Review: “Kierkegaard’s Great Critique: Either/Or as a Kantian Transcendental Deduction;”

Ron Green, “Kierkegaard’s Great CritiqueEither/Or as a Kantian Transcendental Deduction;” in The International Kierkegaard Commentary, vol. 4:   Either/Or, Part II, pp. 139-53

 

 

Ron Green has really taken the lead in exploration of Kant’s influence on Kierkegaard.  While the Hegel-Kant connection has been debated by many writers and from various angles, Green has leapt past Hegel to look at the Kantian roots.  His book, Kierkegaard and Kant:  The Hidden Debt, examines (among other things) how Fear and Trembling can be fruitfully interpreted as a response to Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone; this article goes even further back to examine how Kant’s influence can be seen in the writings of Judge William.  There are some issues of content that are obvious:  Kant discusses duty in terms of “universal law,” William in terms of the “duty to realize the universal.”  Green goes further in also looking at the form of the argument in E/O, comparing it to the structure of Kant’s Critiques. As he points out, Kant undertakes his transcendental deduction following a form laid down in German law, governing property claims between petty nobles:  start with what is granted by both, explore the lineage of the claim, and deduce what must be true for this given to have been true.  The first Critique starts with sense experience, and with the claim that sense experience is all that there is.  Exploring the nature of sense experience, Kant argues that in fact a number of a priori concepts must be assumed for sense experience to be what it is.

William does something similar, although his manner is far less formal and systematic.  The experience he starts with is first love.  A writes extensively about love, falling in love, the passion of love, and so on; and the Judge points out to him that he really does believe in first love.  However, A also believes that only the aesthetic is real; he rejects eternal ethical principles and claims that as soon as duty is mentioned, love goes out the window.  Judge William points out that the promise of love is that it is forever; lovers say things like “I shall love you as long as there are stars in the sky,” swear that their love will outlive life itself, and (regularly in dramas and occasionally in life) even die for love.  William argues that A’s principles cannot explain this, which is why he ends up mocking first love even though he really longs for it (see his review of Scribe’s play).  Only the ethical believes that first love can endure, and it does so by arguing that it ought to last, lovers ought to keep their promise to one another, and (as Kant would say) “ought” implies “can.”  When the ethical makes love a duty, it is saying that love can last and therefore your love ought to last.  This is what aesthetic love wanted and even believed all along, but could not fulfill on its own principles.  Therefore, it is necessary to accept these other principles, ethical principles, for the aesthetic experience of first love to be true.

Green’s interest in the first Critique is more in the formula than in the content; he doesn’t discuss Kant’s notions of causality or God as expressed there.  Green finds more direct evidence for the content of the Critique of Practical Reason, even referring to the Judge’s arguments as a working out of Kant’s argument for freedom (p.  151).  Since Green is discussing William’s position and in particular his defense of marriage, he never discusses sin; so the usefulness of this article to my purposes is simply in reinforcing the Kantian nature of William’s ethical thought.

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