Kierkegaard on the Ethical Imagination

Journal of Religious Ethics 10 (2):204 - 220 (1982)
Abstract
Despite Kierkegaard's continual awareness of the dangers of the imagination, he nevertheless redeems the imagination by placing it at the heart of the ethical and religious life. The aim of this paper is to focus on the shape of these positive ways of "being imaginative" in the ethical sphere--aspects which in large part continue in the higher religious stages. Judge William's somewhat obscure discussion of the "actual self" and "ideal self" in "Either/Or", Vol. II, is the clue to how a person's imaginative capacities are harnessed in subjectivity. To illuminate this, the paper examines the imagination's relation to choice, the manner in which the imagination opens the "inner infinity" of the ethical, the imagination's relation to kinesis, and its complex character as the expression for both possibility and the concrete in personality as unified in a dynamic ethical repetition which gives transparency and continuity to the self. Given these new roles for the imagination, Kierkegaard is able to transcend both Romantic and Idealist notions of the "individual," and importantly modifies Hegel's concept of the self, which outwardly appears so similar to Kierkegaard's. In effect, Kierkegaard redeems the imagination by the ethical, and redeems the ethical by means of the imagination. The imagination emerges as a complex and rich ethical concept, for the imagination is a medium of possibility, an activity of idealizing, a passion which contributes to resolution, an organ for the concrete, and a disposition. The paper concludes with a brief sketch of how, in Kierkegaard's understanding, the religious and especially Christian forms of existence continue, yet crucially alter, this imagination of repetition.
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