Monday, June 12, 2023

Rel 411: Finite and the Infinite

The finite and the infinite are two views of the self.  According to Kierkegaard, the aim is to not be stuck in the finite nor admiring ad nauseum the possibilities of the infinite.  One must find a way to make oneself "concrete" by combining the two. As he writes in The Sickness Unto Death, "The self is the conscious synthesis of infinitude and finitude which relates itself to itself, whose task is to become itself, a task which can be performed only by means of a relationship to God. But to become oneself is to become concrete. But to become concrete means neither to become finite nor infinite, for that which is to become concrete is a synthesis" (chapter 3).

He describes the finite as "narrow-minded and mean-spirited" (chapter 3). To live this way is to be silent in the day-to-day drudgery of life. His colorful language describes a man's will as virtually non-existent and one which dare not cast its gaze into the abyss of infinite possibilities.  He writes of the finite existence: "precisely by losing his self in this way, [he] has gained perfectibility in adjusting himself to business, yea, in making a success in the world. Here there is no hindrance, no difficulty, occasioned by his self and his infinitization, he is ground smooth as a pebble" (chapter 3). To be stuck in the finite is to go about business as usual and don't cause any waves which might cause difficulties. The finite is a life which "occasions no embarrassment but makes one’s life easy and comfortable" (chapter 3).

The infinite, on the other hand is unlimited imagination.  Kierkegaard writes, "The fantastical is doubtless most closely related to fantasy, imagination, but imagination in turn is related to feeling, knowledge, and will, so that a person may have a fantastic feeling, or knowledge, or will. Generally speaking, imagination is the medium of the process of infinitizing entranced by the, wild, endless possibilities" (chapter 3).  While thrilling, one can become dizzy and distracted about all the things he could do. And if he spends all his time in imagination, he will forget to live and strive to make any of these possibilities a reality.

The aim, therefore, is to "synthesize" the two into the "concrete." In other words, one must choose from the infinite possibilities and escape the silent business-as-usual life and then make that possibility into a reality. He writes, "The man’s concrete self, or his concretion, has in fact necessity and limitations, it is this perfectly definite thing, with these faculties, dispositions, etc." (chapter 3).

Work cited

Kierkegaard, Sören. “The Sickness unto Death – Religion Online.” Religion Online, Princeton University Press, 1941, Accessed 12 June 2023.

reply from Dr. Achilles Gacis:

It’s easy to see how Kierkegaard's existential philosophy is influenced by Socrates and the idea of the examined life.

As an existentialist, Kierkegaard sees the primary problem of philosophy the problem of being... the problem of being human. Kierkegaard thinks that the tools of philosophy are important not so much for knowledge in general, but for sorting out how to be, how to live one's life. The descriptives offered by Soren are indeed eloquent, yet articulation and terminology is limited when it comes to experiential and even subjective knowledge that is sought after in the spiritual and/or holistic.           

If we look at Kierkegaard as the created (human) questioning the creator (God) as God being the author of being, then where does any notion of “free will” and “self-determination” come in? How fulfilled can one be merely using their own consciousness? How can the created that operates within a finite dimension define the creator, who is infinite and without limitation? 

One can delve further, but this is not an exercise to invalidate Kierkegaard but just to understand how we can maximize our own approach of a holistic existentialism.

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