Volume 86, Issue 4, Fall 2012
Learning to Swim with Hegel and Kierkegaard
In two of their major works, Hegel and Kierkegaard seek philosophical instruction in the very same example: that of trying to learn to swim before one has entered the water. But they reach diametrically opposed conclusions about what this example shows. It might seem troubling that an example can teach two incompatible lessons. I argue that we will be troubled only if we make an implausible assumption about examples: that the lessons they teach are theory-neutral facts equally available to all. Drawing on work by Onora O’Neill, I argue against this assumption. I try to show that philosophical examples can be quite mysterious: both free and rule-governed, both determinate and indeterminate—or, better, determinately indeterminate. In this respect, they may be fruitfully compared to Kantian judgments of taste.