In Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous work Philosophical Fragments, or a Fragment of Philosophy he discusses the differences between the teacher-learner relationships in the ethical and the religious levels of existence by equating them to the relationships between a teacher like Socrates and his pupil, or God as a teacher and Christians as his pupils.
STATEMENT OF PLAN:
To understand the two different types of teacher-learner relationships, we must first (1) understand the relationship in the ethical level of existence. We must then (2) examine the relationship in the religious level of existence. Finally (3) we must understand the importance of the differing relationships in comparison to one another.
(1) The first teacher-learner relationship outlined is the one between the Socratic teacher and his pupil. In this relationship the teacher and the moment of his lesson are not given any important weight. He is described in the text as having the role of a midwife. This is because the teacher is not bringing something new into the mind of the student, but instead awakening within him knowledge which he already possessed. Thus, the moment of learning is seen as being accidental.
The discovery made in the learning process could be achieved in a variety of ways. An example of this would be the knowledge that two plus two equals four. It would not matter if you learned this from a parent, an elementary school teacher, or simply by observing a quantity of something. The concept would be something which you comprehend through your own understanding of the world. The person who explained it would be merely helping find this knowledge within yourself. This concept, like all those learned in this type of relationship, is a universal one shared by all. Thus the Socratic teacher who is described at the ethical level is not given any special significance. Although he is capable of noting the progress of the pupil, he is incapable of making judgments. He is equal to the pupil, due to the fact that they are connected by the idea of the universal truth.
(2) The second teacher-learner relationship is the one found in the religious level of existence. This level focuses specifically on the Christian teacher, who is referred to as the savior and is implied to be Jesus. Unlike the teacher of the ethical level, the savior is capable of making judgments and is of the utmost necessity in the learning process. The truth that he teaches the student is not merely universal. Instead of aiding the student to understand what is within himself, the teacher must bring knowledge to the student which is outside of him. This moment of learning and the teacher therefore take on an important significance.
The moment is referred to as having “fullness of time,” since it has both eternal and decisive significance, but also occurs during a specific moment. The student is connected to these concepts not merely by his connection to the universal, but also through his individuality. Although the savior places himself on an equal level with the student, he is also, at the same time, far greater. Jesus took on human shape, yet at the same time he was also the embodiment of God. This provides a paradoxical relationship in the connection between teacher and learner at this level.
(3) The different relationships reflect the basic differences between the two different levels of existence. In the ethical level, after the teacher helps the students gain knowledge, they are still essentially the same. They have merely gained the universal knowledge that was already within them. On the other hand in the religious level, after the students have gained knowledge they are described in the text as becoming a “new creature”. Although still the same individual, they are now of a higher caliber. The ethical teaching relationship merely brings out what is universal in the student, but the religious relationship allows the individual to connect their own selves with the universal, which is greater and outside themselves. Thus although both levels develop the pupil, it is the religious one which truly spurs the student on to the higher knowledge and insight.