Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Hegel’s God and Kierkegaard’s God

While he was a student in Berlin, Søren Kierkegaard had studied with Friedrich Schelling who has denounced G. W. F. Hegel as a negative thinker. Kierkegaard too disliked Hegel’s philosophy because he found in it a paradigm of collective and rationalist thinking, and an idea of god that was incompatible with his own idea of god. He developed a philosophy that is essentially non-Hegelian—its focus is on the individual and not the collective.

In Hegel’s philosophy, we find a grand historical dialectic which leaves little room for the individual, as it seeks to prove that history and humanity have an ultimate purpose. His dialectic defends the idea of a collective world-spirit (or Geist), which is identical with human consciousness and the world. The Hegelian god or Geist is inseparable from his creation and human beings. According to Hegel, human beings can rationally comprehend the Geist, but they cannot confront it as they are themselves a part of the Geist.

Kierkegaard, a profoundly devout man, was appalled by Hegel’s view of god, and he viewed Hegel as an atheist. He rejected not only the collectivity of the Hegelian Geist but also the idea that god can be rationally comprehended. He says that the existence of god cannot be proved or disproved. In his works, he introduces a god that has the power to induce “fear and trembling” and who exists separate from his creation and human beings, thus making a personal confrontation between god and man possible.

In Hegelian dialectic, history proceeds through confrontation, but in Kierkegaard’s dialectic there is no scope for confrontation as it is focussed on the individual. Kierkegaard is primarily interested in two issues: the choices that man faces and the modes of his existence (or lifestyle). He identifies three modes: the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious. But he notes that there is no rational standard for preferring one mode over the other two.

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