Time and the Qualitative Leap: Kierkegaard’s Instant

Alexander Stooshinoff

Saturday, Concordia – 14h30 to 15h15

This talk offers a reading of Kierkegaard as a thinker on the subject of time, paying special attention to Kierkegaard’s enigmatic concept of “øieblikket,“ or “the instant,” as it appears in The Concept of Anxiety III. Although Kierkegaard has a great deal to say about time, his thoughts on the matter have gone underappreciated in Kierkegaard scholarship and in the history of philosophy writ-large. I hope to show how Kierkegaard here both receives and criticizes German idealism, and moreover, how he may have anticipated early phenomenology in his account of the human experience of time.

I begin by briefly addressing two historical details which serve to contextualize my talk. First, I discuss Kierkegaard’s ultimate source for the instant – Plato’s account of what he calls τὸ ἐξαίφνης (the sudden; the instant) in the Parmenides. Second, I address Kierkegaard’s criticisms of a Hegelian account of transition, in which he argues that Hegel presupposes the concept of ‘mediation’ as the agent of transition in a philosophy that is supposed to be without presuppositions. Next, I discuss how Kierkegaard puts the instant to use in his account of the human spirit, or ‘self,’ which he understands as a synthesis of soul and body, finitude and infinitude, and time and eternity. What’s at stake here is the very meaning of human freedom – our ability to choose; our being able. Finally, I address Kierkegaard’s criticism of what he calls ‘spatialized time,’ and his account of how the instant brings forth ‘temporalization.’ Here, Kierkegaard argues that the instant renders intelligible the human experience of time, in that it allows time to be more than a mere ‘infinite succession’ – it allows time to be tensed; to be made sense of to us. On Kierkegaard’s view, this final point orients us toward the future, and opens us to possibility.