Sunday, April 11, 2010

Ignorance and Incomprehensibility

I'm intrigued by Kierkegaard's system for reasons that conflict - it seems there's a tenuous balance of faith and knowledge at play here. I'm always curious to hear reasons for aligning with Christianity, especially when the Christian in question is highly esteemed in the intellectual world. My interest in this text specifically stems from the mix of approaches to understanding the world, the divine, and how the two inform one another; historically prominent religious themes, like blind "faith" and denial of the possibility of any understanding, come together in such a complex way here.

It's fascinating that Kierkegaard validates a sort of ignorance by way of illumination. The goal of Fear and Trembling is to remind Christians that their faith is not that of Abraham's, but individuated faith, and, in most cases, faith that's mediated by the universal, ethical realm. Most are not connected directly to God, and may not ever be. And if such a connection does occur, the individual won't have knowledge of it or the responsibility of acting under it until "called upon," or something comparably passive on the part of the individual. And, in fact, we can't recognize others who have been called upon and therefore joined the religious realm, because they can't tell us about it. That concept swallowed and flagged with regular reminders, so as not to stray back to correlations that shouldn't be made, how should one proceed about one's daily activities? Or one's faith, for that matter?

Kierkegaard says: don't worry! In terms of duty, those who've been pulled into absolute relation with the absolute have much more pressing moral concerns than those still occupying the ethical realm. For AMUs (Aesthetes Mediated by the Universal), duty is to other individuals, through the ethical. In other words, be morally commendable, and be ready in case of an opportunity to join the religious realm. And in the case of dealing with those who may have acted outside the ethical realm (like Abraham), we should proceed as we would with other rule-breakers. So we AMUs are really practicing a form of intentional ignorance by way of acknowledgement of incomprehensibility - but all this post-Kierkegaardian illumination.

The moral: Ignorance is okay, if you know you're doing it.


  1. Ignorance is an interesting, yet contentious, way of of putting it. Im not sure if the ones observing the acts of faith are being ignorant, at least according to Kierkegaard's understanding. I think by acknowledging faith we are not being ignorant, because ignorance, according to Kierkegaard, would be witnessing one's act of faith and not understanding it as an act of faith. Hence I feel as if Kierkegaard argument against the church is that they ignorantly dismiss the importance of faith in the story of Abraham, thus overlooking the true value of faith.

    Also, are saying that the one involved in the act of faith must embrace ignorance?

  2. To agree with Kyle, a major part of the faith's recognition to the individual is that one must be aware of the ethical notions at play, yet still embrace the paradox/absurd, not just be ignorant. I think ignorance would cheapen whatever it is really that Kierkegaard is trying to in his mission to reassign value to faith. However, I share you frustration of how one is supposed to function if we are always to be in this state that is willing to throw the ethical notions out?

  3. Right - I meant to make it more clear that this is a sort of intentional ignorance, embraced only after an illumination of sorts. What's interesting to me is that Kierkegaard asks for a step away from ignorant ignorance (if I may) and then a step back into a different kind of ignorance once certain things have been realized.


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