apolliana: (Mum)
"When claims involve a conflict or tension that stops short of actual logical conflict--of strict inconsistency--this is generally indicative of irony rather than paradox. It is ironic (rather than paradoxical) that the competent general must both protect his soldiery and endanger them by use, and that he cannot do the one without forgoing the other. It is ironic (rather than paradoxical) that the individual soldier cannot pursue glory without putting his life at risk" (Nicholas Rescher, Paradoxes, 7).


The tendency whenever we find someone carrying on some way of life with a tension in it is to suppose that it mustn't be a strict contradiction--else it would be impossible. But I'm not sure. The Knight of Faith might well become alienated, neither belonging in the world in which her belief is true nor in the world in which it is false. And alienation and irony, as we all know, go together. Contradictory beliefs tear one apart as much as purposes that slightly undermine each other. Rather, they do so insofar as one is given to maintaining a consistent set of beliefs.

It would not be quite right to call the Knight of Faith's position 'ironic'; it's tragic, perhaps impossible, but not ironic. Her attitude, on the other hand, might well be one of irony. There's no other way to go about it (that I could imagine, anyway): "Yes, this is what I'm doing--sacrificing my only son--; because I must, though I don't know why; here I am, doing it...." There is a difference between this sort of detachment, wide-eyed and believing and disbelieving, and the mood of wry, knowing irony.

The difference between the general in Rescher's example and the Knight of Faith can be made larger or smaller: whether the general's position literally involves a contradiction will depend on how we write it, and perhaps on how it figures in the intentions and beliefs of the person who holds it. "I've got to keep you safe so I can endanger you" is probably the belief and/or intention of someone who, if he or she falls into one of these two categories, is wry or ironic. "I must keep you safe in order to endanger you" is likewise. There will be detachment approaching the Knight of Faith's to the degree that wanting to do things that endanger one's troops and wanting to protect them are motives one has separately, and not as part of the compound that is the job description.

"I must endanger you in order to keep you safe" is closer to the Knight of Faith: an uncomprehending detachment in the face of a world--of a path through the world--that does not make sense. Here what's paradoxical is the causal relation between these two things. Though of course it may turn out that the causal relation was straightforward--just dependent on factors beyond the comprehension of the Knight. There are certainly cases in which one must go away from one's goal in order to reach it ("sometimes you have to go a great distance out of your way in order to come back a short distance correctly"). Though it tears one apart no less in the meantime. As with all contradictions.
apolliana: (Default)
In my sections, we discussed the process by which a Knight of Infinite Resignation becomes, if she does, a Knight of Faith. The difference between the two Knights, we will recall, is that the KIR knows that her central wish is unattainable, is resigned to that, but continues to act as if it were attainable. The Knight of Faith knows her end is unattainable, and simultaneously believes it is.

Of the transition, Kierkegaard says this:

"Infinite resignation is the last stage before faith, so that anyone who has not made this movement does not have faith; for only in infinite resignation does my eternal validity become transparent to me, and only then can there be talk of grasping existence on the strength of faith" (75).


Now, what does this mean? Infinite resignation seems to be a necessary step towards faith. My interpretation of what happens is characteristically (of me) nonreligious. Holding on to a wish the world refuses to grant puts one at odds with the world, in a way. Two pages prior, K. emphases the KIR's imperviousness to the world: "one who has infinitely resigned is enough unto himself" (73). That is, the Knight will not "lose the resilience of resignation" if, say, something changes with respect to the object of her wish. ("There was a person who also believed he had made the movement, but time went by, the princess did something else, she married, say, a prince, and his soul lost the resilience of resignation. He knew then that he had not made the movement correctly" (73).)

'Eternal validity', I believe, is a sort of boundless self-sufficiency with regard to one's estimation of whatever it is that is one's central wish. What the world does, doesn't matter; and cannot matter. One's own heart will be enough, indefinitely; the wish itself will seem to be the right one, indefinitely. That seals one off from the world, but also imparts strength. (This may be the strength K. is talking about in the delightful passage on the shirt of tears that "also gives better protection than iron and steel" (74), and which one has to make for oneself.) But how does that independence of heart take us to believing that one both will and will not attain one's wish?

Kierkegaard often talks of the rest of the world depending, for the KoF, on the Knight's central wish. I'm not sure how to render this poetic expression more precise, except perhaps to say that the KoF perceives her wish first, and the rest of the world after. The thing that matters most--and there is only one thing, for a Knight--seems bigger, more salient. When one has one's central wish, every other thing in life becomes valuable through that. The Knight of Faith attains that state through faith, with the result that one cannot tell a Knight of Faith from an ordinary person who is enormously content in various domains of her life.

The transition from KIR to KoF is made possible by the KIF's independence. If it does not matter what the world, the princess, the object of one's wish does, then one's belief that obtaining the object of one's wish is impossible might as well be independent from evidence too. Once one realizes that one will have a wish regardless of what the world does, that wish itself will seem to have a kind of 'truth': it is true that it will always be one's wish, and as the most important thing in the world, it is a particularly 'solid' kind of truth. It's still a leap from "I will always love the princess most of all things in the world" to "I will get the princess (even though I know it's impossible)." But if one will always have one's central wish regardless of what the world does, one might as well believe one will get it. Perhaps having a wish in the way a Knight does--intimately, foundationally for one's value-structure--amounts to having the object of one's wish. The princess in some way belongs to the non-princely Knight by virtue of his wish.
apolliana: (Default)
Kierkegaard's two Knights are individuals whose life is organized around a single concern/wish/purpose, the realization of which appears to them as thinking beings as possible, but which they nevertheless retain. The Knight of Infinite Resignation simply retains the wish while believing it's impossible (though she acts as if it's possible). The Knight of Faith goes further, and believes both that it is possible and that it isn't. There are two puzzling things to me about the Knight of Faith:
1. How the Knight arrives at her positive belief (i.e. 'Isaac will live,' or 'I shall have the princess,' e.g.) in the first place.

2. How the Knight is able to believe the contradiction made by conjoining her negative and positive beliefs (e.g. 'I will kill Isaac,' and 'Isaac will live' or 'I cannot have the princess,' and 'I shall have the princess').

2. How is the Knight of Faith able to believe a contradiction?


I will start with the second. It is, after all, because the Knight believes a paradox ("the absurd") that she is able to maintain her 'positive' belief. The most obvious response would be that the Knight does not believe both of these things in the same respect: that is, it's not a contradiction because the way in which the Knight's goal is "possible" to her and "impossible" to her are different. But I have trouble believing Kierkegaard didn't think of this and mean to exclude it. My intuition is that the key to the Knight's coherence, to the extent that she has any, has to lie in the juxtaposition not of beliefs that say what is not really contradictory, but in the two different modes in which the Knight exists--the 'finite world [which I assume to be 'the world of the understanding']' and the 'infinite [which I assume means 'spiritual'] world.'

The detachment from the world which "understanding rules" is accomplished before the knight-in-potentia becomes a Knight of Faith. This detachment is a crucial step: "for only in infinite resignation does my eternal validity become transparent to me, and only then can there be talk of grasping existence on the strength of faith" (75). Let's read "eternal validity" as the infinitude of the wish the Knight cannot rid himself of. In other words, as Kierkegaard says several times about the Knight(princess), that even love is something one can do entirely on one's own (72). So this paves the way for the simultaneous adoption of two perspectives--which Kierkegaard would describe as one of the finite world/understanding, and the infinite world/faith. The Knight of Faith can exist because her belief that she will attain her wish is somehow attuned to the world of faith, where impossibility doesn't mean impossibility. But the possibility the Knight is able to believe in is fulfillment in the finite world--not the Knight of Infinite Resignation's self-sufficient, resigned wishing.

Kierkegaard seems to agree with my previous claim that the Knight of Faith is not self-deceived: "Accordingly he [the Knight of Faith] admits the impossibility and at the same time believes the absurd; for were he to suppose that he had faith without recognizing the impossibility, with all the passion of his soul and with his heart, he would be deceiving himself, and his testimony would carry weight nowhere, since he would not even have come as far as infinite resignation" (76). A first stab at this argument might be that we cannot have what Kierkegaard calls "faith" without knowing that it's founded on something that in the finite world is not possible; and if we are deceiving ourselves by telling ourselves that it simply is possible, we're skipping the crucial steps of recognizing impossibility and believing anyway.

My students wanted to know how this kind of faith could be distinguished from ordinary cases of dogmatic false belief. The answer seems to be psychological: if the belief has the role in those individuals' psychology (i.e. foundational) that it has in the two Knights,' and if she is without illusions as to what is possible in the finite world, then she is well-placed for one of the two kinds of Knighthood.

1. How does the Knight of Faith arrive at her positive belief?


The basis for the Knight of Faith's positive belief is given by Kierkegaard, variously, as "the absurd," and "the fact that in God all things are possible." But perhaps "the absurd" (which for Kierkegaard means a paradox) could be the pair of contradictory beliefs itself--allowing for the existence of secular Knights, Knights who have faith, but neither in any tenets of Christianity, or on the basis of them. We're still left with the problem of where the positive belief comes from. I'd like to suggest that it comes from the discovery made in infinite resignation that one can have, if not the princess, then one's love; which is sufficient unto itself. That is, the love on its own is just as good; and one lives as if it were fulfilled, but does not quite take the next step towards believing it will be fulfilled. I'm not sure what makes the transition possible. Kierkegaard emphasizes the readiness with which Knights of Faith would welcome the fulfillment of their wishes, should it come; this seems to me like saying they wouldn't, in those circumstances, be resentful, or anxious, or unable to experience joy. They're ready to hit the ground running.

Could the positive belief of the Knight of Faith be based on an illusion--the illusion that their completed wish is just over the horizon, something they will be able to have on their own, made plausible by the self-sufficiency of their wish in the stage of infinite resignation? If one wishes hard enough, perhaps (thinks the Knight), the wish will become the completed wish, in the finite world but perhaps not through it. The illusion of the ability to affect the world through the use of one's spiritual prowess. That's an illusion I can understand.

But Abraham....who knows?




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apolliana: (Default)
"We're so vulnerable to being hurt that we're given the capacity to distort, as a gift" (End of Radiolab on Deception, about self-deception.)

"Fools and young people talk about everything being possible for a human being. But that is a great mistake. Everything is possible spiritually speaking, but in the finite world there is much that is not possible" (Fear & Trembling, 72-3).


I don't think ego-identifying commitments are ever really comprehensible to anyone else, except through analogy. There's a modern bias to present the self as infinitely malleable and adaptable--we don't want to think there are limits, for anyone. Having a hard time? Just change yourself! Change what you love! It's a lovely source of optimism, and sometimes it's true. But not always. It's not just an inability to see some new path that prevents change in longstanding depression. Any failure to see another path looks pathological to someone else. But there are parameters; and "it is a contradiction to forget the whole of one's life's content and still be the same." Why are we vulnerable to being hurt? Because we are committed to things. Perhaps we don't even want to admit that other people have these kinds of vulnerabilities, let alone ourselves; the immutabilities of others make us sigh. What is open to change for one person is not for another, so others' immutabilities never strike us as convincingly immutable. (Compare the truism about foreign policy: "America can never quite remember what others can never forget.") Self-deception is perhaps most necessary in relation to these unchangeable features of ourselves, since we have no other way out of them.

The Knight of Faith (princess variation) both believes that he won't get the princess, because he's not an idiot, and that he will. He takes two perspectives simultaneously: one that is responsive to the facts, and one that is independent of them. The latter he's learned from being a Knight of Infinite Resignation., wherein it is discovered that the love can continue in the absence of its object. Infinite resignation is resilient, insulated, but still defiant, as the Knight does not give up his wish. I'm not sure whether the simultaneous adoption of two perspectives ought to count as self-deception. My inclination is that it shouldn't; it's a careful balance between two views of things, of both of which the Knight is aware. "Self-deception" is biased towards the correctness of one of those viewpoints.

To Be Continued....




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