Søren Kierkegaard: Biography, Thought, Contributions And Works

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) was a Danish philosopher and theologian considered to be the father of existentialism. He was born in Copenhagen and his childhood was marked by the strong personality of his father, a very religious man who raised him in the belief that God did not forgive sins committed.

Kierkegaard, to please his father, studied theology, although he soon showed much more interest in philosophy. It was at university that he began to study Greek classics, as well as taking an interest in Lutheran dogmas and German idealistic philosophy.

Source: By The Royal Library, Denmark [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

Kierkegaard’s early works were written under a pseudonym. Part of his writings during that period had as their theme the criticism of Hegel, discussing the importance of personal subjectivity.

During the second stage of his professional life, Kierkegaard began to deal with what he called the hypocrisy of Christianity or, more specifically, of the Church as an institution.

It was during this period when he wrote one of his works considered most important: The mortal disease . In it he made a complex analysis of existential anguish that was, according to experts, one of his most influential contributions to later philosophy.

Article index

  • one

    Biography

    • 1.1

      Studies

    • 1.2

      Regine Olsen

    • 1.3

      Early literary works

    • 1.4

      The corsair

    • 1.5

      Writings on religion

    • 1.6

      Conflict with the Danish Church

    • 1.7

      Death

  • two

    Thought (philosophy)

    • 2.1

      Fideism

    • 2.2

      Faith

    • 23

      Relativism

    • 2.4

      Alienation of self

    • 2.5

      Body and soul

    • 2.6

      God as foundation

    • 2.7

      The new man before God

  • 3

    Contributions

    • 3.1

      Language

    • 3.2

      Politics

  • 4

    Plays

    • 4.1

      Diaries

    • 4.2

      More important works

    • 4.3

      Author’s publications

  • 5

    References

Biography

Søren Aabye Kierkegaard came to the world on May 5, 1813 in the city of Copenhagen. He was born into a wealthy family with strong religious beliefs. In this sense, his father, Michael Pedersen, has been described by the philosopher’s biographers as radical.

The education that the young Kierkegaard received from his father was characterized by the concept of sin. His father, who considered himself a sinner for having made his wife pregnant before he married, was convinced that God would end up punishing him. To his children, for example, he prophesied that they would all die before they were 33 years old.

Parental influence led Kierkegaard to perform many religious works. In addition, he promised that he would become a Pastor, a request made by his father before he passed away.

Studies

Kierkegaard completed his primary and secondary studies at the public school in the Danish capital. It was also there that he entered the Faculty of Theology in 1830 in order to fulfill his father’s wish.

However, Kierkegaard’s interest soon began to drift towards philosophy. At the same University he began to study the Greek philosophers and other currents that were in vogue in his time.

According to his biographers, Kierkegaard lived those years imprisoned by his natural melancholy. His presence was frequent at parties and dances, but underneath that public facet he hid a reflective attitude.

It was during the last years of his studies that he suffered a deep inner crisis. The author tried very hard to fulfill his father’s desire and live according to Christian precepts, but in reality he had no interest in theological studies. In the end, this led to him breaking up with his father.

Despite this breakup, the death of his father led him to make one last attempt to please him. Thus, in 1840 he took his final exam in theology. The thesis, of great quality, dealt with the concept of irony in Socrates. Finally, Kierkegaard received his title in 1841.

Regine Olsen

In addition to his father, there was another figure in Kierkegaard’s life who influenced his career and his work. It was Regine Olsen, a woman he was engaged to. According to the biographers, they met on May 8, 1837, and it seems that the mutual attraction was immediate.

Kierkegaard asked her in marriage on September 8, 1840, and she accepted. However, just a year later, the philosopher broke off the engagement for no apparent reason.

The explanation given by the author in one of his Diaries was that his natural melancholy made him unfit for marriage, although, in reality, no one knows the exact reasons for his action.

This relationship affected Kierkegaard greatly. Despite being the one who put an end to it, it seems he could never forget her. In fact, years later, when she was married to another man, she even asked her husband for permission to speak with her. The husband denied it.

A curious detail is that Regine, who passed away in 1904, was buried near Kierkegaard in the Danish capital.

Early literary works

Already during his university stage, Kierkegaard wrote some articles on a variety of topics. However, his first important work was his already mentioned university thesis.

The same year in which she presented this thesis, Kierkegaard received the news of Regine’s engagement to her husband. Biographers affirm that this affected him enormously and was reflected in his later work.

Two years after presenting the thesis, in 1843, Kierkegaard published what many consider one of his masterpieces: Either one or the other , written during a stay he made in Berlin. If in his thesis he made a critique of Socrates, in this his objective was Hegel.

At the end of 1843, he saw the light of Fear and Trembling, in which his disgust for Regine’s wedding can be guessed. The same goes for Replay , published on the same day as the previous one.

Throughout this period, most of his writings dealt with philosophy and were published under a pseudonym and with an indirect style. They highlighted his strong criticisms of Hegel, laying the foundations of existentialism.

The corsair

The publication of Stages of the Way of Life ended up causing a strong confrontation between Kierkegaard and a prestigious satirical magazine of his time. It all started when, at the end of 1845, Peder Ludvig Møller made a fierce criticism of his book. In addition, the same author published a satirical article on Kierkegaard in the magazine El Corsario.

Kierkegaard reacted, ridiculing Møller as well as disparaging the magazine. The latter caused the editor to order that more articles be written mocking the philosopher. The tension grew so high that Kierkegaard was harassed for months on the streets of the city.

This situation ended up causing Kierkegaard to abandon his activity as a writer, as he himself explained in one of his Diaries.

Writings on religion

The second stage within Kierkegaard’s work was characterized by an attack on what he considered to be the hypocrisy of Christianity. Actually, the author was referring to the Church as an institution, as well as the concept of religion practiced by society.

Likewise, he began to be interested in the individual and his behavior when he is part of society or the mass.

Kierkegaard criticized the members of the new generation in his country, calling it excessively rational and lacking passions. He concluded by pointing out that it was a conformist generation, assimilated into what he calls mass. For the philosopher, this mass ends up annulling the individual, repressing him.

During this phase of his life, Kierkegaard published another of his best-known works, The Deadly Disease . In it, he made an analysis of existential anguish that became a reference for later philosophers.

In his attack on the ecclesiastical institution and the “public” as a concept, Kierkegaard devoted much of his writing to the decline of the Danish People’s Church. This criticism was accentuated from the year 1848.

Conflict with the Danish Church

The animosity that Kierkegaard showed towards the Danish People’s Church was due to the fact that he considered the conception of Christianity that they preached to be erroneous. Thus, for the philosopher, that conception was based more on the interest of man than on that of God.

Kierkegaard published several pamphlets entitled The Moment , all dedicated to criticizing that Church. Since it was a very controversial subject, the publication of those writings had to be paid for himself. Besides, he also wrote several articles on the subject in La Patria, a newspaper in the country.

Death

Just as the tenth chapter of The Moment was about to appear , Kierkegaard fell ill. His biographers say that he fainted in the middle of the street and spent a month in the hospital. True to his beliefs, he refused to receive assistance from a pastor. For Kierkegaard, this religious was only a kind of official and not a true servant of God.

Before dying, the philosopher related to a childhood friend that his life had been a suffering. Finally, he died in hospital on November 11, 1855, in the city where he was born.

His funeral was officiated by a pastor of the official Church, although Kierkegaard had asked during his life to move away from that institution.

Thought (philosophy)

Despite his attacks on the Church, experts claim that the entire philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard was based on faith. The influence of his father led him to think that this faith was the one that was going to save human beings from despair.

Kierkegaard, unlike Marx or Feuerbach, believed that man relates to himself through the spirit, through personal faith understood from the religious sphere.

Within the history of philosophy, Kierkegaard is considered the father of existentialism. The author affirms the reality of the individual and relates it to his behavior within society.

Fideism

Perhaps due to his own personal reality, Kierkegaard had as the center of his philosophy the belief that human existence is full of anxiety and hopelessness, coupled with a sinful feeling. For him, there was only one cure for this: total commitment to God.

Kierkegaard admitted that making that commitment, that leap of faith, was not easy. He defined it as something terrifying and certainly not rational. He compared the life of faith to being in the middle of the ocean “over seventy thousand strokes” of water.

However, he affirmed that it was necessary to take that leap of faith, since only in transcendence could man find relief from anxiety.

Faith

The Faith that Kierkegaard spoke of was far beyond rational. Furthermore, authentic faith was, for the author, equivalent to having doubts. In this way, he came to the conclusion that one had to doubt the existence of God in order to have true faith in his existence.

The explanation for this apparent contradiction is that Kierkegaard understood this doubt as the rational part of the human being. That rational part pushes man not to believe, but only the faith that has faced doubt has real validity.

Relativism

Another aspect very much treated by Kierkegaard in his philosophical works is on subjectivity. In Philosophical Crumbs , he stated that “subjectivity is truth” and “truth is subjectivity.” For the experts, these expressions are related to their point of view on faith. For the philosopher “faith” and “truth” are the same.

Kierkegaard distinguished in his work between having the truth and being in the truth. In this way, someone can know all the basics of religion, but not live according to it. For the author, the important thing was “to be in the truth”, living as religion dictates even if all its intricacies are not known.

Scholars of Kierkegaard’s work give the example of someone who lives believing that religious doctrines may be true. That someone, for the author, would not be truly religious. Only he who achieves a subjective relationship of total commitment to the doctrines reaches true faith.

Alienation of self

Within Kierkegaard’s thought, vital despair has a special importance. The author stated that this despair is not equivalent to depression, but rather comes from the alienation of the self.

The Danish philosopher divided despair into several levels. The most basic and common came from ignorance about the “me.” However, Kierkegaard claimed that this ignorance was similar to happiness, so he did not consider it important.

The true despair, that which leads to the negative part of the person, came from the amplified consciousness of “I”, together with a hatred towards that “I”.

The example Kierkegaard used to explain this concept was that of a man who tried to become emperor. For the philosopher, even if he achieved his goal, he would suffer for having left his old “self” behind. What’s more, when trying it already denoted an attempt to leave it behind. That self-denial would lead to despair.

The way to avoid it, for the author, was to try to accept himself and find inner harmony. Ultimately, it would be about being oneself, instead of wanting to be someone else. Despair disappears when you accept yourself.

Body and soul

One of the recurring themes in universal philosophy has been the existence of the soul and its relationship with the physical body. Kierkegaard also entered into that controversy, stating that each human being is a synthesis between both parties.

According to his writings, this synthesis between soul and body is presented thanks to the spirit, which, in the process, awakens the person’s self-awareness. This awakening of the “I” has, for the author, an ontological component, but also a religious one.

God as foundation

Related to the previous point, Kierkegaard affirmed that the awakening of self-consciousness can come through the choice on the part of the “I” of God as the foundation. That God, which he also defines as Absolute, represents freedom.

Instead, the philosopher considered that those who do not choose the Absolute to assert themselves, but only choose themselves, inevitably fall into despair.

In this way, the human being who is not based on God, enters a continuous loop of reflection and does not quite determine himself as a spirit. For him, it is a non-real “me”.

The new man before God

Some authors affirm that this part of Kierkegaard’s philosophy advanced some concepts that, later, Nietzsche would treat in depth. His conclusion, however, is very different from what the German philosopher would reach.

Kierkegaard analyzed the despair that suffocates the “I” that wants to be itself, without the presence of God. For the Danish, in order to achieve that consciousness of the infinite “I”, the human being tried to separate himself from the Absolute, from that God who founds everything. It would, therefore, be a kind of rebellion before the deity.

This is related to the idea of ​​the superman that Nietzsche would later raise. However, while for the German it was essential to “kill” God for man to free himself, Kierkegaard believed otherwise. That “superman”, to use Nietzschean terminology, is the one who prostrates himself before God, not the one who rejects him.

Contributions

Among Kierkegaard’s contributions is his reflection on language and its ability to show reality. As in the rest of his work, religion played a very prominent role in his conclusions.

In addition, he also wrote some work that could be considered political, although more theoretical than with the pretense of taking sides with any ideology.

Language

For the Danish author, there are two types of communication. The first, which he called “dialectic” was the one used to communicate ideas, knowledge. The second was the communication of power.

It is in this second way of communicating where the individual takes center stage. This is because, according to Kierkegaard, the important thing is not so much what is said, but how it is done.

The author himself gave an example of this second way of communicating in his works under a pseudonym. In them he practiced an indirect style to relate his opinions.

It is, in this way, a way of communicating that is more subjective than the mere presentation of ideas. Kierkegaard believed that it was the best way to provoke the conversion, to convince the receiver.

He also affirmed that the error of the thought of his time is to have tried to teach ethics and religion using dialectical communication and not subjective communication.

Politics

According to his biographers, Kierkegaard considered himself within conservative positions. Despite this, he supported the reforms proposed by King Frederick VII in his country.

Faced with Marx and his Communist Manifesto , the Dane wrote Christian Speeches . In emphasized the subjects as singular entities. Marx, in his work, instigated the mass to revolt to improve their situation, while Kierkegaard, proposed the individual to leave the mass that supported the established order.

Plays

As noted above, much of Kierkegaard’s work was written under various pseudonyms. With them, the author tried to represent different ways of thinking, within the indirect communication that he proposed for some topics.

The philosopher, with that style, wanted his works not to be considered as a closed system, but rather that readers draw their own conclusions. He himself explained his motivations:

«In the works written under a pseudonym there is not a single word that is mine. The only opinion I have about these works is that I can form myself as a third person; no knowledge about its meaning, other than as a reader; not the slightest private relationship with them. ”

Diaries

Kierkegaard’s diaries have been a fundamental source for understanding his thought, as well as his own life. They are made up of almost 7000 pages in which he recounted some key events, his ramblings or the observations he made every day.

According to their biographers, these diaries have an extremely elegant and poetic writing style, much more so than the rest of their publications. Many of the quotes attributed to the author have been extracted from them.

More important works

Experts divide Kierkegaard’s work into two different periods. In both he dealt with similar themes: religion, Christianity, his vision of the individual in front of the mass, the anguish of existence, etc …

The first stage comprised between 1843 and 1846, while the second spanned between 1847 and 1851. Among his most important works, experts point out Diary of a Seducer (1843), The Concept of Anguish (1844), Stages on the Way of life (1845), The mortal disease (1849) and Exercise in Christianity (1850).

Author’s publications

Either one or the other (1843) (Enten – Eller)

Two edifying speeches (To opbyggelige Taler)

Fear and trembling (Frygt og Bæven)

Repetition (Gjentagelsen)

Four Edifying Discourses (1843) (Fire opbyggelige Taler)

Three Edifying Discourses (1844) (Tre opbyggelige Taler)

Philosophical Crumbs (Philosophiske Smuler)

Johannes Climacus

The Diary of a Seducer (Forførerens Dagbog)

The concept of anguish (Begrebet Angest)

On the concept of irony in constant reference to Socrates (1841) (Om Begrebet Ironi, med stadigt Hensyn til Socrates)

Prefaces (Forord)

Three speeches sometimes imagined (Tre Taler ved tænkte Leiligheder)

Stages of the path of life (Stadier paa Livets Vei)

A literary advertisement (En literair Anmeldelse)

– Edifying Discourses in Various Spirits (Opbyggelige Taler i forskjellig Aand)

The works of love (Kjerlighedens Gjerninger)

Christian speeches (Christelige Taler)

The crisis and a crisis in the life of an actress (Krisen og in Krise i in Skuespillerindes Liv)

The lilies of the field and the birds of the sky (Lilien paa Marken og Fuglen under Himlen)

Two small ethical-religious treatises (Tvende ethisk-religieuse Smaa-Afhandlinger)

The Deadly Sickness / Treatise of Despair (Sygdommen til Døden)

My point of view (1847) (Om min Forfatter-Virksomhed)

The moment (Öieblikket)

The Treaty of Despair

References

  1. EcuRed. Soren Kierkegaard. Obtained from ecured.cu
  2. Fazio, Mariano. Søren Kierkegaard. Retrieved from philosophica.info
  3. Fernandez, Francis. Kierkegaard and life’s choices. Obtained from elindependientedegranada.es
  4. Westphal, Merold. Søren Kierkegaard- Retrieved from britannica.com
  5. McDonald, William. Søren Kierkegaard. Recovered from plato.stanford.edu
  6. Robephiles. Key Concepts of the Philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard. Retrieved from owlcation.com
  7. Hendricks, Scotty. God’s Answer to Nietzsche, the Philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard. Retrieved from bigthink.com
  8. Famous Philosophers. Søren Kierkegaard. Retrieved from famousphilosophers.org

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