From Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard: Religion, Individuality and Philosophical Method
1989 Charles L. Creegan
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Chapter Five

Echoes And Repercussions

In prior chapters, attention has been focussed on some problems with which Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein deal explicitly, or with questions arising from their method of dealing with these problems. But at the end of chapter 4, the possibility of a theodicy implicit in the work of the two authors was suggested. This possibility raises the specter of larger questions: What features of the work of Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein give their conclusions a more general interest? What lasting impact might their considerations have on the practice of 'philosophizing'?

One essential part of an answer to these questions is an understanding of what would count as 'continuing to do philosophy in the vein of Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein.'

If either thinker propounded straightforward theories, such an understanding would be easier to gain. For instance, triadic structures, universal histories, and systematic phenomenologies of spirit mark the 'young Hegelians' as disciples of Hegel. Stylistic innovations are relatively unimportant. With Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein, however, it is precisely the innovations of style and method which must be considered.

Some similarities between the two authors' work are mentioned in chapter 2. But it can hardly be a case of demanding exactly similar methods in the consideration of other questions. Both Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein are so idiosyncratic - in fact their own methodologies are so internally diverse - that it can only be a matter of searching for, or attempting to adhere to, certain 'family resemblances' in the working out of various problems. To demand more than this would have the ironic consequence of - as Kierkegaard puts it - turning their indirection into a 'result.'1 [98]

A better criterion for the consideration of extensions might be the sense of a new spirit in which both Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard share. Their methodological innovations are often bound up with this sense of new spirit. Provided that remarks are offered in the appropriate spirit, their substance might be given relatively little weight. But a question then arises as to how a work is to be recognized as 'in the spirit,' if not by any theoretical content or specific methodology followed.

A final criterion to be kept in mind, and one which may be able to mitigate the problems implied by the previous two, is that of personal involvement. Both authors were distinguished by their involvement with their work, as well as their demands that their readers should be similarly involved. Thus some personal dimension may be the ultimate mark of adherence to this new philosophical form.

Of course, one important source to be considered in any attempt to suggest that the two authors' work has relevance for further and larger questions is a review of their own ideas concerning the possibility of such extensions. Both displayed a well-founded pessimism concerning the likelihood, if not the feasibility, of worthwhile continuations.


In the context of the current task, Kierkegaard's remarks on his own way of working, and on the way in which Christianity can be communicated, are particularly relevant. The following comment from the Postscript illustrates his conception of the difference between the methods of the systematic philosophers and those of the Christian tradition.

In relation to a doctrine, understanding is the maximum of what may be attained; to become an adherent is merely an artful method of pretending to understand, practiced by people who do not understand anything. In relation to an existential communication, existing in it is the maximum of attainment, and understanding it is merely an evasion of the task. It is a suspicious thing to become a Hegelian, understanding Hegel is the maximum; to become a Christian is the maximum, Christianity is suspect. . . . To seek to understand an existential communication is to essay a transformation of one's own relationship to it into one of possibility merely.2 [99]
Kierkegaard so stresses the category of 'appropriation,' both in everyday matters and in the more essential pursuit of religion, that it would be strange to abandon it in attempting to extend his vision. Thus a first approximation at the road to be taken by sincere followers of Kierkegaard might well read: 'Understanding Kierkegaard is absolutely odd; to be a Kierkegaardian is the ideal.'

This suggestion needs to be understood in the right sense, however. In The Concept of Anxiety, Vigilius Haufniensis remarks: 'There is an old saying that to understand and to understand are two things, and so they are.'3 In the same vein, to appropriate and to appropriate may be quite different things. To borrow (appropriate) the idea of appropriation, to speak systematically of it, and to attempt to formalize the possibilities inherent in the category, would not be in the spirit of 'existence-communication.' Kierkegaard tells the story of the drill sergeant and the recruit who is talking in the ranks. The sergeant yells 'Shut up!'; the recruit answers back: 'Yes, of course, now that I know you want me to, I'll shut up!' This is a prime example of an existence-communication being misunderstood as an academic lecture.4

Kierkegaard stresses the appropriate attitude to existence-communication in his comments on edification. In Purity of Heart, he defines the listener's role in a devotional address. The listener is to take the address personally. The speaker is to do the same. In one sense the speaker is a mere 'prompter,' giving each listener pause and reflection; but he is himself also a responsible individual - responsible for what he is saying.5 Speaker and listeners reflectively appropriate the content of the address.

The example of the devotional address is useful as an illustration of Kierkegaard's idea of 'reduplication.' To reduplicate oneself is to 'be what one says.'6 Dialectical truth is 'raised to the second power' in lived action. It is a question of how as well as what.7

While Kierkegaard's analysis applies specifically to the religious sphere (although, thanks to his specific 'problem,' in so doing it deals with human existence in general), Wittgenstein had similar ideas in relation to the way in which philosophy ought to be done. He once remarked that if a philosophy book was any good, it should frustrate the reader so much that he would want to throw it across the room and start on the problems fresh for himself - thus 'reduplicating' the author's work.8 A great work might even cause lived reduplication; it might cause a change in the reader's life [100] based on the results of his deliberations. In several forewords and prefaces, Wittgenstein expressed the hope - though not the expectation - that his works might have this effect.

Wittgenstein displays an ambivalence toward the whole idea of having his work continued. He could never found a school, he says, because he is 'by no means sure that [he] should prefer a continuation of [his] work by others to a change in the way people live which would make all of these questions superfluous.'9 He also remarks that he does not want to be imitated, at any rate not by philosophical writers. And he harbors a fundamental pessimism concerning the idea of important change caused by philosophical writing: it may be, he remarks, that the impetus for the kind of change philosophers want must come from another direction entirely. Only the most indirect influence has a fair chance of success.10

This ambivalence accords well with his belief that philosophy is not an end in itself - but something that, if properly handled, clears up muddles then shuts itself off. But the more interesting implication of these comments is the pointer toward what is important, or an end in itself, if philosophy is not. Philosophy is in the service of a larger goal: fundamental change in peoples' lives. Here there is once again a reduplicated notion: philosophy is a task, but merely a sub-task of the larger task. Life itself is the larger task. (Recall Engelmann's statement: 'He saw life as a task.') If philosophy is not an end in itself, there is no reason why its methods should be anything other than ad hoc.

Commentaries on Wittgenstein's remarks about the way to do philosophy have been afflicted by precisely the sort of misunderstanding satirized by Kierkegaard in the story of the recruit and the drill sergeant. Wittgenstein once remarked that he was afraid that the only result of his teaching was to sow the seeds of a jargon; at least one interpreter has reluctantly agreed with that gloomy assessment. Wittgenstein's idea of eliminating muddles in philosophy has been given lip service, but not necessarily applied. Somehow 'Wittgensteinian' philosophy seems a particularly good example of the complaint expressed by A in Either/Or: the sign in the philosophical shop window reads PRESSING DONE HERE; but if you unpacked your philosophical baggage on the counter in the expectation of having the muddles expertly removed, you would be disappointed - it is the claim to remove muddles which is being retailed, and not the actual removing!11 [101]

This parable suggests another pitfall on the opposite side from the error of dogmatism which Kierkegaard so ably deciphers in Hegel. Rather, it is the same error, but in another guise: the failure to appropriate. Hegel espoused system at the expense of existence and appropriation; to espouse appropriation, but at the expense of existential appropriation, would be an ironically potentiated error.

Kierkegaard's understanding of his 'task' concerning Christianity provides an exact parallel of, if not a model for, Wittgenstein's notion of philosophy. He uses a variety of tools in carrying out the task. Some of his writings are aesthetic, and others philosophical, in expression. An underlying form is provided by his psychological analysis. This analysis suggests a rationale for the form of the various writings. But even the psychological framework is in the service of the 'task'; it is not an end in itself. Thus there is no motivation for the technique to be maintained when another might be of greater usefulness. The new methodology of the 'attack,' in the Fatherland and the Moment, may be freely adopted.

Kierkegaard tended to set himself up as absolutely different from other theologians and philosophers. But Wittgenstein did give some account of a difference (which presupposes a connection) between his way of philosophizing and traditional philosophy. This account might serve as the basis for continued philosophical work in a 'Wittgensteinian' vein. G. E. Moore's report on lectures and discussions held by Wittgenstein in the academic years 1930-1 and 1932-3 contains a brief section reporting Wittgenstein's comments on this point.12

In the lectures, Wittgenstein remarked that he thought there had been 'kink' in the development of philosophy (presumably in or as a result of his work), similar to the development of chemistry from alchemy. This kink had made it possible that there should be skillful philosophers, whereas previously advances had only been made by 'great' ones.

Wittgenstein did not elaborate on this point, and his exact meaning is not immediately clear. The difference between alchemy and chemistry lies in the kind of questions asked, and the kind of answers expected. Chemistry's approach is experimental and incremental, depending less on great leaps and more on answers to particular questions. There is also a fundamental change in the understanding of causality underlying these questions and answers.

The difference between the Tractatus understanding of philosophy [102] (which is expressed as an extension of the tradition of logical analysis) and the later understanding is also rooted in a change in the understanding of causality, accompanied by a reduction in the scope of individual questions. The Tractatus presupposes the 'mental object' and even 'mental process' model. The later works deny this causal nexus.

Some advances in chemistry and medicine were made by alchemists - for example, by Paracelsus. But these were great geniuses. They were able to make advances despite the handicap of a relatively unfruitful model of reality. But the basic laws of chemistry stand like signposts away from the errors of alchemy. Thus it is easy to avoid error, if not to achieve great breakthroughs. Wittgenstein's suggestions about the differentiation of language might stand as similar signposts in philosophy. He may have believed that in their light it would be possible to solve particular problems of an everyday kind with some regularity, if not to make great advances.

The obvious connection between the new way and the old consists in the continuity of basic subject matter, the foundational (and nagging!) nature of the expressed concerns, and the claim to offer a solution of these problems - even if the solution turns out to be something not envisioned in the original search. Here Wittgenstein used the simile of the attempt to trisect an angle with ruler and compass. A proof that this is impossible would satisfy a geometer who had been attempting it, although it would not be the original or envisioned object of his search. Kierkegaard's remarks about reason's collision with the 'thing that thought cannot think' suggest the same kind of unexpected result. If reason is 'seeking its own downfall,' it could hardly hope for a more felicitous downfall than that promised by the Absolute Paradox.13 Just as the geometer seeks a positive result and is satisfied by a negative demonstration, so reason, in seeking a negation, encounters at the same time the ultimate positive claim.

Of course, while reason's approach to the paradoxical boundary is clear to see, the direction taken by faith in going on from the boundary is not so clear. The same sort of difficulty arises in the attempt to understand how Wittgenstein intended philosophy to 'go on' from the cusp he had created. While it is possible to see what is held in common (the goals) and what is rejected by Wittgenstein (the old method and way of expression), the positive [103] suggestions concerning the new direction to be taken after the 'kink' are more difficult to nail down, perhaps more difficult than he anticipated.

Wittgenstein attached the greatest importance to the methods used. In the 1930-3 lectures, he referred to his philosophizing as being synoptic of trivialities, already known; 'if we leave out any, we still have the feeling that something is wrong.' He thought that this method required a kind of thinking different from the scientific, and requiring discussion to be learned and carried out. Most interestingly, `As regards his own work, he said it did not matter whether his results were true or not: what mattered was that "a method had been found."'14 This assertion is astounding when taken in comparison with the Tractatus comment that the definitive solution to the problems examined had already been found. Rather than claiming to have completed the task of philosophy, the later Wittgenstein merely claimed to have generated the mechanism by which one would be able to desist when appropriate.

This claim is isomorphic with Kierkegaard's discussion of the kind of continuation which follows the leap of faith. Hegel sought to go further than faith; Kierkegaard preferred the idea of continuation in faith. The Knight of Faith does not 'remain standing,' but holds fast in an active sense.15 Having a particular solution, he does not continue toward a chimerical definitive solution.

The scope of Wittgenstein's claims of achievement is further reduced when the actual working of the method he proposed is recalled. The method is one of problem solving. There is not a single problem ('the riddle of life?') but many difficulties. So there cannot be a single method, but multiple methods: 'like different therapies.'16

This feature is clearly shadowed by Kierkegaard's 'authorship.' For him there is of course a single problem; but within this problem there are nevertheless many difficulties. Each stage, and even each individual, must be addressed in a slightly different way. The operators of change from the aesthetic to the ethical are quite different from those provoking the transition to the religious. The philosophically oriented Fragments and Postscript, the psychologically expressed Concept of Anxiety and Sickness Unto Death, and the more literary Either/Or and Repetition each approach the task from a different direction. The openly religious tone of the Edifying [104] Discourses provides yet another supplement to the therapy.

Some clarification of the proposed change in methodology may come from two remarks. One concerns the usefulness of 'masks' in the educational process: 'an educator never says what he himself thinks, but only what he thinks of a subject in relation to the profit of him who he is educating.'17 But the author of this statement nevertheless claims unity for his authorship, though he despairs of anyone's noticing it: 'That the long logic of a quite determinate philosophical sensibility is involved here, and not a confusion of a hundred indiscriminate paradoxes and heterodoxies; of that, I believe, nothing has dawned even on my most benevolent readers.'18 These comments made by Nietzsche quite fairly represent the schema of the new methodology attempted by Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein. It ought to be remembered, though, that for our two authors the audience of the educator always includes the educator himself. So perhaps it would be more appropriate to speak of metamorphoses, rather than masks. But this methodology clearly requires that the audience miss the speaker's larger intentions, since the hearers must be brought to the point at which they can go on. The speaker can expect little glory. It is interesting to note that Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein (and Nietzsche, as the above material illustrates) were all annoyed and saddened by the failure of their audiences to give them due credit, even though this failure was accounted for and expected according to their own explicit ideas.


Kierkegaard's and Wittgenstein's concern with methodology is an expression of the fundamental difference in their conception of philosophy. The idea of philosophy against which they are reacting is that of the search for foundations and the construction of a unified understanding of the world. Metaphysical concerns are central to such a philosophical system.

The philosopher's use of multiple methods, masks and metamorphoses is the last step in the breakdown of monolithic 'Philosophy' which begins with the transition from factual investigation to conceptual investigation. As is usual with both Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein, this transition has consequences at many levels. One of these is the new understanding of previously recognized similarities and definitions in terms of 'family resemblance.' Another is the recognition of many 'forms of life' and [105] 'language-games.' While the challenge of metaphysics is to unify the world in understanding, the new challenge is to conceive a set of tools which are capable of generating some useful results in many of the parts of the fractured existing world.

Strategies of communication and the connections within existential experience help to cross the boundaries of forms of life in the new style of philosophy. For instance, Wittgenstein's extended notion of the concept 'grammar' serves (among other things) as a convenient hook or common conceptual feature of the various fragments. This concept serves both to connect forms of life (to show their family resemblance) and to separate them. It is a point of application for philosophical therapies. In many cases, Wittgensteinian philosophical arguments take their root in a comparison of the actual 'grammar' of deeds (existential happenings, linguistic or otherwise) and the understanding of these deeds reflected in language. For instance, the surface grammar of 'mental process' words like 'to know' and 'to think' is similar to that of 'to have' and 'to do'. In the Investigations, the actual features of 'knowing,' 'expecting someone,' 'calling someone to mind,' and other phenomena of experience are recalled. It becomes clear that these expressions actually function in a wide variety of ways, mostly quite different from the ways in which terms denoting external actions do.

Many of Kierkegaard's works use the same strategy of revealing another grammar under the surface. The analysis of life as 'despair' in The Sickness Unto Death and the revelation of the aesthete's pose in Either/Or are good examples. The demonstration that many forms of life are nevertheless guises for despair, the 'sickness unto death' which can never actually result in death, shares many features with Wittgenstein's analysis of philosophy as a 'sickness,' which despite its constant drive for explanations of the world never achieves its goal.19

One important feature of Wittgenstein's conceptual investigations is the recognition of vast differences between language-games in the meanings of basic words common to many games. The motto which he had imagined taking, 'I'll teach you differences,' comes to mind.20 It is worth noting that Kierkegaard's work tacitly uses the same recognition. For instance, in Either/Or the title term has distinct meanings for the aesthete (who uses the term ironically), the ethicist (who demands lawful choice) and the [106] religious figure of the 'Ultimatum' (who negates the ethical choice, which can only be returned in faith through grace). A recognition of this differentiation in usage is intended to shock the reader into a reconsideration of his own use of the term.

Kierkegaard pursues this idea in several of the edifying works. In Judge for Yourselves he notes that Christ is far more terrible than any worldly robber or slanderer. For the one who takes my money or my reputation is nevertheless agreed that money and reputation are worthwhile. But Christ, by his life, denied the value of goods and reputation. He has 'taken' these things from us far more surely and decisively than any human enemy could.21

The discourse on the topic 'The righteous man strives in prayer with God and conquers - in that God conquers' expresses a similar revision of the idea of worth in connection with prayer. A Christian might describe prayer as 'profitable'; but it would scarcely benefit a sensualist to hear it so described, since there would be no agreement between them on the meaning of the word.22 The 'result' of prayer seems intensely ironic in the worldly sense - it is no tangible result (no change) at all. But from the perspective of faith it is a result.

Despite the anti-metaphysical bias of the two authors, there is yet in both an important strategic place for empirical facts. Kierkegaard's empirical psychology is a fine example of this place. (While many of his examples are overdrawn, they are nevertheless closely enough rooted in reality to be able to serve as mirrors for his readers.) His dependence on 'reason' to separate 'nonsense' from the 'absurd' is another way in which he contacts the empirical. So is his demand for Christian consistency: doing as well as saying. Wittgenstein's reliance on examples from the real world is comparable. Both also used made-up stories - things which look like facts, and serve in a role similar to that filled by facts, but which are at the closest only exaggerations of actual situations. Wittgenstein refers to them as 'intermediate examples.'23


Because Wittgenstein proposes the idea of various ad hoc philosophical 'therapies,' it is hard to think of any well-defined philosophical movement as possibly 'Wittgensteinian.' (It is even harder to imagine what might be 'Kierkegaardian.') In the lectures reported by Moore, Wittgenstein mentioned in passing two points that help to define his attitude toward two of the directions in [107] which his work has actually been developed. He rejects the idea that philosophy is 'analytic.' (He prefers the term 'synoptic.') It is not a question of breaking down some compound, as a chemist might. While the immediate and obvious referent of this comment is Wittgenstein's own earlier work on the analysis of propositions, it might also serve as a suggestion on the method to be followed in philosophy. Individual instances cannot be analyzed; only systems, groups, and multiple examples can build up the picture required.

Wittgenstein also made reference to the philosophical study of language. His own works remark on certain grammatical constructions as fostering misleading pictures. But other (material or visual) analogies may be equally misleading. (For instance, object-metaphysics is surely based on features of the sensible world, and not merely on subject/predicate grammar.) He did not think that language in general was or should be the subject of philosophy.24 His extended use of the term 'grammar,' and the large role which language in fact plays in many forms of life, may be misleading in this regard. In this context, it is important to remember that he understood language as merely one form of 'the deed.'25

It would of course be presumptuous to reject 'analytic' and 'linguistic' philosophy as participants in the true Grail quest - if any! - simply on the basis of these paltry references. They do reflect a general tendency on the part of Wittgenstein to appreciate wider variety in many areas. Not just language, but all kinds of deeds are interesting.26 Not just one example, but many are to be examined. The 'one-sided diet' was a philosophical danger of which he was well aware.

Kierkegaard certainly shared this tendency. He found grist for his religious mill in areas as far afield as seduction, literary criticism and a battle against yellow journalism. He also rejected the pat answers of Hegelianism.

Despite (or perhaps on account of) the above-mentioned tendency to breadth, there is a problem in determining just what features one would look for in the search for the true successors to Wittgenstein's and Kierkegaard's work. Kierkegaard's rejection of Hegel seems clear enough; but his rejection of Adler clouds matters again. That is, dogma is clearly rejected, and some sort of methodological recommendation put in its place. But the source of guidelines for following this recommendation is far from clear. The [108] same sort of difficulty led the positivists to believe that Wittgenstein was denying the importance of the unsayable.

This problem is a fine instance of the more general problem of 'going on,' which plays such a large part in the problems both authors investigated. Different understandings of the acts involved can lead to different assessments of the appropriate way of continuing the series. It is more a question of continuing in the same spirit than of hewing to any theoretical rules.

Wittgenstein's Foreword to the typescript now published as Philosophical Remarks gives some further clues as to a possible working out of the process. He writes:

This book is written for such men as are in sympathy with its spirit. This spirit is different from the one which informs the vast stream of European and American civilization in which all of us stand. That spirit expresses itself in an onwards movement, in building ever larger and more complicated structures; the other in striving after clarity and perspicuity in no matter what structure. The first tries to grasp the world by way of its periphery - in its variety; the second at its centre - in its essence. And so the first adds one construction to another, moving on and up, as it were, from one stage to the next, while the other remains where it is and what it tries to grasp is always the same.

I would like to say 'This book is written to the glory of God,' but nowadays that would be chicanery, that is, it would not be rightly understood. It means the book is written in good will, and in so far as it is not so written, but out of vanity, etc., the author would wish to see it condemned. He cannot free it of these impurities further than he himself is free of them.27

There are many dimensions to this statement. One of the most obvious themes is a stress on the divorce between the methods of Wittgensteinian 'philosophy' and those traditionally associated with physical science. But at a deeper level this stress presupposes the possibility of the divorce. The whole project of extending factual understanding - 'grasping the world at its periphery' - which might easily be (has in fact been) understood as a paradigm for all advancement of human ends, is radically relativised.

'Understanding' is relativised in one sense simply by the introduction of the project of grasping at the center, with [109] perspicuity. The mere fact that such a project could be conceived, and an attempt made to carry it through, demonstrates this relativising. As Wittgenstein remarked, what is essential is that a method has been found.

The idea of 'concentricity' mentioned in Either/Or is worth recalling in this context. It too suggests a centered mode of development in which forward motion is not essential or even desirable.

The second paragraph of the Foreword suggests another kind of relativising. The author expresses an extremely personal involvement with the work. He does not say that he would wish to see condemned the parts of the book which are shown to be inaccurate, factually misleading, or plain wrong. Rather, he places a premium on the 'good will' with which the investigation has been carried out. This shift in emphasis recalls Kierkegaard's claim about the individual's relation to the 'eternal essential truth':

When the question of the truth is raised subjectively, reflection is directed subjectively to the nature of the individual's relationship; if only the mode of this relationship is in the truth, the individual is in the truth even if he should happen to be thus related to what is not true.28
For Kierkegaard this analysis is part of an argument denying the possibility of systematic religious knowledge. For Wittgenstein, the parallel analysis is brought to a more secular problem. It is not the case that Kierkegaard did not believe the problem to occur at the mundane level.29 But he thought that the 'approximation-process' of rational discovery could provide a sufficient solution to the problem at that level. The higher degree of personal certainty provided by the 'appropriation-process' ought to be unnecessary, or at least unconscious.

One phenomenon Wittgenstein noticed is that philosophy dredges the question of personal certainty up from the unconscious level. His project - to demonstrate the possibility of being able to stop doing philosophy - seeks the reasons and tools whereby this question can be dismissed again. He tries to show that there are limits to objective inquiry, and that there is nothing inherently wrong with the fact that there are limits. He also tries to suggest what happens when traditional philosophy tries to transcend these limits. The discussion of 'going on' is an attempt to fathom [110] the appropriation-process, which takes up where philosophy must leave off.

Wittgenstein's careful charting of the difference between his spirit and that of western science mirrors a distinction made by Kierkegaard. The Excelsior spirit of 'moving on and up,' to which Wittgenstein contrasts his interest in constantly reviewing the center, accords well with the Hegelian category 'going further' so disdained by Kierkegaard.

Both Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein recognize that abstaining from 'going further' does not eliminate the necessity to 'go on.' For Kierkegaard this necessity is rooted in the essential difficulty and existential necessity of faith. One cannot 'remain standing' at faith, because being faithful is a full-time job.30

Wittgenstein's reasons to 'go on' in philosophy are more secular, if no less existential. New problems are always arising in the course of life. Thus even if one is able to stop doing philosophy when one wants - to call a halt to the infinite regress of metaphysics - there will constantly be new occasion to make philosophical decisions, and constant temptation to return to metaphysical speculation.

The form of Wittgenstein's writings, and the switch in emphasis from 'truth' to 'good faith,' suggest another dimension to the rethinking of intellectual activity. Understanding has come to attain near-teleological status in modern western thought. If 'a little knowledge is a dangerous thing,' the standard reasoning goes, the antidote to this danger must be an increase in the quantity of knowledge. A continuous effort is made to expand the periphery of the world. This undertaking has a life of its own; it is understood as good in itself.

Kierkegaard's criticism of objectivity and Wittgenstein's project of re-grasping the world at its center both oppose themselves to the 'spirit' of this project. Both take a very complex view of factual knowledge.

For Kierkegaard, understanding prevents the assent to nonsense, but it cannot force the assent to essential paradox. Yet without appropriation, the most ordinary statements become ridiculous; a madman can repeat every five seconds 'the earth is round,' and this alone will mark him as mad.

For Wittgenstein, in one sense, the factual is merely prolegomenon. The subjective interpretation of the facts is the essential part. Philosophy 'leaves everything as it is,' but it allows us to see [111] things differently. In another sense, the 'factual' is the end of the process. Only as a result of subjective informing can there be any 'facts' at all. At the least, then, the individual's subjectivity is an equal partner with the facts.

At this point there is again a connection between the work of Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein, and that of Nietzsche. He remarks:

Against positivism, which halts at phenomena - 'There are only facts' - I would say: No, facts is precisely what there is not, only interpretations. . . .

In so far as the word 'knowledge' has any meaning, the world is knowable; but it is interpretable otherwise, it has no meaning behind it, but countless meanings. - 'Perspectivism.'31

In this succinct formulation, Nietzsche distills a large part of the shift in perspective carried out by Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein, which is at the same time a proposal for a revision in the understanding of philosophy and an attempt to be true to this proposal.

It is important to understand that (at least in the case of Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein) this shift in perspective to a recommendation of perspectivism is not a metaphysical demand. Rather, it is a call for a shift in emphasis away from the metaphysical (and the worldview in which it has its origins) in general.

The revision away from facts and toward perspectives suggests the need for a new source of certainty. If knowledge cannot be based on metaphysical foundations, then it must have some other foundation. It is at this point that the dimension Kierkegaard calls 'passion' and Wittgenstein refers to as the 'ethical' comes into play.

A reminder is in order here that the point at which passion becomes necessary is not so far down the path, even for Kierkegaard. In the Fragments, he remarks that (limited) faith is already required as the 'organ of the historical' - to accept one of the many possible versions of history.32

This understanding is paralleled by Nietzsche's solution to the total perspectivism he claimed. In the face of this perspectivism he postulated and approved a 'will to power' which might impose its vision. Such a will and power was to be the mode in which 'free, very free spirits' might become 'the poets of [their] lives.'33

At this point an important distinction can be made between [112] what might be called 'subjectivism' and subjectivity. A term coined by Michael Polanyi which can be of considerable use here is 'universal intent.'34 Some statements are intended as purely subjective - 'I have a toothache.' Such statements are the targets of one facet of Wittgenstein's attack on private language. Subjectivity, or subjective appropriation, is on another level. Appropriated statements are made with universal intent; they are claimed to hold for everyone. This sort of claim cuts across the metaphysically generated distinction between subjective and objective typical of Logical Positivism.

It is worth noticing that both Kierkegaard's 'passion' and Wittgenstein's 'ethical' are intensely individual, even personal categories. The existential dimension has a great importance in their ways of thinking. Wittgenstein expresses this in the Investigations, when he says that the 'real discovery is the one that makes me capable of stopping doing philosophy when I want to.'35

This existential bias shows itself repeatedly. The most obvious indication of it is the reduplicative address to the individual reader. Kierkegaard conceived religious communication to be as important for the speaker as for the hearer; in the case of his speaking it undoubtedly was. But this importance could only be an importance for the individual. Wittgenstein's later philosophy is in the first person. It reflects his own struggles, and the expected struggles of those who attempt to follow him.36 Only an individual decision can end the philosophical process, as he suggests in On Certainty: 'I act with complete certainty. But this certainty is my own.'37

An additional perspective on this existential dimension can be gained by relating Kierkegaard's and Wittgenstein's understanding to the solution proposed by Polanyi. The only source for negation of doubt in his opinion - and in keeping with his conclusion he stresses that it is his opinion, albeit with universal intent - is a personal form of commitment.38 This is what Kierkegaard calls the 'truth for me' which 'must come alive in me.' What gives this commitment significance is Kierkegaard's intention to shout his resolution to everyone he meets.39

The existential and personal bias also shows itself in the switch from the emphasis on correct theories in the traditional fields of philosophy and theology to the examination of possible 'forms of life' or 'stages on life's way' and their consequences. Such a shift suggests a radical change in the place of philosophical thinking in [113] life. Rather than a formal and foundational discipline, which sets the boundaries of possibility - in addition to metaphysics, normative ethics comes to mind - it becomes a tool to be used in the clarification of the problems that arise inevitably in life. It remains 'ethical' in a broad sense, but ceases to be 'normative.'

As such, while it may remain a technical discipline - in the sense that a certain kind of critical and analogical thinking is involved, and there will always be more and less skillful practitioners - philosophy ought not to remain a domain reserved for professionals. (This reflects Wittgenstein's comment that there must be room for the 'skillful' as well as the 'great.')

In fact it cannot remain so reserved, because a scheme in which the individual's appropriation plays such an essential part reduces the importance of technical 'understanding' significantly.

Both thinkers suggest that some other concerns must be ultimate. This is the most important relativising of the western 'understanding.' In an epistemological dimension, personal appropriation is paramount. There is also for both authors an 'ethical' or 'religious' dimension. This dimension is masked by the personal in such a way that it is very difficult to discuss. But clearly both intend their work to lead to a re-conception of the world in these terms. Certainly it had that effect in their own lives.


Three categories mark the road to continuation of philosophy in the mode of Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein. One of these categories is that of 'reduplication.' As mentioned in chapter 2, the lowest level of reduplication in the works is the combination of the 'theoretical' and 'specific' levels in such a way that most remarks bear on both at once. Another level - at which the two authors explicitly call for reduplication - is the requirement that the individual reader reduplicate in her life the specific 'theoretical' understanding gained from reading. This dimension forms a link between the level of communication and the final dimension in which reduplication is called for - the level of personal life. The individual is required to live authentically and passionately. She is informed by the form of life chosen.

The second category is that of the individual. In chapter 3 it has been shown how the individual plays an essential part in the understanding of the world within individual language-games and across the boundaries between them. In the present context it will [114] suffice to remember that the philosophical is in many respects a language-game like any other. The philosophy student's role must be like that of the listener in a devotional address, and the lecturer's like that of the preacher.

The final category is that of the task. This category has multiple implications. It is of course connected to the individual - a task is only a task for an existing individual. It is also connected to the idea of reduplication: this is an important part of the task. But the most important connection of the idea of the task is an ethical one. It is in the ethical sphere that the individual is fundamentally autonomous from the social requirements of language-games. 'The ethical' is of course in one sense a language-game. But the process of accepting language-games which constitutes the ethical game can only operate at the individual level. Kierkegaard's 'leap of faith' is an ethical decision in this sense. It is a decision made by the individual in despite (not to say in defiance) of the lack of public information. Choices between language-games are only possible in this mode, since the internal logic of a game precludes such a choice. The material in chapter 4 gives a more extended analysis of this point.

This wilfully uninformed choice is the ultimate 'relativising' of the language-game of understanding. As against the paradigm of objective conformity to the 'truth,' it represents an ideal of passionate personal justification. As against the mechanical conception of proof (borrowed from the scientific method and formal logic), it suggests the need to accept on inadequate evidence - daring to be formed, to reduplicate the movements suggested. While at an everyday level (as explicated in the 'Private Language Argument') the criterion of certainty is simple inability to doubt, at the level of transition or tension between games, the criterion is wilful conquest of doubt. This is where Polanyi refers to 'commitment,' and Nietzsche to 'will to power.'

Kierkegaard's understanding of this feature is expressed in the statement that 'subjectivity is truth, subjectivity is reality':40 subjective existence is the mode of fullest actualization. In a journal entry, he says that

the remarkable thing is that there is a How with the characteristic that when the How is scrupulously rendered the What is also given, that this is the How of 'faith.' Right here, at its very maximum, inwardness is shown to be objectivity.41 [115]
Appropriation, which might seem to promote the ultimate in relativity, becomes the approach to ultimate reality.


The remaining task is to suggest a direction in which the spirit of Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein can be reduplicated in the extension of philosophy and theology. The danger in this task is that there are certainly many methods and constructs in their work which could have broader application.

For example, the idea of perspectivism and the address to the individual has considerable consequences for the way in which philosophy is done. Traditional philosophical arguments are intended to be fully rational. But at some point there is a threshold of acceptance at which the argument is enthymematic. A good example of this threshold is Aquinas's repeated comment, 'and this thing every man admits to be God.' If indeed every man admitted this point, at least one of the Five Ways must succeed. But in fact this is the very place at which the way swings off. It is quite possible that a difference in perspective may lead to the reader following the argument perfectly, but denying that it does in fact prove what is claimed.42

The address to the individual shows its value at precisely this sticky point. An explicit recognition of the problem of differing perspectives must result in the ground of argument being changed. Rather than stressing the factual content, the argument will attempt to persuade. Thus one practical advantage of the 'new way' is that a point at which leverage needs to be applied has been found.

Another technical advance which can be derived from the two authors' work is the understanding of various conceptual systems as more or less intertwined 'stages,' 'language-games' and 'forms of life.' Pace Alasdair MacIntyre, this understanding can be used as a conceptual scheme to help clarify the confusing issues of inter-societal understanding in a way sensitive to all sides. It might also have profitable application in the philosophy of physical science. The problem of progress addressed by Kuhn and others seems particularly susceptible of such an analysis. Polanyi's work has already followed a similar direction.43

A field which might benefit from the conception of language-games is Biblical hermeneutics. One application which has already been made is based on the idea of multiple grammars. Anthony Thiselton suggests that at least three different grammatical levels [116] are represented in Paul's letters. He remarks that some of Paul's distinctions are founded on 'universal' grammar - if anything is true, they are. Others 'express the attitude of a particular tradition.' They are foundational for that tradition, though perhaps not clear within some other traditions.44 Thiselton suggests that a third class of grammatical remarks made by Paul have an intention which Kierkegaard would call 'maieutic'; they suggest new pictures or call new attention (positive or negative) to the old.45

These technical advances, while interesting and useful, are nevertheless not the reduplication of Kierkegaard or of Wittgenstein. They can be appropriated without being appropriated. They argue for or about a new way of seeing, without arguing from such a new way. In order to be existentially appropriated, they would need to be grounded in the new spirit both authors propose. At that point, they might almost be discarded as methods without being the less appropriated.

The fundamental difference in philosophy proposed by the two authors is the emphasis on the individual's reduplication of itself and of the world. This emphasis is perfectly clearly presented by Kierkegaard: 'The self is a relation that relates itself to itself.'46 The emphasis in this relation is not on either term being related, but on the quality of the relation itself. The locus of subjective individuality is not placed in the existing self or the ideal self, but rather in the 'positive third term' - the constant task of integration. Thus even at the basic level of self-constitution, reduplication is present.

In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein presents a similar position in the puzzling guise of an approval of solipsism. But Wittgenstein's approval of solipsism's basic position is not nearly as puzzling when seen in the light of Kierkegaard's remarks. The solipsist attempts to say what can only be shown: that 'the world is my world.'47 This statement does not reflect any fact about 'the subject that thinks or entertains ideas'; Wittgenstein denies that there is any such 'thing' within the world.48 Rather, the 'metaphysical subject' is the 'positive unity' (to use Kierkegaard's term) in the self's relation and bounding of the world. Only in its relational capacity does this self enter philosophy; only because 'the world is my world.'49

As the flow of chapter 3 has suggested, even in his later period Wittgenstein would still have accepted this part of the basic idea [117] behind solipsism. Individuals and their actions are the only source of instantiation of language-games, which are fundamentally non-existent unless instantiated.

The 'new spirit' in philosophy would necessarily be involved with this relational self in two ways. It would of course involve an address to the individual self; only by addressing me can one alter my world. That such an alteration in the direction of address is part of the project proposed by Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein has been amply demonstrated above. But more importantly, the new spirit would be a new qualification of the relation which constitutes the individual self. Admitting Kierkegaard's claim that 'man is spirit,' the positing of a new spirit would actually be the positing of a new self. This new self would be one for which the world has 'waxed as a whole.' In Kierkegaard's terms, it would find a new grounding by which 'despair is completely rooted out.'50

Under such an active paradigm, philosophy could at most only be called a task. It could more profitably be called a tool in the service of a higher task. This 'higher' task is the task of life. Seeing the world aright is not a possible achievement of an article in a philosophical journal. Kierkegaard's dread of being turned into a 'paragraph in the universal system' by some assistant professor, and Wittgenstein's preference for the elimination of the need for philosophy over a continuation of his, are strong testimonials for this reduplicative reading.

Philosophy's progress then becomes a continual process of self-transcendence. But, like the Knight of Faith, the philosopher who does not 'remain standing' at philosophy is nevertheless in a dialectical tension which finds him returning to philosophy often. The advantage gained is that this dialectical tension is no longer demonically driven from the side of philosophy - a philosophy which one cannot stop doing. Instead, the tension arises naturally from the circumstances of life.

The richness of life is also more available to philosophy on this model. The new balanced diet helps to eliminate the dangers of anorexia (as in Logical Positivism) and bulimia (as in MacIntyre's social science, which swallows the factual content of other worldviews whole, only to reject them utterly as unworthy). Such richness is amply demonstrated in the works of Bouwsma. There literary allusions and horrible puns rub shoulders with the most respectable philosophy. Nietzsche's omnivorous new ideal and his [118] multiply 'masked' style also give some suggestion of this acceptance of the world's richness.

Ironically, by being thus relativised, the philosophical approach gains immeasurably in importance and in the scope of its action.