Søren Kierkegaard

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

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.


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In Russian translation:
Naslazhdenie i dolg. St. Petersburg, 1894.
“Neschastneishii.” In the publication Severnye sborniki, book 4. St. Petersburg, 1908.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.