About Steven Dunn

Steven Dunn is the author of "Hellenistic Christendom," a blog with a primary focus on the philosophy of religion and other philosophical/theological subjects relevant to his interests (existentialism, metaphysics, philosophy of mind, etc.).

Søren Kierkegaard: A Christian Thinker

In my previous treatment of Kierkegaard (S.K., hereafter) as a relevant Christian thinker of our day, I drew upon basic themes in S.K. to illuminate an apologetic for the imagination, so to speak. One of these basic yet classic themes in S.K. was “truth as subjectivity.” For such a phrase, S.K. has (wrongfully) been acclaimed a relativist, or a fideist.

But my goodness! S.K. has also been said to be a European moralist, a postmodernist, an existentialist, a poet, a psychologist, and much more. Among the receptions of 20th century scholarship there is also a cloud of smoke: the reader’s (sometimes reluctant) yielding to S.K.’s desire to be read as he intended, or attempting to retrieve an understanding of the “man” through his Journals, among other such “clouds.” I wish to take S.K. to round two of the battlefied; not of an attack upon “Establishment Christianity” (as he saw it), but to a retrieval of S.K. from his critics [1].

Setting the Record Straight 

Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (1813-1855) is a very interesting philosopher and individual who has gained my undivided attention over the past year. His use of indirect communication, irony, satire, and impressive wit make him a rather unprecedented – or perhaps ‘unusual’ – thinker of his time. Even as a boy, by the testament of fellow classmates [2], he was not one blessed with the powers of physical strength, but God nonetheless left him with his uncanny wit, so that he might not be left completely defenseless. As one classmate recollects:

As a boy, he did not have the least trace of the great poetic gifts he later developed. Now and then, when our classmate H. P. Holst would read us his attempts at poetry or a Danish composition which displayed his poetic talents, S.K. was always one of the first to interupt his reading by throwing a book at his head (Kirmmse 1996, 8).

Other instances such as this, left the young S.K. (“fork” as he was called) with much of a beating from other classmates he annoyed and ridiculed. Such a wit he maintained and executed all throughout his life. However, should the reader not be too upset, I would like to (though it is custom) pass over a biographical sketch of S.K. and get right to the meat of his thought (please see note [3] on this). The question of this article is basically this: Is Kierkegaard a relevant Christian thinker for today? [4]

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3 Considerations for the Ontological Argument

For those of us familiar with the ontological argument, we may also be familiar with Immanuel Kant’s “textbook critique” of the Anselmsian proof. To be clear, Kant’s criticism is two-fold: (1) A concept cannot be formed to guarantee its own instantiation (i.e., have an instance) in extra-mental reality. For instance, whether or not the idea of a supreme being corresponds to any reality outside the human mind cannot be settled a priori (as Anselm allegedly tried to do). (2) Although existence is a grammatical predicate, it differs from other predicates in that its logical function is not to add a further component to a concept.

The “textbook criticism” that I am referring to is (2) – the famous “existence is not a predicate” objection. This is a philosopher’s fancy way of saying that you can’t define something into existence. A common analogy used is the idea of having 100$ dollars in my pocket compared to actually having 100$ in my pocket. Surely the latter is greater, but that doesn’t mean that there actually exists 100$ in my pocket.


(I) The Ontological Flaw of Kant

I wanted share some thoughts given to me by my personal mentor (you can view his pagehere). Kant’s criticism is similar to Aquinas’ but with an important and different emphasis. Aquinas would have one concern with regard to God’s essence is his existence and vice versa. However, only God has this pure “esse.” The reason Kant’s criticism holds some weight is because we don’t know God directly, so we can’t know God through the linkage of essence and existence. However, God in Scripture still reveals Himself as such a being (e.g., “I AM who AM”). So, on some level Kant and criticism (2) is flawed. Specifically, not in an epistemological sense but ontologically in regard to God.

However, in regard to us and all created beings it is a legitimate objection as accidents exist only in the context of matter and differentiation of such matter (or, in the case of angels as differentiated essence with limited accident attributes; or even possibly as unique created essences much like Leibniz’s monads). Created matter is an instantiated essence and that essence will always have accidents. The absence of either on some level implies the absence of the other.

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Five Ontological Arguments

rembrandt-456I find it difficult to critique something if you have not read the argument (assuming, for example, it is in a textual or narrative form) in its designated context. We moderns may struggle with a plethora of classical problems that contained phenomena, terms and language that don’t quite mean the same as they used to. For instance, those who have read the Republic will find it strange that only a third of the book deals with political theory (or “statescraft”) as such (Havelock 1963: 3). Even more strangely, it is Plato’s attack on poetry that consumes almost the entire first half of the book.

Anselm’s ontological argument contains somewhat of the same struggle. If we follow the initial premise of the argument (God is “something than which nothing greater can be thought” is understood) to its conclusion, that this God exists in reality, we tend to see a rather big leap made by Anselm. However, what one has to understand is that Anselm was a Christian as well as a neo-Platonist. Like Plato, he saw that ideas (mental things) had a different kind of reality than nonmental things. Hence, it is vastly different to say that “the best possible” thought of a thing must exist in reality, than to say that ideas correspond to a certain kind of reality than “real” things do (Davies 1998: xii-xiii).

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The Legitimate Use of Pascal in Apologetics

I have written two prior treatments of Christian philosophers’ usefulness in apologetics* and here I wish to add another to the list: French philosopher Blaise Pascal (1632-1662). Pascal is widely known for his work in mathematics and science, although his recognition and focus on religion and philosophy wouldn’t come until later in his life. In 1654, where not too long before, physics and mathematics were regarded as secondary in his mind, Pascal experienced a life-changing religious conversion, which led him to a life of devotion and theology as his primary concerns.

Pascal became a close associate of a group of ascetics known as “Jansenists,” named after the Dutch Bishop Jansenius (1585-1638) who wrote a famous treatise on St. Augustine entitled the Augustinus (1640). The influence the group had on Pascal would (in part) lead to his emphasis on the corruption of human sin and the need for divine, irresistible grace. When Pascal died in 1662 of an undiagnosed illness, there was a paper found stitched into his jacket: “The God of Abraham, The God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and the scholars.” This demonstrates, in a brief statement (among others), the skepticism Pascal applied to the power of philosophy.  [Read more…]

Objection(s) to the Ontological Argument

It may be strange to some that there are philosophical objections raised by Christians against arguments for belief in God. For example, St. Anselm’s “Ontological Proof” (as it would come to be called) was taken under a critical lens when Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) took consideration of the argument in his epic Summa Theologiae (ST hereafter). Over the last year or so, I have written numerous defenses of Anselm’s argument as well as criticisms so as to see if we have a legitimate and defensible argument for God’s existence.

Gaunilo and Kant’s criticism aside, there are several other considerable objections to the argument that I think are serious enough to address. Two in particular come to mind. Mortimer J. Adler (1980) makes the point in his book How to Think About God that existential propositions do not entail logical necessity. As he writes at length:

No existential proposition can be self-evidently true or necessarily true. When we have direct perceptual acquaintance with a particular individual, the existence of that individual is evident to us, but the proposition which asserts that the individual exists is not self-evident, nor is its truth necessary. Self-evident propositions are propositions which we know to be true directly from our understanding of their component terms, not by process of reasoning or inference. (Adler 1980: 104)

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