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  • ren Kierkegaard was a brilliant, gloomy, anxiety-ridden, often hilarious Danish 19th century philosopher.

  • The author of 22 books, of which 3 continue to make his name.

  • He was born in an immensely wealthy family in Copenhagen in 1813, the youngest of 7 children.

  • Death was around him constantly from a young age, and was to obsess him throughout his career.

  • It is, in a sense, his only theme.

  • Not only was he extremely physically frail,

  • by the time he was 22, all his siblings had died except for he and a brother.

  • It drove him to furious production of books over 15 years.

  • On a single day in 1843 he published no less than 3 works.

  • He wasn't writing for the money; he was working to save himself, and, he thought, humanity.

  • As it happened, he made it to the age of 42, then died of an excruciating spinal disease.

  • In "Either/Or" and "Fear and Trembling", what Kierkegaard wants to do above all

  • is wake up and give up our cozy sentimental illusions.

  • He systematically attacks the pillars of modern life: our faith in family, our trust in work, our attachment to love,

  • and our general sense that life has purpose and meaning.

  • His enemies were the smug in all their guises,

  • particularly, the prosperous Danish haute bourgeoisie, and the members of the established Danish church.

  • He tells us, "As I grew up I opened my eyes and saw the real world, and I began to laugh and I haven't stopped since.

  • I saw that the meaning of life was to get a livelihood,

  • that the goal of life was to be a High Court judge,

  • that the brightest joy of love was to marry a well-off girl,

  • that wisdom was what the majority said it was,

  • that passion was to give a speech,

  • that courage was to risk being fined ten dollars,

  • that cordiality was to say "you're welcome" after a meal,

  • and that the fear of God was to go to communion once a year.

  • That's what I saw and I laughed."

  • Kierkegaard was especially caustic about the 19th century understanding of love,

  • and the new ideology of passionate marriage, which aimed to unite desire with prudence,

  • and suggested that one could enjoy all the thrills of a love affair,

  • and, at the same time, all the stability for long-term relationship.

  • But, Kierkegaard mocked the notion that one could ever fuse romantic laugh with marriage,

  • that one could have passion and sex, and, at the same time, children, stability, and routine.

  • He respected both, he just couldn't believe you could have them both at the same time-

  • in a cozy marriage sanctified by the state and the neighborhoods.

  • His belief arose out of his own tortured love life.

  • He fell in love with a beautiful, precocious, and talented 18-year-old girl, called Regine Olsen,

  • only then to break off the engagement as he realized

  • that to try and live with her forever would also mean killing the love that had drawn him to her.

  • Everywhere he turned, Kierkegaard saw intolerable incompatibilities, and impossible choices.

  • It led him to one memorable explosion in "Either/Or":

  • "Marry and you will regret it. Don't marry; you will also regret it."

  • "Marry or don't marry; you will regret it either way."

  • "Laugh at the world's foolishness; you will regret it."

  • "Weep over it; you'll regret that too."

  • "Hang yourself; you'll regret it. Don't hang yourself and you'll regret that too."

  • "Whether you hang yourself or don't hang yourself, you will regret both."

  • "This, gentlemen, is the essence of all philosophy."

  • The mention of laughter is not a coincidence; key to Kierkegaard's philosophy is that:

  • the only intelligent tactical response to life's horror is to laugh defiantly at it.

  • Rarely has a philosopher taken humor as seriously.

  • Kierkegaard is often described as the founder of the philosophical movement known as "existentialism",

  • because, in him, we find all the themes that would so interest later thinkers, like Sartre, Camus, and Heidegger.

  • The book that fascinated the existentialists was Kierkegaard's, "The Concept of Anxiety", published in 1844,

  • in which he emphasized a new word, "angest", or "angst", as we know it in English,

  • a condition where we understand how many choices we face,

  • and how little understanding we can ever have of how to exercise these choices wisely.

  • As Kierkegaard wrote, "Life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards".

  • Our constant angst means that unhappiness is more or less written into the script of life,

  • as he wrote, "anyone who has given the matter any serious thought will know that I'm right when I say,"

  • "it's not possible for anyone to be absolutely, and in every conceivable way, completely content,"

  • "not even for a single half hour of his life."

  • "No one has come into the world without crying. No one asks when you want to enter the world; no one asks when you want to leave."

  • "How empty and meaningless life is; we bury a person, throw three shovels of earth over him,"

  • "drive out in a coach, drive back in a coach, and console ourselves that we still have life enough left to live."

  • "But really, how long is three score and ten; why not just get it over with straight away?"

  • For Kierkegaard there was, however, one answer that he put forward ever more stridently in his later works: Jesus Christ.

  • Kierkegaard loathed the Christianity of the established Danish church,

  • but he adored the simple truths of the Gospels that his father taught him as a boy

  • For him, Christianity was a religion of extreme surrender to a theology of almost peasantlike simplicity:

  • one was to be ready to die for Christ, to give up all attachment to worldly things, and to love all humans like one's siblings.

  • Kierkegaard wasn't interested in justifying his attachment to Christianity through rational means;

  • instead, he recommended a dramatic and now famous 'leap of faith',

  • wherein one wouldn't apply one's puny mind to attempting to prove the existence of God,

  • one would merely switch off one's faulty rational faculties, and jump into the idea of God as the total solution.

  • As he put it, "To have faith is to lose your mind and to win God".

  • Like Marxist communism, Kierkegaard's solutions to the problems of being human

  • are far less convincing and interesting than the diagnoses of our ills; few of us now make that leap,

  • but Kierkegaard deserves our attention for the beautifully bitter, caustic look he casts on the human condition.

  • He's one of the few philosophers one can turn to when the world has badly let us down, and we're in need of a friend

  • who can fully understand the dark places we're in once the sentimental illusions, that normally keep us going, fall away.

ren Kierkegaard was a brilliant, gloomy, anxiety-ridden, often hilarious Danish 19th century philosopher.

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PHILOSOPHY - Soren Kierkegaard

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    Aming Chiang posted on 2016/11/09
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