Søren Kierkegaard

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Kierkegaard, Søren


Born May 5, 1813, in Copenhagen; died there Nov. 11, 1855. Danish theologian, idealist philosopher, and writer.

Kierkegaard studied philosophy and theology at the University of Copenhagen. After breaking off with his fiancée in 1841, he led the secluded life of a solitary thinker, a life filled with intensive literary work. At the end of his life he entered into stormy polemics with official theological circles. He published many of his works, such as Either-Or and Fear and Trembling (1843) and Philosophical Fragments (1844), under various pseudonyms, expounding his ideas through invented characters and often presenting them in fictional form (Diary of a Seducer).

Kierkegaard’s philosophical views were formed under the influence of German romanticism, as well as the antirationalist reaction against Hegelian philosophy. He ascribed particular importance to Socratic irony; it was to the religious and philosophical interpretation of Socratic irony (in the spirit of Protestantism) that he devoted his master’s dissertation. Kierkegaard criticized Hegel for “objectivism,” that is, the striving to understand the individual in a historically concrete system of the objective spirit. He rejected this view as surrendering the personality to the power of the “anonymous” domination of history and thus depriving it of independence and freedom. To the Hegelian objective dialectic Kierkegaard attempted to counterpose one different in principle—a subjective (“existential”) dialectic, which with Kierkegaard proves to be a means for preserving a person’s relationship to god. According to Kierkegaard, an individual passes through three qualitiatively different stages on the path to god—aesthetic, ethical, and religious. The individual living asthetically, according to Kierkegaard, achieves emotional pleasure in rejecting the process of finding the “truth” of his existence; this refusal inevitably entails dissatisfaction and “despair”; however, this is still not true despair. True despair enters with the ethical stage and leads the person to the realization of the religious meaning of his personality; according to Kierkegaard, there is no other path to god.

Kierkegaard insisted upon the radical paradoxicality and illogicality of religious experience, ridiculing the efforts at rationalizing faith in Hegelian philosophy or in the practice of liberal Protestant theology. He criticized the Reformation sharply because, in abolishing medieval asceticism, it “made life easier.” He perceived Lutheranism as a further rationalization of religion —that is, as its degradation. Kierkegaard defended the thesis of the reality of Christianity only for an elect, who would be able to realize their existential freedom.

Kierkegaard’s works, with their stylistic brilliance and inci-siveness, greatly influenced the development of Danish literature. Kierkegaard’s philosophy did not enjoy popularity during his lifetime or the decades immediately after his death. Protestant dialectical theology turned to his teachings in the 20th century, as did existentialism in the 1920’s. The style of his philosophizing has become a model for irrationalist currents of contemporary bourgeois philosophical thought.


Samlede vaerker, 2nd ed., vols. 1–15. Copenhagen, 1920–36.
Papirer [2nd ed.], vols. 1–13. Copenhagen, 1968–70.
In Russian translation:
Naslazhdenie i dolg. St. Petersburg, 1894.
“Neschastneishii.” In the publication Severnye sborniki, book 4. St. Petersburg, 1908.


Shestov, L. Kirgegard i ekzistentsial’naia filosofiia. Paris, 1939.
Gaidenko, P. Tragediia estetizma: Opyt kharakteristiki mirosozertsaniia S. Kirkegora. Moscow, 1970.
Bykhovskii. B. E. K’erkegor. Moscow, 1972.
Haecker, T. S. Kierkegaard. Munich, 1913.
Przywara, E. Das Geheimnis Kierkegaards. Munich, 1929.
Dempf, A. Kierkegaards Folgen. Leipzig, 1935.
Allen, E. L. Kierkegaard: His Life and Thought. New York-London, 1936.
Wahl, J. Etudes Kierkegaardiennes, 2nd ed. Paris, 1949.
Kassner, R. S. Kierkegaard. Heidelberg, 1949.
Hohlenberg, J. F. S. Kierkegaard. Paris [1956].
Jolivet, R. Aux Sources de l’existentialisme chrétien: Kierkegaard. Paris [1956].
Anz, W. Kierkegaard und der deutsche Idealismus. Tübingen, 1956.
Lowrie, W. Kierkegaard, vols. 1–2. New York [1962].
Heiss, R. Die grossen Dialektiker des 19. Jahrhunderts: Hegel, Kierkegaard, Marx. Cologne-Berlin, 1963.
Mesnard, P. Kierkegaard, 3rd ed. Paris, 1963.
Adorno, T. W. Kierkegaard: Konstruktion des Ä sthetischen [3rd ed.]. Frankfurt am Main, 1966.
Malaquais, J. S. Kierkegaard: Foi et paradoxe. [Paris, 1971.]
Jørgensen, A. Søren Kierkegaard-litteratur, 1961–1970. [Aarhus, 1971.]


References in periodicals archive ?
In the passage from Johannes Climacus in which we saw Kierkegaard saying that it is a "foolish question" to ask if consciousness could remain in immediacy, for then "man would be an animal," he adds: "this might be expressed by saying that immediacy is reality and speech is ideality.
In his Concluding Unscientific Postscript, the pseudonym Johannes Climacus proclaims that "existential reality is incommunicable" (320)--and this in a text largely devoted precisely to the exploration of existential reality, a reality starkly opposed to the Hegelian "reality" of "pure thought.
As Johannes Climacus says in his Concluding Unscientific Postscript, we can "apprehend the ethical reality of an other only by thinking it, and hence as a possibility.
The Seducer in Either / Or spies on the object of his seduction, Cordelia; Constantine Constantius observes the young man of Repetition with clinical interest; Johannes de Silentio intently watches Abraham; Johannes Climacus (Philosophical Fragments, Concluding Unscientific Postscript) surveilles the spectacle of Christendom; and Anti-Climacus (Sickness Unto Death, Training in Christianity) observes the despair of those without faith.
25) "It is thus left to the reader himself to put two and two together, if he so desires," Johannes Climacus remarks, "but nothing is done to minister to [the] reader" (Concluding, 264f).
In Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Johannes Climacus recycles the play of words on "Forklarelse" in order to criticize Hegel's philosophical prose:
In this passage, Johannes Climacus takes up the violent and well-known polemics against Hegel's "system" found in the beginning of the Postscript.