Michał Karzyński

The Universal Other

The following is a summary of my current understanding of Kierkegaard’s philosophy.

According to Soren Kierkegaard there is no race, creed of culture devoid of prescience of the one true God. He does admit that many people in all cultures are unaware that this knowledge is the knowledge of God, while others repress the realization and thus live in sin. Despite this he believes all adult people have an insight into the Absolute.

I have stumbled upon this idea in other places, reading Ken Wilber, or learning about Buddhism. I have always had a problem understanding the how this “Buddha nature”, or what you would call it, can be universal…

The child. Innocent, void of cultural schemata, slowly becoming. In this pre-personal state an infant associates itself with the world. It perceives in only two categories — that which is good for me, and that which is bad for me. That which hurts and that which is pleasant. Those categories are innate, instinctual, pre-intellectual. They are shared by children and animals, this is the prime oblivious innocence.

As the child dissociates its self from the world, these categories are retained in their absolute form. There is truth and there is falsehood, there is good and there is evil, there is white and there is black. Those categories are infinite to a child, they are subject to no interpretation.

During a rise to adulthood in our age and in our civilization, we are taught to question and finally reject absolutes. “Remember, there is no black and white, only shades of gray”. This notion is so important, so seemingly fundamental, that we call others, who embrace absolutes fanatics. But I digress.

The infinite categories offer a growing mind a glimpse of the Absolute, which is super-cultural (or pre-cultural). This Absolute is Kierkegaard’s Other — the unpersonified God, who is common to all people, regardless of cultural origins.

An interesting notion in Kierkegaard is that a one can only be a self in a relationship to an other. This other in childhood is one’s parents, in adulthood it is the state, or one’s business (science, religion, etc.), but one’s true self can only be realized by a relation to the absolute Other.
Unfortunately people often refrain from this Other, and choose to relate to worldly things, thus living in sin (not realizing their true Self).

Why do people do this? Why do people choose to remain in sin, in Samsara? Kierkegaard’s answer is interesting, although I’m not sure if I quite grasp it. From what I understand, his logic on this point uses a sort of circular dialectic, a positive feedback mechanism. A person shies away from the absolute because he is awed by it’s eternal nature, which causes fear. He then tries to refrain from thinking about this, repressing the notion (as Freud would call it) in a defence mechanism of the unconscious. Any glimpse of the absolute causes an anxiety, which further pushes it away from the conscious mind. And thus the circle closes. We live in sin because we are sinful. We are sinful because we live in sin.

There are many things which I don’t understand, but Kierkegaard was a fascinating mind.