Lecture 5: Kierkegaard. Short Summary
1. Kierkegaard (1813-1855) can rightfully be considered to be
the Father of
. Kierkegaard's existentialism follows a progression from existence to a pursuit of
pleasure, to a pursuit of society, and finally a pursuit of spirituality. In basic terms, the existence
precedes the awareness of self. By concentrating on the individual, Kierkegaard was laying the
foundation for future existentialists.
2. Kierkegaard’s philosophy, as opposed to the abstraction of Hegelian philosophy, would
return us to the concreteness of existence. But he was interested in the concreteness of
individual human existence
(not of things in the world). I can think and say many things
about myself – ‘I am a teacher, I am a woman, I prefer chocolate to vanilla.’ Yet, when I
am done talking and thinking about myself, there is one thing remaining that cannot be
– my existence
, which is a ‘surd’ (an irrational residue). I cannot
it; rather, I
it. My lived existence, according to Kierkegaard, is equated with passion,
decision, and action. None of these categories can be exhausted by thought. But
Kierkegaard is not saying that there is no connection between existence and thought.
What kind of thought? – Not objective, but
thought, for which there exist no
objective criteria of truth (such as values of ethical and religious claims which do not
have any objective standards that could be appealed to in order to be proved).
3. The central notion of his philosophy is
, the self. According to
Kaufmann, Kierkegaard hoped to elevate the individual to a new philosophical level. The self is
a series of possibilities; every decision made redefines the individual. This concept was further
developed by Sartre. The knowledge that "I" define the "self" results in "the dizziness of
freedom" and "fear and trembling." It is a great responsibility to create a person, yet that is
exactly what each human does -- creates a self. This self is independent from all other knowledge
and "truths" defined by other individuals. For Kierkegaard, the self (individual) is essentially
subjectivity, and subjectivity is constituted by the individual’s commitment to his or her
, for Kierkegaard, is one that ‘chooses itself’ by a form of
self-reflective activity that both clarifies and creates values while assuming total responsibility
for those values. Kierkegaard further stated that the highest form of subjectivity was
think like an existentialist is to contemplate the self, the Creator, and the universe with passion.
According to this philosophy, all objective truth is to be questioned, as the Creator is the only
entity with knowledge of absolutes.