chapter  5
11 Pages

Ethical Reflection as Evasion

WithRob Compaijen, Pieter Vos

In this contribution we explore Kierkegaard’s understanding and evaluation of reflection in ethics. While reflection—the capacity to turn our attention towards ourselves, and to call our beliefs, desires, intentions, etc. into question—is generally regarded as being vital to human existence, Kierkegaard is rather suspicious of it. We show that his suspicion of ethical reflection is related to his critique of modernity’s understanding of ethics as a science. This conception of ethics, we argue, entails two related ideas: ethics, in reflecting on ethical questions, is supposed to be concerned with acquiring knowledge, and to do so, it will have to adopt a disengaged, objective standpoint. Kierkegaard dismisses both of these ideas because they turn our attention away from our ‘existential situation’ with its concrete moral tasks and responsibilities. However, Kierkegaard does not object to reflection in ethics as such. The proper task of ethics is (assisting people) to actually live ethically, and this presupposes reflection. On Kierkegaard’s view, actually living ethically requires the development of the ethical as already potentially given, and it requires (what he describes as) ‘double-reflection’: relating oneself reflectively to the object (a thought, idea, conclusion, etc.) of one’s reflection. Kierkegaard aims to bring ethical reflection back to our ‘existential situation.’ In the conclusion we show how Kierkegaard’s understanding of ethical reflection might itself also run the risk of involving an evasion.