Søren Kierkegaard was a Christian author who was against applying the ideas of the Scientific Enlightenment to Christianity. He lived in Denmark from 1813 to 1855. His works were written to the single individual who might be interested in reading them.
“My own interest in Kierkegaard dates from the early years of my life as a graduate student in philosophy here at the University of Minnesota. In the spring of 1901 I stumbled upon Unscientific Postscript in Danish. I made up my mind that this was the philosopher for me. I read the critical and fundamentally unsympathetic accounts of his thought by Brandes and by Hoffding. In spite of their adverse judgment I came to the conclusion that here was a thinker of the very first rank.
Thomas Huxley, having accepted the task of presenting a lecture on a scientific topic to a group of cultured people, asked an older friend, one more experienced in such matters, how much he might reasonably suppose the audience to know, “Absolutely nothing.” was the sage reply, and this maxim became the principle of Huxley’s successful career as a popular lecturer. How much more then when a lecturer is addressing an American audience on Soren Kierkegaard, a man who wrote in what is a provincial dialect, for want of enough Danes to speak it, and wrote intellectual greatness is such as not readily to lend itself to a quick and superficial assimilation.”
David F Swenson’s Introduction to Eduard Geismar’s Lectures on the Religious Thought of Soren Kierkegaard, 1937
Either, “the first” contains promise for the future, is the forward thrust, the endless impulse. Or, “the first” does not impel the individual; the power which is in the first does not become the impelling power but the repelling power, it becomes that which thrusts away. Thus – for the sake of making a little philosophical flourish, not with the pen but with thought-God only once became flesh, and it would be vain to expect this to be repeated.
Soren Kierkegaard, Either – Or II 1843, p. 40-41 Lowrie Translation 1944, 1959, 1972
When I began as an author of Either/Or, I no doubt had a far more profound impression of the terror of Christianity than any clergyman in the country. I had a fear and trembling such as perhaps no one else had. Not that I therefore wanted to relinquish Christianity. No, I had another interpretation of it. For one thing I had in fact learned very early that there are men who seem to be selected for suffering, and, for another thing, I was conscious of having sinned much and therefore supposed that Christianity had to appear to me in the form of this terror. But how cruel and false of you, I thought, if you use it to terrify others, perhaps upset every so many happy, loving lives that may very well be truly Christian.
It was as alien as it could possibly be to my nature to want to terrify others, and therefore I both sadly and perhaps also a bit proudly found my joy in comforting others and in being gentleness itself to them-hiding the terror in my own interior being.
So my idea was to give my contemporaries (whether or not they themselves would want to understand) a hint in humorous form (in order to achieve a lighter tone) that a much greater pressure was needed-but then no more; I aimed to keep my heavy burden to myself, as my cross. I have often taken exception to anyone who was a sinner in the strictest sense and then promptly got busy terrifying others. Here is where Concluding Postscript comes in.
Soren Kierkegaard, Journal and Papers, VI 6444 (Pap. X1 A541) (1849) (Either/Or Part II, Hong, p. 451-452)
Kierkegaard does not deny the fruitfulness or validity of abstract thinking (science, logic, and so on), but he does deny any superstition which pretends that abstract theorizing is a sufficient concluding argument for human existence. He holds it to be unforgivable pride or stupidity to think that the impersonal abstraction can answer the vital problems of human, everyday life.
Logical theorems, mathematical symbols, physical-statistical laws can never become patters of human existence. To be human means to be concrete, to be this person here and now in this particular and decisive moment, face to face with this particular challenge.
C Svere Norborg, David F. Swenson, scholar, teacher, friend. P. 20-21 Minneapolis, The University of Minnesota, 1940
either effect and cause or cause and effect
is history prophecy in reverse?
Connecticut College gets $225K for Kierkegaard project
Soren Kierkegaard has only recently achieved recognition on a world-wide scale. He is more properly our contemporary, one born before his time.
Christian thought, from Erasmus to Berdyaev 1962
English speaking people are becoming increasingly interested in the writings of Soren Kierkegaard because of three scholarly efforts particularly. Lee M. Hollander, David F. Swenson (Philosophical Fragments) and Walter Lowrie. References have been made to the Danish philosopher’s work elsewhere by Georg Brandes, Unamuno, the Spanish Catholic, Mother Mary Maud writing in the The Living Church, October of this year points out that while Soren Kierkegaard disclaims the title of mystic, his personal experiences, psychologically and intellectually, closely paralleled the classic stages of mystical theology.
San Antonio Express Sunday Morning, December 10, 1938
We don’t need revised men, revamped men, re-conditioned men: we need new men. The Bible tells us the truth, that man’s nature has been affected by sin that nothing short of a radical operation will effect a cure. Madame Perkins tells the story of F. D. Roosevelt, that once over a weekend he took home with him some book by Soren Kierkegaard, a crabbed but honest Christian Philosopher. F.D.R. turned up Monday morning with what to him was a brand new idea which he had learned from Kierkegaard. “Now I know whats the matter with people,” he said, “They’re bad!” The odd thing about that was that F.D.R. was an Episcopalian and at his own church he must often have joined in the General Confession: “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done, and the is no health in us.” No wonder Jesus said: “Ye must be born again!”
The Stilwell Democrat, Thursday October 8, 1953 Page 2 Column 5 Wanted New Men! By Dr. Foreman
Nineteenth-century theology worked on the general assumption that relatedness to the world is its primary task and on the specific assumption that there is a possibility for general acceptance of the Christian faith. The result was that the theologians, when they came to work on their proper task in and for the Church, were more interested in the Christian faith than in the Christian message. In terms of content they were more interested in man’s relationship to God than in God’s dealings with man, or, to quote the well-known term of Melanchthon, more in the beneficia Christi than in Christ Himself.
This emphasis informed their interpretation of the Bible, their positive or critical attitude toward the early dogmas, and the confessions of the Reformation. It informed their research in, and their exposition of, church history and finally their own formulation of the Christian faith. The interest of these theologians focused on the believing man in his past and in his present, in his confrontation and association with Jesus Christ.
Theological discussion with the contemporary world centered around the existence of the believing man, and in philosophy of religion particularly around the possibility of this existence. The prevailing interest in this direction would not necessarily have been erroneous had it been a matter of shift in tone and emphasis for serious and pertinent reasons. The Bible speaks emphatically of the commerce of the believing Israelite and the believing Christian with God and therefore of the believing man as such. How else could it testify on behalf of Him who was very God and very man?
The theologians should not have hesitated so long to appeal to Luther, especially the early Luther, and to the early Melanchthon! And how much assistance and guidance could they have received had they paid any attention to Kierkegaard! There is no reason why the attempt of Christian anthropocentrism should not be made, indeed ought not to be made. There is certainly a place for legitimate Christian thinking starting from below and moving up, from man who is taken hold of by God to God who takes hold of man. Let us interpret this attempt by the 19th-century theologians in its best light!
The Humanity of God, 1956 – Karl Barth 1886-1868
If it really were axiomatic that God could never contravene our conscience and our reason – if we could be sure that he must share our moral judgments – would not God become superfluous as far as ethics is concerned? A mere redundancy? If God is really to make a moral difference in our lives, Kierkegaard insists, we must admit that he might go against our reason and our conscience, and that he should still be obeyed.
Walter Kaufmann 1962, Introduction to The Present Age by Soren Kierkegaard 1846
If one aims to elevate a whole period, one must really know it. That is why the proclaimers of Christianity who begin right off with orthodoxy actually do not have much influence and only on a few. For Christianity goes way back. One has to begin with paganism. For example, I begin with Either/Or. In that way I have managed to get the age to go along with me without ever dreaming where it is going or where we now are. But men have become aware of the issues. They cannot get rid of me just because they went along with Either/Or so happily. Now they may want to abandon me, they could put me to death, but it is of no use, they have me for good. If one begins immediately with Christianity, they say: this is nothing for us — and put themselves immediately on guard.
But as it says in my last discourse, my whole huge literary work has just one idea, and that is: to wound from behind.
Praise be to God in heaven — I say no more; anything else a man adds is rubbish.
The Journals of Soren Kierkegaard, VIII 1 A 548
Kierkegaard was interested in choice and decision, especially in relation to the Christian religion.
First comes life, then later, or sooner (but afterwards), comes theory; not conversely: theory first, then life. First art, the work of art, then theory, and similarly in all circumstances. That is, life first, then theory. Then usually there comes a third too: an attempt toward creating life with the aid of theory, or the fantasy of having with the help of theory the same life that went before, indeed even of having it in intensified form. This comes last, it is the parody (as everything ends in parody), and so the process ends-and then there must be new life again. Now take Christianity. It came in as life, sheer heroism which risked everything for the faith.
Soren Kierkegaard’s Journals Hannay p. 537-53
Some early reviews of Soren Kierkegaard. He liked to walk around the city of Copenhagen during the day and then retire to his home where he would read and write. He spoke to anyone and everyone he saw, making no distinction between them.
(1852) There is a man whom it is impossible to omit in any account of Denmark, but whose place it might be more difficult to fix; I mean Soren Kierkegaard. But as his works have, at all events for the most part, a religious tendency, he may find a place among the theologians. He is a philosophical Christian writer, evermore dwelling, one might almost say harping about the human heart. There is no Danish writer more earnest than he, yet there is no one in whose way stand more things to prevent him from becoming popular. He writes at times with an unearthly beauty, but too often with an exaggerated display of logic that disgusts the public. ….
Kierkegaard’s habits of life are singular enough to lend a (perhaps false) interest to his proceedings. He goes into no company, and sees nobody in his own house, which answers all the ends of an invisible dwelling; I could never learn that any one had been inside of it. Yet his one great study is human nature; no one knows more people than he. The fact is he walks about town all day, and generally in some person’s company; only in the evening does he write and read. When walking he is very communicative, and at the same time manages to draw everything out of his companion that is likely to be profitable to himself.
Sixteen months in the Danish isles By Andrew Hamilton 1852 p. 268-270
Kierkegaard noticed that there was a sameness in all people. This is how he put it in Either/Or. Yet not all people are the same because of their differing points of view.
Every human being, no matter how slightly gifted he is, however subordinate his position in life may be, has a natural need to formulate a life-view, a conception of the meaning of life and of its purpose. The person who lives aesthetically also does that, and the popular expression heard in all ages and from various stages is this: One must enjoy life. There are, of course, many variations of this, depending on differences in the conceptions of enjoyment, but all are agreed that we are to enjoy life. But the person who says that he wants to enjoy life always posits a condition that either lies outside the individual or is within the individual in such a way that it is not there by virtue of the individual himself. I beg you to keep rather fixed the phrases of this last sentence, for they have been carefully chosen.
Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or II 1843, Hong p. 179-180
George Brandes introduced Soren Kierkegaard to Europe with his 1879 book about him. He used Kierkegaard often in his writings.
As Soren Kierkegaard represents an individual fragment of the history of Danish culture, so does Ferdinand Lassalle personify a period of modern and political economy. Ferdinand Lassalle by Georg Brandes 1881 Preface
Dr George Brandes, the great intellectual colossus of Scandinavia cannot believe in a personal God because such a conception is illogical. To this Prof. J. P. Kristensen-Randers, of the Ollerup people’s high school, makes the remark that some men have believed in a living personal God though they were supposed to be fairly well equipped intellectually, and of such men he mentions V. Rydberg, S. Kierkegaard, Kant, Newton, and Socrates.
Warren sheaf newspaper (Warren, Marshall County, Minn.), August 07, 1902, Image 6
Letter from Georg Brandes to Nietzsche Copenhagen Jan. 11, 1888
There is one Scandinavian writer whose works would interest you, if only they were translated: Soren Kierkegaard; he lived from 1813-1855, and is in my opinion one of the profoundest psychologists that have ever existed. A little book I wrote about him (translated, Leipzig, 1879) gives no adequate idea of his genius, as it is a sort of polemical pamphlet written to counteract his influence.
Friedrich Nietzsche, by George Brandes; From An Essay on Aristocratic Radicalism 1889, [translated from the Danish by A.G. Chater].by Brandes, Georg Morris Cohen, 1842-1927. Published 1914 P. 69
(1898) There are two types of the artistic soul. There is the one which needs many varying experiences and constantly changing models, and which instantly gives a poetic form to every fresh incident. There is the other which requires amazingly few outside elements to fertilise it, and for which a single life circumstance, inscribed with sufficient force, can furnish a whole wealth of ever-changing thought and modes of expression. Soren Kierkegaard among writers, and Max Klinger among painters, are both great examples of the latter type. To which did Shakespeare belong?
William Shakespeare; a critical study, by George Brandes. 1898 p. 195
Notwithstanding the fact that during the last quarter of a century, we have devoted considerable attention to the literatures of the North, the thinker and man of letters whose name stands at the head of the present article is but little known to the English speaking world. The Norwegians, Ibsen and Bjornson, have exerted a very real power on our intellectual life, and for Bjornson we have cherished even a kind of affection. But Kierkegaard, the writer who holds the indispensable key to the intellectual life of Scandinavia, to whom Denmark in particular looks up as her most original man of genius in the nineteenth century, we have wholly overlooked. There is little excuse for ignoring him on the part of those who are versed in the northern tongues; for he at present looms very large on the literary and philosophical horizon in Scandinavia; and there are sever excellent books on his life and work, both in Danish and Swedish.
Within recent years, moreover, the Danes have produced a monumental edition of Kierkegaard’s complete works, which is at present being followed up by the publication of manuscript materials supplemental to the Efterladte Papiere, edited by H.P. Barfod and H. Gottsched in eight volumes between 1869 and 1881.
But to become acquainted with Kierkegaard one no longer needs to read Danish; his works are now virtually all to be had in German and in an edition which is a delight to the eye; and the literature on Kierkegaard both in German and French is growing rapidly. But all this literature, with the exception of Dr Brandes’ brilliant monograph, deals mainly with Kierkegaard as a philosopher and a theologian; in this present paper I propose to restrict myself to his claims as a man of letters.
The Modern Language Review, Volume IX 1914 Cambridge Soren Kierkegaard, by J. G. Robertson p. 500-501
(1887) Otto Pfleiderer (1839-1908) was a German Protestant theologian who wrote The Philosophy of Religion on the Basis of its History in 2 volumes in 1887. His sources include Practice in Christianity (Soren Kierkegaard, 1850) which had been translated into German by that time as well as the writings of Hans Brochner (1820-1875), who wrote “On Soren Kierkegaard’s Activity as Religious Author” December 1, 1855. Brochner’s writings are preserved in Thomas H. Croxall’s book, Glimpses and impressions of Kierkegaard published 1959. This reading is taken from Chapter II — The Half-Kantian and Neo-Kantian Philosophy of Religion p. 161ff
(1889) This article came from “The Concise Dictionary of Religious Knowledge and Gazetteer” By Talbot Wilson Chambers, and Frank Hugh Foster 1889 p. 473-474. This was a book of over one thousand pages of reference material about Christianity. The article is by C.H.A. Bjerregaard who wrote a short biography about Soren Kierkegaard. Rev. Talbot Wilson Chambers (1819 – 1896) was a Presbyterian minister from Pennsylvania. Samuel Macauley Jackson (1851-1912) Frank Hugh Foster (1851-1935) was a minister of a Congregational church in Massachusetts.
(1894) The same number contains a short sketch of Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish moralist and author. This remarkable man was born at Copenhagen in 1818. He and his brother (late Bishop of Aalborg) were the sons of a peasant who had made his fortune in the wool trade, and then retired to Copenhagen, where he led a quiet, austere life, bringing up his two sons according to his own theories, and entertaining the few friends he still saw with his views on morality and religion. During the whole of Kierkegaard’s life he remained strongly influenced by his father’s ways of thought, and many of his writings, treating of religion and morality, might easily be delivered as sermons, and this, although he was extremely severe on the faults, not to say vices, of the Danish clergy, whose conduct and life he stingingly contrasts with that of their master, Jesus Christ. Not only the clergy but the whole of the Danish society of his day feared the writer of these powerful diatribes, and for a time at least he enjoyed no credit in his own country. Soren Kierkegaard lost his father at the age of twenty-seven.
He had not at that time written anything, but he was known and respected as a severe Doctor of Divinity, and great was the surprise of his friends to hear of his engagement to a charming though somewhat commonplace young girl. The whole history of their strange betrothal is told in the most remarkable of his works, ‘Guilty or Not Guilty,’ an extraordinary psychical study, and which contains all the author’s theories on marriage, theories which he repeated in many of his other works. His own romance ended sadly, and he lived and died a bachelor, spending his last days in a hospital, and this although he had once declared that marriage was and would always remain the most perfect state.
Review of Reviews and World’s Work Volume IX Jan-Jun 1894 p. 36 by Shaw, Albert, 1857-1947
Kierkegaard contrasts the “official” Christianity with the real teaching of Christ. He insisted upon individuality as the basis of all true religious faith, the intimate relation that should exist between the individual and God, a relation that requires complete renunciation of the world, with suffering as a necessary accompaniment.
Universal Cyclopaedia and Atlas, Volume 6, Charles Kendall Adams, Rossiter Johnson D. Appleton, 1902
One early writer asked in 1903 if someone could translate a shorter work of Kierkegaard’s and put it in the public domain.
(1909) “We live forward, we understand backward, said a Danish writer; and to understand life by concepts is to arrest its movement, cutting it up into bits as if with scissors, and, immobilizing these in our logical herbarium where, comparing them as dried specimens, we can ascertain which of them statically includes or excludes which other. This treatment supposes life to have already accomplished itself, for the concepts, being so many views taken after the fact, are retrospective and post mortem. Nevertheless we can draw conclusions from them and project them into the future. We cannot learn from them how life made itself go, or how it will make itself go; but, on the supposition that its ways of making itself go are unchanging, we can calculate what positions of imagined arrest it will exhibit hereafter under given conditions.” William James, A Pluralistic Universe, 1909, p. 244
(1912) We take up the study of four eminent thinkers-William James, Fechner, Wundt, and Kierkegaard. Knox explains that while James was led on from psychology to philosophy, it was precisely his psychological insight that enabled him to discern personal sources of the big philosophical antithesis. He was not deterred by a priori distinctions between logic and psychology, by the assumption that our aim is purely impersonal and objective, but held that personal vision and practical makeshifts determine metaphysical theory. He challenged the intellectualist axiom that the parallel lines of knowing and doing must never meet. This makes his Principles of Psychology as valuable a handbook of ethics as it is of logic. Thus was early laid in psychology the foundations for the coming pragmatism. And so, conversely, James invites us to treat our moral and religious aspirations as methodologically on a par with scientific categories.
As with James so with Fechner. Angell points out in the case of the German a curious tendency towards practical mysticism. From the physicist comes forth the philosopher, and the laboratory has given place to the oracle. Believing that the reality of the world must accord with what is reasonable, Fechner saw clearly that this reality could not be deduced by dialectics, but that it must be worked out as one works out final questions in physics, namely by generalization and by analogy. In other words the purpose of Fechner was an inductive metaphysics or “Metaphysik von Unten.” Now James, who twenty-five years ago gave his official opinion that the proper psychological outcome of Fechner’s work was “just nothing,” has made the amende honorable in a generously sympathetic essay in the Pluralistic Universe.
Meumann’s account of the life work of Wilhelm Wundt is noteworthy for two features, its arraignment of German officialdom for its neglect of a great thinker and its praise of American psychologists for spreading the fame of the master. The former fact is explained as due to Wundt’s south German independence of bureaucracy, the latter as due to his endeavors to make his work both scientific and practical. To Americans brought up on the old introspective “mental philosophy” the new experimental psychology was a welcome relief. In place of the old static view of the mind came the doctrine of development; in place of the study of the normal adult was offered animal, and child, and race psychology. So what Fechner had started at Leipsic, Wundt enlarged and America spread.
James’s pragmatism and Fechner’s mysticism had a similar two-fold aspect. Both were scientific and both sought truth under the analogy of the self. So was it with the system of Kierkegaard as his compatriot Hoeffding shows. The Danish thinker’s philosophy had a double quality, being both personal and scientific. While subjectivity is the avenue of truth, the world in which we live is a world of scientific approximation. And James’s pluralism is matched by the statement that the personal world represents not a world, but a plurality of worlds resulting from different points of view of personalities.
Here arise four chief types: there is the aesthete who draws a tangent to the circle of life along the line of passing pleasures; there is again the ironist who, knowing how to distinguish the interior from the exterior, strives to shelter his inner life against the changes of the moment; these is next the moralist who enters into positive relations with other men and endeavors to fulfill his duty; there is finally the humorist who, being sadly affected by the contrast of finite and infinite, is forced to look upon life as more or less of a joke. All this reminds one of James’s “types of thinking” from the man who “carves out” order to him who considers the universe a vast “grab-bag.”
Between the American and the Dane there is, then, final agreement in respect to the doctrine of discontinuity, the old idealistic continuity being supplanted by the view that both the psychic and the cosmic life proceed by leaps, Natura per sultum.
Historical Contributions by Woodbridge Riley, Vassar College
Psychological Bulletin. v. 12:no. 1-12 (1915) p. 10-12
(1912) A very remarkable personality was Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) He was born in Copenhagen, and after the customary education, he stood, in 1840, the required examination for entrance into the ministry, but he never was a recognized pastor nor filled any church office. But he was very active with his pen, and has a secure place among the religious writers of his time and country. In preaching he was a free lance; wherever he was offered or could make an opportunity, he preached earnestly to all who would hear him. His writings and personal influence were profoundly felt in the religious life of the North and extended beyond his own country.
A History of Preaching, v. 2 Edwin Charles Dargan, 1852-1930 Published 1912 P. 428
The Germans translated Kierkegaard early. Here is a review of their translation of The Concept of Anxiety and Practice in Christianity in 1913 (Kierkegaard’s centenary).
(1915) Soren Aabye Kierkegaard (1813-1855) An eminent Danish philosopher and theological writer was never ordained, he remained in Copenhagen until his death. He was one of the most original of Danish writers and thinkers and eventually exerted a strong influence on the literature and religious trend of his country, not only by the power of his reasoning, but through the force and brilliancy of his style. He taught that Christianity is the rule and conduct of life and based his philosophy on faith and knowledge.
New International Encyclopedia, Volume 13 Dodd, Mead, 1915 p. 222-223
2013 was the 200th year after the birth of Soren Kierkegaard. Here are several different reviews of his life which began March 5, 1813 and ended November 11, 1855.
David F. Swenson was born in Sweden October 29, 1876 and moved to America in 1882. He taught at the University of Minnesota and became a full professor of philosophy in 1917. His goal was to make the writings of Soren Kierkegaard known to the English reading public. He and his wife, Lillian Marvin Swenson, translated many of Kierkegaard’s works into English before David died in 1940. Lillian continued David’s work with another Kierkegaard scholar, Walter Lowrie. You can find a list of the Swenson’s translations by following this link and of Walter Lowrie here.
Swenson wrote an early work about Soren Kierkegaard in 1915. This is a short introduction to it. You can read the whole article, The Anti-Intellectualism of Soren Kierkegaard, here.
Later, Swenson published a short biography about Kierkegaard in 1921. You can read the whole biography, Soren Kierkegaard, here. And listen to the beginning below.
“We must remember,” says Kierkegaard (Begrebet Ironi, p. 322 – The Concept of Irony), “that Tieck and the entire Romantic School entered, or believed they entered, into relations with a period in which men were, so to speak, petrified, in final, unalterable social conditions. Everything was perfected and completed, in a sort of divine Chinese perfection, which left no reasonable longing unsatisfied, no reasonable wish unfulfilled. The glorious principles and maxims of ‘use and wont’ were the objects of a pious worship; everything, including the absolute itself, was absolute; men refrained from polygamy; they wore peaked hats; nothing was without its significance.
Each man felt, with the precise degree of dignity that corresponded to his position, what he effected, the exact importance to himself and to the whole, of his unwearied endeavour. There was no frivolous indifference to punctuality in those days; all ungodliness of that kind tried to insinuate itself in vain. Everything pursued its tranquil, ordered course; even the suitor went soberly about his business; he knew that he was going on a lawful errand, was taking a most serious step. Everything went by clockwork.
Men waxed enthusiastic over the beauties of nature on Midsummer Day; were overwhelmed by the thought of their sins on the great fast-days; fell in love when they were twenty, went to bed at ten o’clock. They married and devoted themselves to domestic and civic duties; they brought up families; in the prime of their manhood notice was taken in high places of their honourable and successful efforts; they lived on terms of intimacy with the pastor, under whose eye they did the many generous deeds which they knew he would recount in a voice trembling with emotion when the day came for him to preach their funeral sermon. They were friends in the genuine sense of the word, ein wirklicher Freund, wie man wirklicher Kanzleirat war.”
Main Currents in Nineteenth Century Literature, by Georg Brandes, a series of lectures originally given in Danish at the University of Copenhagen (published 1871–1890 under the title ‘Hovedströmninger i det 19 de aarhundredes litteratur’; translated into German, 1894–1896 under the title ‘Hauptströmungen der Literatur des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts’; and into English, 1901–1905).
Kierkegaard is listened to today because the world is confronted with demons of the irrational forces which they hoped to cope with rationally. He taught that “Christianity is the perfection of the really human.” He offered new hope to those who have despaired of past efforts to attain perfection through traditional channels. His influence has shown no signs of receding as the Cold War continues.
Greater Dead than Alive, by Curtis Daniel MacDougall 1963 p. 76-77
If I tried to imagine the public as a particular person (for although some better individuals momentarily belong to the public they nevertheless have something concrete about them, which holds them in its grip even if they have not attained the supreme religious attitude), I should perhaps think of one of the Roman emperors, a large well-fed figure, suffering from boredom, looking only for the sensual intoxication of laughter, since the divine gift of wit is not earthly enough. And so for a change he wanders about, indolent rather than bad, but with a negative desire to dominate.
Every one who has read the classical authors knows how many things a Caesar could try out in order to kill time. In the same way the public keeps a dog to amuse it. That dog is the sum of the literary world. If there is some one superior to the rest, perhaps even a great man, the dog is set on him and the fun begins. The dog goes for him, snapping and tearing at his coat-tails, allowing itself every possible ill-mannered familiarity – until the public tires, and says it may stop. That is an example of how the public levels. Their betters and superiors in strength are mishandled – and the dog remains a dog which even the public despises. The leveling is therefore done by a third party; a non-existent public leveling with the help of a third party which in its significance is less than nothing, being already more than leveled.
The Present Age 1846 by Soren Kierkegaard, translated by Alexander Dru 1962, p. 65-66
More and more people renounce the quiet and modest tasks of life, that are so important and pleasing to God, in order to achieve something greater; in order to think over the relationships of life in a higher relationship till in the end the whole generation has become a representation, who represent…it is difficult to say who; and who think about these relationships…for whose sake it is not easy to discover.
The real moment in time and the real situation being simultaneous with real people, each of whom is something; that is what helps to sustain the individual. But the existence of a public produces neither a situation nor simultaneity. The individual reader of the Press is not the public, and even though little by little a number of individuals or even all of them should read it, the simultaneity is lacking. Years might be spent gathering the public together, and still it would not be there. This abstraction, which the individuals so illogically form, quite rightly repulses the individual instead of coming to his help. The man who has no opinion of an event at the actual moment accepts the opinion of the majority, or, if he is quarrelsome, of the minority. But it must be remembered that both majority and minority are real people, and that is why the individual is assisted by adhering to them. A public, on the contrary, is an abstraction.
Soren Kierkegaard, The Present Age, (1846) Dru translation 1962 p. 44, 61
Either a race or an individual.
For Kierkegaard, man is essentially an individual, not a member of a species or race; and ethical and religious truth is known through individual existence and decision-through subjectivity, not objectivity. Systems of thought and a dialectic such as Hegel’s are matters merely of thought, which cannot comprise individual existence and decision. Such systems leave out, said Kierkegaard, the unique and essential “spermatic point, the individual, ethically and religiously conceived, and existentially accentuated.” Similarly in the works of the American author Henry David Thoureau, writing at the same time as Kierkegaard, there is an emphasis on the solitary individual as the bearer of ethical responsibility, who, when he is right, carries the preponderant ethical weight against the state, government, and a united public opinion, when they are wrong. The solitary individual with right on his side is always “a majority of one.”
Ethics, the study of moral values, by Mortimer J. Adler and Seymour Cain. Pref. by William Ernest Hocking. 1962 252
Kierkegaard, Communication, and Virtue: Authorship as Edification Mark A. Tietjen, Indiana University Press, Jun 12, 2013 p. 46-47
Kierkegaard as Essential Author
Kierkegaard begins the introduction to The Book on Adler by describing the “present age” as one of movement where “many people’s lives go in in such a way that they have premises for living, but do not arrive at any conclusion”. If a person of this age becomes an author, and even if this person “possess extraordinary talents, exceptional knowledge ,” Kierkegaard concludes, “he is not an author, even though he produces”. Premise authors are deficient in several related ways: their world-view is impoverished, if not absent altogether, their lives lack ethical definition (or an ethical position), their authorial production is riddled with uncertainty and doubt, and, consequently, they are a burden on the reader.
“A world-view, a life-view, is the only true conclusion to every production.” A worldview is a coherent construal of one’s place in the world that situates one’s identity and sense of purpose. It includes convictions about one’s ethical position-the ideals and values from which and toward which one orients one’s existence-one’s cares and interests, activities, and in the case of authors, their production. A worldview is ‘conclusive” not by virtue of some extraordinary awareness of how life will play out or by a complete understanding of one’s relation to the ideals of that worldview. It is conclusive by being decisive for the individual. It involves the possession of an existential relation to the ethical (and possibly religious) truths that Johannes would call “inwardness.” And in these things a worldview includes critical-interpretive resources for interacting with the ideas and prejudices of an age. Thus the essential author “has a definite life and world-view that he follows, and in it he is ahead of the particular production, just as the whole is always ahead of the parts.” The essential author does not weigh down one’s contemporaries because of a lack of self-knowledge: “The essential author … definitely knows who he is, what he wants; from first to last he takes care to understand himself in his life-view. As such, the essential author’s production derives not out of need but instead as “a consciously undertaken ethical task.”
By contrast, an incomplete, impoverished worldview can lead to the endless collection of more “premises,” the giving of oneself to the trendy ideas and commitments of the day: “The premise authors are at your service in every way with ever new tasks, proposals, hints, suggestions, indications, projects-in short, with everything that by merely being a beginning stimulates impatience because it does not seem to contain any demand for perseverance, which is always necessary if there is to be any question of arriving at a conclusion. Like one of Kierkegaard’s aesthetes from Either/Or I, the premise author never commits finally to a conception of the world that will anchor life and consequently an authorial production. …
If we begin to consider Kierkegaard in light of these categories, he seems to fit the profile of the essential author.
Quotes from Book of Adler by Soren Kierkegaard edited and translated by Howard V and Edna H Hong 1998 pages 7-14
Also by Mark A. Tietjen Kierkegaard: A Christian Missionary to Christians InterVarsity Press, Mar 24, 2016
Johann Georg Hamann, (1730-1788), is of course known to students of German literature as the enigmatic figure in the background of the Sturm and Drang, that movement of the spirit and of letters which preceded, and precipitated, the Romantic movement in German life and literature. He is also known to students of philosophy as a marginal figure in the life of Immanuel Kant, whose contemporary and fellow-citizen and fiend he was in Konigsberg. In more recent theological writing he has become the object of a certain amount of interest as one of the few writers who had a marked influence on Kierkegaard. In fact it would, I believe, be possible to detect in the writings of Hamann, in embryonic or sibylline form at least, almost all the major concerns of Kierkegaard. The connections between the two will be apparent to any student of Kierkegaard.
J G Hamann 1730 1788 A Study In Christian Existence by Ronald Gregor Smith
Just as nature was given us to open our eyes, so history was given to us to open our ears. To dissect a body and an event into its primary elements means attempting to detect God’s invisible being, His eternal power and Godhead. Whoever does not believe Moses and the prophets always becomes, like Buffon writing on the history of creation and Montesquieu on the history of the Roman Empire, a poet against his knowledge and intention.
If a young sparrow shall not fall to the earth without our God, no monument from ancient times has been lost to us which we should lament. Should not His providence extend to writings since He himself became a writer, and since the Spirit of God was at such pains to record the value of the first forbidden books, which a pious zeal on behalf of our religion sacrificed to the fire? We admire Pompey’s destroying the writings of his enemy Sertorius, as a wise and noble action; why not admire Our Lord’s allowing the writings of Celcus to perish?
Hamann, Socratic Memorabilla, translated by James O’Flaherty 1967
Johann Goethe’s ideas about Christianity
Sunday, March 11, 1832. P. 421-
This evening for an hour with Goethe, talking of various interesting subjects. I had bought an English Bible, in which I found, to my great regret, that the apocryphal books were not contained. They had been rejected, because they were not considered genuine and of divine origin. I greatly missed the noble Tobias, that model of a pious life the Wisdom of Solomon, and Jesus Sirach, — all writings of such high mental and moral elevation, that few others equal them. I spoke to Goethe of my regret at the very narrow view by which some of the writings of the Old Testament are looked upon as immediately proceeding from God ; while others, equally excellent, are not so. As if there could be anything noble and great which did not proceed from God, and which was not a fruit of his influence.
“I am thoroughly of your opinion,” returned Goethe. “Still, there are two points of view from which biblical subjects may be contemplated. There is the point of view of a sort of primitive religion, of pure nature and reason, which is of divine origin. This will always be the same, and will last and prevail as long as divinely endowed beings exist. It is, however, only for the elect, and is far too high and noble to become universal. Then there is the point of view of the Church, which is of a more human nature. This is defective and subject to change but it will last, in a state of perpetual change, as long as there are weak human beings. The light of unclouded divine revelation is far too pure and brilliant to be suitable and supportable to poor weak man. But the Church steps in as a useful mediator, to soften and to moderate, by which all are helped, and many are benefited. Through the belief that the Christian Church, as the successor of Christ, can remove the burden of human sin, it is a very great power. To maintain themselves in this power and in this importance, and thus to secure the ecclesiastical edifice, is the chief aim of the Christian priesthood.
“This priesthood, therefore, does not so much ask whether this or that book in the Bible greatly enlightens the mind, and contains doctrines of high morality and noble human nature. It rather looks upon the books of Moses, with reference to the fell of man and the origin of a necessity for a Redeemer; it searches the prophets for repeated allusions to Him, the Expected One, and regards, in the Gospels, His actual earthly appearance, and His death upon the cross, as the atonement for our human sins. You see, therefore, that for such purposes, and weighed in such a balance, neither the noble Tobias, nor the Wisdom of Solomon, nor the sayings of Sirach, can have much weight. Still, with reference to things in the Bible, the question whether they are genuine or spurious is odd enough. What is genuine but that which is truly excellent, which stands in harmony with the purest nature and reason, and which even now ministers to our highest development! What is spurious but the absurd and the hollow, which brings no fruit — at least, no good fruit! If the authenticity of a biblical book is to be decided by the question, — whether something true throughout has been handed down to us, we might on some points doubt the authenticity of the Gospels, since those of Mark and Luke were not written from immediate presence and experience, but, according to oral tradition, long afterwards; and the last, by the disciple John, was not written till he was of a very advanced age. Nevertheless, I look upon all the four Gospels as thoroughly genuine; for there is in them the reflection of a greatness which emanated from the person of Jesus, and which was of as divine a kind as ever was seen upon earth. If I am asked whether it is in my nature to pay Him devout reverence, I say — certainly! I bow before Him as the divine manifestation of the highest principle of morality. If I am asked whether it is in my nature to revere the Sun, I again say — certainly! For he is likewise a manifestation of the highest Being, and indeed the most powerful which we children of earth are allowed to behold. I adore in him the light and the productive power of God by which we all live, move, and have our being — we, and all the plants and animals with us. But if I am asked — whether I am inclined to bow before a thumb-bone of the apostle Peter or Paul, I say — Spare me, and stand off with your absurdities!” “Quench not the spirit” says the Apostle. There are many absurdities in the propositions of the Church; nevertheless, rule it will, and so it must have a narrow-minded multitude, which bows its head and likes to be ruled. The high and richly-endowed clergy dread nothing more than the enlightenment of the lower orders. They withheld the Bible from them as long as it was possible. Besides, what can a poor member of the Christian Church think of the princely magnificence of a richly-endowed bishop, when he sees in the Gospels the poverty and indigence of Christ, who, with his disciples, travelled humbly on foot, whilst the princely bishop rattles along in his carriage drawn by six horses!
“We scarcely know,” continued Goethe, what we owe to Luther, and the Reformation in general. We are freed from the fetters of spiritual narrowmindedness; we have, in consequence of our increasing culture, become capable of turning back to the fountain head, and of comprehending Christianity in its purity. We have, again, the courage to stand with firm feet upon God’s earth, and to feel ourselves in our divinely-endowed human nature. Let mental culture go on advancing, let the natural sciences go on gaining in depth and breadth, and the human mind expand as it may, it will never go beyond the elevation and moral culture of Christianity as it glistens and shines forth in the Gospel!
“But the better we Protestants advance in our noble development, so much the more rapidly will the Catholics follow us. As soon as they feel themselves caught up by the ever-extending enlightenment of the time, they must go on, do what they will, till at last the point is reached where all is but one.
“The mischievous sectarianism of the Protestants will also cease, and with it the hatred and hostile feeling between father and son, sister and brother; for as soon as the pure doctrine and love of Christ are comprehended in their true nature, and have become a vital principle, we shall feel ourselves as human beings, great and free, and not attach especial importance to a degree more or less in the outward forms of religion. Besides, we shall all gradually advance from a Christianity of words and faith, to a Christianity of feeling and action.”
The conversation turned upon the great men who had lived before Christ, among the Chinese, the Indians, the Persians, and the Greeks; and it was remarked, that the divine power had been as operative in them as in some of the great Jews of the Old Testament. We then came to the question how far God influenced the great natures of the present world in which we live?
“To hear people speak,” said Goethe, ”one would almost believe that they were of opinion that God had withdrawn into silence since those old times, and that man was now placed quite upon his own feet, and had to see how he could get on without God, and his daily invisible breath. In religious and moral matters, a divine influence is indeed still allowed, but in matters of science and art it is believed that they are merely earthy, and nothing but the product of human powers.
“Let anyone only try, with human will and human power, to produce something which may be compared with the creations that bear the names of Mozart, Raphael, or Shakespeare. I know very well that these three noble beings are not the only ones, and that in every province of art innumerable excellent geniuses have operated, who have produced things as perfectly good as those just mentioned. But if they were as great as those, they rose above ordinary human nature, and in the same proportion were as divinely endowed as they.
“And after all what does it all come to? God did not retire to rest after the well-known six days of creation, but, on the contrary, is constantly active as on the first. It would have been for Him a poor occupation to compose this heavy world out of simple elements, and to keep it rolling in the sunbeams from year to year, if he had not had the plan of founding a nursery for a world of spirits upon this material basis. So he is now constantly active in higher natures to attract the lower ones.”
Goethe was silent. But I cherished his great and good words in my heart.
Conversations of Goethe with Eckermann and Soret by Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, 1749-1832; Eckermann, Johann Peter, 1792-1854; Soret, Frédéric Jacob, 1795-1865; Oxenford, John, 1812-1877, tr Published 1850 London, Smith, Elder
In Defense of Women 1918 by Henry Louise Mencken 1880-1956
His view of the transformation of values.