I still love Kierkegaard

He is the dramatic thunderstorm at the heart of philosophy and his provocation is more valuable than ever

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Illustration by Stephen Collins

Illustration by Stephen Collins

Julian Baggini is a writer and founding editor of The Philosophers’ Magazine. His latest book The Virtues of the Table, will be published in January 2014 by Granta.

I fell for Søren Kierkegaard as a teenager, and he has accompanied me on my intellectual travels ever since, not so much side by side as always a few steps ahead or lurking out of sight just behind me. Perhaps that’s because he does not mix well with the other companions I’ve kept. I studied in the Anglo-American analytic tradition of philosophy, where the literary flourishes and wilful paradoxes of continental existentialists are viewed with anything from suspicion to outright disdain. In Paris, Roland Barthes might have proclaimed the death of the author, but in London the philosopher had been lifeless for years, as anonymous as possible so that the arguments could speak for themselves.

Discovering that your childhood idols are now virtually ancient is usually a disturbing reminder of your own mortality. But for me, realising that 5th May 2013 marks the 200th anniversary of Søren Kierkegaard's birth was more of a reminder of his immortality. It's a strange word to use for a thinker who lived with a presentiment of his own death and didn't reach his 43rd birthday. Kierkegaard was the master of irony and paradox before both became debased by careless overuse. He was an existentialist a century before Jean-Paul Sarte, more rigorously post-modern than postmodernism, and a theist whose attacks on religion bit far deeper than many of those of today’s new atheists. Kierkegaard is not so much a thinker for our time but a timeless thinker, whose work is pertinent for all ages yet destined to be fully attuned to none.

It’s easy enough to see why I fell in love with Kierkegaard. Before years of academic training does its work of desiccation, young men and women are drawn to philosophy and the humanities by the excitement of ideas and new horizons of understanding. This youthful zeal, however, is often slapped down by mature sobriety. I remember dipping into the tiny philosophy section of my school library, for example, and finding Stephan Körner’s 1955 Pelican introduction to Kant. I couldn’t make head nor tail of it. Strangely, this did not put me off philosophy, the idea of which remained more alluring than the little bit of reality I had encountered.

Kierkegaard was not so much an oasis in this desert as a dramatic, torrential thunderstorm at the heart of it. Discovering him as a 17-year-old suddenly made philosophy and religion human and exciting, not arid and abstract. In part that’s because he was a complex personality with a tumultuous biography. Even his name emanates romantic darkness. ‘Søren’ is the Danish version of the Latin severus, meaning ‘severe’, ‘serious’ or ‘strict’, while ‘Kierkegaard’ means churchyard, with its traditional associations of the graveyard.

He knew intense love, and was engaged to Regine Olsen, whom he describes in his journals as ‘sovereign queen of my heart’. Yet in 1841, after four years of courtship, he called the engagement off, apparently because he did not believe he could give the marriage the commitment it deserved. He took love, God and philosophy so seriously that he did not see how he could allow himself all three.

He was a romantic iconoclast, who lived fast and died young, but on a rollercoaster of words and ideas rather than sex and booze. During the 1840s, books poured from his pen. In 1843 alone, he published three masterpieces, Either/Or, Fear and Trembling, and Repetition.

Kierkegaard achieved the necessary condition of any great romantic intellectual figure, which is rejection by his own time and society

All of this, however, was under the shadow of a deep melancholy. Five of his seven siblings died, three in the space of the same two years that claimed his mother. These tragedies fuelled the bleak religiosity of his father, who believed he had been punished for cursing God on a Jutland heath for His apparent indifference to the hard, wretched life of the young sheep farmer. When his father told Søren about this, it seems that the son adopted the curse, along with his father’s youthful sins.

Yet alongside this melancholy was a mischievous, satirical wit. Kierkegaard was a scathing critic of the Denmark of his time, and he paid the price when in 1846 The Corsair, a satirical paper, launched a series of character attacks on him, ridiculing his gait (he had a badly curved spine) and his rasping voice. Kierkegaard achieved the necessary condition of any great romantic intellectual figure, which is rejection by his own time and society. His biographer, Walter Lowrie, goes so far as to suggest that he was single-handedly responsible for the decline of Søren as a popular first name. Such was the ridicule cast upon him that Danish parents would tell their children ‘don’t be a Søren’. Today, Sorensen — son of Søren — is still the eighth most common surname in Denmark, while as a first name Søren itself doesn’t even make the top 50. It is as though Britain were full of Johnsons but no Johns.

All this was more than enough to draw my open but largely empty 17-year-old mind to him. In the battle for intellectual affections, how could the likes of A J Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic (1936) or Willard Van Orman Quine’s Word and Object (1960) compete with Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death (1849) or Stages on Life’s Way (1845)? What is more interesting, however, is why the intellectual affair lasted even as I became a (hopefully) less impressionable, older atheist.

If Kierkegaard is your benchmark, then you judge any philosophy not just on the basis of how cogent its arguments are, but on whether it speaks to the fundamental needs of human beings trying to make sense of the world. Philosophy prides itself on challenging all assumptions but, oddly enough, in the 20th century it forgot to question why it asked the questions it did. Problems were simply inherited from previous generations and treated as puzzles to be solved. Kierkegaard is inoculation against such empty scholasticism. As he put it in his journal in 1835:
What would be the use of discovering so-called objective truth, of working through all the systems of philosophy and of being able, if required, to review them all and show up the inconsistencies within each system ... what good would it do me if truth stood before me, cold and naked, not caring whether I recognised her or not, and producing in me a shudder of fear rather than a trusting devotion?

When, for example, I became fascinated by the philosophical problem of personal identity, I also became dismayed by the unwillingness or inability of many writers on the subject to address the question of just why the problem should concern us at all. Rather than being an existential problem, it often became simply a logical or metaphysical one, a technical exercise in specifying the necessary and sufficient conditions for identifying one person as the same object at two different points in time.

So even as I worked on a PhD on the subject, located within the Anglo-American analytic tradition, I sneaked Kierkegaard in through the back door. For me, Kierkegaard defined the problem more clearly than anyone else. Human beings are caught, he said, between two modes or ‘spheres’ of existence. The ‘aesthetic’ is the world of immediacy, of here and now. The ‘ethical’ is the transcendent, eternal world. We can’t live in both, but neither fulfils all our needs since ‘the self is composed of infinitude and finitude’, a perhaps hyperbolic way of saying that we exist across time, in the past and future, but we are also inescapably trapped in the present moment.

The limitations of the ‘ethical’ are perhaps most obvious to the modern mind. The life of eternity is just an illusion, for we are all-too mortal, flesh-and-blood creatures. To believe we belong there is to live in denial of our animality. So the world has increasingly embraced the ‘aesthetic’. But this fails to satisfy us, too. If the moment is all we have, then all we can do is pursue pleasurable moments, ones that dissolve as swiftly as they appear, leaving us always running on empty, grasping at fleeting experiences that pass. The materialistic world offers innumerable opportunities for instant gratification without enduring satisfaction and so life becomes a series of diversions. No wonder there is still so much vague spiritual yearning in the West: people long for the ethical but cannot see beyond the aesthetic.

In evocative aphorisms, Kierkegaard captured this sense of being lost, whichever world we choose: ‘Infinitude’s despair is to lack finitude, finitude’s despair is to lack infinitude.’ Kierkegaard thus defined what I take to be the central puzzle of human existence: how to live in such a way that does justice both to our aesthetic and our ethical natures.

Kierkegaard showed that taking religion seriously is compatible with being against religion in almost all its actual forms

His solution to this paradox was to embrace it — too eagerly in my view. He thought that the figure of Christ — a man-made God, wholly finite and wholly infinite at the same time — was the only way to make sense of the human condition, not because it explains away life’s central paradox but because it embodies it. To become a Christian requires a ‘leap of faith’ without the safety net of reason or evidence.

Kierkegaard’s greatest illustration of this is his retelling of the story of Abraham and Isaac in Fear and Trembling (1843). Abraham is often held up as a paradigm of faith because he trusted God so much he was prepared to sacrifice his only son on his command. Kierkegaard makes us realise that Abraham acted on faith not because he obeyed a difficult order but because lifting the knife over his son defied all morality and reason. No reasonable man would have done what Abraham did. If this was a test, then surely the way to pass was to show God that you would not commit murder on command, even if that risked inviting divine wrath. If you heard God’s voice commanding you to kill, surely it would be more rational to conclude you were insane or tricked by demons than it would to follow the order. So when Abraham took his leap of faith, he took leave of reason and morality.

How insipid the modern version of faith appears in comparison. Religious apologists today might mumble about the power of faith and the limits of reason, yet they are the first to protest when it is suggested that faith and reason might be in tension. Far from seeing religious faith as a special, bold kind of trust, religious apologists are now more likely to see atheism as requiring as much faith as religion. Kierkegaard saw clearly that that faith is not a kind of epistemic Polyfilla that closes the small cracks left by reason, but a mad leap across a chasm devoid of all reason.

That is not because Kierkegaard was guilty of an anarchic irrationalism or relativistic subjectivism. It is only because he was so rigorous with his application of reason that he was able to push it to its limits. He went beyond reason only when reason could go no further, leaving logic behind only when logic refused to go on.

In a pluralist world, there is no hope of understanding people who live according to different values if we only judge them from the outside

This was powerful stuff for a teenager such as me who was losing his religious belief. What Kierkegaard showed was that the only serious alternative to atheism or agnosticism was not what generally passes for religion but a much deeper commitment that left ordinary standards of proof and evidence completely behind. Perhaps that’s why so many of Kierkegaard’s present-day admirers are atheists. He was a Christian who nonetheless despised ‘Christendom’. To be a Christian was to stake one’s life on the absurdity of the risen Christ, to commit to an ethical standard no human can reach. This is a constant and in some ways hopeless effort at perpetually becoming what you can never fully be. Nothing could be more different from the conventional view of what being a Christian means: being born and baptised into a religion, dutifully going to Church and partaking in the sacraments. Institutionalised Christianity is an oxymoron, given that the Jesus of the Gospels spent so much time criticising the clerics of his day and never established any alternative structures. Kierkegaard showed that taking religion seriously is compatible with being against religion in almost all its actual forms, something that present-day atheists and believers should note.

Kierkegaard would undoubtedly have been both amused and appalled at what passes for debate about religion today. He would see how both sides move in herds, adhering to a collectively formed opinion, unwilling to depart from the local consensus. Too many Christians defend what happens to pass for Christianity in the culture at the time, when they should be far more sceptical that their churches really represent the teachings of their founder. Too many atheists are just as guilty of rallying around totems such as Charles Darwin and the scientific method, as though these were the pillars of the secular outlook rather than merely the current foci of its attention.

Kierkegaard’s views on religion are not the only way in which his critique of ‘the present age’ is strangely timely for us, and likely to be the same for future readers. ‘Our age is essentially one of understanding and reflection, without passion, momentarily bursting into enthusiasm,’ he wrote in 1846, ‘and shrewdly lapsing into repose.’ Passion in this sense is about bringing one’s whole self to what one does, including reasoning. What is much more common today is either a sentimental subjectivity, in which everything becomes about your own feelings or personal story; or a detached objectivity in which the motivations and interests of the researchers are deemed irrelevant. Kierkegaard insisted on going beyond this objective/subjective choice, recognising that honest intellectual work requires a sincere attempt to see things as they are and an authentic recognition of how one’s own nature, beliefs and biases inevitably shape one’s perceptions.

This central insight is nowhere more developed than in his pseudonymous works. Many of Kierkegaard’s most important books do not bear his name. On the Concept of Irony (1841) is written by Johannes Climacus; Fear and Trembling (1843) by Johannes de Silentio; Repetition (1843) by Constantin Constantius; while Either/Or (1843) is edited by Victor Eremita. This is not just some ludic, post-modern jape. What Kierkegaard understood clearly was that there is no neutral ‘objective’ point of view from which alternative ways of living and understanding the world can be judged. Rather, you need to get inside a philosophy to really see its attractions and limitations. So, for example, to see why the everyday ‘aesthetic’ life is not enough to satisfy us, you need to see how unsatisfying it is for those who live it. That’s why Kierkegaard writes from the point of view of people who live for the moment to show how empty that leaves them. Likewise, if you want to understand the impossibility of living on the eternal plane in finite human life, see the world from the point of view of someone trying to live the ethical life.

This approach makes many of Kierkegaard’s books genuine pleasures to read, as literary as they are philosophical. More importantly, the pseudonymous method enables Kierkegaard to achieve a remarkable synthesis of objectivity and subjectivity. We see how things are from a subjective point of view, and because they really are that way, a form of objectivity is achieved. This is a lesson that our present age needs to learn again. The most complete, objective point of view is not one that is abstracted from the subjective: it is one that incorporates as many subjective points of view as are relevant and needed.

This also provides the link between imagination and rationality. A detached reason that cannot enter into the viewpoints of others cannot be fully objective because it cannot access whole areas of the real world of human experience. Kierkegaard taught me the importance of attending to the internal logic of positions, not just how they stand up to outside scrutiny.

This is arguably even more vital today than it was in Kierkegaard’s time. In a pluralist world, there is no hope of understanding people who live according to different values if we only judge them from the outside, from what we imagine to be an objective point of view but is really one infused with our own subjectivity. Atheists need to know what it really means to be religious, not simply to run through arguments against the existence of God that are not the bedrock of belief anyway. No one can hope to understand emerging nations such as China, India or Brazil unless they try to see how the world looks from inside those countries.

But perhaps Kierkegaard’s most provocative message is that both work on the self and on understanding the world requires your whole being and cannot be just a compartmentalised, academic pursuit. His life and work both have a deep ethical seriousness, as well as plenty of playful, ironic elements. This has been lost today, where it seems we are afraid of taking ourselves too seriously. For Kierkegaard, irony was the means by which we could engage in serious self-examination without hubris or arrogance: ‘what doubt is to science, irony is to personal life’. Today, irony is a way of avoiding serious self-examination by believing one is above such things, a form of superiority masquerading as modesty. It might be spotty, angst-filled adolescents who are most attracted to the young Kierkegaard, but it’s us, the supposed adults, who need the 200-year-old version more than ever.

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Comments

  • In Tempore

    The ethical life is never satisfying because we sense there is something to be collectively solved/redeemed. We are social animals in need of political
    solutions, when the only effective answers we have are found in the moment, existential and beyond the aesthetic realm.

    • M Collings

      We oscillate between our the two poles of our existence - the animal man vs the higher ideal man and this is played out in our society at all levels from individual to wider society. I mean look at it. We go from watching men destroy each other on sports fields at all cost at the weekend to wondering why violence is so prolific in the media during the week. We're sending mixed messages!!

      • TLars

        Yup. One might call it social bipolar disorder.

    • Al_de_Baran

      In Tempore has caught a bad case of the "we's". I would urge this person to think a bit more careful about such sweeping categorizations, and especially the remark about humans as "social animals".

      A far more accurate description would be "socialized animals", a phrase that has, among others, the merit of avoiding the tacit essentialism in In Tempore's mis-formulation.

      • skanik

        Very well put.

  • edwardfox

    i thought kierkegaard was a theologian rather than a philosopher, with his idea of the central importance of christian faith in a fully realised life.

  • edwardfox

    another thought on kierkegaard: the stuff is often impossible to read, though in many places it can be very funny (there is an anthology of kierkegaard's humour). Either/Or contains both kinds of writing: about two hundred pages on Mozart's Don Juan (totally impenetrable), but the beginning of the work is a compendium of very strange & very funny aphorisms. Also, the pseudonymous works are basically novels, with the nominal author as the first person narrator, setting up a fictional scene that allows his discussion to proceed (the author buys a chest of drawers, finds one of the drawers is locked, is infuriated, chops the thing to bits with an axe, finds the locked drawer contains a manuscript, which he then begins reading). john updike said of kierkegaard that he enabled him (updike) to be a christian and a rationalist at the same time

  • edwardfox

    the english translations alone of his work take up about a metre of shelf space. that's what you face when you enter the labyrinth of kierkegaard's thought. i think he makes his work deliberately difficult, to make the point that the reader must be actively involved in making philosophy (or credible theology) that the reader (as student of philosophy) takes personal command of. that's his idea of a socratic method: posing questions, but offering no answers, though if you read enough of his work you are gradually brought over to his point of view, which i would call christian existentialism. You're bound to agree with him if you plow through all that stuff! Otherwise you've wasted your time! (I wrote a scrappy essay on him: http://how-kierkegaard-can-change-your-life.blogspot.co.uk/

  • David Pulliam

    Great article, very enjoyable to read!

  • Leah

    Speaking of a philosopher and artist who thoroughly examined and rejected every aspect of the zeitgeist of his time and place please check out these related references.
    The Structure of Light
    http://www.dabase.org/Reality_Itself_Is_Not_In_The_Middle.htm

    Space-Time IS Love-Bliss
    http://spiralledlight.wordpress.com/2010/08/24/4068
    Zero Point & the Infinite State
    http://www.beezone.com/AdiDa/Aletheon/zero_point.html

    Three Principles of Truth
    http://www.dabase.org/up-1-7.htm

    Resources for self understanding (after Wittgenstein)

    http://www.beezone.com/whiteandorangeproject/index.html
    Art, culture and philosophy
    http://www.adidaupclose.org/Art_and_Photography/rebirth_of_sacred_art.html

    The Politics of Peace
    http://www.ispeace723.org

  • M Collings

    This is why I like the approach of gnosis which means "to know" based on experience. In a sense this flys in the face of orthodox "faith" and is more akin to mystical insight as much as that might horrify seekers of objective approaches in the scientific sense.

    We are all independent beings that are interdependent so there should be no choice but rather a realisation that everything we do is up to us, but it affects the entire world. But here we are getting into mystical / quantum type insights that many of the great spirtual leaders have brought us before they become orthodox religions - Sufism - Rumi, Kabbalah - Jeshua (Jesus), Budhism - Siddartha, Taoism - Laozi.

    The orthodox churches and ideology are well known. What is not well known is that these esoteric spiritual traditions underpinned what became these hierachical structures. The sole objective of these streams were higher forms of consciousness in order to arrive at a better understanding of
    God, The Self, and the Universe. For that reason we should be thankful we had Alchemy / Hermeticsm (an offshoot of Kabbalah - The West's answer to Taoism) because the Renaissance and the advent of Science would not have occurred. So one should ask the question why dont I know about these traditions and it would be interesting to know what made them different from the orthodox church given they had a wider point of view.

  • http://thewayitis.info/ Derek Roche

    God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son"
    Abe said, "Man, you must be puttin' me on"
    God said, "No"
    Abe said, "Wha'!"
    God said, "You can do want you want, Abe, but
    The next time you see me comin', you better run"
    . . .
    Abe said, "Where you want this killin' done?"
    God said, "Out on Highway 61"

    The ethical and the aesthetic. No one said it better.

    • Jonathan Schultz

      "Tell me, why Dick Cheney underneath my bed?
      Hell no that ain’t cool!
      Tendin' to the lips of a wooden head.
      No sir, that ain’ cool.
      Come on now take one for the team.
      Stick it to the man, stick it to the man.
      Raise the dagger high above Isaac
      and drive down as hard as you can.

      Shiny Master Caddylackness, haloes suit you well.
      Stand fast, upset the system, so many tomorrows to sell.
      Shiny Master Caddylackness, haloes suit you well.
      Stand fast, upset the system, so many tomorrows to sell."

      -Clutch, "Mr. Shiny Cadylackness"

      An updated version, just as pointed in my opinion.

  • http://twitter.com/datasmithy Douglas M. Smith

    I like this thought: Atheists need to know what it really means to be religious, not simply to run through arguments against the existence of God that are not the bedrock of belief anyway.

    • http://www.facebook.com/martinpeterclarke Martin Clarke

      And theists need to embrace atheism as Christ did in extremis.

      • skanik

        But Martin, Jesus did not embrace atheism.

        Consider the Psalm He is quoting.

  • Viktoras Bachmetjevas

    One remark: "On the Concept of Irony" is not a pseudonymous work - it is Kierkegaard's thesis. Otherwise a very enjoyable read.

  • David P. Barash

    As an admirer of existential thought, I, too, have a soft spot in my heart for SK, although my atheism (unlike that of the author) constantly keeps him at arm's length. In addition, in this time of fervid and violent religious fundamentalism, who can honestly recommend the "unethical" "leap of faith" as ostensibly carried out by Abraham? Moreover, it may well be significant that there is much in Abe's reported behavior that comports precisely with textbook accounts of schizophrenia: hearing voices, engaging in genital self-mutilation, delusions of grandeur (e.g., of becoming the "father of nations"). When such a figure is also reported - and by SK, greatly admired - for alleged willingness to slaughter his son in slavish devotion to such delusions, I think it takes a great "leap of faith" indeed (and a very dangerous one at that) to consider such a nut-case to be in any way worth emulating.

    • John

      I can see then why you seem to have difficulty understanding what Kierkegaard is getting at in Fear and Trembling.

      Some context for Abraham's "schizophrenia," though: If you take the Biblical stories about Abraham, it's a strawman to consider him a man who was going to obey the voices in his head to kill his son. Abraham was old--really old--and his wife was infertile. He hears a voice that tells him to leave his land and promises that he will become a great nation. Abraham, in faith, believes this promise and travels a very long way to a strange land. After many other occurrences, voices, and visions, against all hope, Abraham and his barren wife bear a son, Isaac. So following the Biblical story (and I see no reason to even worry about the story of the sacrifice of Isaac without its Biblical context), Abraham already had seen that God was powerful and true to his word--he had good reason to trust the voices in his head, because his son was a miracle! This is why the author of Hebrews says of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac, "He considered God was able even to raise him from the dead" (Heb 11:19).

      • Rusty Trusty

        But as an observer this would mean that I would have to believe Abraham's experience was true. How am I to distinguish this truth from a suicide bombers truth when both are entirely implausible narratives based on my own experience. Far better (for me) to condemn the two for their outward aggression. Go kill something by all means but just be sure it is yourself by yourself. Most likely explanation? I think Abe's wife walked around with a pillow under her shirt and then pick up a newborn from some slave girl. God was suspicious but in the end was sage enough to realise that you can't build a nation without sons. This is why he relented.

        • Johannes

          Of course, having taken this point of view, you should be clear about how much you really understand either position. In the existential framework, your judgement is valueless, if you assert yourself purely on external reason. As such, this argument is something of a straw man (a Hegelian scarecrow if you will).

    • http://www.facebook.com/martinpeterclarke Martin Clarke

      I think, in my utter dullard on the bus way, that you miss the point entirely in your very modern response. SK wouldn't have approved.

  • shalomfn

    This is an informative and interesting article on Kierkegaard.
    But it makes the same kind of intellectual one-upmanship move that Kierkegaard in his way did.
    How can anyone imagine that they speak for millions of thinking people who are confronting their own life - dilemnas in their own way?
    . Not only Kierkegaard but many others heard the sound of their own drummer in his time. Thoreau of course was another one.
    So too today we are confronted with and overwhelmed by many different individual visions of what life- truth is and should be.
    'I alone escaped to tell thee' has been written by many millions and will be written by many millions more.

  • Therese

    Wonderfully well said. Though I left philosophy after my BA twenty years ago or so, Kierkegaard has stayed with me through thick and thin. In him I found a kind of existential faith that allowed me to work my way out of religious belief while still keeping a humanistic faith in ethics, morality, and the human soul. Three cheers for SK.

  • William Large

    Very beautifully written and a joy to read.

  • Abraham

    Afghan dad shoots
    daughter in public execution ordered by mullahs

    Saturday, 04 May, 2013, 2:33am

    In front of 300 villagers, Halima's father shot her in the head,
    stomach and waist - a public execution overseen by local religious leaders in
    Afghanistan to punish her for an alleged affair.

    Halima, aged between 18 and 20 and a mother of two, was killed for
    bringing "dishonour" on her family in a case that underlines how the
    country is still struggling to protect women more than 11 years after the fall
    of the Taliban.

    Police in the northwestern province of Badghis said Halima was
    accused of running off with a male cousin while her husband was in Iran, and
    her father sought advice from Taliban-backed clerics on how to punish her.

    "People in the mosque and village started taunting him about
    her escape with the cousin," Badghis provincial police chief Sharafuddin
    Sharaf said.

    "A local cleric who runs a madrassa told him that she must be
    punished with death, and the mullahs said she should be executed in public. The
    father killed his daughter with three shots as instructed by religious elders
    and in front of villagers. We went there two days later but he and his entire
    family had fled."

    Amnesty International said the killing, which occurred on April 22
    in the village of Kookchaheel, was damning evidence of how little control
    police have over many areas of the country.

    "Violence against women continues to be endemic in
    Afghanistan and those responsible very rarely face justice," Amnesty's
    Afghanistan researcher, Horia Mosadiq, said. "Not only do women face
    violence at the hands of family members for reasons of preserving so-called
    honour, but frequently women face human rights abuses resulting from verdicts
    issued by traditional, informal justice systems."

    Police in Baghdis, a remote and impoverished province that borders
    Turkmenistan, said Halima had run away with her cousin to a village 30
    kilometres away.

    Her father found her after 10 days and brought her back home,
    where clerics told him he must kill her.

    A Badghis-based women's rights activist said he had seen a video
    of Hamila's execution.

    "On the video, she is shot three times in front of 300 to 400
    people. Her brother witnesses her death and breaks down in tears," said
    the activist, who declined to be named. "She is sitting on her knees in
    the dust, wearing a large chador veil. A mullah announces her funeral prayers
    first, then her father shoots her from behind with an AK-47 at a distance of
    about five metres.

    "We have learned that a Taliban shadow governor in the region
    asked the mullahs to issue the death penalty for her. The local religious
    council first said she should be stoned to death, but since the cousin was not
    there, they decided she should be shot."

    It is not known what happened to the cousin with whom she ran
    away.

    The activist added that Halima's husband had objected to the death
    sentence and tried to return from Iran before the execution.

    • babby660

      The Muslim religion will be okay only when it becomes civilized. I don't consider murder civilized

  • John Stewart

    Aesthetic vs. ethical. I suppose we know where Oscar Wilde fell on that spectrum.
    The solution to being diverted in the moment, away from the ethical, is to adopt an ethical lifestyle.
    The solution to being diverted from the ethical lifestyle is rely on the aesthetic to maintain and nurture our ethical lives.
    So, rather than waiting until I'm desperate for a drink / feast / drug etc., I indulge regularly in less dangerous and yet pleasing activities.

  • rameshraghuvanshi

    I agree with you that in commercial era we are running for survival speedy way and forgot rigorous or serious self ..examination ,advance science made us robot .We forget who are we?For what purpose we are here?You must remember there are few restless youngsters there but their voices not reach to readers because so much uproar,hubbub of multimedia just like T.V.face Book Tweeter They are the real murderer of mankind.We are helpless and hopeless before these most dangerous devils may one day they engulf to whole mankind

  • Leo

    I appreciate the author's grasp of Kierkegaard, aesthetic-ethical contrast and low-key treatment of irrational man-well done!

  • Nate B

    Good little article. Thanks for sharing. It’s too bad that you got trapped working in the Anglo-American analytic tradition. Too limiting and reductionist for me. It sounds like you would have preferred to work on Kierkegaard in your PhD studies.

  • http://www.facebook.com/martinpeterclarke Martin Clarke

    Pitched just right, otherwise I'd have to say, "I'll get me coat.".

  • alovrin

    Atheists need to know what it really means to be religious

    Huh? You must be talking 'bout the atheists you know

  • alovrin

    "Human beings are caught, he said, between two modes or ‘spheres’ of existence. The ‘aesthetic’ is the world of immediacy, of here and now. The ‘ethical’ is the transcendent, eternal world."

    Again Huh? Its a false paradox, a manufactured illusion. Get a grip. We can live better in this life, most just choose not to for very self centred reasons. Why are you dragging up this hoary old chestnut. Havent you got anything better to do!

  • Skanik

    I can never figure out who is more misunderstood - Hegel, Kierkegaard,

    Husserl or Heidegger - but it does seem to me that it is more important to

    understand and feel and live what Soren was reflecting on than anything else

    in Contemporary Philosophy.

    If only more Philosophers could write like you Julian Baggini.

  • Danny Mulheron

    Great article, Durrenematt was especially influenced by him and his grotesque comic world reflects the embrace of paradox. But the most tremendous book that is a great response to him is The Man with out Qualities which is immense, confusing, brilliantly funny and incisive. I am sure Kierkegaard would have loved it. Maybe Musil was one of his Pseudonyms

  • tom8883

    This article is wonderful for so many reasons--even just as a reminder. One perspective worth reflecting on is how living within emerging nations such as China or Brazil (and actually living as a regular person rather than an executive in a hotel or tourist) does not necessarily help us understand these cultures so as to make us more tolerant, but can actually make us more conservative. While within America, I am more critical of America; while outside America, I value its brand much more highly. One interpretation of this effect is to attribute it to our shared need of relationships that are not fixed but change in stable ways.

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