Existence and Thought: Exploring the Complementarity of Existentialism and Intellectualism in the Works of Søren Kierkegaard and Bernard Lonergan

Paul St. Amour, Fordham University


This dissertation explores the dialectic of thought and existence implicit in the human person's task of self-constitution as both a knower and a chooser. By way of comparative interpretation and critical analysis of the thought of Soren Kierkegaard and Bernard Lonergan, it argues for the complementarity of cognitional and existential praxis and adumbrates the possibility of an intellectualist existentialism. The Kierkegaardian polarization of thought and existence is situated within the context of a polemic against Hegelian holism and its totalizing aspirations. Not only does Hegelian speculation attempt to reduce Christianity to a mere philosophical theory, it also absentmindedly yet oppressively neglects the ethical and religious exigencies of the concretely existing individual. In Lonergan's account of the dynamism of conscious intentionality (as ordered in the manner of a series of successive sublations), there is found support for Kierkegaard's critique of speculative aestheticism. There occurs not only a clear differentiation between knowledge and decisiveness, but also an affirmation of the primacy of conscience. In the full expansion of this dynamism, the cognitional is sublated by the existential; immanent exigencies of intelligence are preserved, yet knowing is to be contextualized within a wider horizon of concern for actualizing the good. Hence Lonergan's intellectualism offers the possibility of re-integrating thought and existence; it is an alternative both to anti-intellectual existentialism and to anti-existential rationalism. The task of self-appropriation, which is the core of Lonergan's philosophy, is complementary to the Kierkegaardian retrieval of existential subjectivity. Full self-appropriation involves both self-knowledge and self-choice. Yet self-appropriation, unlike Kierkegaardian and later existentialism, also reveals how objectivity is the fruit of authentic subjectivity. Lonergan avoids, as Kierkegaard's pseudonym Johannes Climacus does not, a denigration of objectivity and theoretical knowing. On grounds of performative self-contradiction, an objection is raised concerning existentialism's tendency to view objectivity in a merely pejorative manner. Theoretical knowing is more relevant to ethico-religious existence and to the actualization of personalist values than is commonly realized. A normative notion of objectivity is a necessary condition for the possibility of an ethics of historical authenticity.

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Recommended Citation

St. Amour, Paul, "Existence and Thought: Exploring the Complementarity of Existentialism and Intellectualism in the Works of Søren Kierkegaard and Bernard Lonergan" (1998). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9825873.