Soren Kierkegaard

Introduction to Kierkegaard: The Existential Problem


Often called the father of existentialism because his ideas on existentialism was very influential for Heidegger, Camus, and Sartre.

Human Beings are the synthesis of opposites. One of the opposites being infinite and finite.

"For the self is a synthesis in which the finite is the limiting factor, and the infinite the expanding factor."(The Sickness Unto Death)

Infinite = possibility

  • Capacity to have new thoughts/ideas
  • Create things
  • Change oneself
  • Chose between options.

Finite = Here/now OR necessity

You can lose yourself in the finite - it will make you depressed or slavish - you will give up your self to confirm with others. It is a lot of effort to be an authentic self - far easier to be like the others.

You can lose yourself in the infinite. You can be constantly changing - experimenting with what you can be - but never settling down.

To be one's actual self one should find a balance between the two - you should explore your possibilities - but also choose a course of action appropriate to one's here and now. This requires vigilance, constant effort and much courage - and possibly the greatest task. This is called achieving self-hood.

But this task can give you anxiety - there are not much guidelines one can use to do this well. You'll have to walk this path alone. This "Existential Anxiety" will teach you - and is necessary to find your true self. You have to "learn to be Anxious in the right way".

Existential Anxiety is the awareness of your freedom. You have to look at the abyss of options available to you - and thru an act of intentional choice, actualize one of those possibilities. It forces you to accept that you are responsible for yourself and your future. This is simultaneously attractive and repulsive - this state is "Dread".

The anxiety might cause some to give up on this path - by choosing to be not their true self. This might bring about despair or "sickness of spirit". This happens when someone tries to rid oneself of oneself - so as to escape being their true self. But you can be unconscious of this type of despair. That is very dangerous. Way more dangerous that people who are aware of the despair.

The most common type of Despair is "Despair over the earthly". In this one compensate for their lack of self by latching their identity to an external idea of self. Eg. a job, relationship, family, religion, etc. "I don't think I could live without [x]". If they loose this element, the despair comes to the fore front revealing the hollowness that was already present.

Even though Despair is "the worst misfortune and misery", it is also "an infinite advantage" - if you are conscious of it.

"What I really lack is to be clear in my mind what I am to do, not what I must know... What matters is to find a purpose... to find a truth that is true for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die... This is what my soul thirsts for as the African desert thirsts for water." (Soren Kierkegaard)

The truth Kierkegaard was seeking is not an Objective truth - but a subjective, personal truth - expressed thur a passionate idea or a style of living. Objective truths can be "known". Subjective truths can be "experienced or lived".

Kierkegaard saw that practically everyone had some form of despair. His aim with his books was to convince to build a better relationship with their self. He did this using "Indirect Communication" - because saying it directly will trigger defense mechanisms in the reader. He did this by stimulating them to think for themselves about their inward relationship with reality and the alternative life paths available.

"Most men are subjective toward themselves and objective toward all others, frightfully objective sometimes – but the task is precisely to be objective toward oneself and subjective toward all others." (Soren Kierkegaard)

Mastered Irony: Becoming objective towards oneself and subjective towards other styles of life

3 General styles of living/Spheres of Existence...

  • The Aesthetic
  • The Ethical
  • The Religious