Kierkegaard's Dancing Tax Collector: Faith, Finitude, and Silence

Author(s): Sheridan Hough

Society & Culture

Kierkegaard's account of the life of faith turns on an astonishing claim: a person living faithfully continually enjoys, and takes part in, everything. What can this assertion actually mean? The pseudonymous author of Fear and Trembling, Johannes de silentio, imagines what such a human being might look like; indeed, as de silentio puts it, 'He looks just like a tax collector'. This seemingly ordinary person, in his 'movements' of faith, finds infinite significance and an absorbing joy in his environment, from moment to moment. How does he do it? This characterization of faithful comportment is unique in the Kierkegaardian corpus, and becomes the tantalizing centerpiece of an exploration of the Kierkegaardian self. Sheridan Hough embarks on a groundbreaking 'existential/ phenomenological' investigation of the uncanny abilities of the faithful life through an analysis of Kierkegaard's 'spheres of existence'; each sphere reveals a specific kind of significance, and indeed a way of 'being in the world'.
Hough employs a distinctively original narrative voice, one that examines Kierkegaard's ontology from the perspective of his pseudonymous voices, and from the characters that they create. This approach is both descriptive and diagnostic: by understanding what someone living out an aesthetic, ethical, or a religious existence seeks to achieve, the phenomenon of the faithful life, and its demands, comes into sharper focus. This faith is not simply some thought about God's greatness-indeed, the 'propositional content' of faith is a central issue of the book. Instead, Hough argues that Kierkegaardian faith is the hallmark of the fullest flowering of a human life, one achieved in ways only hinted at in the demeanor of the cheerful and enigmatic 'tax collector,' an existential task in which 'temporality, finitude is what it is all about'.


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Would that more philosophers were novelists. The novel would be much better were this true. More important, Sheridan Hough's philosophical work provokes imaginings of what philosophy could become if there were more people writing with such verve and panache and thinking with such lucid and compelling worldliness. In her hands phenomenology becomes what it could never become in Husserl or Heideggeraa philosophical perspective capable of convincing us that Kierkegaard's multiple perspectives on life provides dramatic renderings of spiritual values we can find nowhere else. Charles Altieri, Rachel Stageberg Anderson Chair in the Department of English, University of California, Berkeley A lively and thought-provoking account of Kierkegaard's understanding of faith and love. Sheridan Hough's book is a pleasure to read, especially her illuminating comments on commitment and silence, in particular Heidegger on reticence. The book is an appreciation of Kierkegaard that is well worth reading. Hubert Dreyfus, Professor of Philosophy in the Graduate School at the University of California, Berkeley It's unusual to find a study of Kierkegaard focussed on just one character from amongst his variegated and often weird cast of pseudonyms, parables, and fictional personalities, but this is what Sheridan Hough does in this new and lively study ... Hough's tax-collector proves to be a point of departure for what is a brilliant reading of Kierkegaard that shows how Kierkegaardian faith can illuminate intractable issues of human beings' experiences of horrific and pointless suffering ... thanks to her lightness of touch and patent existential passion this is not just another academic book about Kierkegaard but a moving statement of what his thought can mean and do for us today. George Pattison, 1640 Professor of Divinity, University of Glasgow

Sheridan Hough is Professor of Philosophy at the College of Charleston.

General Fields

  • : 9780198739999
  • : Oxford University Press
  • : Oxford University Press
  • : September 2015
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Sheridan Hough
  • : Hardback
  • : 192