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Vienna, June 8th 2013

Kierkegaard und sterreich, 1813 2013


Let me start by thanking Kristina Madsen and Gerhard Thonhauser for having invited me to

come here and talk today, and for having come up with the great topic for this conference. I

am sure that all who are here now share the view that the late nineteenth and early twentieth

century indeed was an extremely exciting time in Austria and in Vienna in particular.

Und nun zu den Sachen selbst!

Alle Stze sind gleichwertig.

Der Sinn der Welt mu auserhalb ihrer liegen. In der Welt ist alles wie es ist und geschieht

alles wie es geschieht; es gibt in ihr keinen Wert und wenn es ihn gbe, so htte es keinen


Wenn es einen Wert gibt, der Wert hat, so mu er auserhalb alles Geschehens und So-Seins

liegen. Denn alles Geschehens und So-Sein ist zufllig.

Was es nicht-zufllig macht, kann nicht in der Welt liegen; denn sonst wre dies wieder


Es mu auserhalb der Welt liegen.

Darum kann es auch keinen Stze der Ethik geben. Stze knnen nichts Hheres ausdrcken.

Es ist klar, da sich die Ethik nicht aussprechen lt.

Die Ethik ist transcendental.

(Ethik und Aesthetik sind Eins.) (Wittgenstein, TLP, 6.4 6.421)

These peculiar sentenses stemming from the latter part of Tractatus Logico-Philosohicus (or

Logisch-philosophische Abhandlung), first published in 1921, hint at a possible connection

between Kiekegaard and Wittgensteins early understanding of his work, which Allan Janik

and Stephen Toulmin unfold in their book Wittgensteins Vienna from 1973, namely that

Wittgenstein in Kierkegaards writings perceived a strong division between knowledge and

faith or belief or as Janik and Toulmin frase it Kierkegaard made the separation of the

sphere of facts from that of values an absolute one. (Janik/ Toulmin, 1973, p.161)Hence the

claim is that Tractatus is an exposition of this strong division, at once giving full legitimacy to

the language of science and facts, while at the same time keeping the window open to that

which this language cannot entail, because it does not belong to this world. This unsayable

which seems indeed to be the most important question in life yet one which, in Tractarian

vein can neither be rightfully stated nor rightfully answered: Die Lsung des Rtzel des

Lebens in Raum und Zeit liegt auerhalb von Raum und Zeit. ( 6.4312) and Es gibt

allerdings Unaussprechliches. Dies zeigt sich, es ist das Mystische. ( 6.522), thus radically

escapes the inquirer. This understanding of Wittgensteins connection to Kierkegaard will be

the outset and form the gereral outline of this paper. However, before we get too deep into the

question thus posed, let me return to the beginning and make some more general

introductory remarks.


I have been invited here today to talk about Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard. As the title

reveals, I intend to talk about both the influence that Kierkegaard may have had on

Wittgenstein, and a possible manner in which Wittgensteins thoughts may be used to

illuminate some complex aspects of the Kierkegaardian opus. The latter will come to take up

the lesser space, and will merely hint at some of the ideas that my daily work with these two

thinkers is minded toward.

The question of whether and if, and if, how so Kiekegaards writings may or may not have had

an impact on Wittgensteins thinking is of interest to us, so I believe, in the sense that it may

hint at some aspects of Wittgensteins thoughts which might otherwise remain hidden or


So, the first task must be to say something about a possible Kierkegaardian influence on

Wittgenstein. This task, however straight forward it may appear, has a number of dubious

traits to it. Firstly, we know that Wittgenstein did indeed read Kierkegaard, although we do

not know of all the works by him that Wittgenstein was in contact with. The problem of this

fact is what kind of significanse we attribute to it. There has been a relatively recent trent (Jon

Steward, Jamie Turnbull, Bruce Kirmsee and others) running over the past decade at least

of becoming very intimate with the contemporary era of a thinker, not least in relation to who

this person read, whom he was in contact with, stood in opposition to, etc. This reseach is very

valuable in terms of assessing more accurately the context from which a kind of thinking

sprang, but the question is in relation to philosophy how do we make good use of such

thorough contextualization? As a source of explanation in some respects, it is very strong it

helps us to place thoughts that can be difficult to get a grasp of otherwise, it makes the strains

of originality take on a different awe, but does it in any final sense, philosophically, explain the

thoughts to us? I suppose the fear might be that we should come to think it possible by way of

circumstantial knowledge alone to somehow gain a priveledged access to understanding a

text. This is where I have my reservations. Hence, I will make an attempt, based on other

researchers whose work has been much more involved in this task of tracing possible

influences and repercussions of these in the writings of Wittgenstein to outline some

Kierkegaardian aspects of Wittgensteins writings, yet at the same time I will do so with the

reservation that it is not my intention to somehow reconstruct how the thoughts of

Wittgenstein developed and necessarily came to be just what they came to be. Another,

smaller reservation is that, of course, knowing that someone has very likely read something, is

by no means the same as knowing what that person made of it. This is almost boring in its

base observation, but it is clear that we can read things with very different mindsets and are

quite capable, at least this goes for me of reading something and making surprisingly little of

it. Thus, the most interesting aspect of what Wittgenstein thought of Kierkegaard is

presumably, on this understanding anyway, to detect ways in which it may be seen to surface

in his own thinking.

The idea to juxtapose the two gentlemen or investigate a possible kierkegaardian influence on

Wittgenstein is by no means new, and often times the question of religiosity has been at the

heart of such readings whether directly or more indirectly, by e.g. focusing on the question

of the unsayable and nonsense as is the case withJames Conant, D.Z. Phillips, Daniel Hutto

and John Lippitt, M. Jamie Ferreira, and Stanley Cavell.

The most prominent monographs published on the two to date are Charles Creegans

Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard: Religion, Individuality, and Philosophical Method from 1989, to

the best on my knowledge also the first monograph published on the two thinkers, Mariele

Nientieds Kierkegaard und Wittgenstein: Hineintauschen in das Wahre from 2003, and Genia

Schnbaumsfelds: A Confusion of the Spheres: Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein on Philosophy and

Religion from 2007. Of the three, Genia Schnbaumsfeld provides perhaps the most

comprehensive survey of the knowledge that we possess to date regarding Wittgensteins

contact with Kierkegaards writings. This knowledge is gathered from a series of different

sources ranging from Wittgensteins own remarks in his notebooks with both direct

references to Kierkegaard and indirect thematic and conceptual references, journal entries by

Wittgenstein, letters of correspondence that he exchanged with friends and family,

recollections of conversations that have been written down by his former students and

friends primarily by Norman Malcolm, M. OConnor Drury, and O.K. Bouwsma, and

knowledge of the fact that Wittgenstein in 1914 donated part of his inheritance to the editor

of the Austrian magazine Der Brenner, Ludwig von Ficker, for him to destribute between

artists in need of his own choice (Schnbaumsfeld, 2007, p. 14; Monk, 1990, pp. 106 110)

the only condition being that Ficker should keep a designated portion of the money for his

own publication (Monk, 1990, p. 108). One of the beneficiaries that Ficker chose was the

German writer Theodor von Haecker who at this time was publishing translations into

German of selected parts of Kierkegaards authorship in Der Brenner (Schnbaumsfeld, 2007,

p. 14). These translations appeared in Der Brenner between 1913 and 1921, and during this

period of time, Wittgenstein received from 1914 onwards all the publications that the

magazine managed to put out, as a sign of grattitude for his donation.

Genia Schnbausfeld argues that it is likely that Wittgenstein was familiarized with

Kierkegaard at an early age, since, reportedly, he was the favorite writer of Wittgensteins

intellectual older sister, Magarete (KurtWuchterlandAdolfHbner,Wittgenstein

(Hamburg:Rowohlt,1979),30/ Schnbaumsfeld, p. 14). However, apart from Wittgensteins

possible reading of Der Brenner, the first direct mentioning of Kierkegaard, falls in a letter

sent from Wittgensteins sister, Hermine, on December 20th 1917 while Wittgenstein was

kept as a prisoner of war in an Italian POW camp. The letter testifies to the fact that

Wittgenstein had written to his sister, asking her to send him some books by Kierkegaard.

From Hermines letter we know that she mailed him a number of volumes by Kierkegaard,

one of which was The Seducers Diary, but the rest of which are unfortunately not mentioned

by titles (Schbaumsfeld, 2007, p. 14 15). After the war, direct references to Kierkegaard

appear in some letter-correspondences between Wittgenstein and his friends Paul Engelmann

and Ludwig Hnsel (Schnbaumsfeld, p. 17), and in 1922 Wittgenstein mentions Kierkegaard

in relation to a dream he had had with the following remark: During the whole time I kept

thinking about Kierkegaard and that my condition is fear and trembling. (Schbaumsfeld,

2007, p. 26/ Licht und Schatten 13.1.1922) A decade or so later, Kierkegaard is mentioned by

Wittgenstein in relation to the impossibility of meaningfully expressing ethical thoughts (in

language) in a conversation which Wittgenstein had with Friedrich Waismann in December

1929. Here Wittgenstein says the following:

Der Mensch hat den Trieb, gegen die Grenzen der Sprache anzurennen. Denken sie z.B. an das

Erstaunen, da etwas existiert. Das Erstaunen kann nicht in die Form einer Frage ausgedrckt

werden, und es gibt auch gar keine Antwort. Alles, was wir sagen mgen, kann a priori nur

Unsinn sein. Trotzdem rennen wir gegen die Grenzen der Sprache an. Dieses anrennen hat

auch Kierkegaard gesehen und es sogar ganz hnlich (als Anrennen gegen das Paradoxon)

bezeichnet. Dieses Anrennen gegen die Grenze der Sprache ist die Ethik. (Waismann, 1965, p.


It is worth noticing here, how paradox, which in Kierkegaard relates to faith (or that God

became man amongst us, in time), is understood as the expression of that which is non-

factual, and hence cannot find the expression in language, i.e. the countering of knowledge

and faith.

Later in the nineteen-thirties we find a number of direct as well as thematic references to

Kierkegaard in Wittgensteins notebooks and journals.(cut)

In one of them, Wittgenstein writes this uplifting entry:

My conscience is tormenting me and is preventing me from working. I have been reading in

Kierkegaards writings and this has made me even more anxious than I was already.

(Schnbaumsfeld, 2007, p. 26/ Denkbewegungen, p. 77), edited by Ilse Somavilla.

From 1938 we also have some lecture notes, taken by one of Wittgensteins students, known

as lectures on religious beleif with indirect, thematic references to Kierkegaard (Hustwit,

1997).In the nineteen-fourties, we find scattered remarks in Wittgensteins notebooks with

some references to Kierkegaard, one example is the following:

Das Christentum sagt unter anderm, glaube ich, da alle guten Lehren nichts ntzen. Man

msse das Leben ndern. (Oder die Richtung des Lebens.)

Da alle Weisheit kalt ist; und da man mit ihr das Leben so wenig in Ordnung bringen kann,

wie man Eisen kalt schmiden kann.

Eine gute Lehre nmlich mu einen nicht ergreifen; man kann ihr folgen wie einer Vorschrift

der Arztes. Aber hier mu man von etwas ergriffen und umgedreht werden. (D.h., so

verstehe ichs.) Ist man umgedreht, dann mu man umgedreht bleiben.

Weisheit ist Leidenschaftslos. Dagegen nennt Kierkegaard den Glauben eine Leidenschaft.

(Wittgenstein, VB, p. 525 (1946)).

It is interesting with this emphasis on something catching a hold of you and turning you

around, i.e., one is put through faith to a different position in life; being turned to life

differently. And, once again, the antagonism of knowledge and faith or here Lehre/ Weisheit

vs. faith and passion.

After his death in 1951, a number of memoirs published by Wittgensteins friends and

acquaintances saw the day of light. As mentioned earlier, most notably those by Drury,

Malcolm, and Bouwsma. In all of these we find recordings of conversations in which

Kierkegaard came up.

E.g. Drury quotes Wittgenstein for having said the following:

Kierkegaard was by far the most profound thinker of the last century. Kierkegaard was a

saint. (Quoted by M. OC. Drury, in Rhees, Recollections of Wittgenstein, 87, Schnbaumsfeld,

2007, p. 18).

If nothing else, this quote makes clear that Wittgenstein held Kierkegaard in high esteem, and

that it is no coincidence that we find reflections on his thinking spread throughout

Wittgensteins remarks. Many more examples could be given on different ways in which

Kierkegaardian thoughts make their appearance in Wittgensteins, but I think the above is

enough to instate a general idea.

You may be wondering now about what books by Kierkegaard Wittgenstein actually read.

Based on recounting what can be found in the works of Schnbaumsfeld, Glebe-Mller,

Hustwit and others, this is the general picture that I have come up with: We know from a

comment made by Norman Malcolm, that Wittgenstein supposedly read Concluding

unscientific Postscript (Malcolm, 1966, p. 71), Glebe-Mller argues that he must have also been

familiar with The Instant, and Schnbaumsfeld that he must have read Fear and Trembling,

Practice in Christianity,Philosophical Fragments,and The Concept of Anxiety, whileStages on

Lifes Way is referenced to by Hustwit as having been the outset for Wittgensteins

explanation of Kierkegaard to one of his students. Judging on what was published by Theodor

Haeker between 1913 and 1921 in Der Brenner, it is also plausible that he was familiar with

some of Prefaces, the discourse At a Graveside from Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions,

the discourse The Thorn in the Flesh from Four Upbuilding Discourses, A Critique of the

Present Age, andsome journal entries from 1835 and 1836 (Schnbaumsfeld, 2007, p. 14).

Some arguments are stronger than others in terms of assessing what Wittgenstein had read

by Kierkegaard, but it seems plausible, judging on the subjects that he brings up in different

remarks that he had a fairly brought contact with Kierkegaards works. A very surprising

remark by H.D.P. Lee is the following: (Wittgenstein) told me that he learned Danish in order

to be able to read Kierkegaard in the original, and clearly had a great admiration for him,

though I never remember him speaking about him in detail. (Schnbaumsfeld, 2007, p. 22/ H.

D. P. Lee, Wittgenstein 192931, Philosophy 54 (1979): 218).

Now, whatever we may know about Wittgensteins having or not having read this or that by

Kierkegaard, it is clear, as I also indicated at the outset of this paper, that what must be of

main interest to us is how these readings manifest themselves in Wittgensteins own thinking.

Some examples have been given above, of course, but let us now turn back to the question

that was briefly outlined in the beginning the question of a division between faith and

knowledge or facts and values, and how this thought seems to be a recurrent concern of

Wittgensteins throughout his own work.


In 1929 Wittgenstein delivered a lecture presumably to the society The Heretics in

Cambridge, the lecture had no title but has since been published in the The Philosophical

Review in 1965 (vol. 74), bearing simply the title A Lecture on Ethics. Although I wish

eventually to return to the quote with which I started, taken from the Tractatus, I will first

draw out some main points from this later speech, granted that it seems to more clearly

pronounce some of the assumptions present in the Tractatus, and since its specific topic is

that of ethics which brings us closer to the question of how we may trace a Kierkegaardian

influence on just this aspect of Wittgensteins thinking. It has been argued that the speech

delivered in 1929 still espouses by and large a Tractarian conception of things(reference???),

and I am inclined to agree with this view, although I am not blind to possible differences.

In A Lecture on Ethics Wittgenstein takes his point of departure in this thought: he does not

want half heartedly to talk about something for an hour, such as logic, which could never be

understood even fragmentarily in such a space of time. Therefore he choses to talk about

something which he finds to be of general interest and which, presumably, can be talked

about in the course of an hour (LE, p. 4). I mention this because it seems to me important that

he makes this distinction and also thereby makes it clear that ethics is no science, which one

could half-haphazardly try to get a grasp of in a short amount of time. Ethics, then, is of a

different sort. Wittgenstein tries to make the listener see what may be meant by ethics and

concludes that what is common to all propositions that we should like to call ethical is that

they ascribe absolute value to certain words: typically words such as good, right,

valuable, figuring in such sentences as: ethics is the enquiry into what is valuable, or, into

what is really important, or () into the meaning of life. What he means by this is that,

whereas these words normally only have a relative sense, they are now endowed with an

absolute one. A relative sense of these words would be, e.g., this is a good cake or this is a

valuable car or, this is the right way to the opera. In all these cases good, right, and

valuable are relative to a pre-given standard (LE, p.5). We know how to determine whether

or not some way is the right one to the opera namely by making sure that it is the best way

to arrive by car or the fastest way or whatever standard we may instate in other words, the

truth or falsity of such statements is measurable by facts, since they merely state facts

(granted that Wittgenstein has quite a wide conception of facts here). He says: Now what I

wish to contend is that, although all judgments of relative value can be shown to be mere

statements of facts, no statement of fact can ever be, or imply, a judgment of absolute value.

(LE, p. 6, indeed, almost recalling Hume here).Unlike these relative senses, what the subject of

ethics is pointing to is to use these words as if they had absolute sense to live a good life,

thus, means to live life in such a way that by any thinkable standard it would be the best one,

that it is logically necessary that it should be so, whence it expresses absolute value. Now,

what Wittgenstein says is that such sense is senseless, because our words will only express

factsand no fact can be absolute (LE, p.7). Yet, he asks, what have all of us who, like myself,

are still tempted to use such expressions as absolute good, absolute value etc., what have

we in mind and what do we try to express? To answer this question, Wittgenstein gives some

personal examples, and these examples can only be personal, he claims, of situations in which

he would be inclined to use such expressions. One of the examples he provides us with is the

following: when I have it, I wonder at the existence of the world. Roughly speaking

Wittgenstein concludes by saying that what distinguishes this kind of wonder is that its

wonder is not one that has the opportunity of putting something else in its place to that on

which it wonders imagining the non-existence of the world is not a possibility to us and

therefore, he says, wonder of this sort is one in which the world is experienced as a miracle.

I.e., it is seen in an entirely different manner, and not as something, which could be the object

of scientific investigation (LE, p.11), since if it were to be considered as such it would lose that

which made it miraculous in the first place a miracle, if viewed as such, is not something that

has not yet been given its place in science, but is an entirely different experience of conceiving

of something. However, it is also not something that our language can express meaningfully.

What his investigation of ethics amounts to, is that we cannot express what we should like to

when talking such that our effort charges against the boundaries of language by trying to go

beyond the world, beyond significant language (LE, p. 11), and yet, it is said to be a

tendency in the human mind (LE, p. 12).

Immediately following this Lecture on Ethics we are introduced to some notes on talks with

Wittgenstein which was quoted above. The central point is that Wittgenstein here mentions

Kierkegaard as someone who saw the same inclination to run against the boundaries of

language. I will quote the latter part again:

Alles, was wir sagen mgen, kann a priori nur Unsinn sein. Trotzdem rennen wir gegen die

Grenzen der Sprache an. Dieses anrennen hat auch Kierkegaard gesehen und es sogar ganz

hnlich (als Anrennen gegen das Paradoxon) bezeichnet. Dieses Anrennen gegen die Grenze

der Sprache ist die Ethik. (Waismann, 1965, p. 12)

Now, if we recall the interpretation that I mentioned at the outset of this paper, namely that

made by Janik and Toulmin in their work Wittgensteins Vienna, then we may consider how to

make sense of all this if we grant them that what Wittgenstein was up to was not merely to

pave the way for a liberation of language from all nonsense, but likewise to make impossible

all ill-founded attempts at justifying some stale understanding of values. By insisting that all

sentences can only have the same value Alle Stze sind gleichwertig, and that the meaning of

the world, if there is a such, can only lie outside the world, Der Sinn der Welt mu auserhalb

ihrer liegen, it is made impossible to argue for any theory of ethics in which something

could be expressed as having absolute value. What I would like to argue is that this can also be

expressed thus that there is an incessable divide between knowlege and faith (wissen und

glauben), and that, when it comes to faith, no teaching or doctrine will ever suffice, because

indeed there is no-thing as such to be taught. This kind of reading is also exersiced by M. Jamie

Ferreira (Ferreira, 1994, pp. 29 44), when she argues, with Cora Diamond and James Conant,

for a manner of understanding the Tractarian nonsense as nonsense(Reference???). She

argues that the nonsense that Wittgenstein talks about in the latter part of Tractatus, as well

as in the Lecture on Ethics, cannot be meant to point to a some-thing which we are just

incapable of saying what happens on the contrary is that the manner of pondering this

question is turned around to the one asking or the one having the experience of wondering

at the existence of the world, as Wittgenstein does in the above referenced lecture (cf. also

what he says explicitly to Waismann in 1930). Because one thing is that nothing meaningful

as in the formulation of a theory can ever be said in this respect, another is that the human

being has a strong inclination to ask thus (think here also of the manner in which Kant opens

his Vorrede to the first Kritik).

Let us return for a moment to the reading proposed to us by Janik and Toulmin. What

differentiates their reading of the early Wittgenstein from other readings until that time, is

among other things that it considers a strong influence from the tradition from Kant, which

according to Janik and Toulmin was radicalized with Kierkegaards distinction between

reason and values. They formulate it as follows:

The process which Kant had set in motion by distinguishing the speculative and the

practical functions of reason, and which Schopenhauer kept moving by separating the world

as representation from the world as will, culminated in Kierkegaards total separation of

reason from anything that pertains to the meaning of life. Beyond this, for anyone who wanted

to produce teachings, there would be only one recourse: to devote himself to the writing of

parables expressing the points of view of those who had found the meaning of life in their own

living. (Janik and Toulmin, 1973, p. 161)

Their argument is further, and this is indeed the main thrust of the book, that these thoughts

had been incorporated into contemporary, late nineteenth, early twentieth century Viennese

culture or almost as a kind of counter-culture, in which many prominent writers, painters,

and musicians (many of whom frequented the Wittgenstein home in . Gasse) took to a

radical rooting out of old stale ideas of values and beauty embodied in the empty pompous

art of the fading monarchy; and people having lost faith, whence all that remained of values

and art were but empty shells. What these artists broadly speaking aimed at was clean air,

less bullshit, less fake foundations and justifications, combined with the very latest

discoveries in science and the striving to include new areas into the scientific realm such as

the work of Freud, e.g. In other words to separate facts and values. One prominent

contemporary critic, whom Wittgenstein was quite fond of was Karl Kraus, who published his

own magazine; Die Fackel (the one that eventually inspired von Ficker to make his Der

Brenner). What is said to be characteristic of his style and approach is exactly satire, irony, the

style of writing in aphorisms etc., that is, a manner of expression which does not directly state

a critique, but makes a such apparent through ridicule and irony and exposition of the

emptiness of what is being hung out to dry.

This contemporary trend makes it a bit easier to see, perhaps, how a Kierkegaardian influence

can be traced, and what vacuum Kierkegaardian thought could be hoped to help fill. It is thus

about time that we take a look at what Kierkegaard expresses in relation to this perceived

distinction between facts and value or between knowledge and faith. I have decided to draw

on the exposition that we meet in Concluding unscientific Postscript, under the pseudonym

Johannes Climacus.

Depending on how we understand a possible or inescapable schism between knowledge and

faith, it may be said to be the very central theme of the Postscript. Especially if we turn the

division a bit, and thereby make it visible that the question regarding faith has a radically

different point of departure than that concerned with knowledge and objectivity. It is namely

not so that the question of faith or subjectivity can merely be the object of objectivity, but

rather, that subjectively, one speaks about the subject and subjectivity and see, the

subjectivity itself is the case in point (CUP, 129). Thus, the inquirer must all the time beware

so as not to turn the point of view, and suddenly come to see it from that estranged objective

perspective in which no human being can live, as it is said. As you all know, there are many

layers in this starting point, not least a critique of the so-called speculative approach, but that

is not the most important aspect to us here. What is important is that subjectivity and

objectivity understood in this manner are not merely two different aspects of the same thing,

nor the exposition of the thought that something can be known or understood from these two

different perspectives. No, the claim is radical, and it argues but it does argue that only

subjectivity can bring us in any relation to those questions which are of the utmost

importance to us in life, the questions about our own existence, the ethico-religious questions.

The idea is that through knowledge and objectivity, we can only ever approach these

questions by approximation, i.e., we may believe that for every little new thing we discover in

the world, or for every new way of looking at certain things, we come a little bit closer to the

truth. Yet this conception of truth, to Climacus, is pure illusion. We may come closer to

knowing this or that fact about the animal kingdom and so on and so forth, but this kind of

knowledge will never, in all its unfathomable accumulation, bring us any closer to

understanding or knowing how to relate to the question of our own existence. Only

subjectively, because we as real human beings are infinitely interested in our own existence,

can we ask the question of our own existence, of faith etc. Now, it is easy to see how Janik and

Toulmin, and perhaps also Wittgenstein as is strongly suggested at the end of the Tractatus

could read this as a total separation of reason from anything that pertains to the meaning of

life. However, it seems to me pivotal that reason or knowledge for that matter does not stand

outside or opposed to the equation it is exactly through reason that we encounter, almost in

a Kantian vein, the need to relate to questions, which cannot be meaningfully stated nor

answered in any objective manner.

Consider the following quote:

When subjectivity is truth, the definition of truth must also contain in itself an expression of

the antithesis to objectivity, a momento of that fork in the road, and this expression will at the

same time indicate the resilience of the inwardness. Here is such a definition of truth: An

objective uncertainty, held fast through appropriation with the most passionate inwardness, is

the truth, the highest truth there is for an existing person. At the point where the road swings

off (and where that is cannot be stated objectively, since it is precisely subjectivity), objective

knowledge is suspended. Objectively he then has only uncertainty, but this is exactly what

intensifies the infinite passion of inwardness () (CUP, p. 203)

What is held fast here is not something other than the objective uncertainty, and therefore

truth can never be stated as a proposition as indeed, also Wittgenstein insists both in the

Tractatus and A Lecture on Ethics propositions talk only the language of objectivity, but

where the view is turned around, and it is not a matter of an object of knowledge but

ourselves in our existence that we contemplate (ask about), then the utmost that we can

achieve is the objective uncertainty pertaining to our own questioning and even this is in

some sense stating too much. The subjective to which we turn in this uncertainty is not

entirely unlike the experience, a personal, subjective experience, of which Wittgenstein

speaks when he says that I wonder at the existence of the world. Objectively this wonder

cannot be given any sense, because what is the question when we ask thus is not one of big

bang theories and the like, the question is exactly one of experiencing the world as a miracle,

and that is an entirely different attitude. Yet, it is realized through this limitation, through the

holding fast of this objective uncertainty, that what we wish to know can never be imparted to

us by means of that which holds us there, indeed that this that can never become a that. Now

this leads me to the next qualification of the same objective uncertainty, namely that of faith. A

few lines after the above quoted text from the CUP, Climacus continues:

But the definition of truth stated above is a paraphrasing of faith. Without risk, no faith. Faith

is the contradiction between the infinite passion of inwardness and the objective uncertainty.

If I am able to apprehend God objectively, I do not have faith; but because I cannot do this, I

must have faith, I must continually see to it that I hold fast the objective uncertainty, see to it

that in the objective uncertainty I am out on 70,000 fathoms of water and still have faith.

(CUP, p. 204)

If we compare this to what Wittgenstein says in the Tractatus, namely that anything that has

value or gives value lies outside the world, then it may be an immediate objection that to

Kierkegaard, in this case Climacus, what is important is that we are existing human beings and

that any value only has value because it is important to us here hence, that value, through us

comes to exist in the world. However, on second thought, this is perhaps saying too much.

Whereas it is the case that the human being, according to Anti-Climacus anyway, is said to be

a synthesis of the eternal and the temporal, the infinite and the finite and so on, and that

therefore it must be assumed that the eternal and infinite, that which lends value to all else,

cannot merely lie outside the world, it is perhaps the case that this is a very legitimate way of

putting it. Here is a possibility of how we may think it; every aspect of the infinite, the eternal

etc. in some sense pertains to faith, i.e., the objective uncertainty held fast in infinite passion.

Thus, the existing human being is merely existing and holds fast to no-thing, to uncertainty,

but in this holding fast we are minded toward the question of existence in a way that

transcends this existence as when Wittgenstein says die Ethik ist transcendental i.e., any

claim to stating something as having more value than other statements, transcends what we

are able to do with language, it bounces against the paradox, and yet it bounces. But this

bouncing lends no answers the risk is to bounce, and find no answers, and still have faith.

And language lends us no answer, and no way of stating these questions without them

immediately being thrown back at themselves.

A relevant question to me might very well be, why do you focus on this perceived divide

between knowledge and faith rather than focusing on the unsayable or the ineffable (as other

commentators do, cf. the ones that I mentioned at the outset)? My insistence on knowledge

and faith, over and above the unsayable is related to the idea that whereas Wittgenstein does

get rid of this idea of the unsayable or ineffable, already in a talk to Waismann in 1930 about

Schlicks ethics i.e., only about one year after giving A Lecture on Ethics Wittgenstein

says the following: Die Reden der Religion sind auch kein Gleichnis; denn sonst mte man es

auch in Prosa sagen knnen. Anrennen gegen die Grenze der Sprache? Die Sprache ist ja kein

Kfig. (Waismann, 1965, p.14)., however, the question concerning the relation between

knowledge and faith arguably prevails. Although it changes character, and comes to reflect the

relative interdependence of the two, which, as I have argued above, we likewise find espoused

in the Postscript.

Now, what I wish to suggest, is that there is something in knowledge too which is

relativized by this conception of faith not merely that it is accidental, as Wittgenstein indeed

also holds in his early Tractarian view, but that knowing in any manner at all likewise

requires a certain, or perhaps exactly uncertain, kind of faith. This lies implicit in Climacus

view, insofaras objective uncertainty also questions knowledge itself, making it relative to

something other, which we cannot know. It is my contention that some aspect of faith in

knowledge is likewise to be found in Wittgensteins late writings, most explicitly in what has

posthumously been collectedin the work known as ber Gewiheit. In these remarks

Wittgenstein deals with the problem of what we mean when we use such phrases as I am

certain that or I am sure that or I cannot doubt that, and what is a common denominator

is that, whereas we can be more or less accurate in our usage of such phrases, when we

investigate what is meant by them, in the end we will arrive at a point in which we have to

content ourselves by saying that is the way we use them. Thus implicit in any certain

utterance is an underlying practice, which eventually amounts to a demonstration of faith in

how we go about saying something. It is clear that this idea of faith is quite a different one

than what Kierkegaard, or Climacus has in mind it is a kind of faith which is related to

practice, not to a subjective relating to that we are here in this existence and have to do

something with it. And yet, there are similarities. It is a question, in both instances of how we

relate to something, and the primary concern is for us to know how to move on (as a matter of

faith and a matter of fact) and this is, indeed, at stake in both instances. Faith here is thus

put forth in that sense of faith which holds fast to the uncertainty, that one can never in a final

sense overcome it if one could, as Climacus says, then there would be no faith.


Now, as promised, I will end my talk by returning to Kierkegaard via Wittgenstein. If we hold

on to the idea that any theorizing about ethics can only go wrong, because it inherently will be

an attempt at placing oneself outside or above the world, then it seems that the method by

which one choses to talk of such matters becomes of the utmost importance. Their methods of

writing is exactly something, which poses a peculiar problem to any reader of both

Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein, as already Charles Creegan pointed out in his book from 1989,

and this may be related back to their resistance to making a theory or a doctrine.

One way in which Kierkegaard does this, I argue, is by constantly turning the readers view

around letting different aspects of the same problem come into view, yet in such a way that

ones gaze is never forced to remain fixed in one particular way. Recalling what I said above

about knowledge and faith, this is a manner of keeping the objective uncertainty always in

play, thus hindering an actual theory of that which he wants to bring into view, namely the

moment of faith in all human involvement. Most abundantly in the remarks posthumously

published as Bemerkungen ber die Philosophie der Psychologie, Wittgenstein presents us to

the idea of Aspektwechsel. The idea is used by Wittgenstein in a variety of ways to

demonstrate that we have the ability to see something different in the same. But not only that,

he claims that it is only when suddenly seeing the same as something else, that we realize we

were seeing an aspect in the first place. Wenn nicht der Wechsel des Aspekts vorlge, so gbe

es nur einer Auffassung, nicht ein so oder so sehen. (BPP, 436) While this is of course related

to seeing, what I wish to suggest is that this may be a useful way of considering Kierkegaards

writings, because also in his manner of writing it is a constant challenge to the reader that the

same is presented always anew, hence making the reader realize that there was a way of

seeing which was hidden perhaps in its obviousness.

This seeing the same as something else or seeing something different in the same, may call to

mind the idea of faith as being that of seeing from an entirely different perspective, i.e. not

laying claim to an objective certainty but realizing that one is capable of being minded

towards the same in a different manner. Thus, one in one sense sees the same in pondering

existence, and yet sees it as something entirely different. What is important is that

Wittgenstein holds that seeing something differently also entail relating to it in a different

manner we would need to speak of it differently too, e.g. Now, if eventually there is no way

of talking about matters of faith in such a way that the spoken can be made into a theory, and

yet we still wish to speak, then making the same continuously stand out in new ways is a

possibility of changing the way in which we are able to position ourselves in relation to our

own understanding not relating to some-thing, but holding on to the un-knowledgeable


Though their points of departure are so very different, Wittgensteins that of language,

and Kierkegaards that of the question of existence, it seems to me, that they meet in a strong

resistance to building theories, and that this is for both of them related to a fundamental

problem of knowing and having faith (or indeed what we mean by it when we employ such

words). Neither the early nor the late Wittgenstein saw it possible to view language and the

world from without, but only from within, but the later Wittgenstein, perhaps related to the

realization that knowledge and faith are not as totally separated as he had first anticipated,

stakes out language in a much more nuanced, complex, and finally indefinable way than he

had done earlier. What I hope to have suggested is that this move, whether or not inspired by

Kierkegaard, reflects to an even greater extend the common battlefield between knowledge

and faith in human communication.