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Passionate Epistemology: Kierkegaard on Skepticism, Approximate Knowledge, and Higher Existential Truth

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  • Throughout the article, honoring Kierkegaard's own wishes (Postscript, 627), I will largely cite the views presented as Climacus's, rather than Kierkegaard's. Cf. Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments, Vol. I, trans. and eds. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 627 . Subsequent citations will be entered as Johannes Climacus, Postscript, followed by page number(s). However, I also assume throughout (and sometimes show by citing Kierkegaard's journals) that the two largely overlap on the issues I examine, even though they differ on others. This overlapping assumption is defensible in light of two things: First, Kierkegaard changed his name from author to editor of Philosophical Fragments (also under the pseudonym Johannes Climacus) at the last minute, so he clearly sees a strong continuity between his own views and those of Johannes Climacus. Secondly, the issues I deal with in this article are shared in common by both Philosophical Fragments and Postscript, and indeed are prevalent throughout Kierkegaard's wider corpus and journals. Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, trans. and eds. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985). Subsequent citations will be entered as Johannes Climacus, Fragments, followed by page number(s). For a brief summary of Kierkegaard's use of pseudonyms generally, see note 5 below.

NATHAN P. CARSON, Assistant Professor and Philosophy Program Director, Fresno Pacific University. Specialties: nineteenth century philosophy, contemporary virtue ethics, Aristotle's ethics. E-mail: nathan.carson@fresno.edu

Abstract

In this article, I probe the extent of Kierkegaard's skepticism and irrationalism by examining the nature and limits of his “objective” and “approximate” knowledge. I argue that, for Kierkegaard, certain objective knowledge of contingent being is impossible and “approximate” knowledge of the same is funded by the volitional passion of belief. But, while Kierkegaard endorses severe epistemic restrictions, he rejects wholesale skepticism, allowing for genuine “approximate” knowledge of mind-independent reality. However, I further argue that we cannot ignore his criticisms of such knowledge because of its intrinsic dangers, and because epistemic limitations are crucial in developing religious selfhood before God.

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