Mari's Reviews > A Confusion of the Spheres: Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein on Philosophy and Religion

A Confusion of the Spheres by Genia Schonbaumsfeld
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Feb 03, 09

bookshelves: philosophy
Recommended to Mari by: Mel
Recommended for: Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein readers
Read in February, 2009, read count: 1

"Neither author seeks to substitute one philosophical preconception for another—one thesis for another—but to hold up a mirror to the reader that will show her that however beautiful her reflection might be, it is a false image not worthy of her attachment."pg 41

"Kierkegaard was by far the most profound thinker of the last century. Kierkegaard was a saint." Ludwig Wittgenstein (Quoted by M. O’C. Drury, in Rhees, Recollections of Wittgenstein, 87)

Genia Schonbaumsfeld has tried to build a more complete case for the parallels between Kierkegaard's and Wittgenstein's thoughts - particularly those writings regarding ethics, illusions, attachments, religion, faith and those related paradoxes. She does a far more thorough job than authors before her, but occasionally leans on a few general phrases more than she needs to. The problem she faces in aligning these two authors' works lies in the prevelant idea that they should not be aligned at all.

"What is revolutionary in Kierkegaard’s and Wittgenstein’s conception is precisely to challenge the idea that as regards religious faith only two options are possible—either adherence to a set of metaphysical beliefs (with certain ways of acting following from these beliefs) or passionate commitment to a ‘doctrineless’ form of life; tertium non datur (there is no third way)."

The author seeks to trace the extent of Kierkegaard's influence on Wittgenstein; show how remarkably like-minded the two philosophers are on such important issues as the nature of philosophy and religious belief; restify distortions that Kierkegaard's and Wittgenstein's views have been subjected to in the philosphical literature.

The author also challenges the stereotypes of Kierkegaard as only a religious thinker, while Wittgenstein offers a more neutral philosophical position. Her point (that has been made by other authors as well) is that by choosing not to write more on subjects such as religion, esthetics and ethics, Wittgenstein actually reveals "common ground" between he and Kierkegaard.

As Schonbaumfeld notes, there is quite a lot of material, particularly in Wittgenstein's letters and journals, to back up the assertion that Kierkegaard profoundly influenced Wittgenstein.
Hermine, for example, writes in her letter to Ludwig from 20 November 1917:

"Thank you very much for your lovely card from 13th November. You were perfectly correct in supposing that I did not receive the earlier one with your request for books, but I’ve just been out for them and a number of Kierkegaard volumes are already on the way. I hope they are the ones you want, because, given that I don’t know anything about him and his writings, I simply chose a few at random. The Diary of a Seducer, which I bought in a different bookshop,
will follow."


Sometimes the author stretches slightly in comparisons, calling on certain phrases like, "it is the paradox" (which appears in Philosphical Occasions) is a particularly Kierkegaardian 'turn of a phrase.' Yes, it could be - or it could just be Wittgenstein's. I think there is enough evidence of the profound effect Kierkegaard had on W., without pulling from (in comparison to other proclamations) such statements. Especially in light of direct references such as this from his journal (1922):

"As I said, tonight I saw my complete nothingness. God has deigned to show it to me. During the whole time I kept thinking about Kierkegaard and that my condition is ‘fear and trembling’. I would not go so far as to say that "it is as if Kierkegaard himself had written it" however."

Confusion of Spheres is an excellent, easy-to-follow read and provides more than adequate, if not occasionally heavy-handed, arguments - as well as bringing journal and correspondence excerpts to which some readers may not have been exposed.

One note to getting the most from this text - read the footnotes. The footnotes are almost as valuable as the main text and should be read as thoroughly.

Favorite quote:
(Actually one of my favorite Kierkegaard quote.)
From "The Point of View", ‘there is nothing that requires as gentle a treatment as the removal of an illusion’.


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