PHILOSOPHY – Soren Kierkegaard

Søren Kierkegaard was a brilliant, gloomy, anxiety-ridden, often hilarious Danish 19th century philosopher. The author of 22 books, of which 3 continue to make his name. He was born in an immensely wealthy family in Copenhagen in 1813, the youngest of 7 children. Death was around him constantly from a young age, and was to obsess him throughout his career. It is, in a sense, his only theme. Not only was he extremely physically frail, by the time he was 22, all his siblings had died except for he and a brother. It drove him to furious production of books over 15 years. On a single day in 1843 he published no less than 3 works. He wasn’t writing for the money; he was working to save himself, and, he thought, humanity. As it happened, he made it to the age of 42, then died of an excruciating spinal disease. In “Either/Or” and “Fear and Trembling”, what Kierkegaard wants to do above all is wake up and give up our cozy sentimental illusions. He systematically attacks the pillars of modern life: our faith in family, our trust in work, our attachment to love, and our general sense that life has purpose and meaning. His enemies were the smug in all their guises, particularly, the prosperous Danish haute bourgeoisie, and the members of the established Danish church. He tells us, “As I grew up I opened my eyes and saw the real world, and I began to laugh and I haven’t stopped since. I saw that the meaning of life was to get a livelihood, that the goal of life was to be a High Court judge, that the brightest joy of love was to marry a well-off girl, that wisdom was what the majority said it was, that passion was to give a speech, that courage was to risk being fined ten dollars, that cordiality was to say “you’re welcome” after a meal, and that the fear of God was to go to communion once a year. That’s what I saw and I laughed.” Kierkegaard was especially caustic about the 19th century understanding of love, and the new ideology of passionate marriage, which aimed to unite desire with prudence, and suggested that one could enjoy all the thrills of a love affair, and, at the same time, all the stability for long-term relationship. But, Kierkegaard mocked the notion that one could ever fuse romantic laugh with marriage, that one could have passion and sex, and, at the same time, children, stability, and routine. He respected both, he just couldn’t believe you could have them both at the same time- in a cozy marriage sanctified by the state and the neighborhoods. His belief arose out of his own tortured love life. He fell in love with a beautiful, precocious, and talented 18-year-old girl, called Regine Olsen, only then to break off the engagement as he realized that to try and live with her forever would also mean killing the love that had drawn him to her. Everywhere he turned, Kierkegaard saw intolerable incompatibilities, and impossible choices. It led him to one memorable explosion in “Either/Or”: “Marry and you will regret it. Don’t marry; you will also regret it.” “Marry or don’t marry; you will regret it either way.” “Laugh at the world’s foolishness; you will regret it.” “Weep over it; you’ll regret that too.” “Hang yourself; you’ll regret it. Don’t hang yourself and you’ll regret that too.” “Whether you hang yourself or don’t hang yourself, you will regret both.” “This, gentlemen, is the essence of all philosophy.” The mention of laughter is not a coincidence; key to Kierkegaard’s philosophy is that: the only intelligent tactical response to life’s horror is to laugh defiantly at it. Rarely has a philosopher taken humor as seriously. Kierkegaard is often described as the founder of the philosophical movement known as “existentialism”, because, in him, we find all the themes that would so interest later thinkers, like Sartre, Camus, and Heidegger. The book that fascinated the existentialists was Kierkegaard’s, “The Concept of Anxiety”, published in 1844, in which he emphasized a new word, “angest”, or “angst”, as we know it in English, a condition where we understand how many choices we face, and how little understanding we can ever have of how to exercise these choices wisely. As Kierkegaard wrote, “Life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards”. Our constant angst means that unhappiness is more or less written into the script of life, as he wrote, “anyone who has given the matter any serious thought will know that I’m right when I say,” “it’s not possible for anyone to be absolutely, and in every conceivable way, completely content,” “not even for a single half hour of his life.” “No one has come into the world without crying. No one asks when you want to enter the world; no one asks when you want to leave.” “How empty and meaningless life is; we bury a person, throw three shovels of earth over him,” “drive out in a coach, drive back in a coach, and console ourselves that we still have life enough left to live.” “But really, how long is three score and ten; why not just get it over with straight away?” For Kierkegaard there was, however, one answer that he put forward ever more stridently in his later works: Jesus Christ. Kierkegaard loathed the Christianity of the established Danish church, but he adored the simple truths of the Gospels that his father taught him as a boy For him, Christianity was a religion of extreme surrender to a theology of almost peasantlike simplicity: one was to be ready to die for Christ, to give up all attachment to worldly things, and to love all humans like one’s siblings. Kierkegaard wasn’t interested in justifying his attachment to Christianity through rational means; instead, he recommended a dramatic and now famous ‘leap of faith’, wherein one wouldn’t apply one’s puny mind to attempting to prove the existence of God, one would merely switch off one’s faulty rational faculties, and jump into the idea of God as the total solution. As he put it, “To have faith is to lose your mind and to win God”. Like Marxist communism, Kierkegaard’s solutions to the problems of being human are far less convincing and interesting than the diagnoses of our ills; few of us now make that leap, but Kierkegaard deserves our attention for the beautifully bitter, caustic look he casts on the human condition. He’s one of the few philosophers one can turn to when the world has badly let us down, and we’re in need of a friend who can fully understand the dark places we’re in once the sentimental illusions, that normally keep us going, fall away.

Maurice Vega

100 Responses

  1. 1) Hang yourself, you will regret it; 🙂 (this sentence sound strange to me…..).
    2) Do not hang yourself, and you will regret that too; (Ok, but in case you regret it, You can always try again)

  2. The worst thing that will ever happen with the world, is that it never took time to know what someone like Ali Ibn Abi Talib said

  3. Just… the very best, I ever read….. to the level of Shakespeare, Dante or Ovidio. But in a few words, very elocuent. Just great.

  4. Have you only read the first 50 pages of enten-eller? Im a dane, and I have only read 50 pages so far, and you Said it all… Where are the four types? The good, the beautiful, the religious… I dont know the english Word, but spidsborgeren??

  5. Love is faith, hope and admiration towards a person. That person need not be perfect, One who cannot love under the stress of reality will not be gifted with the present of a loving marriage.

  6. A shame the narrator dismisses Christ, the truth and the way so flippantly. Understood from that perspective Kirkegaard is a far less bleak philosopher. None so blind. . .

  7. I know I’m going to get shit for saying this, but this guy and all other nihilistic philosophers ended up being fools. Such great calculations arising from such flawed premises. One of my favorite quotes is that fantastic arithmetic will still get you the wrong answer if you start with the wrong data.

    Nihilistic philosophers quickly dismiss man’s natural desires as foolishness, but neglect to fully analyze their rise in the first place.

    For instance, man’s longing for meaning. Either two scenarios exist- either man desires meaning because the universe has one, or because somehow beliefs in meaning are beneficial toward survival. Either way, we are now genetically built to desire meaning. It is nihilism, to take away the ability to obtain a base desire, that ends up being laughable. It is a way to commit mental suicide, and when you reach a result that is wrong, even if the equation looks correct, the starting data is not.


    Q How can you NOT be here?

    A ! here be not CANNOT You

    The full version of E=W/A is on LinkedIn: (5 mins reading time)

  9. This is an atrocious reading of Kirekegaard. His only theme is death? Have you read his works? Love, faith, marriage, finding one's vocation. He also clearly had no intention to destroy our understandings of institutions, but rather to make us revere them with more passion. It seems as though you read Part A of Either/Or and a few quotes from the Sickness Unto Death, and built an image of the author from this alone.

  10. You have such an astonishingly pronounced atheist bias… you do realize more people believe in God than not, and that we are just as interested in and moved by philosophy?

  11. This is a guy who wrote a whole book saying happiness was only possible for Christians.

    What an incredibly idiotic thought to have and publish.

  12. I wonder if he had any access to the Nag Hammadi or the general themes therein as he is pretty well-describing humanities predicament with its archon rulers.

  13. I liked it up until you started mocking him for holding Christian views. You have to be prepared to embrace his philosophy in its entirety regardless of your own personal views.

  14. My response to some comments is, when you learned there was no Father Christmas after all, did you want to commit suicide? No. You just wanted to be alive. Well, the same goes for “there is no life, of itself”.
    (read Part B of the following);

  15. So he had it pretty spot on until it came to Jesus. Unfortunate that he championed a purposeful suspension of rational thought.

  16. Maybe Kierkegaard had his Dark Night of The Soul??? Which is really a blessing disguise as it gives an individual an opportunity to work off all their Karma in one lifetime? A brave man was Soren indeed to experience a lifetime of misery and betrayal and loneliness, he must have rejected the many temptations of Life?. But he must have held on to the end and was rewarded by God's Grace. As he chose Death as his Teacher in his Life, he must have seen and experienced the most heinous of situations and visions, one would never wish to ever see again ever. Which makes one think that the Fear of God should put us off committing grievous sins towards other created beings. The maxim of Harm None in thought, word and action comes to mind!!!

  17. Strange that you never said anything about his understanding of the subjective and the objective world; moreover his three phases of being.

  18. "Let the disappointments pass, let the laughter fill your glass, let your illusions last, until they shatter. Whatever you might hope to find, among the thoughts that crowd your mind, there won't be many, that ever really matter." – Jackson Browne

  19. "To have faith is to lose your mind and to win God" is half right — faith is mindless nonsense.

  20. I see most modern philosophers are rather nihilistic. That is "trendy" to say that life is meaningless.
    Heidegger is one that is not nihilistic.

  21. Not of what you saying is meaningless you can have the regrets of anything to everything but wants the point of existing with all of these regrets

  22. How an existenlist believes in an “idiot” character like jesus? Where he presented the ideology that despises the existence and focus on the afterlife and salvation.

  23. White man philosophy is so much more depressing than eastern philosophy, which is full of calmness and contentment rather than sadness

  24. I think it was J B Priestly who noted a permeating tone of adolescence in both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche – the Vitruvian ideal seems to me the antidote to both after taking real appreciations: build well, stay practical but ally it with fine operations of intellect. In the modern period I cannot think of anyone who better exemplifies this than Christopher Wren – Architect Philosopher Mathematician and interesting Occultist.

  25. My friend has read his books and couldn’t understand him. This is an excellent explanation. Basically, life is complicated but we all think it is simple, black and white, it isn’t and Kerkegaard understands this more than anybody. The forerunner of existentialism.

  26. I love the view on comedy. But yikes on God. If you have to jettison your mind to win god, that should be a clue as to the existence of that god.

  27. He was a bit full of shit. I have never gotten married and I DO NOT REGRET IT ONE SINGLE BIT! In fact, I rejoice at that every morning when I wake up!

  28. no one is coming to the world without crying, no one asks when you want to enter the world, and no one asks when you want to leave!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment