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Kierkegaard and the Funny



Kierkegaard and the Funny


Eric Linus Kaplan

Doctor of Philosophy in Philosophy

University of California, Berkeley

Professor Alva Noë

This dissertation begins by addressing a puzzle that arises in academic analytic interpretations of Kierkegaard’s Concluding Unscientific Postscript. The puzzle arises when commentators try to paraphrase the book’s philosophical thesis “truth is subjectivity.” I resolve this puzzle by arguing that the motto “truth is subjectivity” is like a joke, and resists and invites paraphrase just as a joke does.

The connection between joking and Kierkegaard’s philosophical practice is then deepened by giving a philosophical reconstruction of Kierkegaard's definition of joking as a way of responding to contradiction that is painless precisely because it sees the way out in mind. Kierkegaard’s account of joking and his account of his own philosophical project are used to mutually illuminate each other. The dissertation develops a phenomenology of retroactive temporality that explains how joking and subjective thinking work. I put forward an argument for why “existential humorism” is a valuable approach to life for Kierkegaard, but why it ultimately fails, and explain the relationship between comedy as a way of life and faith as a way of life, particularly as they both relate to risk.

In the final chapter three peculiar features of Kierkegaard’s writing practice are addressed: his use of indirect communication, pseudonyms, and revocation. I explain the function of these methods to his philosophical project as I have described it in the previous chapters and conclude with a close reading of the graveyard scene in the Postscript and an analysis of how it serves to implicate the reader in existential thinking. Finally, I offer some reflections about the implications of Kierkegaard’s account of humor and subjective thinking for human self-understanding. I argue that an implication of Kierkegaard’s account is that philosophy is a risky, vulnerable, interpersonal activity, just as joking is.

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