Conference: German Idealism and its Critics


Nordic Network for German Idealism (NNGI)

in co-operation with

Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and Ideas, University of Oslo

DECEMBER 10-11, 2010



Marcia Cavalcante (Södertörn University College)
Taylor Carman (Barnard College)
Lore Hühn (University of Freiburg)
Alastair Hannay (University of Oslo)
Michelle Kosch (Cornell University)
Marius Mjaaland (University of Oslo)
Jon Stewart (Søren Kierkegaard Research Centre, University of Copenhagen)

Registration is required for participation: Please send an e-mail to with the subject title: NNGI 2010


10:00 – 10: 15 Welcome

10:15 – 11:30 Michelle Kosch (Cornell): Fichte (and Wilhelm) on Practical Reasoning
I have elsewhere argued that Fichte, rather than Kant or Hegel, should be taken to be the main model behind Kierkegaard’s characterization of the ethical standpoint in Either/Or II. Here I offer a detailed account of one of the main reasons for thinking that: the distinctiveness of Fichte’s account of practical reasoning, coupled with the correspondence of key features of the account of practical reasoning implicit in Either/Or II to the Fichtean account.

11:45 – 13:00 Lore Hühn (University of Freiburg): Vom Zweifel zur Verzweiflung. Kierkegaards Kritik an der Philosophie Fichtes und Hegels
Zweifel steht ein für das cartesianische Prinzip der Erkenntnissicherung, welches in seiner daseinsanalytischen Verschärfung von Fichte wie von Hegel als Verzweiflung ausgelegt wird. Kierkegaard ist der Kritiker dieser idealistischen Tradition, insofern er die existenzielle Bedeutung der Verzweiflung von jeder theoretischen Form des Zweifels abgrenzt.

13:00 – 14:30 Lunch

14:30 – 15:45 Marius Timmann Mjaaland (University of Oslo): Kierkegaard’s Destruction of Hegel
There is an obvious influence from Hegel and German Idealism on Kierkegaard’s definition of Spirit in The Sickness unto Death. He describes a self-reflective relationship of opposites that could only be completed in a Third, i.e. the synthesis. Moreover, the key to achieve such a synthesis is found in consciousness of oneself by penetrating all aspects of thought, passion, and action. Yet still, the entire book sets out to prove that Hegel and the Hegelians are wrong: their effort to achieve self-consciousness through speculation is futile and produces simulacra and caricatures rather than discovering the truth of human existence. Although he applies many features from Hegel’s philosophy, e.g. the distinction between Schein and Sein and a phenomenology of Spirit, I will argue that this is the work where Kierkegaard most systematically rejects Hegel. I see it as an effort of destruction in the Heideggerian sense, thus exploring a philosophical impulse from Luther: Kierkegaard displays the basic error of Hegel’s idealism while trying to discern an alternative, critical concept of Spirit. That concept is approached from the reverse side (Kehrseite), through a detailed phenomenological analysis of the split of despair within the Spirit, thereby insisting on the open wound of negativity as a guiding methodological principle.

16.00-17.30 Marcia Cavalcante Schuback (Södertörn University College): Tragedy and evil – between Schelling and Kierkegaard
The purpose of this presentation is to investigate how Schelling’s and Kierkegaard’s views on the modern meaning of tragedy can contribute to an understanding of the question of evil, such as developed by both thinkers. Rather than a discussion about the difference of Scheling’s and Kiekergaard’s systems of philosophy, the text will discuss the necessity of rethinking tragedy and the tragic understanding of difference in order to reconsider the question of evil.

17.30-20.00 Reception


10: 15 – 11:30 Taylor Carman (Barnard College): Kierkegaard and the Limits of Ethical Reflection
What is the substance of Kierkegaard’s critique of the ethical standpoint? Michelle Kosch has argued that the critique takes aim at the ethics of autonomy, which misrepresents the nature of agency by denying our freedom to do evil. I argue that Kierkegaard’s concept of the ethical is wider and that his criticism of it cuts deeper. The ethical is, for Kierkegaard, not just Kantian ethics, but any generally applicable system of action-guiding norms or principles. No such system can by itself make sense of the irreducible goodness of ethically unjustiable acts of faith, that is, acts based on commitments of passionate trust. Acts of faith, like acts of desperation, can violate ethical norms and yet still be good. In short, the ethical standpoint fails to appreciate the seriousness of the question, What shall I do? as distinct from the question, What should I do?

11:45 – 13:00 Jon Stewart (Søren Kierkegaard Research Centre, University of Copenhagen):  Kierkegaard and Hegel on Faith and Knowledge
One of Kierkegaard’s main objections to Hegel’s philosophy is that it misunderstands the nature of religion by placing it on a par with various forms of scholarship and knowing. Through his pseudonymous authors, Kierkegaard stubbornly insists that faith is fundamentally different from knowledge. How would Hegel respond to Kierkegaard’s objection? I wish to argue that Hegel would find Kierkegaard’s conception of faith to be a pure formalism with no determinate content. For this reason, it cannot be properly designated as Christian faith since it has no content by which it can be distinguished from the faith of other religions.

13:00 – 14:30 Lunch

14:30 – 15:45 Alastair Hannay (University of Oslo): Saving Kierkegaard’s Analysis of Despair

Kierkegaard’s positing and ordering of the two main forms of despair in The Sickness unto Death depend on the notion of a power, identified as God, in which the self is ‘grounded’. The text says that, without this notion, there would be only one form of despair: not wanting to be oneself; but with it there is also a second form: wanting to be, or asserting, one’s own self, something the text describes as ‘defiance’. However, the text has it that defiance is also the ‘form’ of the despair that is not wanting to be oneself. Some commentators see this as dictated by the religious ‘premise’ prefixed to Kierkegaard’s works, thereby obscuring their relevance for a post-metaphysical age that they also anticipate. Michael Theunissen has claimed that Kierkegaard’s insights, and even intentions, are better represented in a reordering of the two main forms of despair, priority being given to the despair of not wanting to be oneself. I suggest that, containing as they do a teleology inherited from German Idealism, Kierkegaard’s insights and intentions are accurately represented in the order that he himself adopts. Whether this is to confine him, on the one hand, to either the metaphysical past or an unfashionably non-secular present, or on the other hand to present him as a still potent challenge in a post-metaphysical age, will depend partly on what sense we can find, and find acceptable, in characterizing an unwillingness to be oneself as a case of defiance as well as of despair.

15:30 Closing remarks

Carsten Fogh Nielsen (BA, MA, PhD)

Center for Subjectivity Research
University of Copenhagen
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