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Hello & Welcome! Today we’re discussing the life and philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard. Who is largely seen as the father of Existentialism, the branch of Philosophy that deals with the individuals role in life, or the purpose of their existence; hence the name. First off, allow me to warn you, Kierkegaard’s philosophy is some of the most personal and deeply emotional of any philosophy, I know. So be warned we’re getting into some deeply personal stuff. In this blog we will be going through our usual format. Initially we will discuss Kierkegaard’s life, then notable figures that influenced him and then those whom he influenced, characteristics of his philosophy, before finally discussing some misconceptions, and wrapping up. With all that out of the way, let’s go ahead and get started.

Søren Aabye Kierkegaard was born on the 5th of May 1813 to a wealthy family in Copenhagen, Denmark where he would spend much of his life. Kierkegaard later said that he enjoyed the streets of Copenhagen because carriages were rare, and while walking down the streets you could discuss and talk with literally anyone, homeless men or rich men and this influenced him in a whole host of great ways, but the greatest influences on Kierkegaard would come from his friends and tragedies within his home.

Kierkegaard’s father was a wool merchant, hence where they got all their money. He was also a fiercely religious man, with a fancy for imagination, and a penchant for philosophy. Michael Kierkegaard hosted many philosophers and writings in his house, exposing Kierkegaard to many who would later prove to be great influences to him, which we’ll discuss later. But, unfortunately Kierkegaard was most influenced by tragedies.

Kierkegaard was the youngest of seven children, by the time he was 22 all but one of his siblings had died. Leading to his mother becoming fiercely protective of him and his one surviving brother, and his father blaming himself for all of his children’s death, giving Kierkegaard a distaste for the religious circles of his home town.

Kierkegaard attended the school of civic virtue before going to the University of Copenhagen and studying theology; a man after my own heart! While in college Kierkegaard met Regine Olson, a woman who potentially prove to be the love of his life. Kierkegaard met her on May 8th of 1837 and was instantly smitten with her. After a brief period of courting, they got engaged, and then broke up, both at the behest of Kierkegaard. His reason for doing so are a little unclear, but Kierkegaard himself thought that getting married and not getting married would both be depressing, so he decided on neither and would be depressed that way.

After this his father and mother both passed away, leaving Kierkegaard with a rich inheritance and a masters degree, which he put to work authoring 22 works between the years 1843 and 1855; a remarkable achievement by any standard. His most famous works being “Either/Or” in 1843, “Fear and Trembling” in the same year and “Sickness unto Death” in 1849.

Unfortunately, though Kierkegaard was not long for this world, one day as he was walking on the street he collapsed flat out of nowhere, while in the hospital he refused communion and told his friend Emil Boesen that he had lived a life of “immense suffering” and thought that that might be vain, but he did not think so. After a month in hospital, Kirkegaard died of causes that are still largely debated today. What remains is a remarkable legacy of formal written works, and unpublished journals giving us a wonderful picture of a very unfortunate man. Before we go too far, I want to discuss some of Kierkegaard’s more famous influences…

Notable Figures:

Socrates- Obviously every philosopher since Socrates has been inspired by him, and I personally believe that Socrates posed the original question “Why does life matter?”, and every philosopher has attempted to answer this since him. And Kierkegaard shared that idea, that Socrates was a turning point in history, however he disagreed with a few key points of Socrates. For example, Socrates believed his subjective truth was better than his societies, Socrates disagreed and said that they were equal at best and pointless at worst. Also Kierkegaard felt that the biggest reason Socrates was so impressive was because of how he ironically characterized himself as an idiot. Kierkegaard believed this made him difficult to defeat in discussion.

Arthur Scophenhauer- A influencing figure in Nihilism who had a very interesting relationship with Kierkegaard, since Kierkegaard thought that Scophenhauer was important but didn’t agree with him. Kierkegaard saw Schopenhauer was a sign of what was to come, that being a general idea of worthlessness in philosophy which would eventually be achieved in Nietzsche. And Schopenhuaer was important because in a way he showed Kierkegaard how far was too far in philosophy. Kierkegaard didn’t agree that life was completely worthless, but did agree that if life were worthless it would be very depressing.

Believe it or not many famous theologians pull ideas and thoughts from Kierkegaard, a few examples are Karl Barth, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Dietriech Bonhoffer, among countless others. This is because of Kierkegaard’s infamous turn to religion as the fulfillment of all life, as we’ll explain in the next section.


Now before I go too far, it’s important for you my reader to know that many scholars classify Kierkegaard into three stages of his life. The first being aesethic, which is basically a fancy word for thinking or contemplative; the second is ethical, where he thought of how all his thinking was practical; and the last is religious, where he applied all his thoughts to God. The following characteristics are all derived from these 3 stages…

  1. Death- it would be an understatement to say that Soren Kierkegaard was obsessed with death, or rather terrified by it. We’ll talk more about that in the next section, but for now Kierkegaard had death on his mind fairly often, due to his sad background. Like we talked about in the history section Kierkegaard lost almost all of his siblings by the time he was a teenager. So I think it’s fairly logical for him to have developed a fear of death.
  2. Despair- Kierkegaard was a very anxious man, that much is obvious, this extends to his daily life as well. Kierkegaard believes that whatever you do, you WILL regret it. You get married, you’ll regret it; you stay single, you’ll regret it. Whatever you do in life, you’ll regret, so in the end all your decisions will only lead to regret. So does it end there? Actually no it does not! One of his more famous quotes was “It is impossible for any man to be completely content in an area of his life of more than half an hour.”
  3. Humor- A major point of Kierkegaard philosophy is humor. Kierkegaard makes a point that the easiest way to avoid and survive life’s despair is to point and laugh defiantly at it.
  4. Religion- To Kierkegaard, God and by extension religion were the best answers to the pain and despair of life. Now it’s important to note, that Kierkegaaard was NOT speaking of organized and specific religious institutions. He LOATHED the danish church that he was raised in, but found truth in Jesus and his message so to call him a Christian is a bit of an inaccuracy, but not a complete one. Kierkegaard for example could not and did not explain why he thought religion was the cure for despair, he simply did. And described it in his now famous description a “leap of faith”… now Indiana Jones references aside, I think it’s important to explain this. So Kierkegaard’s leap of faith basically was that you needed to let go of any attempt to explain things, or justify them to your mind, you simply needed to believe innocently and childlike that God was the answer to despair, and that was it.


That Kierkegaard doesn’t believe in objective truth- Kierkegaard is often credited as believing that objective truth is impossible, that every person must find their subjective truth and be satisfied with that. As we discussed in the religion section that’s not quite true; Kierkegaard definitely believed in an objective truth. That being God. However, Kierkegaard could not believe that there was one way to God, or really that there was any way to God. To him you had to step out and have faith and make the leap of faith and hope to make it. Really this is best explained in one of Kierkegaard’s own quotes:

Life can only be understood backwards but must be lived forwards

Therefore, Kierkegaard believed that life COULD be understood, but not in any way that would be helpful.

That Morality takes a backseat to faith- This is the main concept of Kierkegaard’s known as the “Telelogical Suspension of the Ethical” which means that God basically has the ability to pause morality and make choices that it does not apply to. Now there have been countless criticisms of this idea. But I think it does hold some merit, however, it does also have some holes.

That Kierkegaard hated Hegel- this isn’t fully true, Kierkegaard criticized Hegel, for a variety of reasons, but he far from hated him. Even going so far as to say he respected Hegel, and was beneficially influenced by him. This idea mainly comes from some off handed comments by Kierkegaard in a few of his books. Take in mind that he wrote a lot, but really Hegel was the major philosopher on the scene before Kierkegaard, so it made sense for him to have to address his thoughts and ideas. But, Kierkegaard never did so angrily or annoyingly, as some other philosophers have done to some others.

That’s all I’ve got for you today… Go in peace.

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