Kierkegaard, Paraphrase, and the Unity of Form and Content

Philosophy Today 57 (4):376-387 (2013)
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On one standard view, paraphrasing Kierkegaard requires no special literary talent. It demands no particular flair for the poetic. However, Kierkegaard himself rejects this view. He says we cannot paraphrase in a straightforward fashion some of the ideas he expresses in a literary format. To use the words of Johannes Climacus, these ideas defy direct communication. In this paper, I piece together and defend the justification Kierkegaard offers for this position. I trace its origins to concerns raised by Lessing and Mendelssohn about the relationship between form and content in works of art. I maintain that Kierkegaard follows early German Romantic thinkers in applying these aesthetic concerns to philosophical writing. By way of conclusion, I discuss the implications of Kierkegaard’s position for contemporary scholarship.
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