Who Is Søren Kierkegaard?

The greatest hazard of all, losing one's self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss – an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. – is sure to be noticed.

- Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the rich and radical ideas of Soren Kierkegaard, often called the father of Existentialism. In 1840 a young Danish girl called Regine Olsen got engaged to her sweetheart – a modish and clever young man called Søren Kierkegaard. The two were deeply in love but soon the husband to be began to have doubts. He worried that he couldn’t make Regine happy and stay true to himself and his dreams of philosophy. It was a terrible dilemma, but Kierkegaard broke off the engagement – a decision from which neither he nor his fiancée fully recovered. This unhappy episode has become emblematic of the life and thought of Søren Kierkegaard - a philosopher who confronted the painful choices in life and who understood the darker modes of human existence. Yet Kierkegaard is much more than the gloomy Dane of reputation. A thinker of wit and elegance, his ability to live with paradox and his desire to think about individuals as free have given him great purchase in the modern world and he is known as the father of Existentialism.

Listen to the In Our Time episode on Kierkegaard

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Short Article of the Day

In his youth, Kierkegaard earned the nickname “gaflen,” or “the fork,” for his ability to discern the weaknesses in other people and to stick it to them. All his writing life, Kierkegaard wielded his red-hot stylus to stick it to bourgeois Christendom. His life was a meditation on what it means to have faith.

Although Kierkegaard never used the exact phrase, “the leap of faith,” those words have become his shibboleth. A Lutheran raised in a pietistic environment, Kierkegaard insisted that there was no being born into the fold; no easy passage, no clattering up a series of syllogisms to faith. For Kierkegaard, faith involved a collision with the understanding and a radical choice, or to use the terms of his singular best seller, life and faith demands an “Either/Or.” Believe or don’t believe, but don’t imagine you can have it both ways...

Continue reading Gordon Marino's article: Kierkegaard at 200

Further Reading

Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (b. 1813, d. 1855) was a profound and prolific writer in the Danish “golden age” of intellectual and artistic activity. His work crosses the boundaries of philosophy, theology, psychology, literary criticism, devotional literature and fiction. Kierkegaard brought this potent mixture of discourses to bear as social critique and for the purpose of renewing Christian faith within Christendom. At the same time he made many original conceptual contributions to each of the disciplines he employed. He is known as the “father of existentialism”, but at least as important are his critiques of Hegel and of the German romantics, his contributions to the development of modernism, his stylistic experimentation, his vivid re-presentation of biblical figures to bring out their modern relevance, his invention of key concepts which have been explored and redeployed by thinkers ever since, his interventions in contemporary Danish church politics, and his fervent attempts to analyse and revitalise Christian faith....

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Søren Kierkegaard by William McDonald

Related Topics

Hypocrisy | Faith | Literature | Hegel


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