P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 108
18th August 2005
I. 'Kierkegaard and Socrates' by D.R. Khashaba
II. Structural Phenomenology: An Empirically-Based Model of Consciousness
reviewed by Rachel Browne
III. Handbook of Greek Philosophy reviewed by Hubertus Fremerey
IV. 'Did God Violate the Categorical Imperative?' by John Alexander
This issue kicks off with a sceptical examination of the highly provocative
philosopher Soren Kierkegaard's claim (which may or may not have been ironic)
that he was philosophising in the tradition and spirit of Socrates. What is so
un-Socratic about Kierkegaard's thought according to Khashaba is his refusal to
submit religious faith to rational scrutiny. Khashaba recently published Plato:
An Interpretation, which I hope will be reviewed in a future issue.
Two other recent books by Pathways contributors are Structural Phenomenology:
An Empirically-Based Model of Consciousness by Steven Ravett Brown, one of the
stalwarts of the Pathways Ask a Philosopher pages, and Handbook of Greek
Philosophy by ISFP member Nikolaos Bakalis who is currently active on the
Pathways online conference. Brown's book is reviewed by Rachel Browne. The book
by Bakalis is reviewed by Hubertus Fremerey.
Finally, John Alexander poses a tricky conundrum for the theist determined to
pursue the Socratic rather than the Kierkegaardian route to the traditional
problem of evil. The classic line of defence of the theist is to argue that
moral and natural evils are required as a necessary challenge to human beings
endowed with free will to enable them to strive to become more perfect. The
problem is that human beings did not freely choose this end: which appears to
violate Kant's Categorical Imperative.
I. 'KIERKEGAARD AND SOCRATES' BY D.R. KHASHABA
On November 11, 2005, one hundred and fifty years will have passed since the
death of Soren Kierkegaard at the age of 42. Kierkegaard's philosophy
dissertation was entitled On the Concept of Irony with constant reference to
Socrates. He may have seen himself as continuing the Socratic mission of
freeing people of passively received dogmas and making them turn inwards into
themselves. But in this paper I find more contrasts than similarities between
these two differently exceptional personalities. I try to bring out this
contrast, or rather opposition, by examining Kierkegaard's exposition of his
notion of the 'teleological suspension of the ethical.' But first let us try to
get an overview of the intricate relations between their outlooks.
Kierkegaard and Socrates
Greek thought and Hebrew thought do not make a good mix. Christianity of course
is such a mix and that is one source, perhaps the major source, of its
difficulties. You can either think in Greek terms or in Hebrew terms without
experiencing internal discord, but when you try to weld the two together you
cannot be true to yourself all the way through; at some point you have either
to forget about the rationality of Greek thought or throw overboard the
sanctified presuppositions of Hebrew thought. Kierkegaard, like many old and
present-day theologians and Christian thinkers, was trapped between the horns
of this dilemma, but unlike many who found themselves in that predicament,
Kierkegaard was willing to save his skin by sacrificing the rationality.
That is why Kierkegaard, while seeking to emulate Socrates, could not proceed
Socratically. Socrates sought to free people of received preconceptions by
examining, disentangling, clarifying ideas, by shedding a flood of light.
Kierkegaard sought to pull people out of their quiescent, lukewarm acceptance
of dogma by shocking them. As Professor William McDonald puts it, 'He used
irony, parody, satire, humor, and deconstructive techniques in order to make
conventionally accepted forms of knowledge and value untenable.' But when he
made 'conventionally accepted forms of knowledge and value untenable' his
intention was not that people should discard them but that they should hold
them with heightened fervency. He did not want people to reject dogma but to
hold it in 'fear and trembling'.
The title of Chapter II of Kierkegaard's Concluding Unscientific Postscript,
'The Subjective Truth; Inwardness; Truth is Subjectivity', sounds so
deceptively Socratic that we may be excused if we are shocked by the revelation
that the positions of the two men are in fact totally opposed. While both
Socrates and Kierkegaard found the proper being of humans in subjectivity, the
subjectivity Socrates valued was a subjectivity of reason, its essence was
intelligibility, while the subjectivity of Kierkegaard was a subjectivity of
feeling, its essence was a state of agitation. He asserts that 'passion is the
culmination of existence for an existing individual', and again that 'passion
is also the highest expression of subjectivity.'
Kierkegaard sought to rescue Christians from the tepidness, the superficiality,
and the matter-of-fact adherence that is the bane of institutionalized
religions. On this point his position was unequivocal: 'If one who lives in the
midst of Christendom goes up to the house of God, the house of the true God,
with the true conception of God in his knowledge, and prays, but prays in a
false spirit; and one who lives in an idolatrous community prays with the
entire passion of the infinite, although his eyes rest upon the image of an
idol: where is there most truth? The one prays in truth to God though he
worships an idol; the other prays falsely to the true God, and hence worships
in fact an idol.'
He wanted to restore individuals to their individuality. Hence his watchword
was 'become who you are', which we may designate as his version of the
Apollonic/ Socratic gnothi sauton.
Kierkegaard and mysticism
Although Kierkegaard saw his work as a continuation of Socrates' mission to
free people of thraldom to unexamined preconceptions and received notions, he
stopped short of questioning the tenets of Christian theology. His
contemporaries may have seen his positions as unorthodox and it pleased him to
make a show of his unorthodoxy, perhaps the better to assert his individuality,
yet he was too deeply immersed in traditional doctrine to shed away its basic
tenets. The unreasonableness of those tenets rather than affording ground for
their overthrow was seen as a virtue, heightening the intensity of the
sentiment engendered by the desperate, blind grasping at nothingness. This is
perhaps more akin to the drug-addict's grasping at the phantom of bliss than to
the mystic groping for an undefinable, unfathomable something. The mystic's
experience comes closest to pure subjectivity; Kierkegaard's paradoxical faith
mars the subjectivity by reaching out towards an unreachable heaven.
With Kierkegaard, in place of the mystic identification with the ultimate
source we have a constant assertion of the otherness of the power which
constitutes the self. Since Kierkegaardian faith is neither the experience of
mystic identification nor the self-evidence of phronetic intelligibility, it
has repetitively to be renewed in anxiety, fear, and trembling.
Kierkegaard and existentialism
Kierkegaard's purpose was to shock Christians into revitalizing their faith. It
was his representation of the religious experience as an inward passionate
anxiety that earned him the title of 'father of existentialism' and that led to
the re-assertion of the connection between philosophy and life, a connection
which had often been lost sight of and which has now once more been obliterated
in many professional and academic circles.
Unfortunately, Kierkegaard's emphasis on the inwardness of the spiritual life
was clouded and marred by entanglement with Kierkegaard's acceptance of the
Christian dogma and by the consequent insistence on the absurdity and
paradoxicality of faith. I suggest that, if Kierkegaard could have broken free
of the fetters of dogma, he would have arrived at a purer conception of faith
as the immediacy of spiritual inwardness.
Kierkegaard and dogma
The assertion of the absolute transcendence of God was pivotal to Kierkegaard's
position, but what is that but to equate God with the area of our ignorance? If
God is what I don't know and can never know, then what is he to me? At most the
illusion of somehow knowing something that I know I don't know. And it is this
illusion that is meant to give us the intense subjective feeling of knowing
what is unknown and unknowable: the height of absurdity, but then absurdity is
just what Kierkegaard was after. 'Without risk there is no faith. Faith is
precisely the contradiction between the infinite passion of the individual's
inwardness and the objective uncertainty.' 
In Professor McDonald's succinct formulation, 'Christian faith, for
Kierkegaard, is not a matter of learning dogma by rote. It is a matter of the
individual repeatedly renewing h/er passionate subjective relationship to an
object which can never be known, but only believed in. The belief is offensive
to reason, since it only exists in the face of the absurd (the paradox of the
eternal, immortal, infinite God being incarnated in time as a finite
mortal).' Let us try to understand what is supposed to lie outside the
sphere of understanding. Christian faith, we are told, is a matter of a
passionate subjective relationship to an object which can never be known: yet
that which 'can never be known' is distinctly presented in that closing
parenthetical clause: the eternal, infinite God incarnated in time as a finite
mortal. All of Kierkegaard's circuitous subterfuges end in the requirement to
embrace unquestioningly this absurdity not in spite of its absurdity but
precisely because of its absurdity. Kierkegaard never wanted to free us of
dogma: he was opposed to 'learning dogma by rote' but he was all for imbibing
dogma with our eyes wide open.
The teleological suspension of the ethical
To give some substance to my generalities I will comment briefly on
Kierkegaard's examination in Fear and Trembling of the question 'Is There Such
a Thing as a Teleological Suspension of the Ethical?'
In advancing the notion of the 'teleological suspension of the ethical'
Kierkegaard's immediate target was the refutation of Hegelianism. Following the
plan he devised for that purpose, Kierkegaard (in the persona of Johannes de
Silentio) starts from Hegel's definition of the ethical as the universal and of
the single individual as a 'moral form of evil', and proceeds to show that, on
these terms, Hegel had to condemn Abraham as a murderer. This conclusion would,
according to Kierkegaard, be absurd. Why absurd? Because 'correct' Christian
doctrine tells us to revere Abraham as the 'father of faith'. We have to choose
between Hegelian rationalism and justifying Abraham by faith. In his treatment
of this question, Kierkegaard provides a most flagrant example of the utter
sottishness we can fall into when we allow ourselves to be enslaved by a given
After distinguishing clearly between the tragic acts of Agamemnon in
sacrificing his daughter, Jephthah, also sacrificing his daughter, and Brutus,
ordering the execution of his son, on the one hand, and Abraham's sacrificing
his son, on the other hand, and after arguing that Agamemnon, Jephtha, and
Brutus, all remain 'within the ethical' and that there is no 'teleological
suspension of the ethical' in their case, he goes on to justify the act of
Abraham. (Parenthetically I would say that ranging Jephthah along with
Agamemnon and Brutus as a tragic hero is an enormity: I cannot see how Jephthah
can be said to remain 'within the ethical', but I will not go out of my way
to discuss this point at length.)
Kierkegaard asks, 'Why then did Abraham do it?', and he answers, 'For God's
sake and (in complete identity with this) for his own sake. He did it for God's
sake because God required this proof of his faith; for his own sake he did it in
order that he might furnish the proof.' I must confess I find no sense in this.
Why would God 'require this proof of Abraham's faith'? Could he not find a less
barbarous test? And if he could not, and allowing that his omniscience failed
him in just this one instance, could he not opt for giving the man the benefit
of the doubt instead of putting him to this cruel test? And why would Abraham
find it so important to furnish the proof? To find favour in the eyes of God?
To earn the rewards of subservient obedience? Prometheus proved himself nobler
than Zeus; why could not Abraham aspire to that kind of nobility?
Kierkegaard continues, 'Here is evident the necessity of a new category if one
would understand Abraham. Such a relationship to the deity paganism did not
know. The tragic hero does not enter into any private relationship with the
deity, but for him the ethical is the divine...' He concludes: 'The story of
Abraham contains therefore a teleological suspension of the ethical. As the
individual he became higher than the universal: this is the paradox which does
not permit of mediation.' And this is faith as Kierkegaard understands it, an
absurd paradox or a paradoxical absurdity.
The final conclusion of Kierkegaard's discussion of the teleological suspension
of the ethical is that faith transcends the ethical. Here we find the final and
ineradicable contradiction between the position of Kierkegaard and that of
Socrates. In the Euthyphro Socrates poses the question: Is what is righteous
righteous because it is favoured by the gods or is it favoured by the gods
because it is righteous? Although the Euthyphro does not spell it out, the
Socratic answer rings loud and clear in the works of Plato as a whole and finds
its clearest expression in the Republic: the Idea of the Good is the fount of
all reality, all truth, and all value.
Kierkegaard advances the category of the 'religious' as a new category, a
category higher than the ethical, not known to the Greeks or to Hegel. In fact
it is nothing but the naive 'piety' of the soothsayer Euthyphro that Socrates
finds unsatisfactory, piety as that which is pleasing to the gods.
Sin and guilt loom large in Kierkegaard's thought. It is the sense of sin that
instils in us the idea of the transcendent God towards whom we are 'always in
the wrong', and it is the anxiety arising from our consciousness of guilt that
impels us to seek salvation by the absurdity of faith.
Kierkegaard holds that the life-work which God judges in a person is that
person's fulfilment of the task of becoming a true self. This would constitute
a very fine philosophy indeed -- and it has in fact been a source of
inspiration to many -- except that for Kierkegaard that fulfilment could
only be achieved through that necessarily absurd faith which alone secured
Kierkegaard's theoretical position was largely a reaction against Hegelianism.
Against Hegel's hubristic logicalism Kierkegaard set up the irrationality of a
paradoxical faith. Saner than either was Socrates' rationalism that valued
understanding freed of the illusion of knowledge. Kierkegaard discovered the
deceptiveness of the dream that promised to lead humanity to its highest goals
(however defined) through scientific knowledge. Had he been more consistently
Socratic he might have spared us something of the scientism that in our day
poses as the sole way to understanding.
1. McDonald, William, 'Soren Kierkegaard', The Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy (Summer 2005 Edition), Edward N. Zalta(ed.),
2. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, translated by David F. Swenson and
Walter Lowrie, Princeton, 1944.
3. Concluding Unscientific Postscript.
4. Concluding Unscientific Postscript.
5. McDonald, William, 'Soren Kierkegaard', The Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy (Summer 2005 Edition), Edward N. Zalta(ed.),
6. 'Is There Such a Thing as a Teleological Suspension of the Ethical?'
(reproduced in Approaches to the Philosophy of Religion, edd. Daniel J.
Bronstein and Harold M. Schulweis, New York, 1954).
7. See Book of Judges, 11.
8. See, for instance, Richard Schain, In Love With Eternity, 2005, passim.
(c) D. R. Khashaba 2005
Web site: http://www.Back-to-Socrates.com
II. 'STRUCTURAL PHENOMENOLOGY: AN EMPIRICALLY-BASED MODEL OF CONSCIOUSNESS'
REVIEWED BY RACHEL BROWNE
Steven Ravett Brown Structural Phenomenology: An empirically-based Model of
Consciousness. New York: Peter Lang 2005
Steven Ravett Brown is in the Neurology Department at Rochester University, New
York State, where he is working to further his phenomenological analysis of
mental content. He has already, as represented by this book, made a major
contribution to the field of empirical and phenomenological research by
bringing these together to form 'naturalized phenomenology'.
The book introduces Brown's work on naturalized phenomenology and lays out
plans for the future. The eminent professor Mark Johnson says in his Foreword
that 'The key to Brown's ability to find common ground for the cooperation of
phenomenology and the cognitive sciences is his appreciation of both their
limitations and their distinctive contributions to a theory of mind. He
understands that they can only realize their full potential in critical and
constructive dialogue with each other.' We have more to look forward to!
This, then, is a book which must not be ignored by phenomenologists and
cognitive scientists. It will be of great interest to anyone interested in
Whilst this is an erudite work, it should attract a readership beyond the world
of academic research. The large section 'Critique of Classical Phenomenology'
will be of immense interest to anyone interested in Husserlian phenomenology
and Gurwitsch's psychology of gestalts, but the book should also be read by all
those interested in the academic study of the philosophy of mind which has a
tendency to ignore the advances that can be made through the use of
introspective techniques and tends to progress in a vacuum with no eye for what
is going on in empirical science.
Although Brown rejects the pure Husserlian approach to introspection, he
recognises that subjects' introspections is where scientific psychology must
begin and that introspection already pervades large areas of cognitive science,
linguistics and computer science. Brown argues that what is needed is a new
approach to phenomenology in the light of increased knowledge gained by the
modern empirical sciences. His structural model of intentionality identifies
'four parameters applicable to all experiences: 1) the degree of volitional
emphasis with which something is experienced, ie the intensity of our focus on
it, 2) the degree of non-volitional emphasis, ie the degree to which it is
salient, 3) a variant of intentionality I term 'directionality', and 4) the
property of recursion' (p.7).
Brown identifies these parameters through a 'top-down' analysis of gestalts
together with a close examination of historical and contemporary research data.
This is a highly detailed examination of conscious states and so Brown
introduces the new concept of 'micro-intentionality'. However, this not simply
an analysis of particular conscious experiences: It this is not an atomistic
theory as the book proceeds to draw a model of consciousness as a whole as
composing goal-orientated interrelated recursively structured components.
Wide-ranging consequences follow from this model and Brown's argument leads him
to the conclusion that there is a need to re-think intentionality, maths, logic
and linguistics. For example, the new analysis of meaning as generated by
directionality and recursion of components of gestalts suggests the possibility
of a new view of linguistic meaning as evocation involving micro-connotations.
His conclusions are quite frightening when you think of how embedded our
philosophical thought is in the tradition which ignores empirical science.
Frightening or exciting.
The book moves from a phenomenological analysis of structural components of
intentionality, through a consideration of physical non-volitional functional
processes of gestalts, towards an analysis of higher-order processing of more
complex gestalts, and thence to an introduction to meta-cognitive states, such
as the 'tip of the tongue' phenomenon. While this sounds daunting, Brown does
define his terms!
But, as said, we are not only provided with a criticism of traditional
phenomenology and not just provided with an analysis of gestalts, we are given
a new model of the mind as dynamic and not proposition based as analytical
Although the above summary may make the book seem highly specialist, it is
quite clearly written and the most difficult concept to grasp is that of
recursion. But this has to be grasped by those interested in the mind. However,
the long section on the 'tip of the tongue' (TOT) phenomena is of general
interest and allows the reader to confirm for himself through his own
introspection that Brown's model is intuitively correct regardless of the
arguments presented. We are all aware when we feel something on the tip of the
tongue, but cannot grasp it, that we are engaged in focussing some way. Brown
succeeds in elucidating what is happening through both empirical scientific
considerations and phenomenology. The success of his research is evident in his
ability to explain that which most individuals find totally mysterious. Although
prior to the publication of this book, there has been research on this
phenomenon, Brown found it inadequate and although his model of the mind did
not 'derive' from the TOT phenomenon, was pleased to find that it 'explained
and predicted' aspects of it (p.196).
As Mark Johnson has said 'Brown's principal contribution is to show that what
he calls a "structural phenomenology" -- one that articulates the most
universal characteristics of conscious and non-conscious experience -- can
provide significant explanations of several gestalt phenomena that are much
discussed in cognitive psychology and and cognitive neuroscience' (p.x).
Brown's research, it is noted here, is not limited to the fields of
phenomenology and cognitive science but extends to the realm of neuroscience
and much research into neural activities is made use of in this book. Abstract
arguments which belong to the world of academic study of the mind in the
analytical tradition are rejected, and Brown gives as his reason that this has
led to an approach to the mind as logical and has led to 'the construction of
the digital computer' (p.1). I believe that the analytical tradition is being
by-passed by new work such as Brown's naturalized phenomenology. It is only
through interdisciplinary work that a true understanding of the functioning of
the mind will be achieved, and Brown is a leader in this field.
Steven Ravett Brown is well known to the Pathways Questions and Answers page
where he has been helping students and those generally interested in philosophy
by answering questions and pointing them towards the wide range of literature
that he is acquainted with. This is a philosopher not only with an aim to
search interdisciplinary truths, but with an urge to help others.
(c) Rachel Browne 2005
III. 'HANDBOOK OF GREEK PHILOSOPHY' REVIEWED BY HUBERTUS FREMEREY
Nikolaos Bakalis Handbook of Greek Philosophy. Trafford Publishing 2005
Nikolaos Bakalis is a Greek lecturer in Greek philosophy, now living in
Mr. Bakalis is a member of our philosophical community and currently active on
the Pathways online conference.
This little 'Handbook of Greek Philosophy' introduces the reader to all those
authors who have become a staple of any history of European philosophy: Thales,
Anaximander, Anaximenes, Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Empedocles,
Anaxagoras, Democritus, the Sophists, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and
The author had the good idea to devote nearly half of the pages to the
Pre-Socratics from Thales to Democritus. As a result of this, much of what we
know from Plato becomes better understandable, and besides this reader's
awareness of the wealth of thoughts debated before the rise of Socrates is much
The term 'handbook' is a bit misleading, since this is not a magisterial work
bringing several pounds of heavy scholarship onto your desk. It is more aptly
called 'a first guide to the origins of European philosophy for the
uninitiated.' However, this should not devalue the book. The book radiates the
charm of old diaries and notebooks. There are many valuable nuggets strewn
throughout the text, so one gets hooked and reads on.
There are some minor technical weaknesses. Readers looking for a synoptic
vision which puts all things in their proper context and builds a grandiose web
of cross references will be disappointed. But the bottom-line is: Read this book
and you will have not wasted your time but on the contrary gained a strong
feeling of what philosophy is all about and how the Greeks did it.
From the countless citations an intense feeling of immediacy develops, of being
near to the sources from where philosophy once sprang like from a well of fresh
water. What looks like a weakness turns out to be a strength: The author is not
standing in the way of getting at the sources of original insight but makes you
go there yourself.
I have to admit that I am no specialist on Greek philosophy, while the author
seems to be. Thus I cannot evaluate the quality of the selections. But this
does not change my evaluation as a reader that the book deserves close reading
and will repay study.
(c) Hubertus Fremerey 2005
IV. 'DID GOD VIOLATE THE CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE?' BY JOHN ALEXANDER
Question: Did God violate the categorical imperative when He created us?
Assume that God exists and that He created us as imperfect souls capable of
becoming more perfect depending on how we react to the situations that confront
us in life (Hick a,b; Adams). In order for this to be true it has to be the case
that we have at least two options relative to how we react to any situation we
find ourselves in. We must be 'persons' in that we must have reason and
free-will meaning that we are aware of the situations we are in and the
possible outcomes from the choices that we can make in these situations and
that we are not being coerced into making one choice over another. The choice
is ours to make.
Assume God created us with a desired end in mind, namely becoming more perfect
souls. We must freely choose this end, or we would not be moral agents
responsible for our actions, so the end we achieve is dependent on how we react
to the situations we find ourselves. Therefore this end is not determined, or
pre-destined. In order for this end to be achieved we have to be the type of
persons we are. However, the type of persons we are is outside our control in
that we did not create ourselves, but were created as a particular type of
being with certain defined characteristics including rationality and free-will.
Furthermore, we were created as a means to an end within a plan that we had no
input into developing. We did not create the plan that is the possibility for
becoming more perfect souls depending on how we react to the situations that
confront us in our lives. The plan relative to us individually has to be only a
possibility because we could all make choices that result in us becoming less
then perfect. We could fail to become more perfect souls. God does not control
the outcome of our choices, only the preconditions. The preconditions require
that we be created as a particular type of being relative to some possible end
that we ourselves do not choose in the original choice situation of determining
what possible ends are going to be possible.
This means that we were created as a means to an end. Being created as a means
to an end is a violation of the categorical imperative understood as respect
for persons, namely that persons are capable of exercising reason and free-will
in choosing courses of actions for ends that they themselves knowingly and
freely choose. Consequently, we are either not persons or we are persons who
have been shown disrespect by being created as a means to an end, more perfect
souls or less perfect souls, regardless of which end we choose.
1. Adams, Marilyn McCord, 'Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God,' in
Marilyn McCord Adams and Robert Merrihew Adams, editors, The Problem of Evil,
Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1990, pages 209-221.
2. Hick, John (a), 'Soul-making Theodicy', in William L. Rowe, God and the
Problem of Evil, Malden, MA, Blackwell Publishers, 2001, pages 265-281.
3. Hick, John (b), 'Soul Making and Suffering,' in Marilyn McCord Adams and
Robert Merrihew Adams, editors, The Problem of Evil, Oxford, Oxford University
Press, 1990, pages 168-188.
(c) John Alexander 2005
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