From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"The gods were bored, and so they created man. Adam was bored because he was alone, and so Eve was created. Thus boredom entered the world, and increased in proportion to the increase of population. Adam was bored alone; then Adam and Eve were bored together; then Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel were bored en famille; then the population of the world increased, and the peoples were bored en masse. To divert themselves they conceived the idea of constructing a tower high enough to reach the heavens. This idea is itself as boring as the tower was high, and constitutes a terrible proof of how boredom gained the upper hand." --Either/Or, Søren Kierkegaard [...]
"I prefer to talk with old ladies who retail family nonsense; next with the insane -- and last of all with very reasonable people." --journal, Søren Kierkegaard
"What makes the difference in life is not what is said, but how it is said. As for the 'what,' the same thing has already been said perhaps many times before—and so the old saying is true: there is nothing new under the sun."
"Physiologists have observed that modern man is an inhuman, abnormal development of the stomach and brain— in the same way there is an abnormality in this becoming objective without correspondingly becoming subjective, and thus all the mental phenomena which correspond to abdominal difficulties, which end in apoplexy." --Soren Kierkegaard's Journals and Papers
Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855) was a Danish philosopher, theologian, poet, social critic, and religious author who is widely considered to be the first existentialist philosopher. His best-kown work is Either/Or. He wrote critical texts on organized religion, Christendom, morality, ethics, psychology and philosophy of religion, displaying a fondness for metaphor, irony and parables. Much of his philosophical work deals with the issues of how one lives as a "single individual", giving priority to concrete human reality over abstract thinking, and highlighting the importance of personal choice and commitment. He was a fierce critic of idealist intellectuals and philosophers of his time, such as Swedenborg, Hegel, Goethe, Fichte, Schelling, Schlegel, and Hans Christian Andersen.
His theological work focuses on Christian ethics, the institution of the Church, the differences between purely objective proofs of Christianity, the infinite qualitative distinction between man and God, and the individual's subjective relationship to the God-Man Jesus Christ, which came through faith. Much of his work deals with the art of Christian love. He was extremely critical of the practice of Christianity as a state religion, primarily that of the Church of Denmark. His psychological work explored the emotions and feelings of individuals when faced with life choices.
Kierkegaard's early work was written under various pseudonyms which he used to present distinctive viewpoints and interact with each other in complex dialogue. He assigned pseudonyms to explore particular viewpoints in-depth, which required several books in some instances, while Kierkegaard, openly or under another pseudonym, critiqued that position. He wrote many Upbuilding Discourses under his own name and dedicated them to the "single individual" who might want to discover the meaning of his works. Notably, he wrote: "Science and scholarship want to teach that becoming objective is the way. Christianity teaches that the way is to become subjective, to become a subject." While scientists can learn about the world by observation, Kierkegaard emphatically denied that observation could reveal the inner workings of the spiritual world.
Some of Kierkegaard's key ideas include the concept of "Truth as Subjectivity", the knight of faith, the recollection and repetition dichotomy, angst, the infinite qualitative distinction, faith as a passion, and the three stages on life's way. Kierkegaard's writings were written in Danish and were initially limited to Scandinavia, but by the turn of the 20th century, his writings were translated into major European languages, such as French and German. By the mid-20th century, his thought exerted a substantial influence on philosophy, theology, and Western culture.
Kierkegaard's most important pseudonyms, in chronological order, were:
- Victor Eremita, editor of Either/Or
- A, writer of many articles in Either/Or
- Judge William, author of rebuttals to A in Either/Or
- Johannes de silentio, author of Fear and Trembling
- Constantine Constantius, author of the first half of Repetition
- Young Man, author of the second half of Repetition
- Vigilius Haufniensis, author of The Concept of Anxiety
- Nicolaus Notabene, author of Prefaces
- Hilarius Bookbinder, editor of Stages on Life's Way
- Johannes Climacus, author of Philosophical Fragments and Concluding Unscientific Postscript
- Inter et Inter, author of The Crisis and a Crisis in the Life of an Actress
- H.H., author of Two Minor Ethical-Religious Essays
- Anti-Climacus, author of The Sickness Unto Death and Practice in Christianity
All of these writings analyze the concept of faith, on the supposition that if people are confused about faith, as Kierkegaard thought the inhabitants of Christendom were, they will not be in a position to develop the virtue. Faith is a matter of reflection in the sense that one cannot have the virtue unless one has the concept of virtue - or at any rate the concepts that govern faith's understanding of self, world, and God.
Note on pseudonyms
Many of Kierkegaard's earlier writings from 1843 to 1846 were written pseudonymously. In the non-pseudonymous The Point of View of My Work as an Author, he explained that the pseudonymous works are written from perspectives which are not his own: while Kierkegaard himself was a religious author, the pseudonymous authors wrote from points of view that were aesthetic or speculative. One exception to this is Anti-Climacus, a pseudonymous author developed after the writing of The Point of View: Anti-Climacus is a religious author who writes from a Christian perspective so ideal that Kierkegaard did not wish it to be attributed to himself.
Because the pseudonymous authors write from perspectives which are not Kierkegaard's own, some of the philosophy mentioned in this article may or may not necessarily reflect Kierkegaard's own beliefs. Just as other philosophers bring up viewpoints in their essays to discuss and criticize them, Kierkegaard assigns pseudonyms to explore a particular viewpoint in-depth, which may take up a whole book or two in some instances, and Kierkegaard, or another pseudonym, critiques that position. For example, the author, Johannes Climacus is not a Christian and he argues from a non-Christian viewpoint. Anti-Climacus, as mentioned earlier, is a Christian to a high degree and he argues from a devout Christian viewpoint. Kierkegaard places his beliefs in-between these two authors.
Most of Kierkegaard's later philosophical and religious writings from 1846 to 1855 were written and authored by himself, and he assigned no pseudonyms to these works. Subsequently, these works are considered by most scholars to reflect Kierkegaard's own beliefs.
Many 20th-century philosophers, both theistic and atheistic, and theologians drew concepts from Kierkegaard, including the notions of angst, despair, and the importance of the individual. His fame as a philosopher grew tremendously in the 1930s, in large part because the ascendant existentialist movement pointed to him as a precursor, although later writers celebrated him as a highly significant and influential thinker in his own right. Since Kierkegaard was raised as a Lutheran, he was commemorated as a teacher in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church on 11 November and in the Calendar of Saints of the Episcopal Church with a feast day on 8 September.
Philosophers and theologians influenced by Kierkegaard are numerous and include major twentieth century theologians and philosophers. Paul Feyerabend's epistemological anarchism in the philosophy of science was inspired by Kierkegaard's idea of subjectivity as truth. Ludwig Wittgenstein was immensely influenced and humbled by Kierkegaard, claiming that "Kierkegaard is far too deep for me, anyhow. He bewilders me without working the good effects which he would in deeper souls". Karl Popper referred to Kierkegaard as "the great reformer of Christian ethics, who exposed the official Christian morality of his day as anti-Christian and anti-humanitarian hypocrisy".
Kierkegaard has also had a considerable influence on 20th-century literature. Figures deeply influenced by his work include W. H. Auden, Jorge Luis Borges, Don DeLillo, Hermann Hesse, Franz Kafka, David Lodge, Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, Rainer Maria Rilke, J.D. Salinger and John Updike. George Henry Price wrote in his 1963 book The Narrow Pass regarding the "who" and the "what" of Kierkegaard still seems to hold true today stating: "Kierkegaard was the sanest man of his generation....Kierkegaard was a schizophrenic....Kierkegaard was the greatest Dane....the difficult Dane....the gloomy Dane...Kierkegaard was the greatest Christian of the century....Kierkegaard's aim was the destruction of the historic Christian faith....He did not attack philosophy as such....He negated reason....He was a voluntarist....Kierkegaard was the Knight of Faith....Kierkegaard never found faith....Kierkegaard possessed the truth....Kierkegaard was one of the damned."
Kierkegaard had a profound influence on psychology. He is widely regarded as the founder of Christian psychology and of existential psychology and therapy. Existentialist (often called "humanistic") psychologists and therapists include Ludwig Binswanger, Viktor Frankl, Erich Fromm, Carl Rogers, and Rollo May. May based his 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 critiques modernity. Ernest Becker based his 1974 Pulitzer Prize book, The Denial of Death, on the writings of Kierkegaard, Freud and Otto Rank. Kierkegaard is also seen as an important precursor of postmodernism. In popular culture, he was the subject of serious television and radio programmes; in 1984, a six-part documentary Sea of Faith: Television series presented by Don Cupitt featured an episode on Kierkegaard, while on Maundy Thursday in 2008, Kierkegaard was the subject of discussion of the BBC Radio 4 programme presented by Melvyn Bragg, In Our Time. Google honoured him with a Google Doodle on his 200th anniversary.
Kierkegaard is considered by some modern theologians to be the "Father of Existentialism." Because of his influence and in spite of it, others only consider either Martin Heidegger or Jean-Paul Sartre to be the actual "Father of Existentialism." Kierkegaard predicted his posthumous fame, and foresaw that his work would become the subject of intense study and research. In 1784 Immanuel Kant, many years before Kierkegaard, challenged the thinkers of Europe to think for themselves in a manner suggestive of Kierkegaard's philosophy in the nineteenth century. In 1851 Arthur Schopenhauer said the same as Kierkegaard had said about the lack of realism in the reading public in Either/Or Part I and Prefaces. In 1854 Søren Kierkegaard wrote a note to "My Reader" of a similar nature.
For a complete bibliography, see List of works by Søren Kierkegaard
- (1841) The Concept of Irony (Om Begrebet Ironi med stadigt Hensyn til Socrates)
- (1843) Either/Or (Enten - Eller)
- (1843) Fear and Trembling (Frygt og Bæven)
- (1843) Repetition (Gjentagelsen)
- (1844) Philosophical Fragments (Philosophiske Smuler)
- (1844) The Concept of Dread (Begrebet Angest)
- (1845) Stages on Life's Way (Stadier paa Livets Vei)
- (1846) Concluding Unscientific Postscript to The Philosophical Fragments (Afsluttende uvidenskabelig Efterskrift)
- (1847) Edifying Discourses in Diverse Spirits (Opbyggelige Taler i forskjellig Aand)
- (1847) Works of Love (Kjerlighedens Gjerninger)
- (1848) Christian Discourses (Christelige Taler)
- (1849) The Sickness Unto Death (Sygdommen til Døden)
- (1850) Practice in Christianity (Indøvelse i Christendom)