Reading the moral at the end of Philosophical Fragments helps to illuminate the meaning of the text. The moral does this to the extent that the ideas in Philosophical Fragments, Johannes Climacus and Sickness Unto Death can be categorized into one of the four points made in the moral which I have numbered below:
“This project indisputably goes beyond the Socratic, as is apparent at every point. Whether it is therefor more true than the Socratic is an altogether different question, one that cannot be decided in the same breath, inasmuch as (1) a new organ has been assumed here: faith; and (2) a new presupposition: the consciousness of sin; and (3) a new decision: the moment; and (4) a new teacher: the god in time. Without these I really would not have dared to present myself before that ironist who has been admired for millennia, whom I approach with as much ardent enthusiasm as anyone. But to go beyond Socrates when one nevertheless says essentially the same as he, only not nearly so well that, at least, is not Socratic.”
Any consistency and understanding the moral adds by acting as an outline for his books is most likely a false understanding. Kierkegaard says all truly important information cannot be communicated. What I have chosen to write about are my unimportant observations that connect the moral at the end of Philosophical Fragments to itself, Johannes Climacus and Sickness unto Death.
One of the points Kierkegaard says is different from Socratic thinking is “a new teacher; the god in time”. At the beginning of Philosophical Fragments the relationship between god and man is explained. God is able, through giving the condition, to take a person from untruth into truth. The individual obtains truth from a direct relationship formed with god. Kierkegaard calls this the decisive moment, when God gives the condition. God therefore, is a different kind of teacher than the Socratic teacher who changes nothing in the individual because he thinks people are equal. If god the teacher is greater than us and can give the condition which is a decisive moment that changes our eternal state, why did Socrates not see the possibility of a teacher having the ability to cause a decisive moment in the student? According to the moral it is, “a new decision: the moment.”
What Kierkegaard knew that Socrates didn’t was the story of Christ. The life of Christ created the occasion that made receiving the condition possible. But whether or not an historical moment can have eternal consequences is difficult to answer. Is the occasion, the temporal event of the life of Christ, what gives our eternal soul the possibility of receiving the condition/faith? The answer according to Kierkegaard is yes. However, simply having knowledge of the life of Christ is not enough, in Philosophical Fragments he says, “awareness is by no means partial to faith, as if faith proceeded as a simple consequence of awareness.”. Not only is awareness not enough, but belief is not enough either because it is simply an epistemological state which allows the individual to be a follower but does not secure that god will give the condition. Who knows how, but one must receive the condition/faith from god the teacher. In Johannes Climacus he says, “history becomes the occasion for the contemporary follower by receiving the condition from god- so the report of the contemporary becomes the occasion for everyone later to become a follower.” In other words all the rules of the game were changed when Christ was born. Now that we have the occasion, how do we receive the condition from god?
This brings us to another point in the moral, “a new organ has been assumed here: faith.”. Faith comes from god when he gives the condition. But what is faith, how does one have faith? In Johannes Climacus, Kierkegaard does a good job of explaining the difficulty of faith. He states, “Faith is not knowledge… (Because) no knowledge can have as it’s object the absurdity that the eternal is the historical.” He also says, “faith is not an act of will.” This means that faith is something that cannot be learned or obtained through our means. Yet it is our duty and obligation to have faith so how can anyone be responsible for something they have no control over? Unfortunately, all forms of Socratic reasoning and logic are useless to solve this puzzle. The point is that each individual must think independently in the hope of creating a direct relationship with god or an absolute relationship to the absolute. The problem is that we do not have hope because we don’t know what we are missing or how to go about informing ourselves. Kierkegaard quotes from Socrates in Philosophical Fragments, “A person cannot possibly seek what he knows, and just as impossibly, he cannot seek what he does not know, for what he knows he cannot seek, since he knows it, and what he does not know he cannot seek, because after all, he does not even know what he is supposed to seek.” This is why we are in despair. This despair comes from our knowledge that we do not know god and his truth, that we are untruth and that we cannot know the state of our eternal selves. This preoccupation with doubt in Johannes Climacus leads into sin and is what dominates the third book, Sickness unto Death.
I think the point, “a new presupposition: the consciousness of sin” is very important to Kierkegaards philosophy. Kierkegaard starts talking about doubt in Johannes Climacus and this leads to despair and in Sickness unto Death he says, “despair is sin.” In the same way that philosophy begins with doubt so too do we begin with sin. Despair is sin because it is not faith. As Kierkegaard states, “the opposite of sin is not virtue but faith” It is our duty to always be aware of our state of sin and to be in fear of the state of our eternal soul. In other words we must look at death. We must face the horror of death, the possibility of not existing eternally and we must be in despair. But who are we anyhow, what am I? What is my consciousness, where is the self? I am both eternal and temporal. I am a contradiction, and a synthesis, both 2 things and one.
As far as I understand, because we cannot understand god, we likewise cannot understand ourselves because we are a creation of god. It seems impossible not to know what you are because you are yourself. How can I be and yet have no control over what I am? What am I without that knowledge of my whole self? I am in the dark, living only as the part of myself that I know to be myself. I cannot relate to the part of what I am as god. I do not know god. In this sense I am in despair over the loss of myself. If I were to receive the condition, I could understand who I was and have a connection with the part of me that is god. But the trick is that even having received the condition from god and then being able to relate myself to myself, I would still be in a state of ‘fear and trembling’ because I cannot know what god is. This is the mystery of the self. This part of me that I relate to is something I do not understand; it is above my understanding of morals, reason, and ethics. I must admit that I do not know myself, and that I cannot know myself. Perhaps this is how two people can communicate without the use of language, because they share part of the same element that is god. So important information would be communicated non-verbally through the part of the self that is god. I do not think that this idea is part of any point in the moral, but is perhaps the unstated point. The idea of the self relating to itself is the beginning of Sickness unto death, “the self is a relation that relates itself to itself or is the relation’s relating itself to itself in the relation….”.
The moral not only has explicit points but it also contains an unstated ironic contradiction that is itself the point. The contradiction lies in the idea of having a moral, since Kierkegaard didn’t like morals, which is demonstrated by his lack of consistency in his writing as well as the moral. He blatantly undermines his assertion by stating that his philosophy goes beyond the Socratic, and then denying that it does so and declaring that he simply, “says essentially the same as he (Socrates), only not nearly so well.” I have attempted above to iron out some of the contradictions so as to better comprehend and write about Kierkegaard’s ideas. However, in the end, I think it is safe to say that the moral at the end of Philosophical Fragments does and does not illuminate the texts that we have read by Kierkegaard.