by Robert Bendell
Soren Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher and theologian, often considered the first existentialist. His views are largely founded on what he views as being the natural contradiction between logic and God.
He felt that people should not be told how to worship or act-indeed, he rejected the churches of his time for this reason-and therefore wrote his books not from his own perspective, but from a variety of viewpoints. For this reason some readers have deeply misunderstood his views.
The Logical Paradox
Kierkegaard argued that the idea of a human being fully God, and yet fully man (as Christ is said to be) is logically impossible. From this, he states, there can be only one of two conclusions:
1. Christ is disproved through logic.
2. Faith in Christ supersedes logic.
Due to this, his theological writings did not seek to use logic to prove God or Christ; they merely explored the repercussions of this paradox.
|Abraham, Isaac and the Angel|
Kierkegaard argued for a concept that is now referred to as the ‘Leap of Faith’. Since God is outside logic, he argued, trusting in God is automatically a dangerous undertaking-a literal leap of faith. One is forced to trust in something that cannot be proven; he takes as his example the story of Abraham and Isaac. One aspect of this story he focuses on is this: Abraham had been promised many descendants through Isaac. When he was ordered to kill him, Abraham must have seen the contradiction. He continued regardless; his faith overcame his logic.
The stages of humanity
Kierkegaard was also a psychologist, since he tended to write a good deal on the human condition. He felt that most humans are in a state of ‘despair’. These people have no focus to their lives. The minority that do consider their lives dedicate themselves to one of three stages:
1. The aesthetic.
2. The moral.
3. The religious.
One of the things that separate Kierkegaard from his contemporaries is the separation of these stages. He believed that since God is outside human logic He is most likely outside human aesthetics and morals as well. Thus, he argues that any person who dedicates themselves to morality or aestheticism is denying God.
The Aesthetic Stage
Kierkegaard argues that this stage is the most reprehensible, and yet the most individual. This person ignores the demands of society and God, and instead enjoys pursuing what they desire. However, Kierkegaard argues that they will never gain the joy of God, and therefore will keep pursuing different pleasures in the hope that they will receive the satisfaction they crave. Within this stage is a type of person whom Kierkegaard refers to as ‘the demonic’. This is the aesthete that has seen the bankruptcy of their attempts to gain satisfaction, but refuses to acknowledge it and pursues the aesthetic stage nonetheless, due to fear of the leap of faith.
The Ethical Stage
This is the stage that Kierkegaard feels the majority of his contemporary philosophers had reached. He argued that morality is the act of giving in to society, and accepting its laws. Kierkegaard believed that this was dangerously close to representing the society as a group to God-he feels that an individual should stand alone before God.
The Religious Stage
Kierkegaard stated that there were two sections to achieving the religious stage; the first was to become the ‘knight of infinite resignation’. This was the stage where the individual gave up all attachment to the temporal, physical world. After this came the act of becoming the ‘knight of faith’. This is the act of taking up God as a guide, and forming a personal relationship to Him. Kierkegaard argued that this was the only way an individual could truly gain satisfaction.
Altogether, Kierkegaard was a revolutionary philosopher, inspiring Sartre, Albert Camus, Wittgenstein and Kafka among others. The width and depth of his thinking really can’t be summarised easily, so I would first recommend reading Peter Vardy’s introduction to him, and then reading his own works.