Living, Like the Lily, In the Present: Kierkegaard's Philosophy of Time
Access changed 8/16/21.
Each of us experiences two conflicting attitudes towards time. On the one hand, we all, at least to some degree, look ahead towards the future. On the other hand, we sometimes feel like we ought to live in the present, without this concern about the future. Derek Parfit claims that we would be happier if we lacked our focus on the future: we would not be sad when good things were in the past, we could take life’s pleasures as they come, and we would have fewer reasons to regret aging and death. Given his emphasis on the future as a philosophical problem, Kierkegaard seems especially challenged by Parfit’s claims. I argue that a response to Parfit’s challenges can be found in Kierkegaard’s discourses on the lily of the field and the bird of the air. Though not often read philosophically, these discourses also contribute to Kierkegaard’s philosophy of time. They can provide readers of Kierkegaard with a response to Parfit’s challenges by proffering a way to care for the future while living in the present. To defend this thesis, my first chapter recounts Parfit’s challenges and extant responses by readers of Kierkegaard to them. Chapters Two and Three develop Kierkegaard’s metaphysics of time by working through The Concept of Anxiety and Philosophical Fragments. The former chapter emphasizes Kierkegaard’s focus on the eschatological future while showing how Kierkegaard can contribute to contemporary debates within the philosophy of time. The latter considers Kierkegaard’s Christology and Trinitarian theology by working through Kierkegaard’s understanding of the past event of the incarnation. The fourth and fifth chapters discuss the ethical implications of Kierkegaard’s metaphysics of time through readings of Christian Discourses and Works of Love. Chapter Four contains my account of the attitude towards time Kierkegaard exhorts us to adopt: facing away from the future and towards the work we are called to do in the present. Chapter Five concludes by discussing the implications of this account for the ways we hope for and love our neighbors.