Reformational Philosophy


On Education, Inspiration and Inwardness in Kierkegaard and Levinas

Renée D. N. van Riessen

In the history of philosophy, from Plato to Hegel, the identification of knowledge and recollection has always been very influential. The present article demonstrates how Kierkegaard, reacting to this idea of identification, develops a different epistemology. As a result, recollection and eternity make room for a focus on the human relation to temporality and finiteness. This new, Christian, thinking about time is the underlying motive of the comparison which Kierkegaard (in Philosophical Fragments and Concluding Unscientific Postscript) makes between the teaching mission of Socrates and Christ’s teaching. Considering a number of parallels between the Christian thinker Kierkegaard and the Jewish philosopher Levinas, the author further explores the implications of their thought on education and inwardness. Generally speaking, there is agreement about the idea that education should lead to the cultivation of humanity. Kierkegaard’s as well as Levinas’ thought demonstrate that a philosophical articulation of the dimension of inwardness cannot be neglected in this context. In addition to this, the question must be raised how inwardness relates to exteriority and eternity.


1. Introduction

Kierkegaard was right: the ultimate choice is the one between the Socratic recollection and the Christian repetition: Christianity enjoins us to REPEAT the founding gesture of the primordial choice. (Žižek 2001, 148-159)

“You don’t know what you know”: this was the title of a well-known grammar book (Van Dort-Slijper et al. 1976) at the time when I studied Dutch language and literature. But it could just as well be a slogan summarizing the teaching of Socrates, since the basic principle of his teaching, the hypothesis so astonishingly demonstrated by Socrates in Plato’s Meno, is that learning is a form of recollection. Central in this Platonic dialogue is the question whether virtue can be taught, and in line with this question the protagonists Socrates and Meno end up in a discussion about the question whether it is possible to learn what one does not know.


Read the whole article in our magazine Philosophia Reformata, 2013/1.