Varieties of Existential Uncertainty
In the Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Kierkegaard’s pseudonym Johannes Climacus writes about ‘the uncertainty of earthly life, in which everything is uncertain.’ My aim in this chapter is to examine a number of places in the Kierkegaardian corpus that inform us about that pervasive uncertainty. Unlike the abstract realm of rationally necessary truth, the realm in which human existence unfolds is one in which little can be known for certain—as the sceptical tradition has perennially attested. About any proposition that pertains to human existence, we are unable to attain the invincible certainty that attaches to logical or mathematical truth. The varieties of existential uncertainty upon which I focus in this chapter include the epistemology of religious experience, the problem of other minds, and the limits to knowledge that are entailed by the finite temporal structure of human life. Although we continually seek to gain final, once-and-for-all certainty about existential matters, I argue that this aspiration is to be rejected. I focus mainly on three pseudonymous texts, turning from Fear and Trembling to the Concluding Unscientific Postscript and then to Stages on Life’s Way, emphasizing throughout what readers of Kierkegaard can learn from these writings.