Living in Uncertainty: Kierkegaard and Possibility

Living in Uncertainty: Kierkegaard and Possibility
12 September 2019, 12.30pm - 14 September 2019, 6.00pm
Conference / Symposium

Invited Speakers:

Iben Damgaard (Copenhagen)
Joakim Garff (Copenhagen)
John Lippitt (Hertfordshire & Deakin) 
Rick Anthony Furtak (Colorado)

‘Ethically understood, if anything is able to stir up a person, it is possibility...’ (Concluding Unscientific Postscript)
‘When someone faints, people shout for water, eau-de-cologne, Hoffman’s drops. But for someone who is on the point of despair it is: get me possibility, get me possibility, the only thing that can save me is possibility.’ (Sickness Unto Death)

The term ‘possibility’ (Mulighed) and its variants occur with curious frequency across Kierkegaard’s writings. Key to Kierkegaard’s ontology of the self, possibility is linked to imagination, anxiety, temporality, transition, the moment, and a number of other core ideas in his works.  The term is also central to Kierkegaard’s critique of Hegelian actuality, in which the underlying questions seem to be: What does freedom have to do with history? How is change possible? What does it mean to begin?

This conference is intended to address these and other questions that fall out of Kierkegaard’s treatment of possibility. Basic approaches to the problem in his works include:
1. an ontology of possibility that involves the structure of existence/self
2. a rhetorical strategy that seeks to awaken a sense of possibility
3. a lived experience of possibility that involves ethical decisions of how to orient oneself
4. God as absolute possibility
The conference is an opportunity to see Kierkegaard as contributing to a phenomenology of possibility or a discussion of possibility as part of the structure of being in the world. Ontologically, possibility can be conceived as a simple absence, what is not. Or it may be conceived as potentiality, which has an ambiguous existence as a future being, a not yet. The relationship of possibility to time is something that Kierkegaard draws out—particularly in his discussions of Hegel’s Logic. Possibility as such is timeless, since in possibility everything already is—for imagination (Anxiety) and abstraction (Concluding Unscientific Postscript). Yet phenomenologically, an orientation toward the possible or the potential means a being toward the future. It is precisely this temporal orientation that gives existence its open character. 

While much has been written about Kierkegaard’s writing style(s), an analysis of his rhetorical techniques from the angle of crafting a sense of the possible opens up a fresh perspective and yields productive links between Kierkegaard and a broader tradition of fragments, essays, and other open-ended or disjunctive textual forms. One such example is the form of the ‘imaginative construction’, as outlined by Climacus in the Postscript, which has the aim of presenting the good ‘in the form of a possibility’. Another way of reading possibility as a poetic strategy was proposed by the late David Kangas, who spoke of the need to attend to the aporias in Kierkegaard’s texts. it is precisely through these moments of rupture (which often take the form of irony or paradox) that Kierkegaard opens up a sense for what may remain unsaid in the said, what may remain un(re)presented in the present.

At the level of the ethical, Kierkegaard offers a rich account of how anxiety and despair, as lived experiences of possibility, open us to a new horizon while showing us the contingency and fragility of the systems and identities we presently inhabit. In a time of political uncertainty as well as a seemingly intractable global capitalism, Kierkegaard’s work on radical possibility seems more relevant than ever. He suggests how meaningful and hopeful action rely on a sense of possibility beyond what is given in the present. It is only in uncertainty that a meaningful life becomes possible. 

Finally, what does it mean that in Kierkegaard God is so strongly associated with radical possibility, to the point where, in Sickness, ‘God is the fact that everything is possible, or that everything is possible is God’? Is this radical possibility an objective feature of Being (the ontology of rupture advanced by Badiou and Meillassoux) or is it something we can only understand in the context of a relationship to a transcendent God? What do Kierkegaard’s descriptions of faith as an opening to this radical possibility mean for living in finitude? How does Kierkegaard explore possibility and faith in the Upbuilding Discourses and other signed works?

Papers exploring these or other approaches—whether in Kierkegaard’s writings alone or in comparative studies will be given from researchers at all levels. Topics may include, but are not limited to:

the phenomenology of possibility   
possibility and ontology
possibility and concrete others 
subjectivity and possibility
possibility and horizon
living in uncertainty
probability/calculation vs possibility
radical change or conversion
Possibility and irony 

Online registration required 
Flat rate for 2½ day conference:
Standard conference ticket £55
Student and unwaged conference ticket £35

Speaker ticket £55

**Speakers** Please ensure you register online by 30 June 2019 to secure your slot on the programme.

The conference is generously supported by the Danish Embassy of London, the Kierkegaard Society of the UK and the University of Hertfordshire.


Jenny Stubbs
020 7862 8832