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XXXIV, 1, 2024: “Possibility is the Heaviest of All Categories”. On Kierkegaard’s Reading of Modal Categories. Edited by Ingrid Basso

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copertina-2016-1-fronteThe categories of modality, in a thinker like Kierkegaard who always prioritized the subjective dimension of the how (hvorledes) over the objective what (hvad), assume decisive importance. Possibility, actuality, necessity and contingency are crucial categories recurring in Søren Kierkegaard’s thought. Some of them (i.e., possibility and necessity) are even part of the definition of the Self’s constitution as a relation (see The Sickness unto Death, 1849). The same categories also appear in reflections on historicity (see the “Interlude” from Philosophical Fragments, 1844; The Concept of Anxiety, 1844; Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments, 1846) aimed at avoiding any form of Hegelian historicism in favor of the Christian revelatory Kairos.
But Kierkegaard does not merely limit himself to using modal categories to construct his peculiar worldview –although this “narrative” use is an integral part of his indirect communication. He also explicitly thematizes and reconsiders the long philosophical tradition of reflecting on categories of modality, from Aristotle, through the Middle Ages and Early Modernity (i.e. Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, Schelling), to his contemporaries, including Adolf Trendelenburg, who –as Kierkegaard states– gave him “the apparatus” for what he “had thought out years before” (Journal 1. February 1847, Not:13:55, SKS 19, 420). This further demonstrates that Kierkegaard is not the thinker who, like an “erratic boulder”, alienates himself from the debates of his time to devote himself exclusively to his peculiar ethical-religious reflection, as it has often been emphasized in textbooks. No, Kierkegaard is a thinker who, albeit in his own way, does not ignore the speculative challenges of his era, such as the 19th-century debate on Aristotle’s categories.
Thus, for Kierkegaard, the analysis of categories seems to be key for understanding reality starting from the examination of a being that must be resemantized after the Hegelian radicalization of idealism in the direction of logic. From a methodological point of view, the fundamental peculiarity of Kierkegaardian reflection lies in the recognition that thought must begin with and pass through the notion of existing singularity. This is why the Copenhagen thinker rejects the idea of philosophizing without presuppositions, contrasting dialectical thinking with a thinking that he calls pathetic and that refers to the difference between logical movement (immanent, quantitative) and movement in the sphere of freedom (transcendent, qualitative): “When Aristotle says that the transition from possibility to actuality is a kinesis, it is not to be understood logically but with reference to historical freedom” (The Concept of Anxiety, 1844, SKS 4, 385).
The modal categories themselves must thus be rethought in relation to the actuality (Virkelighed/Wirklichkeit) of the existing human being, but they will necessarily have to be reexamined in light of the essential link with the negative. Where necessity and contingency are expressions of the negative (i.e. where the necessary is defined as “what cannot not be”, and where the contingency is “what is there but might not have been”), actuality and possibility are expressions of a position in the real, of an event in the world. Thus, for Kierkegaard: “The question of whether the positive or the negative comes first is exceedingly important” (The Concept of Anxiety, SKS 4, 445), and “Danish philosophy –if there ever comes to be such a thing– will be different from German philosophy in that it definitely will not begin with nothing or without any presuppositions whatsoever or explain everything by mediating, because, on the contrary, it begins with the proposition that there are many things between heaven and earth which no philosophy has explained” (Journalen JJ:239, SKS 18, 217).
The positive and the negative will thus also have to be examined in relation to the category of possibility, in the existential Stimmung of anxiety and in its connection with the Christian Revelation-notion of sin.
The present issue of Discipline Filosofiche is thus devoted to the exploration of Kierkegaardian thought on the use and reflection on modal categories and the weight they assume in the elaboration of an existential perspective built on a peculiar ontological structure.
The contributions presented hereafter thus deal with the Kierkegaardian position in the historical and philosophical debate on categories to date (since categories allow communication between different levels: thought, language, and objects); with the existential expression of modal categories in Kierkegaard’s narrative-literary work, and with the constitution of the self and singularity in the ethical-religious dimension, but also in the psychological one.

(click on the titles to view the abstracts)

Ingrid Basso, Introduction
Victor M. Fernandes, Gabriel Ferreira da Silva, The Ontological Structure of Kierkegaard’s Philosophy
Ettore Rocca, The Necessary is Contingent. Kierkegaard’s God and the Modal Categories
Jon Stewart, The Views of the Early Kierkegaard on Actuality and “Life”: A Flashpoint in the Conflict of the Nature of Philosophy
Ingrid Basso, “Più della possibilità e meno della realtà”: sulla kinesis aristotelica da Trendelenburg a Kierkegaard
Marlene Prosdocimo, Attualità nella possibilità: l’attuazione dell’impensabile come possibilità fondativa in Schelling e Kierkegaard
Leonardo Rodríguez Dupla, The Category of Possibility in Kierkegaard’s Ethical Thought
Darío González, El concepto kierkegaardiano de “realidad” y la evolución de la interpretación ética de la existencia
Troy Wellington Smith, Actuality and Possibility, the Ethical and the Religious: An Essay on Kierkegaard’s Pseudonymous Authorship
Patricia Dip, La definición del yo en la psicología de Kierkegaard
Rick Anthony Furtak, Possibility and Attunement in Kierkegaard’s Moral Psychology: The Sickness unto Death
Joakim Garff, “Therefore, to stand by oneself – through another’s help!” Possibility and Reality in Kierkegaard’s Pedagogical Paradox
Oscar Parcero Oubiña, The Persistence of Irony: Subjectivity and Writing
Leonardo F. Lisi, Killing Time: Death and Being in Kierkegaard’s At a Graveside
Anna Poláčková Janoušková, Kierkegaard and Ecclesiastes: The Relationship Between Sorrow and the Possibility of More Knowledge