March 19, 2013

Kierkegaard On Socratic Ignorance

Below is an excerpt from, "The Soul of Kierkegaard: Selections from His Journals." Edited by Alexander Dru. Dover Publications, Inc: Mineola, New York. 2003. Pg. 172-73.
    The majority of men in every generation, even those who, as it is described, devote themselves to thinking (dons and the like), live and die under the impression that life is simply a matter of understanding more and more, and that if it were granted to them to live longer, that life would continue to be one long continuous growth in understanding. How many of them ever experience the maturity of discovering that there comes a critical moment where everything is reversed, after which the point becomes to understand more and more that there is something which cannot be understood.
    That is Socratic ignorance, and that is what the philosophy of our times requires as a corrective.
    As Johannes Climacus truly observes, the majority of men turn aside precisely where the higher life should begin for them, turn aside and become practical, "Man, father and champion bowler"; and, as Anti-Climacus truly remarks, the majority of men never experience the spiritual life; they never experience that qualitative encounter with the divine. To them the divine is simply a rhetorically meaningless hiatic superlative of the human: which explains their satisfaction with the idea of being able to form ever clearer conceptions of it, so that if they only had time, did not have to go to the office or their club or talk to their wives, if they only had time enough they would manage to understand the divine perfectly.
    Socratic ignorance, but nota bene modified by the Christian spirit, is maturity, is intellectually speaking what conversion is morally and religiously, is what it means to become a child again.
    It is quite literally true that the law is: increasing profundity in understanding more and more that one cannot understand. And there once again comes in "being like a child," but raised to the second power. The man who is mature in that sense is naive, simple, and he marvels, but he is all that essentially humorously, and yet not in such a way that it is humour.