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Kierkegaard And Wittgenstein Essay

2647 words - 11 pages

Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein

The connections between Ludwig Wittgenstein and Soren Kierkegaard as philosophers are not at all immediately obvious. On the surface, Wittgenstein deals with matters concerning the incorrect use of philosophical language and Kierkegaard focuses almost exclusively on answering the question 'how to become a Christian'. But this account belies deeper structural similarities between these men's important works. Thus, this paper suggests that their methods, rather than exclusively content, contain a strong parallel on which a natural and hopefully fruitful examination of their work can be based.
I claim that on at least four counts, Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein present clearly analogous form: indirect communication; examination of the 'limit of thought' as applied to their respective spheres of inquiry; and the relationship to nonsense or the absurd. I claim that a careful study of these categories with respect to the philosophers' major works will reveal sufficient similarity to have warranted our inquiry: hence a clear understanding of one philosophy should help to explain the other's. I will assume a reader has only cursory familiarity with Kierkegaard's ideas for the purposes this paper.
To begin, a brief outline of Kierkegaard's background and philosophy is germane. He was a Danish philosopher, literary figure, and ardent Christian living in the 19th century. As was mentioned above, his self-proclaimed intent was to examine what it means to be a Christian and how precisely to become one. Hence all of Kierkegaard's works (Either/Or; A Sickness Unto Death; Concluding Unscientific Postscript; Fear and Trembling being among the most notable) have a decidedly religious flavor to them. For his adamant insistence on subjectivity rather than objectivity (in reaction to Hegel) when dealing with questions of personal importance, he has been labeled the father of modern existentialism. Kierkegaard's works are not straightforward proclamations of his philosophy: he wrote under pseudonyms and assumed the persona of these fictional characters in his writing. Thus, one must be careful when attributing a particular position to Kierkegaard -- often the view is advanced by a pseudonym, so various inferential processes must be applied in order to substantiate a claim that Kierkegaard really meant any statement.
Foremost among the structural similarities between Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein works is the use of indirect communication: as paradoxical as it may sound, both authors deliberately obfuscate their philosophy for the purposes of clarifying it. Clarification of the preceding assertion is obviously required. Each author felt that, due to inherent properties of their subject matter, outright delineation of their conclusions would somehow be a self-contradiction. Clearly their respective subject matter, the logical structure of language and the task of becoming a Christian, is inherently disparate. But let us examine...

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