Process as reality

Kierkegaard's aesthetic approach to the ethical

Michael J. Matthis

pp. 23-41

This paper makes the point that Kierkegaard's ideas concerning individuality cannot be understood clearly without placing them in the context of what I am calling ontological isolation. This means the radical deprivation by selfhood of every aspect of reality, to the point where not even the possibility or illusion of reality is available to the self. In this context the self is required to become itself, forming itself in and out of its own absolute nothingness, ontological destitution, or wrongness. With this form of isolation as our investigative key, we unlock what Kierkegaard means by his command to become a self, where becoming itself, in absence of prior possibility, constitutes the reality of self, and why Kierkegaard places crucial emphasis, contrary to the tradition, on the priority of negativity. By having the self originate itself in "absolute difficulty," or that wherein the act itself, or pure doing without result, is primary, Kierkegaard now replaces metaphysics with ethics in order of priority, and places the self inseparably in a world that responds directly to that act. I show here a parallel between Kierkegaard's approach to ethical action with that of artistic creation of a kind of world, the work of art. In doing so I reveal the inadequacy of interpretations that would impose traditional forms of isolation, social and cosmic, on Kierkegaard, as some of his critics do, or that would place Kierkegaard's ethics within traditional developmental models, as many of his sympathizers do.

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