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New English translation of German Book on Kierkegaard’s Epistemology!

Richard Popkin begins his essay “Kierkegaard and Skepticism,” by quoting Hume. “To be a philosophical skeptic,” asserts Hume at the end of his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, “is, in a man of letters, the first and foremost essential step towards being a sound, believing Christian.”

Popkin begins his essay with this quotation because Kierkegaard is known as something of a skeptic. Skepticism, as a philosophical position, is defensible, however, only against the backdrop of a particular, and relatively compelling, epistemological theory. That is, skepticism is essentially an account of the limits of knowledge, so any skeptic worth his salt has to have a fairly sophisticated account of the nature of knowledge and it limits. One would thus expect that there would be a fairly large body of scholarship on Kierkegaard’s epistemology. Strangely, there are only three books on Kierkegaard’s epistemology: Anton Hügli’s Die Erkenntnis der Subjektivitåt und die Objektivität des Erkennens (knowledge of subjectivity and the objectivity of knowing) (Basel, Switzerland: Editio Academica, 1973), Martin Slotty’s dissertation from 1915, Die Erkenntnislehre S. A. Kierkegaards (the epistemology of S. A. Kierkegaard), and my Ways of Knowing: Kierkegaard’s Pluralist Epistemology (Waco, TX: Baylor, 2010).

Unfortunately, two of these three works are not only in German, they’re out of print, and that has meant they’ve been more or less ignored by Anglo-American Kierkegaard scholarship, to its detriment. Fortunately, Ways of Knowing makes much of the substance of these works available for the first time to scholars who do not have a sufficient mastery of German to read the originals. Better still, Gegensatz Press is going to publish an English translation of Slotty’s work. This is wonderful news for Kierkegaard scholars, because Slotty’s is by far the more accessible of the two German works. It enjoys the distinction of being the very first work, so far as I know, in any language on Kierkegaard’s epistemology and as such it is something of a general introduction. It should be required reading for every Kierkegaard scholar, especially those who do not want to go on to tackle the larger and more substantive work by Hügli. I don’t know whether Gegensatz takes preorders. My advice is to write them and inquire.

Is Christianity Anti-Semitic? Danish Theologian Defends Tudvad’s Book.

“Long before Peter Tudvad’s book Stadier på Antisemtismens Vej: Søren Kierkegaard og Jøderne [Stages on the Way of Anti-Semtism: Søren Kierkegaard and the Jews] appeared, the theological rationalizations were already lined up,” writes Danish theologian Lone Fatum in Kristeligt Dagblad. “No one had read the book, but everyone had an opinion on it. When the book finally appeared, on the anniversary of Kristalnacht, reviewers immediately banded together. ‘Kierkegaard was not anti-Semitic–end of discussion!’”

Tudvad explained in my interview with him, as well as in the Danish media, that he believes that what really incensed critics of his book was less that he had charged Kierkegaard with anti-Semitism than that he had argued there was a disposition toward anti-Semitism in Christianity itself. Denmark, after all, still has a state church, the Danish Lutheran Church. Christianity, for many Danes, is as much a cultural institution as a religious one. Danes have prided themselves, and not without reason, on their historically liberal attitude toward Jews and Judaism. To argue as Tudvad does in his book that Christianity has inherently anti-Semitic tendencies is thus to strike at something that is very near the heart of Danish culture.

Fatum asserts that the numerous efforts to explain away Kierkegaard’s anti-Semitic remarks “appear to support Tudvad’s claim that [the persistence of subtle forms of anti-Semitism] is an problem people are unwilling to face.” Fatum argues, however, that the disposition toward anti-Semitism in Christianity is more pronounced than even Tudvad suggests. All the Gospels, she asserts, were written after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in the year 70, which many early Christians saw as God’s punishment of the Jews for their having killed Christ. Anti-Semitic sentiment, she asserts, is clear throughout the Gospels, but particularly in John (e.g., John 8: 21-47 where Jesus appears to assert that the devil, not Abraham, is the father of the Jews).

But are the Gospels really that anti-Semitic? There is no question that Fatum is correct in her claim that there are numerous passages throughout the Gospels that lend themselves to interpretation as anti-Semitic. According to many New Testament scholars, however, there was a great deal of ambivalence among early Christians concerning their relation to Judaism and this ambivalence is reflected, I would argue in at least the synoptic Gospels, if not in the entire New Testament canon.

There can be no dispute, however, concerning the presence of strong anti-Semitic tendencies among the early church fathers and later Christian thinkers such as Martin Luther, just as there can be little doubt that Kierkegaard was influenced by these thinkers. It is less clear whether Kierkegaard’s anti-Semitic attitudes came directly from this tradition or whether their evolution had a more subtle and complex origin. That’s part of what makes Tudvad’s book such an important work. He attempts to trace the evolution of Kierkegaard’s views on Jews and Judaism. Scholars who actually engage with his arguments may come to have legitimate disagreements with him and one hopes that other treatments of this important topic will eventually emerge. For now, though, all we have is Tudvad book. It is nice to see that it is beginning to receive the recognition it deserves.

Yet Another Review of Tudvad’s Book by Someone Who Hasn’t Read It?

Well, OK, I can’t really be certain that Trond Berg Eriksen, whose review “Antisemitten Kierkegaard?” appeared in the Norwegian newspaper Morgenbladet, didn’t read the book. If he did read it though, he appears to have a very different edition than the one I have. He claims Tudvad charges that Kierkegaard was a Nazi, but I haven’t come across that charge in my copy of Tudvad’s book.

The review starts off well. Eriksen acknowledges that Tudvad’s presentation of anti-Semitism in Danish politics and literature in the first decades of the 19th century is “thorough, long overdue, and groundbreaking,” and that his “presentation of Jews and Judaism in Kierkegaard’s thought is not bad either,” but complains, in a manner that clearly begs the question, that the two things have nothing to do with each other.

Tudvad acknowledges, in the beginning of the book, that Kierkegaard was far from the worst anti-Semite of his day. His argument, he explains, is that many of the things Kierkegaard says about Jews and Judaism would be deeply offensive to Jews of any period and that they should thus be acknowledged as part and parcel of an anti-Semitism that was pervasive in Europe in the 19th century and which was thus a forerunner to the more virulent form of anti-Semitism that came to such horrific expression in the rise of National Socialism. That’s a relatively modest thesis and Tudvad marshals what appears to be more than enough evidence to support it.

That Kierkegaard was anti-Semitic should not surprise us, because, as many scholars have pointed out, anti-Semitism was pervasive during the period when Kierkegaard lived.  What is surprising is the number of scholars who have used this historical fact to try to discredit Tudvad’s position. The argument goes something like this: Everyone was anti-Semitic back then. Kierkegaard was just like everyone else. Ergo, Kierkegaard was not really anti-Semitic.  The flaw in that logic is so obvious it needs no explanation.

Eriksen’s review, as I observed, starts off well, but then, it appears, he was struck down by some sort of spontaneous brain disease. Not only does he use the same obviously flawed logic described above in an attempt to discredit Tudvad’s thesis, he also undermines his own fallacious argument with the even more bizarre charge that “anti-Semitism,” along with “racism,” is a concept that belongs to a later period. Say what? Anyone who knows anything about history knows that anti-Semitism is as old as Judaism. And, as I explained in an earlier post (see 1/7/11), racism as both a concept and a phenomenon obviously predates Darwin.  Our concept of race changed after Darwin, but the concept goes back at least as far as ancient Greece and is probably as old as human history.

Eriksen’s whole review is a straw man argument in that it is directed at discrediting a much more extreme position than the one Tudvad advances in his book. But then Eriksen, apparently still in the grip of the aforementioned ailment, admits this himself when he acknowledges, toward the end of the review, that Tudvad does not actually make any of the outrageous claims that have so incensed him, but only “insinuates” them.

Enough said.

Stay tuned. There was an excellent article on Tudvad’s book in Kristeligt Dagblad Today. I’ll have a summary of it for you soon!