Double Reflection

Subjective thinkers also differ from objective or abstract thinkers by the fact that they engage in a process of double reflection (CUP i. 73-6). Like objective thinkers, subjective thinkers first think the universal or form a general concept of some actuality, such as a human being. While objective thinkers are content with obtaining a proper general concept of reality as a basis for knowledge, subjective thinkers engage in a second form of reflection in which the content of thought is related to the thinker's own existence for the purpose of appropriating or existing in what has been thought (73, 75-6). For example, in thinking about what Christianity is, subjective thinkers first engage in reflection on the 'what' of Christianity just like objective thinkers, but they further reflect on how to appropriate this 'what' in their lives. In order truly to know and understand what it means to be a Christian, however, one must move beyond even subjective reflection, in which one passionately contemplates becoming a Christian as a 'thought-actuality' or possibility for one's own life, to the reduplication of this possibility in actuality (320-1, 340). Just as there is a difference between a thought-action and an actual action, Climacus points out that thinking about something, even thinking about something subjectively by considering its significance for one's own life, is not the same as actually existing in it (339-40). Unlike Hegel and his followers, Climacus steadfastly maintains the separation of thought and being (329-30, 335). As he sees it, however, actuality and action are not to be equated with external action but with 'an interiority in which the individual annuls possibility and identifies himself with what is thought in order to exist in it' (339). For example, Luther may be said to have acted the very moment he willed 'with all the passionate decision of subjectivity' to appear at the Diet of Worms to defend himself against the papal charges lodged against him (341).

Climacus further maintains contra Hegel and his followers that existence cannot be thought, for thought always transposes existence or actuality into possibility, thereby annulling it (CUP i. 314-16). The only actuality that does not become a possibility by being thought is the existing thinker's own ethical actuality:

The ethical can be carried out only by the individual subject, who then is able to know what lives within him—the only actuality that does not become a possibility by being known and cannot be known only by being thought, since it is his own actuality, which he knew as thought-actuality, that is, as possibility, before it became actuality. (320)

'With regard to every actuality outside myself', Climacus observes, 'it holds true that I can grasp it only in thinking', that is, as a possibility, since otherwise one would have to become that actuality in order to know it as an actuality, which is impossible (321). Moreover, 'to ask ethically about another person's actuality is a misunderstanding, since one ought to ask only about one's own' (323).

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