Kierkegaard, Søren Aabye (1813–55)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC044-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 15, 2024, from

Article Summary

Although Kierkegaard’s name has come to be chiefly associated with writings on philosophical themes, his various publications covered a wide range that included contributions to literary criticism, discourses on specifically religious topics and forays into polemical journalism. Born in Copenhagen in 1813, he led an outwardly uneventful existence there until his death in 1855. None the less much that he wrote drew upon crises and turning points in his personal life; even his theoretical works often had an autobiographical flavour.

Kierkegaard held that the philosophy of his time, largely owing to the influence of Hegelian idealism, tended to misconstrue the relation of thought to reality, wrongly assimilating the second to the first; in doing so, moreover, it reflected an age in which habits of abstract reflection and passive response had blinded people to their true concerns as self-determining agents ultimately accountable for their own characters and destinies. He sought to counter such trends, exploring different approaches to life with a view to opening his reader’s eyes both to where they themselves stood and to possibilities of opting for radical change. He implied that decisions on the latter score lay beyond the scope of general rules, each being essentially a problem for the individual alone; even so, his portrayal of the religious mode of existence presented it as transcending limitations experienced in alternative forms of life. Kierkegaard, himself an impassioned believer, was at the same time crucially concerned to articulate the Christian standpoint in a fashion that salvaged it from recurrent misconceptions. Rejecting all attempts to provide objective justifications or proofs of religious claims, he endorsed a conception of faith that eschewed rational considerations and consisted instead of subjective self-commitment maintained in the face of intellectual uncertainty or paradox. His account was set within a psychological perspective that laid stress upon freedom as an inescapable condition of action and experience. The complex implications he believed this to possess for the interpretation of pervasive human emotions and attitudes were discussed in works that later proved highly influential, particularly for the growth of twentieth-century existentialism. Here, as in other areas of his writing, Kierkegaard made a significant, though delayed, impact upon the course of subsequent thought.

    Citing this article:
    Gardiner, Patrick. Kierkegaard, Søren Aabye (1813–55), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC044-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
    Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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