Review/Notes: David R. Law, “The Place, Role, and Function of the ‘Ultimatum’ of Either/Or Part Two, in Kierkegaard’s Pseudonymous Writings;”

David R. Law, “The Place, Role, and Function of the ‘Ultimatum’ of Either/Or Part Two, in Kierkegaard’s Pseudonymous Writings;” in The International Kierkegaard Commentary, vol. 4:   Either/Or, Part II, pp. 233-57


I wrote this (and the others) while researching for a project I am considering, looking at Kierkegaard’s discussions of sin.  Therefore, some of the comments below relate more to my own research and writings (in particular, my comments about the Oct. 16 1834 writings).  Still, I thought someone else might find them interesting, so I am sharing them. Thank you to everyone for your comments; they have been and will continue to be extremely helpful.  


Relying on personal notes and writings from Kierkegaard himself, Law dismisses the claim that the “Ultimatum” has no essential relationship to the rest of E/O despite the fact that it was apparently a late addition to the manuscript.  He reviews the basic argument of the Pastor, which he breaks into two parts:  (1) in human relations, if you love another, you would not want to be in the right, for that would constitute a breach when you felt wronged; rather, you would want always to assume that you were the one in the wrong, and that the other loved you as much and as well as always; (2) while in the case of human relationships this may be delusion, with God it is always a fact that God is in the right and that, therefore, you are always in the wrong; so the thought that “as against God I am always in the wrong” is upbuilding because it is both true and it is an expression of my love for God (which includes faith as trust in God’s goodness).

Law argues that the “Ultimatum” serves three purposes.  First, its surface reading is that it is a theodicy.  Given human ignorance and fallibility, we cannot know the ways of God or why things happen that seem bad.  However, if we love God, we will believe that we are always in the wrong; so we can banish doubt and anxiety and choose to have faith in God despite the evil we see.  Unlike most theodicies, which function only on an intellectual level, this one also focuses on the emotional level to awaken faith rather than mere notional assent.  Second, it can be seen as part of Kierkegaard’s covert messaging to Regine.  Finally, it can be seen as illustrating the bankruptcy of the ethical.  B sees this sermon as an indictment of A’s aestheticism; but in fact, it is also a rejection of the ethical, since the goal of the ethical is to become more and more in the right.  In showing how the ethical cannot lead us to a right relationship with God, and cannot even succeed on its own standards, Kierkegaard points the way to the later works (particularly FT) which lead into the religious.

The theodicy part is particularly interesting when compared to the two essays on “Love Hides a Multitude of Sins” in the upbuilding discourses of 16 Oct. 1843.  The first of these argues that our love for God can hide the sins of others from us; the second, that our love for God can hide our sins from ourselves, and in a sense from God too.  The “Ultimatum” is not hiding God’s sins, since God is always in the right and cannot wrong us; but it does function in a similar way, as our love for God eliminates all doubt and thus it is love that establishes and maintains the relationship between us and God.

Notice that in all three discourses, there is no real separation because of sin.  As long as we love God, we are united with God; the love itself is the uniting power that overcomes any separation.  There is no real sense of grace, or that grace is needed because we lack the ability to love or to thus be saved by our own love for God.

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