Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Philosophy Phun: Knight of Faith

Knight of Faith--

Soren Kierkegaard is an anti-philosopher. How is he an anti-philosopher?
  • He's good looking
  • Does not write in the traditional style and by that I mean he stresses experiential evidence and anecdotes
  • Logic and reason are present, but not essential
  • Did I mention he's good looking?
One of Kierkegaard's most interesting concepts is his knight of faith. Kierkegaard believes that there are 3 main levels of existence: the Aesthetic (slaves), the Ethical (Knights of Infinite Resignation), and the Religious (Knights of Faith). To illustrate the differences Kierkegaard tells a little love story (of course!):

A young lad falls in love with a princess, the content of his whole life lies in this love, and yet the relationships is one that cannot possibly be brought to fruition, be translated from ideality to reality.

I should mention that Soren had a great love with a woman named Regina and they were engaged to be married. Shortly after the engagement, though they were still deeply in love, Soren broke it off on account of melancholy. She ended up marrying someone else and they never saw each other again, but Soren and Regina remained in love with one another. So now I'll give a quick rundown of how each level of existence deals with this love story.

Aesthetic/Slaves (or, as Kierkegaard calls them: "the frogs in life's swamp") - Kierkegaard gives their response as, "'such love is foolishness; the rich brewer's widow is just as good and sound a match'". He then adds: "Let them croak away undisturbed in their swamp". I'm pretty sure he's referring to the basic plot of every hip-hop video.

Knight of Infinite Resignation (KIR) - The KIR "does not renounce the love...he first makes sure that this really is the content of his life". He continues (sorry for the long quotes, it's just too beautiful):

Having thus imbibed all the love and absorbed himself in it, he does not lack the courage to attempt and risk everything. He reflects over his life's circumstances, he summons the swift thoughts that like trained doves obey his every signal, he waves his rod over them, and they rush off in all directions. But now when they all return as messengers of sorrow and explain to him that it is an impossibility, he becomes quiet, he dismisses them, he remains alone, and he performs the movement.

His love for her has become the substance of his life and the substance has filled him entirely. He knows that it is impossible for the love to be fully realized and it's at this point that he makes "the movement". This movement is the movement of infinite resignation and all that means is that he infinitely renounces her love and reconciles himself with that pain. He does not let her go completely, however, but instead holds on to her memory--a memory that is independent and unaffected by the real live girl. And in this way "he keeps this love young and it grows with him in years and beauty". The finite, temporal girl has been replaced by the infinite.

Knight of Faith (KoF) -
The KoF follows the same trajectory up to the reconciling of pain, but then makes one more movement: the movement of faith (also referred to as a leap of faith). This movement is different from the movement of infinite resignation in that it is completely personal--it is only understandable to the person making the movement because it is beyond reason and understanding. The KoF says: "Nevertheless I have faith that I will get her--that is, by virtue of the absurd, by virtue of the fact that for God all things are possible." The KoF knows that the love is an impossibility, but he has faith that it will happen anyway. Or as Kierkegaard puts it:

By my own strength I can give up the princess, and I shall be no sulker but find joy and peace and repose in my pain, but with my own strength I cannot get her back again, for all that strength is precisely what I use to renounce my claim on her. But by faith, says that marvellous knight, by faith you will get her on the strength of the absurd.

That quotation has a footnote that reads: 'If I had had faith I would have stayed with Regina'.

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