Rereading Kierkegaard

I have this weird tradition, that when ever I head of on a multi-day trip skiing or climbing, and I think I might have a few hours down time, I take the same book in my pack. It’s happily called Sickness Unto Death and every time I read I start to think I missed much of the point the previous time. Anyway, this time I decided I need to put more Kierkegaard in the core theme section of my IB Philosophy course. This year I began to think a bit about the CAS part of the diploma, wondering if there was a way to help it delver the sort of end Kierkegaard would have hoped for. I wondered if we actually give students the opportunity to find a cause for which they would live and die. Obviously that’s a scary big goal, in fact it gets scarier the more you think about it, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what if…

Discounted by too many as a ‘religious’ philosopher, Kierkegaard has had a massive influence of the Western Philosophy that followed him. SK’s primary task is convince the reader she exists. Which sound obvious, right? But his concern is with what it means to truly exist, which is far less obvious. For the Dane, it has something to do with our freedom and what we choose to do with it. This freedom is difficult for traditional philosophy to access as it has tended to deal with the realm of deductive argument and reason. For Kierkegaard this, of course, relates to his belief that man is to be defined essentially by her passion, and not, as Kant, Hegel and Aristotle thought, by reason.
Kierkegaard CAS poster2
Going back to CAS, the implication is clear. CAS needs to be designed with the student’s passions in mind. Kierkegaard told us the truth is more complicated than we thought. That some how the way I act in response to what I believe is hugely significant. That if I don’t act as if I believe, then I must ask myself how true my idea of who I am is.
CAS should be all about this.
We know that students have a more profound CAS ‘journey’ when they undertake activities they care deeply about. It is here that the gap between reason and action in reality, the gap of which Kierkegaard warns us, is smallest and where reflection is most ‘real’. This is true in each of the strands.
The beauty of understanding ‘Service’ in the broadest sense is that it can allow students to discover a genuine passion and do what they can where they are.

The Devil Wears Prada


This stuff’? Oh, ok. I see, you think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select out, oh I don’t know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise, it’s not lapis, it’s actually cerulean. You’re also blindly unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves St Laurent, wasn’t it, who showed cerulean military jackets? And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. Then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic “casual corner” where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and so it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room. From a pile of “stuff.”

Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly in David Frankel’s The Devil Wears Prada.

Reddington the extistentialist…

It was hard to watch the first season of NBC’s Blacklist without a couple of quotations from character Raymond Reddington staying in my mind.

Lizzy, there’s something I want you to understand about your father Sam.
That night when he took you in– without hesitation– Sam made a difficult choice that changed the course of his life.
And that’s where you find yourself now.
You can turn away and run from it.
You can hide from it.
And if you choose to do that, I’ll fly away.
Or you can face it and confront it engage it.
And maybe– maybe you prevail and rise above it.

Without ‘dumbing down’ existentialism, or even claiming that there is really one philosophical school with this name, it is clear that choice (and the difficulties that go along with it) is one of the themes that would have to be present for us to think of something as existentialist.

I always explain to my students that it is perfectly possible to be a religious existentialist – indeed if you can accept a more naturalistic reading of Nietzsche it starts to look as though existentialism has a deeply religious character.

Jean-Paul Sartre, however, was very much an atheistic existentialist. For him, it was the very ‘death of God’ that left us with a feeling he called abandonment, there are no objective rules to live by for we are not designed by any supreme being. There is no design for humans, so the very best we can do is choose the criteria we will choose by and not hide from the fact that we are doing so… This sounds strange but, according to Sartre, the majority of people live in a satate of consistently ans almost convincingly lying to themselves that this is the way thgs are. Sartre calls this mauvaise foi or ‘bad faith’. In episode 3, Red shots a verging on innocent IT guy saying only:

I believe I will always do whatever I feel I have to do to keep you alive.

Not all of Reddington’s statements fit with everything Sartre said for the latter believed that the ‘first few chapters’ never determine what someone will be, though he would completely agree that the end of the final chapter of our lives is the only time one can say that we have any concrete or fixed essence. For more, read what I have written about ‘Sartre on Nothingness’.

Davos’ advice to Stannis in ‘Game of Thrones’

“You could have freed me yesterday, or tomorrow. I think you came to me now before this boy is put to the knife because you knew I’d counsel restraint. You came to hear me say it because you believe it yourself. You’re not a man who slaughters innocents for gain or glory.”

For those of you that have read Sartre’s Existentialism & Humanism (click below for this section) this advice may sound very similar to something Sartre wrote in refutation of traditional normative ethics. Sarte’s point was that all action originates in freedom, even if that freedom is used to convence oneself that on is not free. We’ll talk about it in class, but this could be a great IA stimulus…

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