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Reply Mon 28 Jul, 2008 05:20 am

The Danish Socrates
May 5, 1813 - November 11, 1855


His famous relationship with Regine Olsen left him a changed man, because he decided to become a writer, rather than a husband and possible father. His trip to Berlin in 1841-42 gave him the inspiration for his first great work, Either/Or. His subsequent return to Copenhagen produced his greatest philosophical works, culminating in Concluding Unscientific Postscript in 1846.

His spat with the Danish newspaper Corsair made him reconsider his decision to retire from writing, and he subsequently produced some of his greatest theological works, culminating in Practice in Christianity in 1850. The death of Bishop Mynster, enabled Kierkegaard to make his final stand against the corruption of the Christian churches in Denmark. He collapsed on the streets in October and on November 11, 1855, died.

Kierkegaard sets his philosophical project as this: what does it mean to become subjective, that is, what does existing and living as a human being entail? (His theological project is "what does it mean to become a Christian".) Kierkegaard develops the content of an existing individual. The task of such an individual is to understand himself in his existence, with its uncertainty, its risk and its passion. Kierkegaard says that Socrates was such an individual. From Socrates, he has learned to abstain from giving the reader an objective result to memorize, a systematic scheme for arrangement in paragraphs, all of which is relevant only to objective science, but irrelevant to existential thought.

Again from Socrates, he has learned to confront the reader with a question, to picture the ideal as a possibility. Yet again from Socrates, he has learned to keep the reader at a distance, to throw him back on his own individual responsibility, to compel him to find his own way to a solution. Kierkegaard does not merely talk about self-reliance. His entire literary art is devoted to the promotion of self-reliance and self-determination, which, unfortunately, some people find tiring and difficult about his philosophical project.

Kierkegaard did not like Christian apologetics at all and he fought them all his life. Mynster was a friend, and Kierkegaard held his tongue when he was still Bishop. When Mynster died, and Hans Lassen Martensen became Bishop, Kierkegaard let loose with his attack. The rational theologians like Martensen developed a system of apologetics for the purpose of defending Christianity, but they make a fatal mistake in Kierkegaard's view. There can be nothing worse than playing defence for something so valuable, to say nothing of an apology for something so infinitely valuable that men cannot do without it. Such defence, even though well meant, is an unconscious betrayal. To overcome doubt it is now needful to stress what Martin Luther did not need to stress, because it was everywhere taken for granted and profoundly felt. Luther's stress upon grace is not to be forgotten, but the need of men for this grace is to be developed, in order to bring the insolence of doubt to silence. This was lacking in Kierkegaard's day. Christianity cannot be defended, as little as God can be brought before a human judgment-seat. Christianity is God's attack upon man; it is accusation upon accusation; and what impudence for the criminal in chains to try to prove in the courtroom that the judge who sentences him actually exists.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe were influences on his literary development; but the major literary source was from Socrates and the early Plato. Through Socrates he devised his literary plans of pseudonyms and non-pseudonyms, literary catches and hidden arguments, which required that the author should give the impression of existing in his thought; and in his philosophy of communication, which required that, in a certain Socratic sense, there should be no teacher at all.

Kierkegaard saw the failure of his day in the divorce of life and thought. The philosopher erects a beautiful palace of thought, but he does not live in this, but in a janitor's shed at the side. Kierkegaard thought Socrates exhibited a beautiful synthesis of thought and character, a harmony of words and deeds. And Socrates refused to call himself a teacher, or to pose as an authority, because he knew that the truth is a way of life, and because he doubted that a mode of living could be taught. He confined himself to asking questions, thereby puzzling his hearers, and stimulating them to seek the truth in themselves, presupposing that the truth was inside them all along. In harmony with this attitude, the earlier Platonic dialogues, those in which the personality of Socrates dominates the discussion, end without arriving at a definitive result, as Kierkegaard emulates.

Selected Bibliography
(1834) Another Defense of Woman's Great Abilities
(1838) From the Papers of One Still Living
(1841) The Concept of Irony with Continual Reference to Socrates
(1843) Either/Or
(1843) Fear and Trembling
(1843) Repetition
(1844) Philosophical Fragments
(1844) The Concept of Anxiety
(1845) Stages on Life's Way
(1846) Concluding Unscientific Postscript
(1846) Two Ages: A Literary Review
(1847) Works of Love
(1847) The Book on Adler
(1848) The Point of View For My Work As An Author
(1849) The Sickness Unto Death
(1850) Practice in Christianity
(1851) For Self-Examination
(1855) The Moment
Alexander phil
Reply Fri 6 Mar, 2009 03:44 pm
@Victor Eremita,
Very interesting, nice C&P.

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