Soren Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher born on May 5th, 1813. He was born in Copenhagen, Denmark and he passed away there at the young age of 42 on November 11th 1855. Kierkegaard’s father experienced a great deal of loneliness and suffering as a child and often turned to God for refuge. One day after doing so, his situation greatly improved and he became a successful business man and hosier. He was lucky enough to have the ability to retire at the mere age of 40. Kierkegaard’s mother was his father’s second wife and Kierkegaard did not speak of her nor journal of her much and she passed away when he was only twenty-one. Unlike when his mother passed, Kierkegaard wrote in his journal about his father’s passing “It was then the great earthquake occurred, the terrible upheaval which suddenly pressed on me a new infallible law for the interpretation of all phenomena. It was then I suspected my father's great age was not a divine blessing but rather a curse; that our family's excellent mental abilities existed only for tearing us apart from one another; I felt the stillness of death spreading over me when I saw in my father an unhappy person who would survive us all, a monumental cross on the grave of all his expectations. A guilt must weigh on the entire family, God's punishment must be upon it; it was meant to disappear, expunged by God's mighty hand, deleted like an unsuccessful attempt, and I only occasionally found some little solace in the thought that upon my father had fallen the heavy duty of reassuring us with the consolation of religion, administering the last sacrament, so that a better world might still stand open for us even if we lost everything in this one, even if that punishment the Jews always called down upon their foes were to fall on us; that all memory of us would be wiped out and no trace found (II A 805)” (Storm). This quote from his entry is Kierkegaard acknowledging his father’s death as a sacrifice of sorts for his own personal sins. Kierkegaard was a very materialistic adolescent. He often bought clothes, food, and drinks and in general spent money without care. He created a large amount of debt that his father reluctantly had to deal with. In 1830, at the age of 17 Kierkegaard began attending the University of Copenhagen, as his father wished, studying for a degree in theology. He was a remarkable student but not very consistent with his time at the University. After his father passed he was inspired to work even harder in his school, to bring pride to the family name and hopefully his father. He received a degree in theology in 1840. In addition, around this time Kierkegaard fell in love. He had fancied Regine Olsen for years but could not pursue her before because she was too young. However, they became engaged in 1840 when she was eighteen years old. Regine was from a well-off family in Copenhagen just like Kierkegaard, because of his inheritance. His engagement was a basis for a literary love story in the working too. Unfortunately, Kierkegaard broke off his engagement with Regine within the following year. It seems he was vastly torn between staying in solitude and leading a life with a wife and children. “Regine attempted to appease Kierkegaard and win his heart, even
after his unusual treatment of her, but he rebuffed her advances. Kierkegaard claimed he wanted to force Regine away from him, so she would marry another man. It is possible he did not think himself worthy. It is also possible he did not want to deal with the emotions associated with romance. Regardless, he tried to be “indifferent” and drive Regine out of his life” (Wyatt). Kierkegaard was a very unusual man who had trouble with social interaction which some believed to be the causal of him ending his engagement since much evidence supports him truly caring of Regine; however, his own personal battles denied him the privilege of feeling emotionally comfortable with the concept of marriage.
Throughout this period of his life Kierkegaard was writing On the Concept of Irony: with the constant reference to Socrates (1841) which was his master’s thesis. This was a time in his life where he dealt with many emotional strains and he coped with this by burying himself in his work. On the Concept of Irony was a major work that was completed in less than a year. “The writing style was nothing like the professors had read before; some were less than impressed while others were stunned. The writing was as complex and convoluted as the author himself. Although the university awarded a degree to Kierkegaard, records indicate it was not an easy decision for the professors accustomed to more traditional works” (Wyatt). Recently after he finished this work he began to travel, taking four trips. When Kierkegaard was leaving Vor Frue Church he saw Regine who nodded to him. This was a great deal to Kierkegaard because he took it as a sign that the former love of his life had forgave him. He wrote in his journal about it. “At Vespers on Easter Sunday in Frue Kirke (during Mynster's sermon), she nodded to me. I do not know if it was pleadingly or forgivingly, but in any case very affectionately. I had sat down in a place apart, but she discovered it. Would to God that she had not done so. Now a year and a half of suffering and all the enormous pains I took are wasted; she does not believe that I was a deceiver, she has faith in me. What ordeals now lie ahead of her. The next will be that I am a hypocrite. The higher we go, the more dreadful it is. That a man of my inwardness, of my religiousness, could act in such a way. And yet I can no longer live solely for her, cannot expose myself to the contempt of men in order to lose my honor—that I have done. Shall I in sheer madness go ahead and become a villain just to get her to believe it—ah, what help is that. She will still believe that I was not that before (Journals, IV A 97)” (Storm). This entry is evidence of how much he cared for Regine. After he ended their engagement he never married nor dated again.
Kierkegaard’s next work was titled Either/ Or which was in response to philosophers Hegel and Schelling’s views. Another one of his works was called Fear and Trembling. In both of these works Kierkegaard used pseudonyms instead of his actual name as the author. The reason behind this was not to necessarily hide that he was the author but rather to benefit upon the story and help the narrative come to life because his pseudonyms were typically characters from the stories. Kierkegaard was mostly a philosopher who asked how human life should be lived. He was believed to be one of the fathers of existentialism, which is a theory that focuses upon the existence of individuals as a free agent. Kierkegaard was also a devote Christian. However, he disliked the Danish church and despised the complacent attitude that his fellow Christians portrayed; this view made him widely unpopular. He believed that his faith was more
important than his social duties. For example, the biblical story in which Abraham believes he is told by God to sacrifice his son. Abraham begins his three day journey up to Mount Moriah where he must take him to a stone altar and sacrifice him as God instructed. Shockingly, as Abraham is about to put the knife to his son’s throat God sends an Angel to stop him. God lets his son live as a reward for Abraham’s loyalty. This story is an excellent portrayal of the way Kierkegaard believed all Christians should behave. ”Prayer does not change God but it changes him who prays”-Soren Kierkegaard. He thought that a persons’ faith needed to be the top priority in their life. It outweighed the idea of human ethics to him. In the book, Either/Or he discussed the idea that people choose between two “existence spheres”. The first being aesthetic and the other ethical. People who led aesthetical lives were focused on aesthetics such as things of pleasure, novelty, and romance. Kierkegaard believed that these aspects would eventually lead to boredom or result in a meaningless and purely materialistic life. However, ethical lives he thought would be the easiest and most common among social norms. Kierkegaard thought they would be filled with lots of compromise though. An ethical life led to a moral one which would result in sacrifices being made and he believed this life would result in the eroding of a person’s integrity. One of the many factors that played into which “sphere” a person chose was their personal choices they made and the life they led. For example, the environment they were raised in and the way people treated them and the way they treated themselves. Unfortunately, Kierkegaard did not believe that either of these “spheres” led to a satisfactory life. In later works, Kierkegaard brought up another “sphere” one that was religious. He believed people in this sphere “lived in the truth” and could achieve a purpose in life. This was the one Kierkegaard regarded as his personal choice in life, it was extremely individualistic and subjective. Kierkegaard’s entire philosophy was based upon the idea of a subjective point of view. The point of most of his works was to invoke individual thought which is why he made it so difficult to interpret what he meant throughout his works. The idea of an individual point of view was of the utmost importance to him. It was all about the way a person viewed their life and their ability to do whatever with it. He was passionate about our capability of free will and being a free agent of our own lives. We have no rules or authority figures unless we accept them into our lives. Kierkegaard believed that the present age was reflective and that the meaning of values are beginning to disappear from the way we act. His opinion was that humanity is entirely subjective. The idea of thinking out your choices was ridiculous to him and he wanted people to just simply live their lives. Kierkegaard was incredibly passionate about religion and his relationship with God. He believed people were alienating themselves from God because they were living in the world too much. His view was that they were not in touch with themselves internally and needed to regain that relationship with their internal emotions and soul. Kierkegaard lived a religious life since he was born, coming from a father who constantly sought refuge in God, and getting a degree in theology and pursuing a career of a pastor. These are all causes of why religion is such a major part of his philosophy. His view on religion along with his personal relationship with God focused mostly on the idea of faith. He only thought it was worth it if you gave it your all, 100% belief, faith, and trust in God. This is why his own local church angered him so much because the people he saw surrounding him there were not faithful and merely attended church because it was the right and normal social
thing for a person to do. In Kierkegaard’s later years he accused the Lutheran Church in Denmark of being corrupt and even made public complaints. Kierkegaard died in 1855 and it was believed that the devotion and intensity of his many books and private journals along with the controversy with the church were all contributing factors to it. Kierkegaard was not popular nor fully appreciated in his lifetime. Fortunately, in the twentieth century the existentialist Jean Paul Sartre took a liking to his works. In addition, Kierkegaard’s belief were extremely related to the popular Karl Marx one of the main differences being Marx did not believe in salvation through religion. Altogether, Kierkegaard’s philosophy revolved around the everyday occurrence of individuals making choice and the idea of a subjective point of view.
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