Existentially lived truth or communicative reason? Habermas' critique of Kierkegaard

Maeve Cooke
2021 Constellations  
In Auch eine Geschichte der Philosophie (AGP), Habermas introduces Kierkegaard as a counterpoint to Hegel. Kierkegaard rejects Hegel's sublimation of subjectivity into ever-higher stages of knowledge, culminating in the absolute ego and a corresponding absolute knowledge, and asserts instead the importance of existentially lived truth (Habermas, 2019) . Like Hegel, he conceives of reason as finite, operating within history, but unlike Hegel, attributes to it a transcending power that intervenes
more » ... into the historical process. This power enables human subjects to act autonomously, liberating them to a mode of freedom that consists in 'being-able-to-be-oneself' . Habermas endorses Kierkegaard's concern to maintain the transcending power of reason as experienced by finite subjects within human history. However, he distances himself from his interpretation of existentially experienced truth as the authenticity [Wahrhaftigkeit] of a life of religious faith lived in passionate devotion (Habermas, 2019, pp. 670-671). Rejecting his interpretation of the transcending power as the power of a personal God, Habermas offers a secular reading of it as the power of the anonymous Logos of language. On this reading, the ethical individual is offered not redemption but a postmetaphysical way out of its despairing isolation in self-referential inwardness (pp. 695-696). In the following I reject both Habermas' secular, linguistic interpretation of the transcending power that liberates humans to be-able-to-be-themselves and Kierkegaard's religious one. Habermas' interpretation fails to accommodate the potentially language-transcending aspect of subjective experiences of existential truth, religious or non-religious. However, Kierkegaard's interpretation is also unsatisfactory, allowing for no rational contestation of the truth claims implicit in the subject's liberation to being-able-to-be-oneself; this renders it unsuitable for the purposes of critically engaged, political and social theorizing. Kierkegaard considers rational contestation impossible because individual subjects are unable to directly communicate their experiences of truth to their fellow subjects. In order for their experiences of truth to be accessible to other subjects, these subjects would have to undergo a personal conversion. Conversion is a revelatory experience. It reveals that being-able-to-be-oneself demands a fundamentally new mode of existence: one in which human subjects live in passionate religious devotion, attentive to the everyday conduct of their lives, deeply aware of their own sin and endeavouring to appropriate their life history reflexively (p. 672). In Kierkegaard's view, normal communication cannot convey the life-changing quality of this experience, since it is geared towards mutual comprehensibility within the terms of the prevailing ethical vocabulary (pp. 696-697). Habermas notes an implicit truth reference in Kierkegaard's This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License, which permits use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made.
doi:10.1111/1467-8675.12551 fatcat:deqvyp2ft5cfxbwiea7fjp2tmi