Kierkegaard's Critique of Ethics

Dissertation, University of Toronto (Canada) (1990)

Leslie A. Howe
University of Saskatchewan
This work intends to show that the Kierkegaardian authorship develops a complex critique of ethics which takes as its starting-point a fundamental presupposition concerning the nature of the human self, which presupposition motivates both Kierkegaard's critique of other ethical viewpoints and the ethics which he himself puts forward as its proper realization. It is argued that this presupposition corresponds to the conception of the self which is outlined by the pseudonym Anti-Climacus in The Sickness Unto Death, and that Kierkegaard views the goal of ethics to be the complete realization of the human self as defined by this conception, which includes the necessity of the self's relation of itself to itself and to the God which is the source and the measure of its existence. Hence Kierkegaard's critique of ethics centres around whether it adequately acknowledges this essential nature of the self, especially its requisite relation to God, and allows for its proper realization. Consequently, it is Kierkegaard's contention in the authorship that a humanly grounded, purely rationalistic ethics, which does not ultimately bring the individual into relation to God and the truth of Christianity is fundamentally misconceived and destined to failure. ;Kierkegaard shows this through the dialectical device of the pseudonymous authors, whose works are so related to each other and to Kierkegaard's own as to present a practical demonstration of the deficiencies of the ethical viewpoints which the pseudonyms express. Thus it is argued that the views expressed by the pseudonyms cannot simply be identified with those of Kierkegaard himself, but are intended to illuminate and to illustrate those which Kierkegaard ultimately expresses in his acknowledged works. The pseudonymous works form intervals in a progressive development throughout the authorship toward a deepening consciousness of the nature of the human self, particularly in its religious dimension, which development is mirrored, and then extended, in the acknowledged works, until the relation to Christianity becomes explicit. At this point we also see that Kierkegaard's own ethics is not simply an ethics of inward isolation, but also of practice, and that for Kierkegaard there is no necessary breach between the life of faith and that of social existence
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