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Western Philosophers
19th-century philosophy
Søren Kierkegaard
Name: Søren Kierkegaard
Birth: May 5, 1813 (Copenhagen, Denmark)
Death: November 11, 1855 (Copenhagen, Denmark)
School/tradition: Precursor to Existentialism
Main interests
Religion, Metaphysics, Epistemology, Aesthetics, Ethics
Notable ideas
Regarded as the father of Existentialism, angst, existential despair, Three spheres of human existence, knight of faith, Subjectivity is Truth
InfluencesInfluenced
Abraham, Hegel, Kant, Lessing, Socrates (through Plato, Xenophon, Aristophanes) |
Jaspers, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Sartre, Buber, Tillich, Barth, Auden, Camus, Kafka

Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (IPA: [ˈsœːɔn ˈkʰiɔ̯g̊əˌg̊ɔːˀ], ca. "Seeurn Keergegor") (May 5, 1813November 11, 1855), a 19th century Danish philosopher and theologian, is generally recognized as the first existentialist philosopher. Philosophically, he bridged the gap that existed between Hegelian philosophy and what was to become Existentialism. Kierkegaard strongly criticised both the Hegelian philosophy of his time, and what he saw as the empty formalities of the Danish church. Much of his work deals with religious problems such as the nature of faith, the institution of the Christian Church, Christian ethics and theology, and the emotions and feelings of individuals when faced with existential choices. Because of this, Kierkegaard's work is sometimes characterized as Christian existentialism and existential psychology. Kierkegaard's work resists definite interpretation, since he wrote most of his early work under various pseudonyms, and often these pseudo-authors would comment on and critique the works of his other pseudo-authors. This makes it exceedingly difficult to distinguish between what Kierkegaard truly believed and what he was merely arguing for as part of a pseudo-author's position.

LifeEdit

Early years (1813–1841)Edit

Søren Kierkegaard was born to an affluent family in Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark. His father, Michael Pedersen Kierkegaard, was a strongly religious man. Convinced that he had earned God's wrath, he believed that none of his children would live to the age of 34. The sins necessitating this punishment, he believed, included cursing the name of God in his youth, and possibly impregnating Kierkegaard's mother out of wedlock. Though many of his seven children died young, his predictions were proved false when two of them surpassed this age. This early introduction to the notion of sin, and its connection from father and son, laid the foundation for much of Kierkegaard's work (particularly Fear and Trembling). Kierkegaard's mother, Anne Sørensdatter Lund Kierkegaard, is not directly referred to in his books, although she too affected his later writings. Despite his father's occasional religious melancholy, Kierkegaard and his father shared a close bond. Kierkegaard learned to explore the realm of his imagination through a series of exercises and games they played together.

Kierkegaard attended the School of Civic Virtue and Copenhagen University. At the university, Kierkegaard wrote his dissertation, The Concept of Irony, with Continual Reference to Socrates, which was found by the university panel to be a noteworthy and well-thought out work, but a little too wordy and literary for a philosophy thesis. Kierkegaard graduated in October 1841.

Regine Olsen (1837–1841)Edit

Regine olsen

Regine Olsen, the love of his life, and a muse for his writings.

Another important aspect of Kierkegaard's life (generally considered to have had a major influence on his work) was his broken engagement to Regine Olsen (1822 - 1904). Kierkegaard met Regine in 8 May 1837 and was instantly attracted to her, and she to him. In his journals, Kierkegaard wrote about his love for Regine:

Thou sovereign of my heart treasured in the deepest fastness of my chest, in the fullness of my thought, there ... unknown divinity! Oh, can I really believe the poet's tales, that when one first sees the object of one's love, one imagines one has seen her long ago, that all love like all knowledge is remembrance, that love too has its prophecies in the individual. ... it seems to me that I should have to possess the beauty of all girls in order to draw out a beauty equal to yours; that I should have to circumnavigate the world in order to find the place I lack and which the deepest mystery of my whole being points towards, and at the next moment you are so near to me, filling my spirit so powerfully that I am transfigured for myself, and feel that it's good to be here.

— Søren Kierkegaard, (Journals, February 21839)

On September 8 1840, Kierkegaard formally proposed to Regine. However, Kierkegaard soon felt disillusioned and melancholic about the marriage. Less than a year after he had proposed, he broke it off on August 11 1841. Several theories have been offered to explain, but Kierkegaard's motive for ending the engagement remains mysterious. It is generally believed that the two were deeply in love, perhaps even after she married Johan Frederik Schlegel (1817–1896), a prominent civil servant (not to be confused with the German philosopher Friedrich von Schlegel, 1772-1829). For the most part, their contact was limited to chance meetings on the streets of Copenhagen. Some years later, however, Kierkegaard went so far as to ask Regine's husband for permission to speak with her, but was refused. Soon afterward, the couple left the country, Schlegel having been appointed Governor in the Danish West Indies. By the time Regine returned, Kierkegaard was dead. Regine Schlegel lived until 1904, and upon her death she was buried near Kierkegaard in the Assistens Cemetery in Copenhagen.

The First Authorship (1841–1846)Edit

Although Kierkegaard wrote a few articles on politics, women, and entertainment in his youth and university days, many scholars believe Kierkegaard's first noteworthy work is either his university thesis, The Concept of Irony with Continual Reference to Socrates, which was presented in 1841 or his masterpiece and arguably greatest work, Either/Or, which was published in 1843. In either case, both works critiqued major figures in Western philosophic thought (Socrates in the former and Hegel in the latter), showcased Kierkegaard's unique style of writing, and displayed a maturity in writing from his works of youth. Either/Or was mostly written during Kierkegaard's stay in Berlin and was completed in the autumn of 1842. The work was published in February 1843.

Manuscript philosophical fragments

Kierkegaard's manuscript of Philosophical Fragments.

In the same year Either/Or was published, Kierkegaard found out Regine was engaged to be married to Johan Frederik Schlegel. This fact affected Kierkegaard and his subsequent writings deeply. In Fear and Trembling, published in late 1843, one can interpret a section in the work as saying: 'Kierkegaard hopes that through a divine act, Regine would return to him'. Repetition, published on the same day and year as Fear and Trembling, is about a young gentleman leaving his beloved. Several other works in this period make similar overtones of the Kierkegaard-Olsen relationship.

Other major works in this period focuses on a critique of Georg Hegel and form a basis for existential psychology. Philosophical Fragments, The Concept of Dread, and Stages on Life's Way are about thoughts and feelings an individual may face in life, existential choices and its consequences, and whether or not to embrace religion, specifically Christianity, in one's life. Perhaps the most valiant attack on Hegelianism is the Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments which discusses the importance of the individual, subjectivity as truth, and countering the Hegelian claim that the Rational is the Real and the Real is the Rational.

The Corsair Affair (1845–1846)Edit

On 22 December1845, Peder Ludvig Møller published an article critiquing Stages on Life's Way. The article gave Stages a poor review, but showed little understanding of the work. Møller was also a contributor of The Corsair, a Danish satirical paper that lampooned people of notable standing. Kierkegaard wrote a response in order to defend the work, ridicule Møller, and bring down The Corsair, earning him the ire of the paper and its editor, Meïr Aaron Goldschmidt.

The only two articles that Kierkegaard wrote in response to The Corsair were Activity of a Traveling Esthetician and Dialectical Result of a Literary Police Action. The former focused on insulting Møller's integrity and responding to his critique. The latter was a directed assault on The Corsair, in which Kierkegaard openly asked to be satirized.

With a paper like The Corsair, which hitherto has been read by many and all kinds of people and essentially has enjoyed the recognition of being ignored, despised, and never answered, the only thing to be done in writing in order to express the literary, moral order of things—reflected in the inversion that this paper with meager competence and extreme effort has sought to bring about—was for someone immortalized and praised in this paper to make application to be abused by the same paper ... May I asked to be abused—the personal injury of being immortalized by The Corsair is just too much.

— Søren Kierkegaard, (Dialectical Result of a Literary Police Action)

Over the next few months, The Corsair took Kierkegaard up on his offer to "be abused", and unleashed a series of attacks making fun of Kierkegaard's appearance, voice, and habits. For months, he was harassed on the streets of Denmark. In an 1846 journal entry, Kierkegaard makes a long, detailed explanation of his attack on Møller and The Corsair, and also explains that this attack made him quit his indirect communication authorship:

The days of my authorship are past, God be praised. I have been granted the satisfaction of bringing it to a conclusion [by] myself, understanding when it is fitting that I should make an end, and next after the publication of Either/Or I thank God for that. That this, once again, is not how people would see it, that I could actually prove in two words that it is so. I know quite well and find [my authorship] quite in order. But it has pained me; it seemed to me that I might have asked for that admission; but let it be. If only I can manage to become a priest. However much of my present life may have satisfied me: I shall breathe more freely in that quiet activity, allowing myself an occasional literary work in my free time.

— Søren Kierkegaard, (Journals, 9 March1846)

The Second Authorship (1846–1853)Edit

Sicknessmanuscript

Kierkegaard's manuscript of The Sickness Unto Death.

Whereas his first authorship focused on Hegel, this authorship focused on the hypocrisy of Christendom. After the Corsair incident, Kierkegaard became interested in "the public" and the individual's interaction with it. His first work in this period of his life was Two Ages: A Literary Review which was a critique of the novel Two Ages (in some translations Two Generations) written by Thomasine Christine Gyllembourg-Ehrensvärd. After giving his critique of the story, Kierkegaard made several insightful observations on the nature of the present age and its passionless attitude towards life.

The present age is essentially a sensible, reflecting age, devoid of passion, flaring up in superficial, short-lived enthusiasm and prudentially relaxing in indolence. ... whereas a passionate age accelerates, raises up, and overthrows, elevates and debases, a reflective apathetic age does the opposite, it stifles and impedes, it levels. In antiquity the individual in the crowd had no significance whatsoever; the man of excellence stood for them all. The trend today is in the direction of mathematical equality, so that in all classes about so and so many uniformly make one individual.... For leveling to take place, a phantom must first be raised, the spirit of leveling, a monstrous abstraction, an all-encompassing something that is nothing, a mirage—and this phantom is the public.... The present age is essentially a sensible age, devoid of passion and therefore it has nullified the principle of contradiction.

— Søren Kierkegaard, (Two Ages)

Other works continue to focus on the superficiality of "the crowd" attempting to limit and stifle the unique individual. The Book on Adler is a work about Pastor Adolf Peter Adler's claim to have had a sacrilegious revelation and was shunned and expulsed from the pastorate.

As part of his analysis of the crowd, Kierkegaard realized the decay and decadence of the Christian church, especially the Danish State Church. Kierkegaard believed Christendom had "lost its way" on the Christian faith. Christendom in this period ignored, skewed, and gave 'lip service' to the original Christian doctrine. Kierkegaard felt his duty in this later era was to inform others about the shallowness of so-called "Christian living". He wrote several criticisms on contemporary Christianity in works such as Christian Discourses, Works of Love, and Edifying Discourses in Diverse Spirits.

The Sickness Unto Death is one of Kierkegaard's most popular works in this era, and although some contemporary atheistic philosophers and psychologists dismiss Kierkegaard's suggested solution as faith, his analysis on the nature of despair is one of the best accounts on the subject and has been emulated in subsequent philosophies, such as Heidegger's concept of existential guilt and Sartre's bad faith.

Around 1848, Kierkegaard began a literary attack on the Danish State Church with books such as Practice in Christianity, For Self-Examination, and Judge for Yourselves!, which attempted to expound the true nature of Christianity, with Jesus as the role model.

Attack Upon Christendom (1854–1855)Edit

Kierkegaard's final years were taken up with a sustained, outright attack on the Danish State Church by means of newspaper articles published in The Fatherland (Fædrelandet) and a series of self-published pamphlets called The Moment (Øieblikket). Kierkegaard was initially called to action by a speech by Professor Hans Lassen Martensen, which called his recently deceased predecessor Bishop Jakob P. Mynster a "truth-witness, one of the authentic truth-witnesses." Kierkegaard had an affection towards Mynster, but had come to see that his conception of Christianity was in man's interest, rather than God's, and in no way was Mynster's life comparable to that of a 'truth-witness.'

On October 2, 1855, before the tenth number of the Moment could be published, Kierkegaard collapsed on the street and was taken to a hospital. He stayed in the hospital for nearly a month and refused to receive communion from a priest of the church, whom Kierkegaard regarded as merely an official and not a servant of God. He said to his friend since boyhood Emil Boesen, who kept a record of his conversations and was himself a pastor, that his life had been one of great and unknown suffering, which looked like vanity to others but was not. Kierkegaard died in Frederick's Hospital after being there for over a month, possibly from complications from a fall he had taken from a tree when he was a boy. He was interred in the Assistens Kirkegård in the Nørrebro section of Copenhagen. At Kierkegaard's funeral, his nephew Henrik Lund caused a disturbance by protesting that Kierkegaard was being buried by the official church even though in his life he had broken from and denounced it. Lund was later fined.

Following Kierkegaard's death the discovery of his journals and accounts of close friends revealed that Kierkegaard suffered from epilepsy for at least the duration of his adult life. [1] In his journals Kierkgaard considered his epilepsy to be the driving force behind his philosophical nature, stating that "because of the tension between [his] mind and body, [his spirit] has perhaps gained an uncommon resiliency". It appears that the fact that his condition was not known publicly during his life time was specifically orchestrated by Kierkegaard in order to avoid the social shame that accompanied epilepsy at that time, though his true motivation still remains a mystery.

Kierkegaard's ThoughtEdit

Main article: Philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard
Kierkegaard olavius

Søren Kierkegaard in the coffee-house. Sketch in oils by Christian Olavius, 1843

Kierkegaard is labeled as a Christian Existentialist, a theologian, the father of Existentialism, a psychologist, poet and as a philosopher. Two of his main ideas are the "leap of faith" and "subjectivity". The leap of faith is his conception of how an individual would believe in God, or how a person would act in love. It is not so much a rational decision, as it is a rejection of rationality in favour of something more uncanny, that is, faith. As such he thought that to have faith is at the same time to have doubt. So, for example, for one to truly have faith in God, one would also have to doubt that God exists; the doubt is the rational part of a person's thought, without which the faith would have no real substance. Doubt is an essential element of faith, an underpinning. In plain words, to believe or have faith that God exists, without ever having doubted God's existence or goodness, would not be a faith worth having. For example, it takes no faith to believe that a pencil or a table exists, when one is looking at it and touching it. In the same way, to believe or have faith in God is to know that one has no perceptual or any other access to God, and yet still has faith in God.

Kierkegaard also stressed the importance of the self, and the self's relation to the world as being grounded in self-reflection and introspection. He argued in Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments that "subjectivity is truth" and "truth is subjectivity"; that is, that the self is the ultimate governor of what life is and what life means. He also believed in the infinity of the self, explaining that the self could not be fully known or understood, because it is infinite. In this way his thought reflects the Christian idea of the soul, which is immortal; but Kierkegaard was not speaking about the immortality of the self as much as the depth of the soul, of a person's being.

His writings, many of which were written pseudonymously, reflected not only the trend at the time to write pseudonymously but also his idea that a person or a self is made up of many faces and facets, as his book titled Philosophical Fragments would indicate. Kierkegaard did not like the systems that were brought on by philosophers such as Kant and Hegel before him. He measured himself against the backdrop of philosophy which was introduced by Socrates, as he noted in Concluding Unscientific Postscript, and preferred a philosophy that was fragmented and made deep insights, without committing to an encompassing all-explaining system.

Indirect communication and pseudonymous authorshipEdit

File:EitherOr Cover.jpg

During Søren Kierkegaard's early authorship, he frequently wrote many of his works under various pseudonyms who represented different ways of thinking and living. This was part of Kierkegaard's indirect communication technique. According to several passages in his works and his journals, such as The Point of View of my Work as an Author, Kierkegaard wrote this way in order to prevent his works from being treated as a philosophical system with a systematic structure. In the Point of View, Kierkegaard wrote: "In the pseudonymous works, there is not a single word which is mine. I have no opinion about these works except as a third person, no knowledge of their meaning, except as a reader, not the remotest private relation to them."

Writing this way was intended to make it difficult to ascertain whether a viewpoint put forward by a pseudonym is a viewpoint actually held by Kierkegaard or not. Kierkegaard hoped readers would just read the work at face value, without attributing it to some aspect of his life. Kierkegaard thought he was able to write on various aspects of the aesthetic, ethical and religious stages of life, while his pseudonyms prevented readers from seeing all of this as one unified system.

Kierkegaard also did not want his readers to treat his work as authoritative. He wanted his readers to look to themselves for interpreting his work. Early Kierkegaardian scholars, such as Theodor W. Adorno, have disregarded Kierkegaard's intentions and argues that the entire authorship should be treated as Kierkegaard's own personal and religious views. This way of looking at Kierkegaard's work leads to many confusions and seeming contradictions, which makes Kierkegaard seem like an incoherent writer [2]. However, many later scholars, such as the post-structuralists, have respected Kierkegaard's wishes and intentions and interpreted his work by attributing the pseudonymous texts to their respective authors.

Some of Kierkegaard's most important pseudonyms include:

The Journals of Søren Kierkegaard Edit

Cover journals kierkegaard

The cover of the first English edition of The Journals, edited by Alexander Dru in 1938.

One of the key texts in attempting to understand Kierkegaard and his work is his journals. [3] Kierkegaard wrote over 7000 pages in his journals describing key events, musings, thoughts about his works and everyday remarks. The entire Danish journal has been edited and published in 13 volumes, which consist of 25 separate bindings, including indices. The first English edition of the journal was edited by Alexander Dru in 1938. His journals reveal many different facets of the man and his work and helps elucidate many of his ideas. Scholars have frequently noted the style in his journals are among the most elegant and poetic of his writings. Kierkegaard took his journals quite seriously and even remarked in one passage that it was his most trusted confidant:

I have never confided in anyone. By being an author I have in a sense made the public my confidant. But in respect of my relation to the public I must, once again, make posterity my confidant. The same people who are there to laugh at one cannot very well be made one's confidant.

— Søren Kierkegaard, (Journals, November 4, 1847)

His journals have also been the source of many aphorisms credited to Kierkegaard. The following passage is perhaps one of the most oft-quoted aphorism from Kierkegaard's journals and is usually a key quote for existentialist studies:

The thing is to a find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die.

— Søren Kierkegaard, (Journals, August 1, 1835)

Although his journals clarify some aspects of his work and life, Kierkegaard made note not to reveal too much. Abrupt changes in thought, repetitive writing, unusual turns of phrases are among many of the tactics Kierkegaard uses to throw readers of the track and lead to many variations of interpretations of his journals. However, Kierkegaard did not doubt the importance his journals would have in the future. In 1849, Kierkegaard wrote:

Only a dead man can dominate the situation in Denmark. Licentiousness, envy, gossip, and medocrity are everywhere supreme. Were I to die now the effect of my life would be exceptional; much of what I have simply jotted down carelessly in the Journals would become of great importance and have a great effect; for then people would have grown reconciled to me and would be able to grant me what was, and is, my right.

— Søren Kierkegaard, (Journals, December 1849)

Kierkegaard and ChristendomEdit

As mentioned in the biography, during the final years of his life, Kierkegaard took up a sustained attack on all of Christendom, Christanity as a political entity. In the 19th century, most Danes who were citizens of Denmark were necessarily members of the Danish State Church. In 2002 even, the Church of Denmark reports 84.3% of Danes are members of the state church [4]. Kierkegaard felt this state-church union was unacceptable and perverted the true meaning of Christianity. The main points of the attack include:

  • Church congregations are meaningless: The idea of congregations keeps individuals as children since it disinclines Christians from taking the initiative to take responsibility for their own relation to God. Kierkegaard stresses that "Christianity is the individual, here, the single individual." [5]
  • Christendom had become secularized and political: Since the Church was controlled by the State, Kierkegaard believed it was the State's bureacratic mission to increase membership and oversee the welfare of its members. More members would mean more power for the clergymen: a corrupt ideal. This mission would seem at odds with Christianity's true doctrine, which is to stress the importance of the individual, not the whole.
  • Christianity becomes an empty religion: Thus, the state church political structure is offensive and detrimental to individuals, since everyone can become "Christian" without knowing what it means to be Christian. It is also detrimental to the religion itself since it reduces Christianity to a mere fashionable tradition adhered to by unbelieving "believers", a "herd mentality" of the population, so to speak.

If the Church is "free" from the state, it's all good. I can immediately fit in this situation. But if the Church is to be emanicipated, then I must ask: By what means, in what way? A religious movement must be served religiously - otherwise it is a sham! Consequently, the emancipation must come about through martyrdom - bloody or bloodless. The price of purchase is the spiritual attitude. But those who wish to emancipate the Church by secular and worldly means (i.e. no martyrdom), they've introduced a conception of tolerance entirely consonant with that of the entire world, where tolerance equals indifference, and that is the most terrible offence against Christianity. ... the doctrine of the established Church, its organization, are both very good indeed. Oh, but then our lives: believe me, they are indeed wretched.

— Søren Kierkegaard, (Journals, January 1851)

Because of the incompetence and corruption of the Christian churches, Kierkegaard seemed to have foreseen philosophers like Nietzsche who would go on to criticize the Christian religion.

I ask: what does it mean when we continue to behave as though all were as it should be, calling ourselves Christians according to the New Testament, when the ideals of the New Testament have gone out of life? The tremendous disproportion which this state of affairs represents has, moreover, been perceived by many. They like to give it this turn: the human race has outgrown Christianity.

— Søren Kierkegaard, (Journals, 1852 June 19)

Criticisms of KierkegaardEdit

Some of Kierkegaard's famous philosophical critics in the 20th century include Theodor Adorno and Emmanuel Levinas. Atheistic philosophers such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Martin Heidegger mostly support Kierkegaard's philosophical views, but criticize and reject his religious views.

Adorno's take on Kierkegaard's philosophy has been less than faithful to the original intentions of Kierkegaard. At least one critic of Adorno considers his book Kierkegaard: Construction of the Aesthetic to be "the most irresponsible book ever written on Kierkegaard" because Adorno takes Kierkegaard's pseudonyms literally, and constructs an entire philosophy of Kierkegaard which makes him seem incoherent and unintelligible. This is like confusing William Shakespeare with Othello and Dostoevsky with Raskolnikov [6]. Another reviewer mentions that "Adorno is [far away] from the more credible translations and interpretations of the Collected Works of Kierkegaard we have today." [7].

Levinas' main attack on Kierkegaard is focused on his ethical and religious stages, especially in Fear and Trembling. Levinas criticizes the leap of faith by saying this suspension of the ethical and leap into the religious is a type of violence. [8]

Kierkegaardian violence begins when existence is forced to abandon the ethical stage in order to embark on the religious stage, the domain of belief. But belief no longer sought external justification. Even internally, it combined communication and isolation, and hence violence and passion. That is the origin of the relegation of ethical phenomena to secondary status and the contempt of the ethical foundation of being which has led, through Nietzsche, to the amoralism of recent philosophies.

— Emmanuel Levinas, Existence and Ethics, (1963)

Levinas points to the fact that it was God who first commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac and that it was an angel who commanded Abraham to stop. If Abraham was truly in the religious realm, he would not have listened to the angel to stop and should have continued to kill Isaac. "Transcending ethics" seems like a loophole to excuse would-be murders from their crime and thus is unacceptable. [9]

On Kierkegaard's religious views, Sartre offers the usual argument against existence of God: If existence precedes essence, it follows from the meaning of the term sentient that a sentient being cannot be complete or perfect. In Being and Nothingness, Sartre's phrasing is that God would be a pour-soi [a being-for-itself; a consciousness] who is also an en-soi [a being-in-itself; a thing]: which is a contradiction in terms.

Sartre agrees with Kierkegaard's analysis of Abraham undergoing anxiety (Sartre calls it anguish), but Sartre just doesn't buy the whole God told him to do it bit. In his lecture, Existentialism is a Humanism, he says:

The man who lies in self-excuse, by saying "Everyone will not do it" must be ill at ease in his conscience, for the act of lying implies the universal value which it denies. By its very disguise his anguish reveals itself. This is the anguish that Kierkegaard called "the anguish of Abraham." You know the story: An angel commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son; and obedience was obligatory, if it really was an angel who had appeared and said, "Thou, Abraham, shalt sacrifice thy son." But anyone in such a case would wonder, first, whether it was indeed an angel and secondly, whether I am really Abraham. Where are the proofs? A certain mad woman who suffered from hallucinations said that people were telephoning to her, and giving her orders. The doctor asked, "But who is it that speaks to you?" She replied: "He says it is God." And what, indeed, could prove to her that it was God? If an angel appears to me, what is the proof that it is an angel; or, if I hear voices, who can prove that they proceed from heaven and not from hell, or from my own subconsciousness or some pathological condition? Who can prove that they are really addressed to me?

— Jean-Paul Sartre, (Existentialism is a Humanism)

Kierkegaard would have said that this requirement for "proof that it is God" relies on reason, and Kierkegaard believes that faith, a total lack of reason, is needed to believe in God.

Kierkegaard's influenceEdit

Søren-Kirkegaard-Statue

The Søren Kierkegaard Statue in Copenhagen.

Kierkegaard's works were not widely available in the couple of decades after his death. This is perhaps due to the facts that Kierkegaard was shunned by the Danish State Church, one of the major institutions in Denmark at the time, as well as the relative obscurity of the Danish language, compared to languages such as German and English. Georg Brandes, an early Kierkegaardian Danish scholar who was fluent in Danish and German, gave one of the first formal lectures on Kierkegaard and helped bring Kierkegaard to the attention of Europe. Brandes also wrote the first book on Kierkegaard's philosophy and life in 1877. The dramatist Henrik Ibsen became interested in Kierkegaard and introduced the works in Scandinavia. German translations appeared during the 1910s, while the first English translations were produced in 1938 by Alexander Dru. Kierkegaard's fame as a philosopher grew tremendously in the 1930s, mostly in response to the growing existentialist movement.

Many 20th-century philosophers, both theistic and atheistic, drew many concepts from Kierkegaard, including the notions of angst, despair, and the importance of the individual. Philosophers and theologians who have been influenced by Kierkegaard include Karl Jaspers, Paul Tillich, Rudolf Karl Bultmann, Martin Buber, Gabriel Marcel, Miguel de Unamuno, Karl Barth, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Simone de Beauvoir. Paul Feyerabend's scientific anarchism was inspired by Kierkegaard's idea of subjectivity as truth. Ludwig Wittgenstein has been known to have been immensely influenced and humbled by Kierkegaard [10], claiming that "Kierkegaard is far too deep for me, anyhow. He bewilders me without working the good effects which he would in deeper souls." [11].

Kierkegaard's literary influence has also been considerable; those deeply affected by his work include Walker Percy, David Lodge, and John Updike.

Kierkegaard also had a profound influence on psychology and created the foundations of Christian psychology, existential psychology and therapy. Ludwig Binswanger, Victor Frankl, and Carl Rogers are well-known existential or humanistic psychologists. Rollo May, an American existential psychologist, based his work The Meaning of Anxiety on Kierkegaard's The Concept of Anxiety. Kierkegaard's sociological work Two Ages: The Age of Revolution and the Present Age provides an interesting critique of modernity. Kierkegaard is also an important figure in postmodernism.

Kierkegaard himself had accurately predicted his own posthumous fame in his journals. He foresaw that his work would become the subject of intense study and research. In his journals, he writes:

What the age needs is not a genius - it has had geniuses enough, but a martyr, who in order to teach men to obey would himself be obedient unto death. What the age needs is awakening. And therefore someday, not only my writings but my whole life, all the intriguing mystery of the machine will be studied and studied. I never forget how God helps me and it is therefore my last wish that everything may be to his honour

— Søren Kierkegaard, (Journals, November 20, 1847)

Selected bibliographyEdit

Fear Trembling Cover

Fear and Trembling, one of Kierkegaard's most popular works.

(for a complete bibliography, see "Complete Works of Kierkegaard")

See alsoEdit

NotesEdit

  1. ^  - Given the importance of the journals, references in the form of (Journals, XYZ) are referenced from Dru's 1938 Journals. When known, the exact date is given; otherwise, month and year, or just year is given.
  2. ^  - Statistic obtained from Wikipedia article Church of Denmark.
  3. ^  - Westphal p.9
  4. ^  - Lippit p.135-7

ReferencesEdit

BiographyEdit

WorksEdit

  • Duncan, Elmer. Søren Kierkegaard: Maker of the Modern Theological Mind, Word Books 1976, ISBN 0876804636
  • Kierkegaard. The Concept of Irony with Continual Reference to Socrates, Princeton University Press 1989, ISBN 0691073546
  • Lippit, John. Kierkegaard and Fear and Trembling, Routledge 2003, ISBN 0415180473
  • Oden, Thomas C. The Humor of Kierkegaard: An Anthology, Princeton University Press 2004, ISBN 069102085X
  • Ostenfeld, Ib and Alastair McKinnon. Søren Kierkegaard's Psychology, Wilfrid Laurer University Press 1972, ISBN 0889200688
  • Westphal, Merold. A Reading of Kierkegaard's Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Purdue University Press 1996, ISBN 1557530904

External linksEdit

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