Discover the incredible life and work of the “father of existentialism,” one of the most influential thinkers of the 19th century.
Søren Kierkegaard, a name synonymous with deep thoughts and introspection, has captivated the minds and hearts of philosophers and thinkers alike for generations. Many consider Kierkegaard as the “father of existentialism,” a title that sheds light on the significant impact his work has had on the world. But who exactly was this intellectual giant, and what led him to develop his groundbreaking philosophy? Let’s explore the life and work of Søren Kierkegaard, an enigmatic figure whose influence remains undiminished to this day.
Early Life: The Making of a Thinker
Born on May 5, 1813, in Copenhagen, Denmark, Søren Aabye Kierkegaard was the youngest of seven children. His father, Michael Pedersen Kierkegaard, was a deeply religious man, and his stern approach to parenting played a crucial role in shaping young Søren’s life. In a twist of fate, Søren’s siblings and mother all passed away before he reached adulthood, leaving Søren, his father, and one brother named Peter Christian Kierkegaard.
Søren Kierkegaard went on to study at the University of Copenhagen, where his intellectual prowess shone brightly. His reading interests ranged from literature and philosophy to theology and psychology. Despite his family’s financial troubles, Søren completed his degree in theology by 1840, though he would never pursue the life of a clergyman.
Love and Regret: Kierkegaard’s Romantic Affair
Perhaps even more influential on Kierkegaard’s work than his upbringing was his tumultuous love affair with Regine Olsen. Against the backdrop of the angst-ridden and romantic Copenhagen, Kierkegaard found himself head over heels in love with Regine, and they got engaged in 1840. But the relationship was filled with doubt and uncertainty, and ultimately, Kierkegaard decided to break off the engagement.
The heartache and regret that followed would become a cornerstone of his writing, influencing his work for years to come. It’s said that Kierkegaard thought of Regine until his last breath, and the depth of their relationship continues to intrigue scholars today.
Existential Genius: Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Masterpieces
Kierkegaard’s work was revolutionary for its time, tackling the meaning of existence, the role of faith in human life, and the importance of individual choice. His writing style is characterized by a pseudonymous method in which he assumes various fictitious names, allowing him to explore different sides of an argument.
Published in 1843, Kierkegaard’s “Either/Or” remains one of his best-known and most influential works. The book explores the two primary modes of existence: the aesthetic and the ethical, using the pseudonyms “A” and “Judge Wilhelm” to represent these opposing viewpoints. Learn more about Kierkegaard’s “Leap of Faith” and the existentialist’s choice for belief here.
Fear and Trembling
Another one of Kierkegaard’s most celebrated works, “Fear and Trembling,” delves deep into the concept of faith and the story of Abraham and Isaac from the Bible. Using the pseudonym, “Johannes de Silentio,” this work examines how faith transcends reason and can lead to paradoxical actions.
The Sickness Unto Death
In this monumental work, Kierkegaard explores the concept of despair, a topic that resonated deeply with his life experiences. Published under the pseudonym “Anti-Climacus,” this book discusses “the sickness unto death” as the ultimate form of despair and the search for self-acceptance in the face of existential despair.
A Lasting Legacy: The Impact of Kierkegaard’s Work
While Kierkegaard’s works did not gain significant recognition during his lifetime, his influence has grown tremendously since his death in 1855. Kierkegaard’s concepts of existentialism, despair, and self-discovery have shaped thinkers like Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus, proving that the life and work of Søren Kierkegaard continue to shape the world we live in today. Discover the connections between Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky, the original existentialists, in this comparative analysis.
So, the next time you find yourself contemplating the meaning of life or questioning your place in the world, think of Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher whose work and ideas have rippled through time, inspiring countless generations.