Kierkegaard’s Deep Diversity: The One and the Many

In Mélissa Fox-Muraton (ed.), Kierkegaard and Issues in Contemporary Ethics. Boston: De Gruyter. pp. 51-68 (2020)
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Kierkegaard’s ideal supports a radical form of “deep diversity,” to use Charles Taylor’s expression. It is radical because it embraces not only irreducible conceptions of the good but also incompatible ones. This is due to its paradoxical nature, which arises from its affirmation of both monism and pluralism, the One and the Many, together. It does so in at least three ways. First, in terms of the structure of the self, Kierkegaard describes his ideal as both unified (the “positive third”) and plural (a “negative unity”). Second, he affirms a process which brings together unity, as implied by the linear notion of “stages”, with plurality, in the form of “spheres of existence” (aesthetic, ethical, and religious). And third, the culmination of the process implies that we should embrace both a unified dialectic (“Religiousness A”) alongside the plural remnants of the ethical/aesthetic, that is, both the infinity of the former and the finitudes of the latter. Unsurprisingly, while Kierkegaard describes those who are able to exemplify his ideal in practice as “always joyful,” he also considers the ideal to be “extremely hard, the hardest task of all.” This is why those such as Hubert L. Dreyfus are wrong to claim that it provides an experience of bliss; on the contrary, those who realize it “are always in danger.” As I shall show, one form this danger takes is that it threatens to dirty the hands of those who manage to uphold Kierkegaard’s ideal. Moreover, it does so in ways that, I claim, tend to be missed by Kierkegaard himself. Nevertheless, the danger is also essential to the creativity of his approach, and I conclude by pointing out how this creativity makes it capable of tackling one of the profoundest challenges in contemporary ethics: that arising from what just war theorists call a “supreme emergency.”



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Charles Blattberg
Université de Montréal

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Existence and ethics.Emmanuel Levinas - 1998 - In Jonathan Rée & Jane Chamberlain (eds.), Kierkegaard: A Critical Reader. Blackwell. pp. 26--38.

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