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Søren Aabye Kierkegaard
Head and shoulders sketch portrait of a young man in his twenties, which emphasizes the face, full hair, open eyes forward, with a hint of a smile. His attire is formal, with a necktie and lapel.
Sketch of Søren Kierkegaard by Niels Christian Kierkegaard, c. 1840
Full name Søren Aabye Kierkegaard
Born 5 May 1813
Copenhagen, Denmark
Died 11 November 1855 (aged 42)
Copenhagen, Denmark
Era 19th-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Danish Golden Age Literary and Artistic Tradition, precursor to Continental philosophy,[1][2] Existentialism (agnostic, atheistic, Christian), Postmodernism, Post-structuralism, Existential psychology, Absurdism, Neo-orthodoxy, and many more
Main interests Religion, metaphysics, epistemology, aesthetics, ethics, psychology, philosophy of religion
Notable ideas Regarded as the father of Existentialism, angst, existential despair, Three spheres of human existence, knight of faith, infinite qualitative distinction, leap of faith
Signature Signature, which reads: "S. Kierkegaard."

Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (English pronunciation: /ˈsɔrən ˈkɪərkəɡɑrd/ or /ˈkɪərkəɡɔr/; Danish: [ˈsœːɐn ˈkʰiɐ̯kəˌɡ̊ɒˀ]  ( listen)) (5 May 1813 – 11 November 1855) was a Danish philosopher, theologian, and psychologist. Kierkegaard strongly criticised both the Hegelianism of his time and what he saw as the empty formalities of the Danish National Church. Much of his philosophical work deals with the issues of how one lives, focusing on the priority of concrete human reality over abstract thinking and highlighting the importance of personal choice and commitment.[4] His theological work focuses on Christian ethics and the institution of the Church.[5] His psychological works explore the emotions and feelings of individuals when faced with life choices.[6]

As part of his philosophical method, inspired by Socrates and the Socratic dialogues, Kierkegaard's early work was written under various pseudonymous characters who present their own distinctive viewpoints and interact with each other in complex dialogue.[7] He assigns pseudonyms to explore particular viewpoints in-depth, which may take up several books in some instances, and Kierkegaard, or another pseudonym, critiques that position. Thus, the task of discovering the meaning of his works is left to the reader, because "the task must be made difficult, for only the difficult inspires the noble-hearted".[8] Subsequently, scholars have interpreted Kierkegaard variously as, among others, an existentialist, neo-orthodoxist, postmodernist, humanist, and individualist. Crossing the boundaries of philosophy, theology, psychology, and literature, he is an influential figure in contemporary thought.[9][10][11]



Early years (1813–1836)

Søren Kierkegaard was born to an affluent family in Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark. His mother, Ane Sørensdatter Lund Kierkegaard, had served as a maid in the household before marrying his father, Michael Pedersen Kierkegaard. She was an unassuming figure: quiet, plain, and not formally educated. She is not directly referred to in Kierkegaard's books, although she affected his later writings. His father was a melancholic, anxious, deeply pious, and fiercely intelligent man.[12]

Based on a biographical interpretation of anecdotes in Søren's unpublished journals, especially a rough draft to a story called "The Great Earthquake",[13] some early Kierkegaard scholars argued that Michael believed he had earned God's wrath and that none of his children would outlive him. He is said to have believed that his personal sins, perhaps indiscretions like cursing the name of God in his youth or impregnating Ane out of wedlock, necessitated this punishment. Though five of his seven children died before he did, both Søren and his brother Peter Christian Kierkegaard, outlived him.[12] Peter, who was seven years Søren's elder, later became bishop in Aalborg.[12]

This early introduction to the notion of sin and its connection from father and son is said by early biographers to have laid the foundation for much of Kierkegaard's work.[14] Despite his father's occasional religious melancholy, Kierkegaard and his father shared a close bond. Kierkegaard is often said to have learned to explore the realm of his imagination through a series of exercises and games they played together, though this particular aspect of the relationship is described only by a pseudonym, in an unpublished draft to a book entitled Johannes Climacus, or de omnibus dubitandum est.[15]

Kierkegaard attended the School of Civic Virtue, where he studied Latin and history, among other subjects. In 1830, he went on to study theology at the University of Copenhagen, but while there he was drawn more towards philosophy and literature.[16]

Kierkegaard's mother died on 31 July 1834, age 66. One of the first physical descriptions of Kierkegaard comes from an attendee, Hans Brøchner, at his brother Peter's wedding party in 1836: "I found [his appearance] almost comical. He was then twenty-three years old; he had something quite irregular in his entire form and had a strange coiffure. His hair rose almost six inches above his forehead into a tousled crest that gave him a strange, bewildered look."[17]

Regine Olsen and graduation (1837–1841)

Portrait of a young lady, over a black background. She is wearing a green dress, over a black coat. She is looking to the left, somewhat smiling.
Regine Olsen, a muse for Kierkegaard's writings

An important aspect of Kierkegaard's life, one generally considered to have had a major influence on his work, was his broken engagement to Regine Olsen (1822–1904). Kierkegaard and Olsen met on 8 May 1837 and were instantly attracted to each other. In his journals, Kierkegaard wrote about his love for her: "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."[18]

Kierkegaard's father died on 9 August 1838, age 82. Before his death, he is said to have asked Søren to finish his education in theology. Søren was deeply influenced by his father's religious experience and wanted to fulfill his wish. On 11 August, Kierkegaard wrote:

My father died on Wednesday.[19] I had so very much wished that he might live a few years longer, and I look upon his death as the last sacrifice which he made to his love for me; [...] he died for me in order that, if possible, I might still turn into something. Of all that I have inherited from him, the recollection of him, his transfigured portrait [...] is dearest to me, and I will be careful to preserve [his memory] safely hidden from the world.[20]
—Søren Kierkegaard, Journals, p. 62, 11 August, 1838

On 8 September 1840, Kierkegaard formally proposed to Olsen. However, Kierkegaard soon felt disillusioned about the prospects of the marriage. He broke off the engagement on 11 August 1841, though it is generally believed that the two were deeply in love. In his journals, Kierkegaard mentions his belief that his "melancholy" made him unsuitable for marriage, but his precise motive for ending the engagement remains unclear.[12][21]

Also in 1841, Kierkegaard wrote and defended his dissertation, On 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 too informal and witty for a serious academic thesis.[22] He graduated from university on 20 October 1841 with a Magister Artium, which today would be designated a Ph.D. With his family's inheritance of approximately 31,000 rigsdaler, Kierkegaard was able to fund his education, his living, and several publications of his early works.[23]

First authorship and Corsair affair (1841–1846)

A sketch, featuring brown and white oils depicting a man sitting at a cafe table, writing on a piece of paper. A waitress is serving the man with a cup.
Kierkegaard in a coffee-house, an oil sketch by Christian Olavius, 1843

Although Kierkegaard wrote a few articles on politics, women, and entertainment in his youth and university days, many scholars, such as Alastair Hannay and Edward Mooney, believe Kierkegaard's first noteworthy work is either his university thesis, On 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.[21][24] Both works treated major figures in Western thought (Socrates in the former and, less directly, Hegel and Friedrich von Schlegel in the latter), and showcased Kierkegaard's unique style of writing. Either/Or was mostly written during Kierkegaard's stay in Berlin and was completed in the autumn of 1842.[24]

In the same year Either/Or was published, Kierkegaard found out Regine Olsen was engaged to be married to Johan Frederik Schlegel (1817–1896), a civil servant. This fact affected Kierkegaard and his subsequent writings deeply. In Fear and Trembling, a discourse on the nature of faith 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."[25] Repetition, published on the very same day as Fear and Trembling, is an exploration of love, religious experience and language reflected in a series of stories about a young gentleman leaving his beloved. Several other works in this period make similar overtones of the Kierkegaard–Olsen relationship.[25]

Other major works in this period include critiques of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and form a basis for existential psychology. Philosophical Fragments, The Concept of Anxiety, and Stages on Life's Way include observations about existential choices and their consequences, and what religious life can mean for a modern individual. 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".[26]

A caricature; the figure is standing facing left, with a top-hat, cane, formal attire. The caricature is over-emphasizing his back, by making him appear as a hunchback.
A caricature of Kierkegaard published in The Corsair, a satirical journal

Most of the works in this authorship were philosophical and psychological in nature and written using a pseudonym and indirectly, representing different viewpoints and ways of life. However, Kierkegaard published two or three theological discourses, written under his own name, alongside each pseudonymous work.[27] Kierkegaard's discourses make an appeal to a different type of reader and present in a religious context many of the same existential themes treated by his pseudonyms.[28]

On 22 December 1845, Peder Ludvig Møller, a young author of Kierkegaard's generation who studied at the University of Copenhagen at the same time as Kierkegaard, published an article indirectly criticising Stages on Life's Way. The article complimented Kierkegaard for his wit and intellect, but questioned whether he would ever be able to master his talent and write coherent, complete works. Møller was also a contributor to and editor of The Corsair, a Danish satirical paper that lampooned everyone of notable standing. Kierkegaard published a sarcastic response, charging that Møller's article was merely an attempt to impress Copenhagen's literary elite. Kierkegaard's article earned him the ire of the paper and its second editor, also an intellectual Kierkegaard's own age, Meïr Aron Goldschmidt.[29]

Kierkegaard wrote two small pieces in response to Møller, The Activity of a Traveling Esthetician and Dialectical Result of a Literary Police Action. The former focused on insulting Møller's integrity while the latter was a directed assault on The Corsair, in which Kierkegaard, after criticizing the journalistic quality and reputation of the paper, openly asked The Corsair to satirize him.[30] 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, Kierkegaard perceived himself to be the victim of harassment on the streets of Denmark. In a journal entry dated March 9, 1846, Kierkegaard made a long, detailed explanation of his attack on Møller and The Corsair, and also explained that this attack made him rethink his strategy of indirect communication. In addition, Kierkegaard felt satisfied with his writing so far, and intended to focus on becoming a priest.[23]

Second authorship (1846–1853)

Three paragraphs written in handwriting.
Kierkegaard's manuscript of The Sickness Unto Death[31]

However, Kierkegaard began to write again, and where his first authorship focused on Hegel, this authorship focused on the hypocrisy of Christendom.[32] By Christendom Kierkegaard meant not Christianity itself, but rather the church and the applied religion of his society. 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. One of his complaints about modernity is its passionless view of the world. Kierkegaard writes that "the present age is essentially a sensible age, devoid of passion [...] The trend today is in the direction of mathematical equality, so that in all classes about so and so many uniformly make one individual".[33] In this, Kierkegaard attacks the conformity and assimilation of individuals into an indifferent public, "the crowd".[34] Although Kierkegaard attacks the public, he is supportive of communities where individuals keep their diversity and uniqueness.

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 Adolph Peter Adler's claim to have had a sacrilegious revelation and to have suffered ostracisation and expulsion from the pastorate as a consequence. According to biographer Walter Lowrie, Kierkegaard experienced similar social exclusion which actually brought him closer to his father.[14]

As part of his analysis of the "crowd", Kierkegaard accused the Christian church of decay and decadence, especially the Danish National Church. Kierkegaard believed Christendom had "lost its way" on the Christian faith. According to him, Christendom in this period ignored, skewed, or gave mere 'lip service' to the original Christian doctrine. Kierkegaard felt his duty in this later era was to inform others about what he considered 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.[21]

The Sickness Unto Death is one of Kierkegaard's most popular works of 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 National 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 its role model.[35]

In 1847, Regine Olsen, Kierkegaard's former fiancée, and Frederik Schlegel were marrried. On several occasions in 1849, she and Kierkegaard crossed paths on the streets of Copenhagen. Kierkegaard wrote to her husband, asking for permission to speak to her, but Schlegel refused. Soon afterwards, the couple left the country, Schlegel having been appointed Governor General of the Danish West Indies. By the time they returned, Kierkegaard was dead. A few years before his death, Kierkegaard stated in his will that she should inherit his estate, and all his authorial activity was dedicated to her. Regine Schlegel lived until 1904 and was buried near Kierkegaard in the Assistens Cemetery in Copenhagen.[13]

Attack upon the Church (1854–1855)

A picture of a grave, with trees, bushes, and a fence in the background and foreground. The grave itself has three markers, with carved text on it.
Søren Kierkegaard's grave in Assistens Kirkegård

Kierkegaard's final years were taken up with a sustained, outright attack on the Danish National Church by means of newspaper articles published in The Fatherland (Fædrelandet) and a series of self-published pamphlets called The Moment (Øjeblikket).[36] Kierkegaard was initially called to action after Professor Hans Lassen Martensen gave a speech in church in which he called his recently deceased predecessor Bishop Jakob P. Mynster a "truth-witness, one of the authentic truth-witnesses."[5]

Kierkegaard was fond of Mynster, but had come to see that Mynster's conception of Christianity was in only man's interest and devoid of true selflessness. Kierkegaard believed that, in no way, was Mynster's life comparable to that of a real 'truth-witness'. Before the tenth chapter of his work The Moment could be published, Kierkegaard collapsed on the street and was eventually taken to a hospital. He stayed in the hospital for over a month and refused to receive communion from a pastor. Kierkegaard regarded the pastor as a mere political official with a niche in society who was clearly not representative of the divine. He said to Emil Boesen, a friend since childhood who kept a record of his conversations with Kierkegaard, that his life had been one of immense suffering, which may have seemed like vanity to others, but he did not think it so.[21]

Kierkegaard died in Frederik's Hospital after being there for over a month, possibly from complications from a fall he had taken from a tree in his youth. 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 the burying of Kierkegaard by the official church. Lund maintained that Kierkegaard would never have approved, had he been alive, as he had broken from and denounced the institution. Lund was later fined for his public disruption of a funeral.[12]


Kierkegaard has been called a philosopher, a theologian,[37] the Father of Existentialism, both atheistic and theistic variations,[38] a literary critic,[34] a social theorist,[39] a humorist,[40] a psychologist,[6] and a poet.[41] Two of his popular ideas are "subjectivity",[42] and the notion popularly referred to as "leap of faith".[2][43]

Handwritten writing of the cover page of Philosophiske Smuler en Smule eller Philosophies. Nr. 12 a. is written on the top left, and Smuler was misspelled, crossed off, and corrected. It is signed S. Kierkegaard.
Kierkegaard's manuscript of Philosophical Fragments.[31]

The leap of faith is his conception of how an individual would believe in God or how a person would act in love. Faith is not a decision based on evidence that, say, certain beliefs about God are true or a certain person is worthy of love. No such evidence could ever be enough to pragmatically justify the kind of total commitment involved in true religious faith or romantic love. Faith involves making that commitment anyway. Kierkegaard 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 one's beliefs about God; the doubt is the rational part of a person's thought involved in weighing evidence, without which the faith would have no real substance. Someone who does not realize that Christian doctrine is inherently doubtful and that there can be no objective certainty about its truth does not have faith but is merely credulous. 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.[44] As Kierkegaard writes, "doubt is conquered by faith, just as it is faith which has brought doubt into the world".[45][46]

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." This has to do with a distinction between what is objectively true and an individual's subjective relation (such as indifference or commitment) to that truth. People who in some sense believe the same things may relate to those beliefs quite differently. Two individuals may both believe that many of those around them are poor and deserve help, but this knowledge may lead only one of them to decide to actually help the poor.[47]

Kierkegaard primarily discusses subjectivity with regard to religious matters, however. As already noted, he argues that doubt is an element of faith and that it is impossible to gain any objective certainty about religious doctrines such as the existence of God or the life of Christ. The most one could hope for would be the conclusion that it is probable that the Christian doctrines are true, but if a person were to believe such doctrines only to the degree they seemed likely to be true, he or she would not be genuinely religious at all. Faith consists in a subjective relation of absolute commitment to these doctrines.[48]

Pseudonymous authorship

Title page of a book, headed Enten – Eller.
Either/Or, one of Kierkegaard's works, was authored under the pseudonyms "A" and "B", or Judge William, and edited under the pseudonym Victor Eremita.

Half of Kierkegaard's authorship was written under pseudonyms which represented different ways of thinking. This was part of Kierkegaard's theory of "indirect communication." According to several passages in his works and 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."[49]

He used indirect communication to make it difficult to ascertain whether he actually held any of the views presented in his works. He hoped readers would simply read the work at face value without attributing it to some aspect of his life. Kierkegaard also did not want his readers to treat his work as an authoritative system, but rather look to themselves for interpretation.[50]

Early Kierkegaardian scholars, such as Theodor W. Adorno, have disregarded Kierkegaard's intentions and argue the entire authorship should be treated as Kierkegaard's own personal and religious views.[51] This view leads to many confusions and contradictions which make Kierkegaard appear incoherent.[52] However, many later scholars such as the post-structuralists, have respected Kierkegaard's intentions and interpreted his work by attributing the pseudonymous texts to their respective authors.[53]

Kierkegaard's most important pseudonyms,[54] in chronological order, are:


Title page of a book, headed "THE JOURNALS OF SØREN KIERKEGAARD"
The cover of the first English edition of The Journals, edited by Alexander Dru in 1938

Kierkegaard's journals are essential to understanding him and his work. Samuel Hugo Bergmann wrote, "Kierkegaard journal's are one of the most important sources for an understanding of his philosophy".[55] Kierkegaard wrote over 7000 pages in his journals describing key events, musings, thoughts about his works and everyday remarks.[56] The entire collection of Danish journals has been edited and published in 13 volumes which consist of 25 separate bindings including indices. The first English edition of the journals was edited by Alexander Dru in 1938.[23] His journals reveal many different facets of Kierkegaard and his work and help elucidate many of his ideas. The style in his journals is written in "literary and poetic manner".[57] Kierkegaard took his journals seriously and even once wrote that they were 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.[58]
—Søren Kierkegaard, Journals, p. 221 (4 November 1847)

His journals are also the source of many aphorisms credited to Kierkegaard. The following passage is perhaps the most oft-quoted aphorism from Kierkegaard's journals and is usually a key quote for existentialist studies: "The thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die."[59] It was written on 1 August 1835. Although his journals clarify some aspects of his work and life, Kierkegaard took care not to reveal too much. Abrupt changes in thought, repetitive writing, and unusual turns of phrase are some among the many tactics he uses to throw readers off track. Consequently, there are many varying interpretations of his journals. However, Kierkegaard did not doubt the importance his journals would have in the future. In a journal entry in December 1849, he wrote: "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."[60]

Kierkegaard and Christianity

A building. It has a green dome, with four pillars for an entrance. Traffic is in the foreground.
Kierkegaard mounted an attack on Christian institutions in his final years. He felt the established state church was detrimental to individuals.

As mentioned above, Kierkegaard took up a sustained attack on the official kind of Christendom, or Christianity as a political entity, during the final years of his life. In the 19th century, most Danes who were citizens of Denmark were necessarily members of the Danish National Church. Kierkegaard felt this state-church union was unacceptable and perverted the true meaning of Christianity.[5]

In Kierkegaard's pamphlets and polemical books, including The Moment, he criticized several aspects of church formalities and politics.[61] According to Kierkegaard, the idea of congregations keeps individuals as children since Christians are disinclined from taking the initiative to take responsibility for their own relation to God. He stresses that "Christianity is the individual, here, the single individual."[62] Furthermore, since the Church was controlled by the State, Kierkegaard believed the State's bureaucratic mission was to increase membership and oversee the welfare of its members. More members would mean more power for the clergymen: a corrupt ideal.[63] This mission would seem at odds with Christianity's true doctrine, which, to Kierkegaard, is to stress the importance of the individual, not the whole.[23] Thus, the state-church political structure is offensive and detrimental to individuals, since anyone 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.[64] In the Journals, Kierkegaard writes:

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 emancipated, 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.[65]
—Søren Kierkegaard, Journals, p.429 (January 1851)

Attacking what he considered the incompetence and corruption of the Christian churches, Kierkegaard seemed to have anticipated philosophers like Nietzsche who would go on to criticize the Christian religion itself.[66]

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, p.446[23] (19 June 1852)


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 agnostic philosophers like Martin Heidegger support many aspects of Kierkegaard's philosophical views, but criticize and reject some of his religious views.[67][68]

Several Kierkegaardian scholars argue Adorno's take on Kierkegaard's philosophy has been less than faithful to the original intentions of Kierkegaard. One critic of Adorno writes that his book Kierkegaard: Construction of the Aesthetic is "the most irresponsible book ever written on Kierkegaard"[69] because Adorno takes Kierkegaard's pseudonyms literally, and constructs an entire philosophy of Kierkegaard which makes him seem incoherent and unintelligible. Another reviewer says that "Adorno is [far away] from the more credible translations and interpretations of the Collected Works of Kierkegaard we have today."[52]

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

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)[70]

Levinas points to the Judeo-Christian belief that it was God who first commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac and that it was an angel who commanded Abraham to stop. If Abraham were 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.[71] One interesting consequence of Levinas' critique is that it seems to reveal that Levinas views God not as an absolute moral agent but as a projection of inner ethical desire.[72]

On Kierkegaard's religious views, Sartre offers this 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.[67][73]

Sartre agrees with Kierkegaard's analysis of Abraham undergoing anxiety (Sartre calls it anguish), but Sartre doesn't agree that God told him to do it. In his lecture, Existentialism is a Humanism, Sartre wonders if Abraham ought to have doubted whether God actually spoke to him or not.[67] In Kierkegaard's view, Abraham's certainty had its origin in that 'inner voice' which cannot be demonstrated or shown to another ("The problem comes as soon as Abraham wants to be understood"). To Kierkegaard, every external "proof" or justification is merely on the outside and external to the subject.[74] Kierkegaard's proof for the immortality of the soul, for example, is rooted in the extent to which one wishes to live forever.[75]

Influence and reception

A statue. The figure is depicted as sitting and writing, with a book on his lap open. Trees and red tiled roof is in background. The statue itself is mostly green, with streaks of grey showing wear and tear. The statue's base is grey and reads "SØREN KIERKEGAARD"
The Søren Kierkegaard Statue in Copenhagen

Kierkegaard's works were not widely available until several decades after his death. In the years immediately after his death, the Danish National Church shunned his work and urged other Danes to do likewise. In addition, the obscurity of the Danish language, relative to German, Japanese, French, and English, made it nearly impossible for Kierkegaard to acquire non-Danish readers.

The first academic to draw attention to Kierkegaard was his fellow Dane Georg Brandes, who published in German as well as Danish. Brandes gave the first formal lectures on Kierkegaard in Copenhagen and helped bring Kierkegaard to the attention of the rest of Europe.[76] In 1877, Brandes also published the first book on Kierkegaard's philosophy and life. The dramatist Henrik Ibsen became interested in Kierkegaard and introduced his work to the rest of Scandinavia. While independent German translations of some of Kierkegaard's works began to appear in the 1870s,[77] academic German translations of whole portions of Kierkegaard's work had to wait until the 1910s. During the 1890s, Japanese philosophers began disseminating the works of Kierkegaard, from the Danish thinkers, Brandes and Harald Høffding.[78] Tetsuro Watsuji was one of the first philosophers to write an introduction on the philosophy of Kierkegaard in 1915. Kierkegaard's main works were translated into German by Christoph Schrempf from 1909 onwards,[79] a German edition of Kierkegaard's collected works was done by Emmanuel Hirsch from 1950 on.[79] Kierkegaard's comparatively early and manifold philosophical and theological reception in Germany was one of the decisive factors of expanding his works, influence, and readership throughout the world.[80][81]

Important for the first phase of his reception in Germany was the establishment of the journal Zwischen den Zeiten (Between the Ages) in 1922 by a heterogeneous circle of Protestant theologians: Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Rudolf Bultmann and Friedrich Gogarten.[82] Their thought would soon be referred to as dialectical theology.[82] Roughly at about the same time, Kierkegaard was discovered by several proponents of the Jewish-Christian philosophy of dialogue in Germany,[83] namely by Martin Buber, Ferdinand Ebner, and Franz Rosenzweig.[84] In addition to the philosophy of dialogue, existential philosophy has its point of origin in Kierkegaard and his concept of individuality.[85] Martin Heidegger sparsely refers to Kierkegaard in Being and Time (1927),[86] obscuring how much he owes to him.[87][88][89] In 1935, Karl Jaspers emphasized Kierkegaard's (and Nietzsche's) continuing importance for modern philosophy.[90]

In the 1930s, the first academic English translations,[91] by Alexander Dru, David F. Swenson, Douglas V. Steere, and Walter Lowrie appeared, under the editorial efforts of Oxford University Press editor Charles Williams.[2] The second and currently widely used academic English translations were published by the Princeton University Press in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, under the supervision of Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. A third official translation, under the aegis of the Søren Kierkegaard Research Center, will extend to 55 volumes and is expected to be completed sometime after 2009.[92]

Many 20th-century philosophers, both theistic and atheistic, and theologians drew many 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 he is now seen as a highly significant and influential thinker in his own right.[93] As Kierkegaard was raised as a Lutheran,[94] he is 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 on 8 September.

Philosophers and theologians influenced by Kierkegaard include Hans Urs von Balthasar, Karl Barth, Simone de Beauvoir, Niels Bohr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Emil Brunner, Martin Buber, Rudolf Bultmann, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Karl Jaspers, Gabriel Marcel, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Reinhold Niebuhr, Franz Rosenzweig, Jean-Paul Sartre, Joseph Soloveitchik, Paul Tillich, Miguel de Unamuno. Paul Feyerabend's epistemological anarchism was inspired by Kierkegaard's idea of subjectivity as truth. Ludwig Wittgenstein was immensely influenced and humbled by Kierkegaard,[11] 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] 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".[95]

Contemporary philosophers such as Emmanuel Lévinas, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Jacques Derrida, Jürgen Habermas, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Richard Rorty, although sometimes highly critical, have also adapted some Kierkegaardian insights.[96][97][98] Hilary Putnam admires Kierkegaard, "for his insistence on the priority of the question, 'How should I live?'".[99]

Kierkegaard has also had a considerable influence on 20th-century literature. Figures deeply influenced by his work include W. H. Auden, Jorge Luis Borges, Hermann Hesse, Franz Kafka,[100] David Lodge, Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, Rainer Maria Rilke, and John Updike.[101]

Kierkegaard also had a profound influence on psychology and is more or less the founder of Christian psychology[102] and of existential psychology and therapy.[6] 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 provides an interesting critique of modernity.[34] Kierkegaard is also seen as an important precursor of postmodernism.[96] In popular culture, he has been the subject of serious television and radio programmes; in 1984, a six-part documentary Sea of Faith: Television series presented by Don Cupitt featured a programme 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.

Kierkegaard predicted his posthumous fame, and foresaw that his work would become the subject of intense study and research. In his journals, he wrote:

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.[103]
—Søren Kierkegaard, Journals, p.224 (20 November 1847)

Selected bibliography

For a complete bibliography, see List of works by Søren Kierkegaard


  1. ^ This classification is anachronistic; Kierkegaard was an exceptionally unique thinker and his works do not fit neatly into any one philosophical school or tradition, nor did he identify himself with any. However, his works are considered precursor to many schools of thought developed in the 20th and 21st centuries. See 20th century receptions in Cambridge Companion to Kierkegaard.
  2. ^ a b c (Hannay & Marino, 1997)
  3. ^ The influence of Socrates can be seen in Kierkegaard's Sickness Unto Death and Works of Love.
  4. ^ (Gardiner, 1969)
  5. ^ a b c (Duncan, 1976)
  6. ^ a b c (Ostenfeld & McKinnon, 1972)
  7. ^ (Howland, 2006)
  8. ^ (Kierkegaard, 1976, p. 303)
  9. ^ (Hubben, 1962)
  10. ^ (Lippitt & Hutto, 1998)
  11. ^ a b c (Creegan, 1989)
  12. ^ a b c d e (Garff, 2005)
  13. ^ a b (Watkin, 2000)
  14. ^ a b (Lowrie, 1942)
  15. ^ (Kierkegaard, 1985)
  16. ^ (Walsh, 2009)
  17. ^ (Garff, 2005, p. 113); Also available in Encounters With Kierkegaard: A Life As Seen by His Contemporaries, p. 225.
  18. ^ (Dru, 1938, p. 70); Journal entry written 2 February 1839.
  19. ^ According to the Journals, Michael died at approximately 2:00 a.m., early Thursday morning.
  20. ^ (Dru, 1938, p. 62)
  21. ^ a b c d (Hannay, 2003)
  22. ^ (Kierkegaard, 1989)
  23. ^ a b c d e (Dru, 1938)
  24. ^ a b (Mooney, 2007)
  25. ^ a b (Lippitt, 2003)
  26. ^ (Hegel, 1979)
  27. ^ In English, the first of these discourses have been published under the title Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses by Princeton University Press, ISBN 0691020876.
  28. ^ (Pattison, 2002)
  29. ^ (Kierkegaard, 1978, pp. vii–xii)
  30. ^ Kierkegaard, Søren. Dialectical Result of a Literary Police Action in Essential Kierkegaard.
  31. ^ a b (Royal Library of Denmark, 1997)
  32. ^ (Kierkegaard, 1978)
  33. ^ (Kierkegaard, 2001, p. 86)
  34. ^ a b c (Kierkegaard, 2001)
  35. ^ (Lowrie, 1968)
  36. ^ (Lowrie, 1962)
  37. ^ (Kangas, 1998)
  38. ^ (McGrath, 1993, p. 202)
  39. ^ (Westphal, 1997)
  40. ^ (Oden, 2004)
  41. ^ (MacKey, 1971)
  42. ^ Kierkegaard is not an extreme subjectivist; he would not reject the importance of objective truths.
  43. ^ The Danish equivalent to the English phrase "leap of faith" does not appear in the original Danish nor is the English phrase found in current English translations of Kierkegaard's works. However, Kierkegaard does mention the concepts of "faith" and "leap" together many times in his works. See Faith and the Kierkegaardian Leap in Cambridge Companion to Kierkegaard.
  44. ^ (Kierkegaard, 1992, pp. 21–57)
  45. ^ (Kierkegaard, 1976, p. 399)
  46. ^ Elsewhere, Kierkegaard uses the Faith/Offense dichotomy. In this dichotomy, doubt is the middle ground between faith and taking offense. Offense, in his terminology, describes the threat faith poses to the rational mind. He uses Jesus' words in Matthew 11:6: "And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me". In Practice in Christianity, Kierkegaard writes: "Just as the concept of "faith" is an altogether distinctively Christian term, so in turn is "offense" an altogether distinctively Christian term relating to faith. The possibility of offense is the crossroad, or it is like standing at the crossroad. From the possibility of offense, one turns either to offense or to faith, but one never comes to faith except from the possibility of offense" (p. 80). In the footnote, he writes, "in the works of some psuedonymous writers it has been pointed out that in modern philosophy there is a confused discussion of doubt where the discussion should have been about despair. Therefore one has been unable to control or govern doubt either in scholarship or in life. "Despair," however, promptly points in the right direction by placing the relation under the rubric of personality (the single individual) and the ethical. But just as there is a confused discussion of "doubt instead of a discussion of "despair, " So also the practice has been to use the category "doubt" where the discussion ought to be about "offense." The relation, the relation of personality to Christianity, is not to doubt or to believe, but to be offended or to believe. All modern philosophy, both ethically, and Christianly, is based upon frivolousness. Instead of deterring and calling people to order by speaking of being despairing and being offended, it has waved to them and invited them to become conceited by doubting and having doubted. Modern philosophy, being abstract, is floating in metaphysical indeterminateness. Instead of explaining this about itself and then directing people (individual persons) to the ethical, the religious, the existential, philosophy has given the appearance that people are able to speculate themselves out of their own skin, as they so very prosaically say, into pure appearance." (Practice in Christianity, trans. Hong 1991, p.80.) He writes that the person is either offended that Christ came as a man, and that God is too high to be a lowly man who is actually capable of doing very little to resist. Or Jesus, a man, thought himself too high to consider himself God (blasphemy). Or the historical offense where God a lowly man comes into collision with an established order. Thus, this offensive paradox is highly resistant to rational thought.
  47. ^ (Pattison, 2005)
  48. ^ (Kierkegaard, 1992)
  49. ^ (Kierkegaard, 1998a, p. xii)
  50. ^ (Carlisle, 2006)
  51. ^ (Adorno, 1989)
  52. ^ a b (Morgan)
  53. ^ (Evans, 1996)
  54. ^ (Malantschuk & Hong, 2003)
  55. ^ (Bergmann, 1991, p. 2)
  56. ^ 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.
  57. ^ (Conway & Gover, 2002, p.25)
  58. ^ (Dru, 1938, p.221)
  59. ^ (Dru, 1938, p. 15)
  60. ^ (Dru, 1938, p. 354)
  61. ^ (Kierkegaard, 1998b)
  62. ^ (Kirmmse, 2000)
  63. ^ (Walsh, 2009)
  64. ^ (Kierkegaard, 1999)
  65. ^ (Dru, 1938, p. 429)
  66. ^ (Angier, 2006)
  67. ^ a b c (Sartre, 1946)
  68. ^ (Dreyfus, 1998)
  69. ^ (Westphal, 1996, p. 9)
  70. ^ (as cited in Lippitt, 2003, p. 136)
  71. ^ (Katz, 2001)
  72. ^ (Hutchens, 2004)
  73. ^ (Sartre, 1969, p. 430)
  74. ^ (Stern, 1990)
  75. ^ (Kosch, 1997)
  76. ^ (Hall, 1983)
  77. ^ (Cappelorn, 2003)
  78. ^ (Masugata, 1999)
  79. ^ a b (Bösl, 1997, p. 12)
  80. ^ (Stewart, 2009)
  81. ^ (Bösl, 1997, p. 13)
  82. ^ a b (Bösl, 1997, p. 14)
  83. ^ The German Wikipedia has an article on Dialogphilosophie.
  84. ^ (Bösl, 1997, p. 16-17)
  85. ^ (Bösl, 1997, p. 17)
  86. ^ Heidegger, Sein und Zeit, Notes to pages 190, 235, 338
  87. ^ (Bösl, 1997, p. 19)
  88. ^ (Beck, 1928)
  89. ^ (Wyschogrod, 1954)
  90. ^ (Jaspers, 1935)
  91. ^ However, an independent English translation of selections/excerpts of Kierkegaard appeared in 1923 by Lee Hollander, and published by the University of Texas at Austin.
  92. ^ (Søren Kierkegaard Forskningscenteret, 2010)
  93. ^ (Weston, 1994)
  94. ^ (Hampson, 2004)
  95. ^ (Popper, 2002)
  96. ^ a b (Matustik & Westphal, 1995)
  97. ^ (MacIntyre, 2001)
  98. ^ (Rorty, 1989)
  99. ^ (Pyle, 1999, p. 52-53)
  100. ^ (McGee, 2006)
  101. ^ (Updike, 1997)
  102. ^ (Society for Christian Psychology)
  103. ^ (Dru, 1938, p.224)



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External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Once you label me you negate me.
I must find a truth that is true for me.

Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (5 May 181311 November 1855) was a Danish philosopher and theologian, considered to be a founder of existentialist thought.

See also:

Fear and Trembling
Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments
The Sickness Unto Death



The more one suffers, the more, I believe, has one a sense for the comic...
To be a teacher in the right sense is to be a learner. Instruction begins when you, the teacher, learn from the learner, put yourself in his place so that you may understand what he understands and the way he understands it.
Become perfectly silent — then shall the rest be added unto you.
In an inadmissible and unlawful way we have learned to know him; whereas to believe in him is the only permissible mode of approach.
The presence of irony does not necessarily mean that the earnestness is excluded.
  • I must find a truth that is true for me.
    • Variant translation: The thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die.
    • Letter to Peter Wilhelm Lund (1835-08-31)
  • Irony limits, finitizes, and circumscribes and thereby yields truth, actuality, content; it disciplines and punishes and thereby yields balance and consistency.
    • On the Concept of Irony with Continual Reference to Socrates (1841)
  • One sticks one’s finger into the soil to tell by the smell in what land one is: I stick my finger in existence — it smells of nothing. Where am I? Who am I? How came I here? What is this thing called the world? What does this world mean? Who is it that has lured me into the world? Why was I not consulted, why not made acquainted with its manners and customs instead of throwing me into the ranks, as if I had been bought by a kidnapper, a dealer in souls? How did I obtain an interest in this big enterprise they call reality? Why should I have an interest in it? Is it not a voluntary concern? And if I am to be compelled to take part in it, where is the director? I should like to make a remark to him. Is there no director? Whither shall I turn with my complaint?
  • Anxiety is neither a category of necessity nor a category of freedom; it is entangled freedom, where freedom is not free in itself but entangled, not by necessity, but in itself.
  • Every human being is tried this way in the active service of expectancy. Now comes the fulfillment and relieves him, but soon he is again placed on reconnaissance for expectancy; then he is again relieved, but as long as there is any future for him, he has not yet finished his service. And while human life goes on this way in very diverse expectancy, expecting very different things according to different times and occasions and in different frames of mind, all life is again one nightwatch of expectancy.
    • Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses: "Patience in Expectancy" (1844)
  • The more one suffers, the more, I believe, has one a sense for the comic. It is only by the deepest suffering that one acquires true authority in the use of the comic, an authority which by one word transforms as by magic the reasonable creature one calls man into a caricature.
    • Stages on Life's Way (1845) Variant translation: The more one suffers, the more, I believe, one has a sense of the comic. It is only by the deepest suffering that one acquires the authority in the art of the comic.
  • It doesn't occur to me at this moment to say more; another time, perhaps tomorrow, I may have more to say, but "always the same thing and about the same," for only gypsies, robber gangs and swindlers follow the adage that where a person has once been he is never to go again.
    • Stages on Life's Way (1845)
  • Above all do not forget your duty to love yourself.
    • Letter to Hans Peter, Kierkegaard's cousin (1848)
  • To be a teacher does not mean simply to affirm that such a thing is so, or to deliver a lecture, etc. No, to be a teacher in the right sense is to be a learner. Instruction begins when you, the teacher, learn from the learner, put yourself in his place so that you may understand what he understands and the way he understands it.
    • The Point of View for My Work as an Author (1848)
  • Seek first God's Kingdom, that is, become like the lilies and the birds, become perfectly silent — then shall the rest be added unto you.
    • The Lilies of the Field and the Birds of the Air (1849)
    • Alluding to words spoken by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount
  • But precisely this is the misfortune, and has been the misfortune, in Christendom that Christ is neither the one nor the other — neither the one he was when living on earth, nor he who will return in glory, but rather one about whom we have learned to know something in an inadmissible way from history — that he was somebody or other of great account. In an inadmissible and unlawful way we have learned to know him; whereas to believe in him is the only permissible mode of approach.
    • Preparation for a Christian Life
  • The task must be made difficult, for only the difficult inspires the noble-hearted.
    • Soren Kierkegaard's Journals and Papers Vol. 1 A-E (1967), edited and translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, p. 303
  • What our age needs is an honest earnestness which affectionately preserves the tasks, which does not alarm people into wanting to rush pellmell into the highest but keeps the tasks young and beautiful and lovely to look at and beckoning to all and yet for all that difficult and inspiring to the noble, for the noble nature is inspired only by what is difficult. My listener, how did I dare to be so impolite as to doubt that I shall succeed in inspiring you — for I have the difficulties all ready.
    • Soren Kierkegaard's Journals and Papers Vol. 1 A-E (1967), edited and translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, p. 303
  • The question is asked in ignorance, by one who does not even know what can have led him to ask it.

The Journals of Søren Kierkegaard

Translations used include those from: A Selection from the Journals of Kierkegaard (1938) by Alexander Dru, and Søren Kierkegaard : Papers and Journals (1996) by Alastair Hannay
Oh, can I really believe the poet's tales ... that all love like all knowledge is remembrance, that love too has its prophecies in the individual...
It is the duty of the human understanding to understand that there are things which it cannot understand...
It belongs to the imperfection of everything human that man can only attain his desire by passing through its opposite.
The tyrant dies and his rule is over; the martyr dies and his rule begins.
  • I have just now come from a party where I was its life and soul; witticisms streamed from my lips, everyone laughed and admired me, but I went away — yes, the dash should be as long as the radius of the earth's orbit ——————————— and wanted to shoot myself.
    • March 1836
  • God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes, to be sure, but He does what is still more wonderful: He makes saints out of sinners.
  • 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.
  • It belongs to the imperfection of everything human that man can only attain his desire by passing through its opposite.
    • 1841
  • To stand on one leg and prove God's existence is a very different thing from going on one's knees and thanking Him.
    • 1841
  • Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
    • 1843
  • If I were to imagine a girl deeply in love and some man who wanted to use all his reasoning powers and knowledge to ridicule her passion, well, there's surely no question of the enamoured girl having to choose between keeping her wealth and being ridiculed. No, but if some extremely cool and calculating man calmly told the young girl, "I will explain to you what love is," and the girl admitted that everything he told her was quite correct, I wonder if she wouldn't choose his miserable common sense rather than her wealth?
    • 1846
  • Since my earliest childhood a barb of sorrow has lodged in my heart. As long as it stays I am ironic — if it is pulled out I shall die.
    • 1847
  • 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.
  • It is the duty of the human understanding to understand that there are things which it cannot understand, and what those things are. Human understanding has vulgarly occupied itself with nothing but understanding, but if it would only take the trouble to understand itself at the same time it would simply have to posit the paradox.
    • 1847
  • The tyrant dies and his rule is over; the martyr dies and his rule begins.
    • 1848
  • Job endured everything — until his friends came to comfort him, then he grew impatient.
    • 1849
  • The truth is always in the minority, and the minority is always stronger than the majority, because as a rule the minority is made up of those who actually have an opinion, while the strength of the majority is illusory, formed of that crowd which has no opinion — and which therefore the next moment (when it becomes clear that the minority is the stronger) adopts the latter's opinion, which now is in the majority, i. e. becomes rubbish by having the whole retinue and numerousness on its side, while the truth is again in a new minority.
    • 1850
  • The truth is a trap: you can not get it without it getting you; you cannot get the truth by capturing it, only by its capturing you.
    • 1854

Works of Love (1847)

Works of Love: Some Christian Deliberations in the Form of Discourses [Kjerlighedens Gjerninger. Nogle christelige Overveielser i Talers Form] (1847)
Love for my neighbor cannot make me one with the neighbor in a united self. Love to one's neighbor is love between two individual beings, each eternally qualified as spirit.
When one has once fully entered the realm of love, the world — no matter how imperfect — becomes rich and beautiful, it consists solely of opportunities for love.
If it were love’s merit to love the extraordinary, then God would be — if I dare say so — perplexed, for to Him the extraordinary does not exist at all.
  • Which is more difficult, to awaken one who sleeps or to awaken one who, awake, dreams that he is awake?
  • The intoxication of self-feeling is the most intense, and the height of this intoxication is most admired. Love and friendship are the very height of self-feeling, the I intoxicated in the other-I. The more securely the two I's come together to become one I, the more this united I selfishly cuts itself off from all others.
  • Spiritual love, on the other hand, takes away from myself all natural determinants and all self-love. Therefore love for my neighbor cannot make me one with the neighbor in a united self. Love to one's neighbor is love between two individual beings, each eternally qualified as spirit.
  • Worldly wisdom thinks that love is a relationship between man and man. Christianity teaches that love is a relationship between: man-God-man, that is, that God is the middle term.
  • When it is the duty to love the men we see, then one must first and foremost give up all fanciful and extravagant ideas about a dream world where the object of love is to be sought and found; that is, one must become sober, win actuality and truth by finding and continuing in the world of actuality as the task assigned to one.
  • It is human self-renunciation when a man denies himself and the world opens up to him. But it is Christian self-renunciation when a denies himself and, because the world precisely for this shuts itself up to him, he must as one thrust out by the world seek God's confidence. The double-danger lies precisely in meeting opposition there where he had expected to find support, and he has to turn about twice; whereas the merely human self-resignation turns once.
  • Only one deception is possible in the infinite sense, self-deception.
  • When one has once fully entered the realm of love, the world — no matter how imperfect — becomes rich and beautiful, it consists solely of opportunities for love.
  • Is it an excellence in your love that it can love only the extraordinary, the rare? If it were love’s merit to love the extraordinary, then God would be — if I dare say so — perplexed, for to Him the extraordinary does not exist at all. The merit of being able to love only the extraordinary is therefore more like an accusation, not against the extraordinary nor against love, but against the love which can love only the extraordinary. Perfection in the object is not perfection in the love. Erotic love is determined by the object; friendship is determined by the object; only love of one’s neighbor is determined by love. Therefore genuine love is recognizable by this, that its object is without any of the more definite qualifications of difference, which means that this love is recognizable only by love.

The Sickness unto Death (1849)

As translated by Alastair Hannay (1989), Penguin Classics ISBN 0-14-044533-1

Part One: The Sickness unto Death is Despair

If I have ventured wrongly, very well, life then helps me with its penalty. But if I haven't ventured at all, who helps me then?
  • Someone in despair despairs over something. So, for a moment, it seems, but only for a moment. That same instant the true despair shows itself, or despair in its true guise. In despairing over something he was really despairing over himself, and he wants now to be rid of himself. (p. 49)
  • A person in despair wants despairingly to be himself. But surely if he wants despairingly to be himself, he cannot want to be rid of himself. Yes, or so it seems. But closer observation reveals the contradiction to be still the same. The self which, in his despair, he wants to be is a self he is not (indeed, to want to be the self he truly is, is the very opposite of despair). (p. 50)
  • When whatever causes person to despair occurs, it is immediately evident that he has been in despair his whole life. (p. 54)
  • He who says without pretence that he despairs is, after all, a little nearer, a dialectical step nearer being cured than all those who are not regarded and who do not regard themselves as being in despair. (p. 56)
  • What feelings, understanding and will a person has depends in the last resort upon what imagination he has — how he represents himself to himself, that is, upon imagination. (pp. 60 - 61)
  • The world has generally no understanding of what is truly horrifying. The despair that not only does not cause any inconvenience in life, but makes life convenient and comfortable, is naturally enough in no way regarded as despair. That this is the worldly view is evident, among all things, from nearly all the proverbs, which are nothing but rules of prudence. (p. 64)
  • If I have ventured wrongly, very well, life then helps me with its penalty. But if I haven't ventured at all, who helps me then? (pp. 64 - 65)
  • What we call worldliness simply consists of such people who, if one may so express it, pawn themselves to the world. (p. 65)
  • What characterizes despair is just this — that it is ignorant of being despair. (p. 75)
  • What afflicts the adult is not to much the illusion of hope as, no doubt among other things, the grotesque illusion of looking down from some supposedly higher vantage-point, free from illusion, upon the illusions of the young. (p. 89)
  • In spiritual terms the human being does not arrive over the years and as a matter of course at anything. No idea could be more directly opposed to spirit. (p. 90)
  • Purely philosophically it could be a subtle question whether it is possible both to be in despair and to be quite clear what one despairs of. (p. 92)
  • The initial expression of defiance is precisely despair over one's weakness. (p. 97)
  • Far from the self succeeding increasingly in being itself, it becomes increasingly obvious that it is a hypothetical self. (p. 100)

Part Two: Despair Is Sin

People think the world needs a republic, and they think it needs a new social order, and a new religion, but it never occurs to anyone that what the world really needs, confused as it is by much learning, is a new Socrates.
Sin is in itself separation from the good, but despair over sin is separation a second time.
  • This fact, that the opposite of sin is by no means virtue, has been overlooked. The latter is partly a pagan view, which is content with a merely human standard, and which for that very reason does not know what sin is, that all sin is before God. No, the opposite of sin is faith. (pp. 114 - 115)
  • How extraordinarily stupid it is to defend Christianity, how little knowledge of humanity it betrays, how it connives if only unconsciously with offence by making Christianity out to be some miserable object that in the end must be rescued by a defence. It is therefore certain and true that the person who first thought of defending Christianity is de facto a Judas No. 2; he too betrays with a kiss, except his treason is that of stupidity. To defend something is always to discredit it. (p. 119)
  • If sin is ignorance, then sin does not really exist, for sin is precisely consciousness; if sin is ignorance of what is right, and one then does what is wrong because one does not know what is right, then no sin has occurred. (p. 121)
  • What a dangerous objection it would be against Christianity, therefore, if paganism had a definition of sin which Christianity had to acknowledge was correct. (p. 122)
  • People think the world needs a republic, and they think it needs a new social order, and a new religion, but it never occurs to anyone that what the world really needs, confused as it is by much learning, is a new Socrates. (p. 124)
  • No human being is able to say, of his own and by himself, what sin is, for sin is the very thing he is in. All his talk about sin is at bottom a glossing over sin, an excuse, a sinful extenuation. (p. 127)
  • If the whole of Christianity hangs on this, on its having to be believed, not comprehended, on its either having to be believed or one's having to be offended by it, is it then so commendable to want to comprehend? (p. 131)
  • Sin is in itself separation from the good, but despair over sin is separation a second time. (p. 142)
  • The dread of sin can sometimes in effect drive a person into sin through dread. (p. 145)
  • Sin, however common to all, does not gather men together into a common concept, into an association or partnership (no more than out in the graveyard the multitude of the dead form a society), but splits people up into individuals and fastens hold of every individual as a sinner. (p. 153)
  • Out of love, God becomes man. He says: "See, here is what it is to be a human being." (p. 161)


  • Leap of faith.
    • This phrase is thought by many to have been coined by Kierkegaard, but analysis of his works in Danish indicate that he does not use a phrase which would translate into English as "leap of faith" anywhere in his writings, but there are instances where he writes of a "leap" in a context where the concept denoted by the term could easily be construed:
And how does God's existence emerge from the proof? Does it follow straightway, without any breach of continuity? Or do we have an analogy to the behavior of the little Cartesian dolls? As soon as I let go of the doll it stands on its head. As soon as I let it go, I must therefore let it go. So also with the proof. As long as I keep my hold on the proof, i.e., continue to demonstrate, the existence does not come out, if for no other reason that that I am engaged in proving it; but when I let the proof go, the existence is there. But this act of letting go is surely also something; it is indeed a contribution of mine. Must not this also be taken into account, this little moment, brief as it may be, it need not be long, for it is a leap.
Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom, which emerges when the spirit wants to posit the synthesis and freedom looks down into possibility, laying hold of finiteness to support itself. Freedom succumbs in this dizziness. Further than this, psychology cannot and will not go. In that very moment everything is changed, and freedom, when it again rises, sees that it is guilty. Between these two moments lies the leap, which no science has explained and which no science will explain.
What if, rather than speaking or dreaming of an absolute beginning, we speak of a leap?

Quotations about Kierkegaard

  • Hegel was the great system-maker. What others viewed as his grand achievement Kierkegaard viewed as his unforgivable crime, the attempt to rationally systematize the whole of existence. The whole of existence cannot be systematized, Kierkegaard insisted, because existence is not yet whole; it is incomplete and in a state of constant development. Hegel attempted to introduce mobility into logic, which, said Kierkegaard, is itself an error in logic. The greatest of Hegel’s errors, however, was his claim that he had established the objective theory of knowledge. Kierkegaard countered with the argument that subjectivity is truth. As he put it, “The objective uncertainty maintained in the most passionate spirit of dedication is truth, the highest truth for one existing.” ... Kierkegaard, it remains to be said, is not a systematic theologian. We know what he thought of systems and system makers, of which Hegel was the prime example. There is hardly a page in his writings that does not prompt from the systematically minded reader a protest against disconnections and apparent contradictions. Like Flannery O'Connor, he shouted to the hard of hearing and drew startling pictures for the almost blind.
  • As a thorough Christian — or, as he would have put it, infinitely interested in becoming one — Søren Kierkegaard addressed himself neither to Jews nor to Judaism. But they have overheard him. In part because they could not help it... Jews are well advised to be on the alert for what they can learn not only about him but about themselves also.
    • Rabbi Milton Steinberg, in "Kierkegaard and Judaism" in The Menorah Journal 37:2 (1949)

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