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Why Julian Baggini still loves Kierkegaard

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Great essay here on the man who is said to be single-handedly responsible for the decline of “Søren” as a first name. Excerpt:

If Kierkegaard is your benchmark, then you judge any philosophy not just on the basis of how cogent its arguments are, but on whether it speaks to the fundamental needs of human beings trying to make sense of the world. Philosophy prides itself on challenging all assumptions but, oddly enough, in the 20th century it forgot to question why it asked the questions it did. Problems were simply inherited from previous generations and treated as puzzles to be solved. Kierkegaard is inoculation against such empty scholasticism. As he put it in his journal in 1835:
“What would be the use of discovering so-called objective truth, of working through all the systems of philosophy and of being able, if required, to review them all and show up the inconsistencies within each system … what good would it do me if truth stood before me, cold and naked, not caring whether I recognised her or not, and producing in me a shudder of fear rather than a trusting devotion?”


1 Comment

  1. Kleiner says:

    Great article. If I take any issue, it is with the excessively broad brush he uses to characterize 20th century philosophy. He suggests that in the 20th century philosophy has forgotten to question why it asks the questions it asks. By and large, a fair point. But what about Heidegger, who is arguably the most important philosopher of the 20th century? I certainly don’t think that criticism applies to Heidegger. But Baggini, whatever his love of Kierkegaard, still treats continental philosophy with that tired old stereotype of being a lot of “literary flourishes and wilful paradoxes.” Has the postmodern tradition (which I think is routinely guilty of said charge) so overwhelmed its ancestry that Heidegger is now just a footnote in Derrida’s intellectual biography?

    Worth noting that a compelling argument could be made (and has been made by folks like Calvin Schrag) that Heidegger – especially in Being and Time – is borrowing heavily from Kierkegaard. So Baggini’s point might be right but be made to reflect serious 20th century thinkers (vs mere logic gamers) — in the 20th century when philosophers are questioning the questions and the questioner, they are doing so largely in the wake of Kierkegaard.


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