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Søren Kierkegaard

One of Denmark's greatest and most influential philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, lived from May 5, 1813 to November 11, 1855. With acerbic wit and poetic use of parables, he used his distinct literary style to write critiques of morality, theology, philosophy, culture, and organized religion. Kierkegaard's philosophy and theology substantially influences contemporary thought, even beyond philosophy and theology. His writings have greatly helped shape existentialism[2] , postmodernism[3], neo-orthodoxy, and various schools of psychology. Kierkegaard's writings pose much difficulty for interpreters because of his use of myriad pseudonyms to portray and demonstrate various approaches to truth and life. One can find many books and writings by other philosophers and theologians about Kierkegaard, his writings and interpretation of those writings. Kierkegaard's main ideas include his idea of faith as beyond reason, truth is subjectivity as the rallying call for valuing life over mere objective truth, his pioneering thoughts on anxiety and despair, and his criticism of organized religion as a way to achieve religious fulfilment.[1]

At the request of his father, Kierkegaard studied theology at the University of Copenhagen. Midway through his studies his changed his focus to philosophy instead and wrote a thesis on Socrates, Socratic interpretators and Hegel.[5] He achieved his Master's degree in philosophy with the thesis On the Concept of Irony with Continual Reference to Socrates.[1] After university, he spent a prodigous career writing philosophy. At various points in his life, he got into conflict with the Danish Hegelians, the newspaper Corsair, and the Danish State Church, which provided the occasion for his greatest philosophical, psychological, and theological writings. He collapsed on the streets in 1855, and died shortly thereafter in a hospital, attended to by his best friend Emil Boesen.

Although Kierkegaard developed his philosophy throughout the 1830s and 1840s, while Hegel was still in vogue in university philosophy departments, Kierkegaard's writings had the most influence throughout the 20th century, both politically and intellectually.[5] Kierkegaard's philosophy dealt with many topics including religion, morality, psychology, epistemology, and literature. It also contained much social criticism, especially towards state religion and organized Christianity.[1]

Kierkegaard never wrote a full account of his entire philosophy. Instead, readers gain his insight through his Journals and pseudonymous and non-pseudonymous works, mostly filled with parables, reflecting pieces of his changing philosophy. In fact, in his autobiographical book, The Point of View for My Work As an Author, Kierkegaard noted that he developed his philosophy over time. For those reasons, readers may have trouble connecting the contentions and themes between Kierkegaard's books and writings. Kierkegaard not only lacked a desire to develop his philosophy into a system, he also explicitly belittled and criticized harshly such attempts in Philosophical Crumbs and the Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Crumbs.[5] Kierkegaard had a tendency to make provocative claims and he used a subtle or outlandish literary style depending on the pseudonym author used. As a result, his philosophy can cause intense reactions of both disgust and admiration.

The earliest works of Kierkegaard stressed his opposition to Hegelian thought and tendencies in philosophy, which continue to influence his later works. Other major themes include:

  • the leap of faith[8]
  • the claim that truth is subjectivity[8]
  • the distinction between various types of despair[10]
  • Christian religion's inherent non-rationality or offensiveness[9]

Additionaly, Kierkegaard's philosophy contains many central ideas that only appear briefly and/or rarely, such as repetition and The Knight of Faith.

Kierkegaard's later works entailed a persistent attack on Christian society and organized Christianity itself. Kierkegaard appeared to work towards understanding and, more importantly, living the Christianity of the New Testament.[7]

While often associated with existentialism and postmodernism, Kierkegaard actually viewed his project as a way to demostrate the inadequacy of philosophy, and in particular, Hegelian philosophy, on understanding Christianity and to demolish organized religion.[1]

After Kierkegaard's death, his ex-fiancee Regine Olsen Schlegel inherited the Journals and unpublished manuscripts. She burned some of the more personal writings involving Kierkegaard and herself, but for the most part she preserved the writings and voluminous Journals and donated them to the Danish Royal Library where they remain to this day.[6]

If you wish to read the writings of Søren Kierkegaard, the following books should be considered:

  • Either/Or
  • Fear and Trembling
  • Repetition
  • Philosophical Crumbs
  • Concept of Anxiety
  • Concluding Unscientific Postscript
  • Two Ages and the Present Age
  • Sickness Unto Death
  • Works of Love
  • Practice in Christianity
  • The Upbuilding Discourses
  • The Attack Upon Christendom

Sources

  • [1] plato.stanford.edu/entries/kierkegaard/ - Stanford Encyclopedia Entry on Kierkegaard
  • [2] plato.stanford.edu/entries/existentialism/ - Stanford Encyclopedia Entry on Existentialism
  • [3] plato.stanford.edu/entries/postmodernism/ - Stanford Encyclopedia Entry on Postmodernism
  • [4] www.iep.utm.edu/kierkega/ - Internet Encyclopedia Entry on Kierkegaard
  • [5] www.egs.edu/library/soeren-kierkegaard/biography/ - European Graduate School on Kierkegaard
  • [6] www.kb.dk/en/nb/tema/webudstillinger/sk-mss/ - Danish Royal Library on Kierkegaard
  • [7] Kierkegaard, S. Attack Upon Christendom.
  • [8] Kierkegaard, S. Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Crumbs.
  • [9] Kierkegaard, S. Practice in Christianity.
  • [10] Kierkegaard, S. The Sickness Unto Death.
Page last modified on July 29, 2013, at 06:36 AM