Project seminar: Eleanor Helms

'A Nonentity, A Puzzling Figure': Kierkegaard’s Geometric Construction of Faith


My project situates Kierkegaard’s term “imaginary construction” in the context of Kant’s philosophy of geometry. Kant distinguishes “construction of concepts” in intuition, the activity of the geometer, from intuitions merely “in accordance with concepts” (CPR, A722/B750) in empirical experience. Since all experience is organized by categories, every perception occurs “in accordance with concepts,” but a posteriori: we wait and see what occurs. A geometer, however, must construct geometric objects from concepts, where at least some features are as a priori as the original abstract concept. I argue that Kierkegaard’s term “imaginary construction” fits the Kantian method in geometry for constructing objects in intuition. Rather than waiting to see what characters happen to exist, Kierkegaard as geometer constructs fictional figures, filled out with imaginative content (intuition), that follow conceptual rules and teleological trajectories.   In this way, I establish a new, specific way in which Kierkegaard is more deeply influenced by Kant than traditionally recognized.

                          My wider goal is to develop an account of “imaginary construction in thought” (Tanke-experiment) in Kierkegaard that is a viable account of thought experiment as a tool for knowledge, contributing to contemporary debates in philosophy of science. While some Kantian accounts have already been proposed, each “relativizes” the a priori, replacing Kant’s absolute categories with shifting scientific paradigms. I will show that a Kantian-Kierkegaardian view of thought experiment can retain absolute, a priori concepts despite advances in modern physics. In the same way, I argue, Kierkegaard’s fictional variations (pseudonyms, characters in stages) reveal universal structures of consciousness.