M.G. Piety

Posts Tagged ‘Josiah Thompson’

Haverford Kierkegaard Seminar

In Resources for Kierkegaard Scholarship, Uncategorized on May 30, 2017 at 2:22 pm
Duck Pond, Haverford College

The Duck Pond, Haverford College

I had one of the best teaching experiences of my career last term. I taught an upper-level Kierkegaard seminar at Haverford College. Haverford, for those of you who do not know, is one of the best small liberal arts colleges in the country. It’s ranked number twelve on U.S. News and World Report’s list of 239 “National Liberal Arts Colleges in the U.S.

Haverford is a college based in the Quaker tradition. “The Quaker religion,” observes William James in The Varieties of Religious Experience, “is impossible to overpraise.” There’s always been a strong connection between Quakers and Kierkegaard because both emphasize the importance of the individual’s relation to God. My undergraduate professor and mentor, Bob Horn, the man who introduced me to Kierkegaard, taught briefly at Haverford before settling, finally, at Earlham College, another excellent Quaker institution, and the one from which I received my undergraduate degree.

Bob is a Kierkegaard scholar, and one of the most knowledgable people on Kierkegaard whom I have ever met. His Positivity and Dialectic, an examination of the thought of Hans Lassen Martensen, one of Kierkegaard’s teachers, is an essential resource for Kierkegaard scholars. Bob was succeeded at Haverford by Josiah Tompson, another Kierkegaard scholar. Thompson published The Lonely Labyrinth, an examination of Kierkegaard pseudonymous works, and Kierkegaard: A Collection of Critical Essays.

I knew first hand how intellectually stimulating is the environment of a small liberal arts college. A college with a Quaker history is even more inspiring, however, because there the emphasis is not merely on the development of the mind, but also of the spirit. I also knew of the Haverford-Kierkegaard connection, hence I was very excited when I was offered the opportunity to become, even if only briefly, a part of that tradition.

Jerry Miller, author of the critically acclaimed Stain Removal: Ethics and Race, and the chair of Haverford’s philosophy department, went out of his way to make me feel welcome, as did Kathleen Wright, a tenured full professor at Haverford and a specialist on German idealism and Heidegger, who generously allowed me to share her office.

I could not have had a better group of students. We did a series of short essays in preparation for the term paper. Those essays were mostly summaries of various portions of the texts we were reading at the time they were assigned. This, I explained to them, was to help them become familiar with the practice of providing background for one’s argument before making the argument itself.

They were all good writers. Where they really shone, however, was in their term papers. Each one chose a challenging and important topic, and each did such a good job with the topic that I think their papers could actually be helpful to scholars wrestling with the same issues, so I asked them if I could post their papers to this blog. The students whose papers are mentioned below generously agreed to allow me to do that and to include their names. What follows is a short summary of each paper, along with a link to a pdf of the paper.

I’m going to present the papers in alphabetical order based on the student’s last name. First is Courtney Ahmed’s paper. Courtney’s paper, “Love in Philosophical Crumbs,” examines an issue that has always been of particular interest to me: the relation between human love and divine love. Here is the intro to Courtney’s paper. Remember, this is an undergraduate paper!

In Philosophical Crumbs, Søren Kierkegaard asserts the idea that Christian faith rests on the unequivocal acceptance that the eternal God’s temporal appearance in lowest human form was purely an act of love. Acceptance of this fact has the power to transform those who are able to both grasp and set aside its sheer implausibility. Is it possible, however, for one to understand and accept God’s love— the fundamental premise of Christianity— and thereby effect the transformation of faith without experiencing human love as a precursor? I will argue through the lens of Kierkegaard that no, it is impossible to know what it means to be loved by God unless one has experienced love manifested in human relationships.

Ian Andolsek was a senior philosophy major who actually wrote his senior thesis on Kierkegaard. Andolsek’s paper, “Towards a Deontic Kierkegaardian Virtue Ethics,” is not only well written, it displays an impressive grasp of the breadth of theoretical ethics. The following paragraph is extracted from early in the paper. I chose to post it, rather than the intro because I think it contains more information concerning the substance of Andolsek’s paper.

Kierkegaard’s ethical project is motivated by his strongly held the conviction that the purpose of ethics has been nearly universally misunderstood, from the Ancients, to Kant, to most notably, Hegel. My picture will present Kierkegaard as an analytically rigorous ethical philosopher who extends a cogent and compelling critique of Hegel’s ethical view in the Philosophy of Right to construct a positive ethical framework.

John Chip’s paper, “The Role of Aesthetics in Soren Kierkegaard’s Ethics and Beyond,” addresses an issue that could not be more important to those of use who love Kierkegaard not merely for the substance of his thought, but for the beauty of his prose style. Here is Chip’s intro:

Soren Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher active in the 19th century. In this paper, I will explore Kierkegaard’s concept of aesthetics and its relation to ethics and religion and argue that, contrary to Kierkegaard’s claims, aesthetics can have a positive role in an ethical-religious life. First, I will discuss Kierkegaard’s primary concerns and summarize Kierkegaard’s views on how the conception of aesthetics functions in the ethical and religious life. Then, I will identify passages in which it is possible to understand aesthetics playing a positive role in an ethical-religious life.

Kevin Connolly’s paper “The Search for Eternal Happiness – Can Individual_s Subjects Assist One Another?” does just what it says. It examines the extent to which people can help one another in coming to understand eternal, unchanging truth. This is a hugely important topic in Kierkegaard scholarship because Kierkegaard often speaks as if he thinks people can have no role in helping one another to come to understand this truth. But if he really does believe this, then why, Connolly asks, did he write? Here is Connolly’s introduction.

In his Philosophical Crumbs and Concluding Unscientific Postscript, the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard describes the pursuit of an “eternal happiness” as being an essentially individual enterprise rooted in ethical-religious development. Although some readers may be inclined to interpret Kierkegaard as claiming that individual subjects can do nothing to assist one another in making ethical-religious progress, such a view is incommensurate with several other positions Kierkegaard takes throughout these works. Specifically, this paper will show this viewpoint to be incongruous with the many remarks Kierkegaard makes concerning a subject’s decision-making and relationship with God, an understanding of how interpersonal communication works, and his commentary pertaining to religious addresses. It will thereafter be clear that Kierkegaard believes that subjects can indirectly assist others by inducing them to act and forge their own way toward ethical-religious development, but cannot themselves guide them along a pre-charted path to ethical-religious development.

Leonor Suarez’s paper, “How Does One Learn that They are Outside of the Truth_?” looks at the issue of whether it is possible to come to know one is outside the truth without God’s help, which is to say that it looks at the relation between what Kierkegaard calls “guilt consciousness” and “sin consciousness.” Suarez’s intro is so short that rather than present it here, I’ll just direct you to the paper. You will not be disappointed!


My Kierkegaard seminar at Haverford was something special. It’s an experience I hope I will be able to repeat someday.

Danish Scholar’s Review of Controversial Kierkegaard Biography

In Publishing News, Resources for Kierkegaard Scholarship on September 1, 2011 at 3:18 pm

I’ve mentioned in several earlier posts that I am working on a book entitled Fear and Dissembling on the controversy surrounding Joakim Garff’s book Søren Kierkegaard: A Biography (Princeton, 2005). It will begin with the initial reception of Garff’s book upon its publication in 2000 and then the controversy that arose in the summer of 2004 when another scholar, Peter Tudvad, exposed the book as riddled with factual errors and passages that had been plagiarized from earlier biographies of Kierkegaard. The book will be comprised primarily of English translations of articles from Danish newspapers. There were a couple of reviews, however, that appeared in scholarly journals. I’ve translated both of them and have received permission from the authors to publish excerpts from them on this blog. What follows are a three sections excerpted from a review of by the Danish scholar Johan de Mylius, of the University of Southern Denmark, that appeared in the journal Nordika vol. 19 (2002). De Mylius’ review was written before the revelations about the errors and plagiarisms were made public in the summer of 2004, so the review takes no account of them, but comments on what the reviewer sees as the inherent strengths and weaknesses of the work. The parenthetical references are to the English translations of the biography and the wording of passages de Mylius quotes directly is also taken from the this translation.

Kierkegaard scholarship has gotten a spectacular center in Copenhagen. The primary purpose of the center is the production of the new edition of Kierkegaard’s collected works and papers–on the basis of which this fat biography, Joakim Garff’s bestseller, SAK, was produced. But Kierkegaard scholarship as such has for many years had its center, at least in a purely quantitative sense, elsewhere. This is easily established by a glance an the annual Kierkegaard Newsletter, edited by Julia Watkin (formerly of Copenhagen University, now at the University of Tasmania). As far as the number of books and articles, as well as seminars and conferences on Kierkegaard, the U.S.A. is clearly in the lead by a large margin, with several other nations also performing admirably in this competition.

It is thus a little strange to see how this sizeable new biography of Kierkegaard leaves international Kierkegaard research out of its frame of reference. It can’t be because Garff is unfamiliar with this research. Of course he is familiar with it. There is not a single reference, however, in the entire biography to a work published outside Denmark.

The result is that obvious presuppositions for Garff’s own, predominantly esthetic view of Kierkegaard go unmentioned. This is the case, for example, with respect to Theodor W. Adorno’s famous book Kierkegaard. Konstruktion des Ästhetischen (1993) [Kierkegaard Construction of the Aesthetic] and Louis Mackey’s Kierkegaard, A Kind of Poet (1971), but also with other important books. References to Josiah Thompson’s biography of Kierkegaard from 1973 as well as his Kierkegaard: A Collection of Critical Essays (1972), another anthology, Kierkegaard vivant (1966), […] and Sylvia Walsh’s Living Poetically (1994) are conspicuous by their absence.


The entire biography is actually written in journalistic style. It is lively, often detailed and entertaining. Occasionally, however, the language becomes painfully overwrought as is the case when Garff writes of Johanne Luise Heiberg that she was “a goddess sprung from the proletariat, who, at the age of thirteen had become the object of [Johan Ludvig Heiberg’s] distinguished erotic lust and who was now undisputedly the leading lady of the Danish stage, the dazzling, bespangled muse of the age. Everyone admired her, worshipped her and fell in love with her so thunderously and passionately that they became profoundly depressed, or even–in keeping with the tragic style of the day–committed suicide” (68)(as if there at other times had been cheerful suicide!). It is not surprising that this sort of literary style would involve even the Olympian Goethe being referred to as “in” (74). The objective would appear to be to encourage the poor unprepared reader to tolerate, and even to accept, the view that it is “in” to read about Kierkegaard.


The biggest problem is that even though Garff wants his approach to Kierkegaard to be aesthetic, he has little to offer when it comes to the literature of the period, the literature which Kierkegaard as a writer plays up against.  One gets no sense of Kierkegaard as a figure in the literary world of the day, with roots in the period that is often referred to as post-romanticism. What was actually going on in Danish literature at that point? And how did Kierkegaard conceive of his role in these developments? To the extent that the literary world is brought in at all, the issue always concerns Kierkegaard’s personal relationships to literary figures. That is too little, that is journalism on the level of BT[1] rather than of a literary biography.

This is only a small portion of the review. The entire review will appear in Fear and Dissembling: The Copenhagen Kierkegaard Controversy (Gegensatz Press, forthcoming).

[1] BT is a Danish tabloid newspaper.

Kierkegaard’s Psychology

In Publishing News, Resources for Kierkegaard Scholarship on April 6, 2011 at 9:08 pm

Forgive me for taking so long to put up this post. I was doing two posts a week during the winter because I don’t teach in the winter. Drexel is on quarters, and because my husband, the legal scholar Brian J. Foley, teaches in Florida and we have a house there, Drexel very kindly allows me to teach the spring-summer-fall terms rather than the standard fall-winter-spring.

Well, I’m teaching again, and that has slowed down my blogging activity considerably. I’m not stopping though, just slowing down. I anticipate being able to do one post every two weeks, and possibly even more frequently, until the summer. The summer should be a little better because that tends to be a light term and I am teaching only one small seminar class this summer.

But enough about my schedule. I wanted to pass on to you a bit of information I came across recently that I thought was very interesting. Years ago, when I was a graduate student at Bryn Mawr, George Kline, one of my professors there, told me that the former Kierkegaard scholar Josiah Thompson, had left his post at Haverford College to become a private detective. I remember at the time thinking that that was one of the strangest things I’d ever heard. What possible relation, I thought, could there be between philosophy and detective work?

OK, I was naïve. For those few readers, however, who do not immediately understand the connection, I have a little story for you. The title of this post promises to tell you something about Kierkegaard’s psychology. This is really only a teaser though. The real substantive entries on Kierkegaard’s psychology will come later. Still, I ran across a book that I didn’t know existed and which I thought people interested in Kierkegaard ought to know about. It is a book by the German artist-physician-philosopher Carl Gustav Carus. Never heard of him? Read on.

“I am happy,” writes Kierkegaard in his journals,

“to acknowledge that Carus’ book (Psyche) is excellent, and if he will give the qualitative its due, then I will gratefully take a few of his good psychological observations. At all decisive points he makes unqualified room for the miracle, for the creative power of God, for the absolute expression of worship, and says: This no one can grasp, no science, neither now nor ever. Then he communicates the interesting things he knows.” (JP, 3:2818.)

I read this entry years ago and was intrigued by it. Who was this Carus? What were the interesting things he knew? How could I get my hands on a copy of this book? I searched antiquarian bookshops in Denmark and in Germany without any luck. I looked both in person and on line. Once I found a copy in German on Abebooks and tried to buy it only to be informed, after having added it to my basket, that it had already been sold.

Last year, finally, I found the book, in an English translation, in an esoteric bookstore in Cambridge, MA. It was in the section on Jungian psychology. It was $25 because, the owner of the shop informed me sheepishly, it was out of print. It’s a short book, under one hundred pages, but it is indeed very interesting. I cannot tell who was responsible for the translation, but there is an introductory note by the famous Jungian analyst James Hillman. Apparently, Jungians are interested in Carus because Jung himself was influenced by Carus.

My friend, and publisher, Eric von der Luft, informs me that Carus was strongly influenced by Schelling. Interestingly, Kierkegaard appears to have had a higher opinion of Carus than of Schelling. I found out something else though that I thought would be of interest to readers. Carus’s view of the relation between the mind and the body is strikingly similar to the “physicalism” of John Searle’s The Rediscovery of the Mind. This “physicalism,” though in a perhaps less well-defined form, appears to have come from Schelling, Schelling influenced Heidegger and Heidegger influenced Hubert Dreyfus. Dreyfus is a friend of John Searle…

Maybe we should all try our hands at private detective work if this philosophy thing dries up!