chapter  9
30 Pages

Kierkegaard and Modernity

Modernity can be contrasted with premodernity in different ways. Anthony Giddens defines the differences in terms of how to cope with risk and where to find trust (Giddens, 1990). In this respect it is perceived risk and trust that are at stake. How risk and trust are perceived can certainly change, and according to Giddens there is a radical change in how these are perceived in post-feudal Western societies. Thus in modern societies looking forward, in terms of trusting the progress of society, is the way to cope with and mitigate risk. In premodern societies, on the other hand, looking backward to tradition was the coping strategy. Giddens regards “tradition as a means of connecting present and future” (Giddens, 1990, p. 102). This implies that tradition provided the ideas that enabled people in premodern societies to cope with risks in the future. Clarity was a criterion in this respect. The clearer the ideas were, the deeper they were rooted in the tradition, and the truer they were. Thus clarity was regarded as a sufficient reason for assessing ideas as trustful in premodern societies, whereas in modern societies there is distrust in clarity as a criterion for knowledge. In modern societies trust is provided by experience-based knowledge assessed by the individual. There is a “future-oriented, counterfactual thought as a mode of connecting past and present” (Giddens, 1990, p. 102) that gives trust to the individual in modernity. As Zygmunt Bauman has pointed out, this is not a subversion of order, yet the “order was to be made; there was to be no other order” (Bauman, 1991, p. xv). This combination of abstract order with a future-oriented perspective summarizes very much the content of the main perspective of an awakening scientific modernity, especially during the eighteenth century.