavior experiment, the monkey can reach the bananas if she can understand a set of boxes as stairs.

Philosophical problems have many features in common with the case of the mirror. They are traditionally seen in a certain way. But the way in which they are seen may not be appropriate; it may be problematic. Then the problem of the philosopher is first to re-fluidize the understanding of the problem, and then to change the way in which it is understood. This must be done indirectly. A fork might well be used as a garden tool, but one cannot simply claim that an heirloom silver fork is a garden tool; one must be convincing. This is partially because there is no separate 'knowing' which can be adduced to prove the possibility of this use; there is no additional information to be given. But certain aspects of the situation must be emphasized - perhaps the urgent need for shipwreck survivors to plant seeds for food on a desert island.

Kierkegaard's objective with regard to the concept 'Christian' is of a similar kind. The understanding of the word has become canalized in a bad direction. Through his polemic, he hopes to recall the Gospel grammar of the concept.61

Both Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard were interested in the rejection of pat answers. The 'task' of Johannes Climacus, quoted above, will serve as a convenient representation of Kierkegaard's thoughts on this matter. Those who were 'making things easier' in philosophy and religion in his time were the Hegelian systematists. And Wittgenstein had the same concern about the professional philosophers. They promised complete understanding, a 'crystalline system.' But the twofold problem with this idea is that the idea is flawed and (partly as a result) 'philosophy' cannot deliver as advertised. The Investigations are messier in appearance than the Tractatus; things are made more difficult; but not more difficult than they really are. The solution, while of a different kind than that proposed by a system, is no less final once grasped. [47]


The ideal of the task of convincing brings up another important point of contact between the methodologies of Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein. They both focussed their efforts on the individual. This focus can be clearly seen in the prefaces to Wittgenstein's works. That of the Investigations says: 'I should not like my writing to spare other people the trouble of thinking. But, if possible, to stimulate someone to thoughts of his own.'62 And the first paragraph of the preface to the Tractatus reads:

Perhaps this book will be understood only by someone who has himself already had the thoughts that are expressed in it - or at least similar thoughts. - so it is not a textbook. - Its purpose would be achieved if it gave pleasure to one person who read and understood it.63

These formulations clearly recall the emphasis which Kierkegaard places on the individual reader. There are good reasons why they should. First, both authors are communicating indirectly. As was suggested above, the nature of that enterprise is such that every individual reader must be independently convinced of the proposed improvements in understanding. A directly communicated work - a scientific text - can be relied upon. The material in it is factual, and has been derived according to various laws and standards. As Wittgenstein says, the content of 'theses' must be acceded to by all. But a perspicuous presentation of the facts, designed to alter someone's view of the world, can only be accepted or rejected by each individual.

Kierkegaard's understanding of this method is demonstrated when he talks of 'appropriation' and 'double reflection.' These two categories stress the role of the person on the receiving end. Indirect communication is doubly reflected. The communicator reflects on the problem, and makes an attempt at communication. The listener must also reflect, and his reflection governs the way in which he will appropriate the material. The dialectic of double reflection is explained in his material on 'the listener's role in a devotional address' in Purity of Heart.64 It is also shown - in fact, perhaps best shown - by the development of his own case. He remarks in a journal entry:

It must above all be pointed out that I am not a teacher who originally envisioned everything and now, self-confident on all [48] points, uses indirect communication, but that I myself have developed during the writing. This explains why my indirect communication is on a lower level than the direct, for the indirectness was due also to my not being clear myself at the beginning. Therefore I myself am the one who has been formed and developed by and through the indirect communication.65

This passage provides a link between 'indirect communication' and the category of 'the individual,' which is also closely related to 'the problem,' Kierkegaard's task. It must not be forgotten that his uses of this category is limited and polemical.

Gregor Malantschuk provides an interesting analysis of four terms which Kierkegaard uses for individual humans. The lowest term is Exemplar, indicating a specimen, copy, or member of a crowd. Next stands the individual (Individ), who is not simply a member of the species or herd in an animal sense, but nevertheless remains dependent on his heredity and environment. Third is Individualitet, conscious self-choice. The highest category is 'the single individual' (den Enkelte), who is the 'self grounded transparently in God' of The Sickness Unto Death.66 The flavor of this term accords well with Wittgenstein's term of approbation, 'human being.'

Although Kierkegaard's dedications are to Hiin Enkelte (originally meant to refer to Regine), in the context of his own understanding of his 'task' this term has a double meaning. Many of the pseudonymous works effect their results through pictures of extraordinary individuals, or archetypes. In the Edifying Discourses, rather than the person of position it indicates the potential within everyman. The thrumming of this dialectical tension will at least serve, like a noisemaker, to call attention to the importance of the category.67 But even when Kierkegaard is talking about 'everyman,' this is not to say the 'crowd'; the mentality of the crowd, which easily does things that no individual would do, is 'untruth.'68 The authorship is directed to each and not to all: to Hiin Enkelte and not to the Exemplar.

The importance of the term for Kierkegaard's 'task' is related to the illusion he sought to destroy, that 'all are Christians of a sort.' The category 'individual' is the 'narrow defile' through which any Christian must pass. It is essential for those who would become Christian, and so getting the category noticed must be one of Kierkegaard's highest priorities.69

The 'Socratic' nature of the enterprise being carried out by each [49] author reflects another facet of the dedication to the individual. Quite aside from the idea of 'Socratic method,' or asking leading questions (which is practiced by both), there is a similarity between the way in which they generated their thoughts and the way in which Socrates worked. Kierkegaard comments in his dissertation that the Academy essentially consisted in a group of people sitting around watching Socrates think.70 It is hard to imagine a more apt description of Wittgenstein's classes. His published works all follow the same pattern. Even the Tractatus, which was polished so far beyond the notebook form, is merely a compilation of 'that which really occurred to me - and how it occurred to me.'71 The Investigations and some of the other works were polished to some extent, but they retain the form of internal dialogue and attempts at convincing oneself.

Kierkegaard's works, of course, also follow the same pattern. Through the intervention of 'Divine Governance,' the working out of his personal thoughts and difficulties was projected into the task of explicating 'becoming a Christian.'

Kierkegaard's understanding of the idea of Governance is an ironical one. It involves his looking back over his life and noting the plan. Like Socrates, he found 'world-historical significance' superimposed on his struggles by Providence. His doings had one significance to him, but turned out to have an expanded significance to the world. The same might be said of Wittgenstein.

All this is of course not to deny that the works of Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein have a larger relevance. In fact, this relevance is stressed by both. Much of it is derived from the personal relevance which the works had first. The authors felt that the works could only acquire any possible larger relevance piecemeal, by becoming relevant for individuals.

This is one of the roots of a final Kierkegaardian category, 'without authority.' Kierkegaard defines authority as 'a specific quality which, coming from elsewhere, becomes qualitatively apparent when the content of the message or of the action is posited as indifferent.'72 As has been mentioned in chapter 1, Kierkegaard did not claim any authority for his work. His was a peculiarly dialectical position. He was without temporal authority (because not ordained) and without eternal authority (because not a prophet or an apostle). Nevertheless he found his 'genius' - his natural talent - to be 'daimonically' guided by 'Divine Governance.' His whole life was willy-nilly an indirect communication. [50]


In the foregoing material some features of a method have been presented. They center around various common themes: the place of philosophy, the polemical task, the address to the individual, the stress on transitions, the necessary use of indirect forms of communication, the recognition of the phenomenon of perspective, the refusal of didactic authority. Some of these categories are more clearly articulated by Wittgenstein; some are better expressed by Kierkegaard. Both thinkers can be understood in these terms. Each did actually understand his own work in these terms to some extent.

But the limits of the method which these features delineate cannot be exactly specified. One more category may be useful in explaining this vagueness.

A feature of phenomena that impressed Wittgenstein was their almost infinite suggestiveness. He discussed this category explicitly in connection with two great interpreters of the human experience, Frazer and Freud. He was critical of both thinkers, and for a similar reason: they were reluctant to allow the possibility of diverse interpretations of phenomena. Freud's insistence on the one correct interpretation of dreams and jokes was discussed in various lectures and conversations.73 Frazer's tendency to see magic as 'wrong science' and to claim that our interpretations of traditions depend on their historical development received similarly short shrift.74

This reluctance to agree to the existence of single correct and causally based interpretations is reflected in the nature of Wittgenstein's own work - and in Kierkegaard's. What is being put forward is not one particular point of view, but many suggestions that tend toward a kind of viewpoint. (Not one face, but a Galtonian composite.) Only the reader can connect the given examples into a way of thinking and life. Wittgenstein remarks that he is attempting to change the 'style of thinking' (or to persuade others to change their style of thinking).75

The style of the two authors' works clearly reflects their 'style of thinking.' The same problem is often approached from a variety of viewpoints. Quite ordinary phenomena become extraordinary when seen in the appropriate contexts. But the immediate context of a remark is not always its only fruitful context. This is certainly true of the 'Diary of the Seducer,' for example. And it is also true of Wittgenstein's remarks. His struggles over their arrangement often [51] resulted in the inclusion of the same remark in more than one manuscript. Nor is it merely a question of weakness or indecisiveness; the remarks actually contribute to a variety of discussions. The decimal numbering of the Tractatus is an invitation to read the remarks in a variety of sequences, or to a variety of depths. At one time Wittgenstein actually thought of connecting the remarks in the Investigations with a 'network' of numbers.76 In short, both authors' works are 'hypertexts' which guide the reader, but require an active construction at the time of reading.77

But this shared understanding of the way in which ideas could be communicated has led to problems in the understanding of the upshot of their works. Kierkegaard has been called an irrationalist and a fideist, and said to promote a purely subjective ideal incompatible with social institutions like the established church. Wittgenstein has been called a fideist and a relativist, and seen to promote a purely social ideal in reaction to the traditional concept of the subject. The next chapter will attempt to sort out some of these assertions, and to give some idea of the kind of position that one might come to by aid of their methods.