Kierkegaard’s The Concept of Irony – Mid-Point Reflections

I have to say that The Concept of Irony has been a pleasant surprise.  It has provided a sorely needed introduction to Socrates.  Kierkegaard’s continual engagement with Hegel has also been helpful.  Surprisingly this engagement is primarily positive.  Hegel is an authoritative source to which Kierkegaard consistently appeals.

The method of Socrates is a thorough-going negativity.  All is clearing away, nothing is planted or established.  Kierkegaard reflects on the role of Socrates’ daimon as enabling a shift away from both state and religious control.  The daimon is not to be equated with consciousness but is a sort of necessary shift for the possibility of individuality.  Instead of state law or religious oracle there is now an internal / external authority.

Instead of the oracle, Socrates now has his daimon.  The daimonian in this case now lies in the transition from the oracle’s external relation to the individual to the complete inwardness of freedom and, as still being in this transition, is a subject for representation.  [citing Hegel] . . . “The daimon is not Socrates himself, nor his opinion, nor his conviction, but it is something unconscious; Socrates is impelled.” (163-164)

What is important for Kierkegaard is that the daimon only warns.  It, again, offers no positive content.  It remains negative.  Socrates brings nothing but silence and space, the vanishing point.  This is irony.

[Socrates’] whole position, therefore, rounds itself off in the infinite negativity that turns out to be negative in relations to both a previous and a subsequent development, although in another sense it is positive in both relations – that is, infinitely ambiguous.  Against the established order of things, substantial life of the state, his whole life was a protest. (218)

With regard to morality the good then becomes the process of becoming and not arriving.

There are clear and strong seeds and outlines here of what Kierkegaard will take up in later writings.  What interests me will be how and if he explicitly addresses his move away from Hegel and beyond Socrates (in Christ).  He seems to maintain the role of negativity.  There is high view of clearing away and creating space and yet joined to that is the possibility of the ‘leap’ which seems to allow for positivity that is not trapped in a Platonic or Hegelian idealism.  This text is far more invigorating than I expected.

I have an unusually high amount of free time this weekend so hopefully I can finish off this volume shortly.


3 comments on “Kierkegaard’s The Concept of Irony – Mid-Point Reflections

  1. David, this is really helpful – I was hoping you would discuss the Socratic daimon (which is one of the few items I remember from SK’s dissertation.

    I thought it was interesting because religious leaders who have tried to articulate Christian communion with the inner spirit (like George Fox) have mentioned this aspect of it being more a negative or warning (or convicting) aspect than a directive one. And I’m OK with ‘the wise’ (Socrates) enjoying spirit communion prior to Pentecost (as did Abraham, etc.). I look at the Christian difference (Pentecost) as a univesal ‘pouring out’ of this same privilege to all mankind (i.e. to sinners as well as the wise and good).

    But how many university profs would not love to receive a dissertation like this from one of today’s students, eh?

    • I always worry that I have to qualify statements of ‘universal’ grace –

      In my view of the Pentacost outpouring, I only refer to a universalism of opportunity (i.e. initiated by God but still dependent upon a turning or repentance to make it salvific). I think the God-first aspect of this saving grace escapes accusations of Pelagianism and the man-also aspect escapes accusations of universalism.

  2. I hate to say it but this is reading almost like a mystery novel. While I am aware of some of his later developments I am very curious about some of the key moves that (I think) he will need to make in the process.
    Yes, reading something like this makes thesis writing defense depressing. You would think having a public defense should allow the writer greater freedom . . . you can write what you want on the subject just remember you have to defend! This seems to be what Kierkegaard did.
    No need to qualify statements on my part. It is not a doctrine I have strong boundaries on . . . knowing God will speak through an ass if need be.

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