An Exploration of the Nature and Significance of Socratic and Kierkegaardian Irony
This essay shall examine these philosophers's use of irony in some detail. In each case, it shall explore: (1) what each philosopher took the essential relationship between humanity and existence to be, and (2) why their particular uses of irony were the most effective modes of discourse given the nature of the societies around them and of what they took (1) to be. It shall begin with a look at the historical Socrates presented in Plato's Apology, and draw some general characteristics about him and his philosophical mission. Then it shall move on to explore how the activity of elenchus provides him with the means to accomplish many of his set philosophical goals. Here I shall rely heavily on the most recent work of Brickhouse and Smith. Thereupon, I plan to demonstrate that irony is an important aspect of elenchus (examination). It (1) increases the interlocutor's self-awareness, (2) makes him self standing and autonomous, and (3) maiutically draws him towards the truth in a way that (inferior) sophistic pedagogy, being in-itself a corrupt form of overcoming the other through direct rhetoric, cannot do. The last two points shall rely heavily on the most recent works of Gregory Vlastos and Michelle Gellrich, respectively. The exploration of Kierkegaardian irony then begins with Kierkegaard's own disparagement of modern living found in his work The Present Age. It then proceeds to articulate the problem more clearly in terms of his concept of despair found in his book The Sickness Unto Death. From there one will find an exploration of Kierkegaardian irony that attempts to solve the problems exposed in the first two works. I hope that a fuller account of irony will exhibit itself in the process, and that one will come to see the essential similarities and differences in both philosophers' use of it.