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Greek And Christian Models Of The Truth

2383 words - 10 pages

Greek and Christian Models of the Truth

In his Philosophical Fragments, Søren Kierkegaard, writing under the pseudonym of Johannes Climacus, poses the question, "How far does the Truth admit of being learned?" (154). A more direct and succinct formulation of Climacus' question is "How is the Truth learned?" since his question does not concern the extent of human knowledge, which "How far" implies, but the possible modes through which one comes, or may come, to know the Truth. For Climacus, there are two possible modes of knowing, or two theories of how one comes to know the Truth: the Greek and the Christian. Both of these modes lead one not to truths, but to "the Truth"; Climacus' concern is not with those modes of knowing that yield particular truths about the world and humans, as in science, but with those modes that yield ultimate Truth, that highest and purest dream of philosophy. The central purpose of this deliberation on the two modes of knowing the Truth, according to Niels Thulstrup, is to point out "the deep essential difference between Platonism and Christianity because of the fact of the incarnation" (lxxxvii). Climacus wants to demonstrate that the Greek, Platonic, or Socratic mode of knowing the Truth contradicts the Christian mode of knowing the truth. Many theologians and philosophers hold that Climacus succeeds in his demonstration and therefore extol the genius of Kierkegaard. My reading of Climacus' "Project of Thought" is also that he succeeds, but that his success is a fundamental failure. For even though Climacus indicates an essential difference between the Greek mode of knowing the Truth and the Christian, he does not fully recognize that his whole thought-project is itself Greek, and that it puts a question to Christianity that Christianity neither poses nor answers. Climacus' effort, therefore, to clarify the nature of Christianity by contrasting the Greek mode of knowing with the Christian only obfuscates Christianity and Christian revelation.

Climacus precisely and persuasively elucidates the Greek mode of knowing. The initial dilemma in Socratic thought is the "pugnacious proposition" that Socrates intimates in the Meno: "[O]ne cannot seek for what he knows, and it seems equally impossible for him to seek for what he does not know. For what a man knows he cannot seek, since he knows it; and what he does not know he cannot seek, since he does not even know for what to seek" (155). The basic metaphor of the Socratic mode of knowing is that the Truth is sought, but this metaphor deconstructs itself because the nature of seeking implies some sense of prior possession. If one is to find the truth, one must find it already in one's possession. As Climacus points out, Socrates works out this difficulty in "the doctrine of Recollection" (155). Socrates concludes that "all learning and inquiry is... a kind of remembering" and that "one who is ignorant needs only a reminder to help him come to himself in the...

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