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This paper looks into SØren Kierkegaard’s existential view of man and Emmanual Levinas’ relational nature of man. The first part of this paper talks about Soren Kierkegaard’s subjective view of man and man’s existential essence, quoting mostly of his work from “ Fear and Trembling”. The second part of this paper presents Emmanuel Levinas’ humanistic philosophy of man; man being responsible for others. The third part of this paper inter-relates Kierkegaard and Levinas’ concept of responsibility as man’s fundamental role to human existence. This paper ends with a general conclusion of man’s essence, his self and other responsibility in response to God’s greatest commandment. I. Individual Self-Responsibility According to Kierkegaard, there are no absolute or exact guidelines in life to choose what is right or good. Each person must select and make decisions. The individual self then determines his/her own goals in life. To be human involves making a moral decision in a complete atmosphere of freedom (Ediger, 2006). This means that each person may make or break himself. Responsibility of action is directed towards ones personal choices and decisions made. Since each person is responsible of ones self, it is meaningless to blame others for what happened in life. Truth therefore, can only be sought from ones own subjectivity. The individual makes choices and then decides. To further clarify this view in real life I’d like to use this story as an example: “For years, this crippled man would go to the same spot, doing the same thing day in and day out. One day, someone offered him help to have him operated on so he can walk again and find a more decent work than begging. But this man refused to be helped. “(Didache, 2010). In this story the man made a choice and decides to remain crippled. Whether this man made a wrong or good decision he is responsible for his decision. In the real world if a man wants to progress he needs to work on it as well. One cannot expect great things to happen without him making it happen. Therefore, one must not blame others for the bad things that happen in his life. If a person wants his situation to change; it’s something else he should actually do something about. 2
Kierkegaard’s subjective and spiritual philosophical view takes along side with Saint Augustine’s notion of free will. Saint Augustine describes man’s freewill using the story of creation and fall of man. He argued that man in the Garden of Eden had the choice between following God or turning away from Him. From St. Augustine’s reflections; emerged the concept of a human will. We act the way we do, not because our passions drive us or our reason apprehends what is best, but ultimately because of what we choose. The will is, in other words, the self-governing power of choice, and thus ultimately accountable only to itself. To say that we have free will would seem to mean nothing else but that we have the power to determine ourselves, and that this is what makes us responsible agents. In another account, Jean Paul Sartre’s concept of freedom shows a seemingly Kierkegaardian concept of free will. It is evident in his existential view of man: “Existential maintains that in man, and man alone; existence preceded essence. This simply means that man first is, and only subsequently is this or that. In a word, man must create his own essence: it is in throwing himself into the world, suffering there, struggling there, that he gradually defines himself. And the definition always remains open-ended: we cannot say what this man is before he dies or what mankind is before it had disappeared” (Abdurrahman, 2006). The essence of man in Sarte’s view is that man is the creator of his own destiny and in so doing accepts the responsibility of his own actions. This also explains human subjectivity which states that man is a conscious being; a plan which is aware of itself. This subjective consciousness which is also the framework of man’s choices, actions and essence is also the foundation of human freedom. Freedom therefore necessitates responsibility. Each person is responsible for what he makes of his life and this explains Sartre’s contention that existence precedes essence. In the context of school setting for example, the teacher should create a learning environment of which students are given the freedom to decide. This can be attained by allowing learners to choose which learning goals they need to realized. The role of teachers is to facilitate or guide students within the framework of an open-ended program rather than provide students a highly structured curriculum in which the teacher selects each objective for pupils to achieve. Teachers must not restrict pupils of what to
and how to learn but rather they should provide learners an open environment wherein they are able to select sequential experiences. The teacher needs to stress ends, means and evaluation procedures which recognize the importance of pupils becoming increasingly responsible for personal freedom. Allowing students to choose and decide for themselves provides them the opportunity to explore and discover learning. It is also through this way that students find meaning of what they are doing. Otherwise, if teachers continue to dictate and limit students’ capacity to learn, students will unlikely be motivated with their studies. This concrete example presents how learning can be destroyed if facilitators go against man’s existential essence: “A group of college students who were doing a research found an insignificant result. When the teacher knew this she was apprehensive. She had their research methodology scrutinized to determine which part was wrongly done. After having to found no errors she had to insinuate by telling them to reiterate the procedure. She also threatened the group to repeat the course if they cannot produce a significant result.” This I found too dehumanizing. According to Keirkegaard permitting others to choose for the person self evades responsible behavior. A person becomes less human if he is force to become follower of what another person likes him to do and if he is not given the opportunity to take full responsibility of what he is doing. In research if a no significant result is found it is profoundly ethical or morally right to report objectively what has been found out even if it does not support the research hypothesis. Teachers must know this as part of the ethical standards in research rather than force students to produce something in favor of their demands. Sometimes teachers’ imposition would lead students to falsify their work. Although the decision to falsify ones work which is not morally right still lies within students’ choice, it is somehow the teachers’ duty to encourage them to stand up to what is right. “Fear and trembling” then demands internalization that it is ones duty to decide and take full responsibility of his/her actions and that it is not the external force that should dictate one’s action or deeds. In a much deeper sense Kierkegaard’s “Fear and Trembling” claims that above all else there is an absolute duty to God. Kierkegaard believes in the presence and supremacy of God and he suggested that one should examine his values and beliefs in accord to God’s will. He defines and discusses the three types in which one may exist.
These modes of existence consist the following: (1) the aesthetic, where one acts according to the immediacy of his desires and is not judged by any objective standards, (2) the ethical, where one’s acts are judged within the framework of universal law, and (3) the religious, where one’s acts are judged within the framework of God’s will. Discussing the parable of Abraham and Issac, Kierkegaard explains: “The ethical expression for what Abraham did is that he was willing to murder Isaac; the religious expression is that he was willing to sacrifice Isaac; but in this contradiction lies in the very anguish that can indeed make one sleepless; and yet without the anguish Abraham is not the one he is” (Kierkegaard, 1941). Kierkegaard claims that actions occurring in the religious mode of existence cannot be judged within the framework of the ethical mode. Since Abraham transcends the ethical mode, one cannot call him a murderer. This transcendence allows Abraham to undergo a teleological suspension of the ethical and enter into the religious mode, where his actions can only be judged on whether or not they are in agreement with the will of God. Abraham transcending ethical mode shows his deep relationship with His God. Loving that someone who is considered the highest also radiates his love for his son Isaac thus His willingness to follow God reflects the true sense of faith. And it is man’s first duty to do the will of God. Only in the religious stage can a person deal with one's guilt before God and become a whole person. It is only when a person reach this stage that he become fully developed as a person. Kiekegaard’s modes of existence suggest that a man cannot find deep fulfillment until he reach religious stage and reconcile his sinfulness before God. This view polarizes with that of Saint Augustine’s belief and personal experience. According to him, people are driven to search for something that satisfies their desires beyond this world. The fleeting satisfaction of the satisfaction a person has of the momentary things of this world will always leave a person wanting more and feeling unfulfilled. Only after he became acquainted with the Christian God does he finds his desires satisfied. As he notably wrote in his Confessions, "Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee" (Saint Augustine)
The religious mode is Kierkegaard’s highest form of existence. He believes that the individual, who acts according to the will of God, is more important than the society. In Abraham’s case, the leap of faith wills him to follow God’s command even if it was against his will. It is the absurdity of acting immorally in the ethical, so that he may act according to the will of God, which creates fear and trembling. The religious nature of man perhaps causes his restiveness to advance to the next mode of existence which is to reach a deep personal relationship with God. However, some people choose to remain in the aesthetic or ethical stage because they believe that becoming close to the Almighty demands facing a lot of challenges and trials. To avoid fear and trembling they suppress that longing to reach the religious stage. Likewise, not all arrive at that stage of deep longing for someone Higher. This can be equated to those who do not anymore have conscience. Regardless of which mode of existence one adheres to, Kierkegaard requires that all decisions must be made with passion. He believes that “what we lack today is not reflection, but passion” in our decisions. Decisions in themselves, though important, are not nearly as important as is the passion with which they are made. One is confronted with many decisions in life where the question of whether he should either take this path or that one, is asked. It is therefore preferable for one to act with passion, regardless of the outcome, than to let other factors make decisions for him. Kierkegaard believes that freedom is an internal matter where “the inner deed is the true life of freedom” and not some external force beyond one’s control. He also asserts that the greatest thing each person can do is to give himself to God completely and unconditionally – weaknesses, fears, and all. For God loves obedience more than good intentions or second-best offerings, which are all too often made under the guise of weakness. In one account he wrote: therefore, dare to renew your decision. It will lift you up again to have trust in God. For God is a spirit of power and love and self-control, and it is before God and for him that every decision is to be made. Dare to act on the good that lies buried within your heart. Confess your decision and do not go ashamed with downcast eyes as if you were treading on forbidden ground. If you are ashamed of your own imperfections, then cast your eyes down before God, not man (Moore, 2007).
For Kierkegaard, human essence is about relationship; it’s about relating to oneself, within oneself and to other self. It is the picture of an active existence where everything is dialectical, and responsibility is ever present. II. Other Responsibility Emmanuel Levinas’s conception of ethical subjectivity emphasizes an obligation that is not chosen and from which we cannot refuse ourselves. It emphasizes ones obligation and response to the other. For Levinas, to care for the other is more than an ultimate responsibility that needs to be encouraged. This responsibility for others means that one has to take care of the others. According to Levinas, ‘to take care of’ the other is a moral obligation, a responsibility impossible to avoid. It arises from the fundamental call of the human face ( Levinas, 1985) in words like the following: ‘the face is what one cannot kill, or at least it is that whose meaning consists in saying: “thou shall not kill”’. The human face obliges each and every one of us, not to remain deaf to its appeal’ or ‘not to cease being responsible’. There is no excuse for this obligation. In fact, one is forced to acknowledge that such a requirement is not only a duty, but it is a moral duty. His relational nature of man is parallel to the concept of prosocial behavior in social psychology. Prosocial behavior is caring about the welfare and rights of others, feeling concern and empathy for them, and acting in ways that benefit others. A well known prosocial theory that best describes Levinas’ relational nature of man is Batson’s empathy-altruism hypothesis which states that if you feel empathy towards another person you will help them, regardless of what you can gain from it (1991). Altruism is a behavior whereby a person has this unselfish interest in helping another person. Levinas’s ‘mind the other’ is not what precludes freedom, but what gives it meaning: ‘the being that imposes itself does not limit but promotes freedom, by arousing goodness’. Such conception seemed demanding to some degree however such an obligation should be best maintained within societies, where relationships are dehumanized, and too many humans are left impoverished in the most difficult circumstances. Man’s responsibility in taking care of the other must be more than a dutiful wish or an exclusion to do something that could result in ‘trampling’ or ‘killing’
others. It implies a behavior which aims actively at respect for others. Ones responsibility for the other constitutes what he is. It must take form and transpire in what one does. We are usually obliged to extend a helping hand towards the most vulnerable person of all, the dying. Levinas (1985) emphasizes that ‘what is expressed as demand in it certainly signifies a call to giving and serving – or the commandment to give and serve – but above and beyond this, while including it, the order is not to let the Other alone to face the unavoidable’. It is ‘to say: here I am. This should reflect doing and giving something for the other, and to exercise true human spirit. To take care of the other, writes Levinas, consists in saying ‘here I am’ (1985) and in ‘forgetting oneself’. He adds that my responsibility for the other requires that I enter into a relation with the other. To be sure, taking care of a person does necessarily entail initiating a relation with that person. This relation represents an invaluable access to the existence of the other, to the body, thoughts, and emotional world of that person, which will make it possible to take good care of him. Levinas’ view can be concretized in western practice wherein sons/daughters leave their parents in the nursing homes instead of taking care of them. Most reasoned that they cannot take care of their old parents due to work demands worst is that they just find them useless. This moral obligation is being defeated by the egoistic attitude of man who only looks at his own need and not the need of others. Evidently in the Philippines, street people appeared outcast in the society. The government does not even have a clear program for them; they are obviously not part of the nation perhaps not recognized as Filipinos. In Cebu City for example city ordinance which prohibit giving of alms to the street people was passed. The face of this suffering people clearly speaks that no one cares for them. Excluding the poor and unprivileged people in the love circle of a person does not forbid him to continually observed people dying, starving, and suffering everyday. Other-oriented is man’s nature, thus it creates internal conflict to consciously avoid helping those who are in need. The means to lessen the conflict felt inside is either to decide and choose to help or to pacify the situation by regarding the street people as lazy and deserving of their fate. To deny helping others is to denounce one’s essence because man’s existential essence is to be responsible for the other. This therefore shows man’s selfishness because he chooses to live for himself and not for others. This
only goes to say that if everyone ceases to avoid his responsibility to help others, violence continues. A society with this kind of set up would unlikely progress. Violence begets violence. To deny responsibility for the other is to deprive him/her of help and thus making him/her feel unimportant and unloved. This somehow is a kind of violence committed against the “other”. In effect the “other” who is being denied of help may resort to stealing, robbery or kidnapping for survival means. It could also be that such criminal acts were done in retaliation to the violence they experienced beforehand. If one truly means it to follow God’s commandments he should not hold back deviating the law to help those who are in need just as how Jesus healed a sick man on a Sabbath day even if He was criticize by the Pharisees for violating the law. In another context some parents attribute the life of their son that had gone astray to their own failure. They somehow blame themselves for not being able or for the lack of effort to guide their child to the right path. This feeling of self-blame can be ascribed to man’s nature of being accountable for the others. Levinas stated that self-centeredness is natural to life and we can only overcome our egoistic nature through the presence of others. One way to liberate from selfcenteredness is to become acquainted and responsible for the others. His view can be explained in the context of the Holy Scriptures. In the Gospel of Matthew 25:31-46 (The Judgment), Jesus encourages man to live simply for others. Man is not meant to live hard-hearted or self-centered. He is called to put his faith into practice and truly love his neighbors, especially those less fortunate. God has given man unique abilities, skills, talents and gifts to use in His service. His command to each person on earth is to use his gifts and talents in the service of others. Each of individual has something to offer to someone in need. He can give his money, time to charity, care and comfort to someone who is sick or lonely, volunteer work, or be a peacemaker. Man may give unselfishly of his time to his spouse, children or parents. He may choose a service-oriented occupation, or he may just do his everyday jobs with integrity and respect for others. By all means Levinas service to others tells that the essence of man’s existence is to be responsible for others and be freed from selfishness. It is only through these that one finds meaning and fulfillment to his life in a way that wealth, power, possessions and
self-centered pursuits can never match. When we respond to the other at a time of need, we fulfill our humanity and can find existential meaning in life. Doing service also can provide the opportunity to learn about someone different from ourselves. III. Kierkegaard and Levinas Both philosophers had a spiritual tone which proved that man’s essence is to love God through loving others. Responsibility for them is crucial to human existence. Their view is subjective in nature. The subjective nature of man seeks to be liberated from being self-centered or egoistic thus man’s longing for freedom can only be selffulfilled or satisfied by becoming other oriented. Other-oriented here means that one must self-deny and do some self-sacrifice. For Kierkegaard other centered is a form of fulfillment to the command of the High which is God whereas for Levinas other responsibility is a way to relate with the Infinite, concept of love is examined. Christian love for Kierkegaard is not based on feeling and on the actual relationships one has with the people he knows. From a Christian perspective, ones love is rooted entirely in one’s obedience to the command of love and makes no distinctions between neighbors. It does not even see the neighbor as an individual but only sees the neighbor as the object of the command to love: By this he means that if we are to think and love others we have to shut our eyes to who they really are. As he speaks: “When you shut your eyes, you do not see the distinctions of earthly existence…. And when you shut your eyes, your mind is not diverted and confused just when you are to listen to the words of the command. And when your mind is not disturbed and confused by looking at the object of your love and the distinction of your object, then you become all ears for the words of the command, which speak one thing and on the thing only to your, that you ought to love your neighbor. “(WL, p.79, Manning 1993). Shutting ones eyes here means that we do not look at that person’s physical appearance, nor judge his weakness or sinfulness. The command to love is parallel to God’s first great commandment which is to love Him above all things. Whereas loving which is God by recognizing His presence through others. To further see this seemingly similar yet different view, their
as portrayed through shutting ones eyes can also be attributed to loving ones enemy. Kierkegaard’s Christian love therefore makes God the center between that someone who love and that someone being loved (neighbor). To Levinas, the Other cannot be made into an object of the self. His philosophy is centered on the wisdom of love. In his view, love would be better served if it were named “the taking upon oneself of the fate of the other” (Levinas, quoted from Deuck and Welsh). Love is responsibility for the other, Agape, which is built into our subjective constitution. This responsibility is elicited by the Face or the other, the “first comer”, whose proximity and distance is strongly felt, and whose alterity reveals its transcendence as well as subjection. Ones relation with the other constitutes his relation with the infinite, with God. Levinas on the other hand, insists on the concrete, of not thinking God alone, but God as revealed in the face of the other, a face that demands of man to respond to it, a face that says, “thou shalt not kill. To think God as the limit of alterity requires that to be in the presence of God is precisely to respond ethically to the other. This is evident in his words when he said: “I would like nothing to be defined by God, because it is the human that I know. It is God that I can define by the relation to the human and not inversely. The notion of God,— God knows it, I’m not opposed to it! But, when I say something about God, it is always from the relation of the human. The inadmissible abstraction, it is God; it is in terms of the Other (Autrui) that I speak of God” (Xiaochen, 2008). Levinas’ concept of love seem to spring from God’s second greatest commandment which is to love thy neighbor are you love yourself. To love the infinite is therefore to encounter and recognize Him in others. Conclusion Both philosophers regard responsibility ( attach to love) as fundamental to human existence. Although Levinas and Kierkegaard’s spiritual affiliation is unclear to me I still consider both of their philosophical views significant to the application of social psychology but greatly on Christian faith. My bias understanding on the central essence of man in Kierkegaard and Levinas views can be explained through these famous
biblical passages. Man’s responsibility is to obey God’s great commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with your entire mind and with all your strength and Love your neighbor as you love yourself (Mark 12: 30 & 31b). This simply means that loving God is not a separate from loving ones neighbor even loving ones enemies. References
Abdurrahman, Umar (2006). Quest for Identity in Richard Wright’s The Outsider: An Existentialists Approach. Journal of Black Studies. Winter 2006 Vol 30:1 Date Retrieved: March 3, 2010 from EBSCO Online Database Didache (2010) Daily Bible Reflections: KerygmaFamily Online subscription. When it’s Time for Change.
Dueck and Welsh An Unfolding of Love in the Works of Kristeva and Levinas Implications for Psychotherapy Date Retrieve March 9, 2010 from www.seattleu.edu/WorkArea/ DownloadAsset.aspx?id=7652 Ediger, M. et al (2006). Issues in School Curriculum. Discovery Publishing House India Good News Bible With Deuterocanonicals Today’s English Version. Philippine Bible Society, Manila Philippines Kierkegaard, Soren. Fear and Trembling, trans. Walter Lowrie. (Princeton University Press, 1941). Date Retrieved : February 20, 2010 from http://www.scribd.com/doc/13155127/Kierkegaard-Fear-and-Trembling Levinas E. (1985) Ethics and Infinity. Conversations with Philippe Nemo. [EI]. Duquesne University Press, Pittsburgh,PA. from Lavoi et al. (2006). The nature of care in light of Emmanuel Levinas. Nursing Philosophy. Blackwell Publishing Ltd Vol 7, pp. 225–234 Manning, R. (1993). Kierkegaard and Post-Modernity: Judas as Kierkegaard’s Only Disciple: Philosophy Today; Summer: Vol. 37:2 Academic Research Library Moore, Charles (2007). Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard. Plough Publishing House Farmington PA USA Saint Augustine. The Confessions of Saint Augustine (trans by Edward Bouverie Pusey, 1921) Date Retrieved February 20, 2010 from 12
http://www.scribd.com/doc/898600/The-Confessions-of-Saint-Augustine-bySaint-Augustine Schindler. D.C (2002). Freedom Beyond our Choosing: Augustine on the Will and Its Object: International Catholic Review. Lexington Books Spring pp 619-653 Xiaochen, Du (2008). The Philosophy of Saintliness: Notes on the thoughts of Levinas. Journal of Chinese Philosophy. http://psychology.wikia.com/wiki/Empathy-altruism
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