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The Philosophy of Life Found in Soren Kierkegaard Quotes

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 7 18

Sketch of Soren Kierkegaard by Niels Christian Kierkegaard, 1840

Sketch of Soren Kierkegaard
by Niels Christian Kierkegaard, c. 1840

The Danish philosopher and author who lived from 1813 - 1855 is of many acknowledged as one of the founding fathers of existentialism. But even today the Kierkegaard books are not the most popular readings. However, many of the Kierkegaard quotes can still today give many people some fresh inspiration in order to get a better and richer life.

Soren Kierkegaard was as an author extremely productive and most of his books were criticizing the (in his opinion) boring lives of others. He also argued strongly against the ideas of other contemporary philosophers and authors.

In particular, he was against the German philosopher Hegel, and it would have annoyed Kirkegaard extremely to know that Hegel's reputation today exceeds his own. Or maybe he would just see it as a proof of how boring and ignorant people in general are. And he would have repeated one of his remarks that has survived as a Kierkegaard quote: People understand me so poorly, - they don't even understand my complaint about them not understanding me.

Another contemporary author he hated was Hans Christian Andersen, the world famous Danish fairy tales writer. H. C. Andersen and Soren Kiekegaard both lived at the same time in Copenhagen; they even had the same publisher, C. A. Reitzel, who constantly had to take great precautions in order to avoid that the two of them met in his combined bookstore and office in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Soren Kierkegard even attacked Hans Christian Andersen by writing a small booklet in which he made fun of him. The theme (and tittle) of the booklet was: Andersen can tell you the fairy tale of The Galoshes of Fortune, but I can I can tell you where the shoe pinches. And it is true that may of the Kierkegaard books have given inspiration to much later researchers and writers about psychological matters.

Kierkegaard i Corsaren

One of the caricatures of Soren Kierkegaard
that was published in a satirical periodic journal, The Corsair.
Kierkegaard made a public joke about the Copenhagen journal The Corsair and his remark resulted in several drawings and humorous mocking articles.

Soren Kierkegaard published most of his books using different pseudonyms, and in his typical ironic style he even frequently made cross-critics between his own works.
This practice of writing his own pros and cons about philosophical matters contributes to some of the frequent misunderstanding of Kierkegaard's ideas; let me give you an example:
In one of his books he has a long list of various things you can do or not do. Some of his recommendations are:

Get married and you will regret it! Do NOT marry and you will regret it!
Hang yourself and you will regret it! ... Do NOT hang yourself and you will regret it!

etc. etc.
Soren Kierkegaard claimed: There are two possible situations, any one can either do this or do that. My honest opinion and my friendly advice to you is this: do it or do not do it, but you will regret both.

Quotes like these could lead you to the false conclusion that you shouldn't waste your time on making choices because your destiny was already laid out as a predicted path of life. Soren Kierkegaard was (as most of his contemporary) very religious, so one interpretation of these sentences could have been that your life was predestined by God. However, this would be a very wrong conclusion, because one of his fundamental ideas is that you must choose!

The necessity of making your own choices of life is most likely the essence of Soren Kiekegaard's philosophy, - so you MUST choose! Or else something out of the reach of your own control will choose for you!
And you cannot chose wrong because You are that self which one truly is.

I find that his most concentrated thoughts about the choices you have to make during your life is the following beautiful quote: To dare is to lose one's footing for a moment. Not to dare is to lose oneself.

Therefore according to him you lose your life if you don't make constant choices, this doesn't mean that you will die, but it is even worse that your life becomes meaningless. There are many Kierkegard quotes about life, and in his opinion then the highest and most beautiful things in our lives are not to be heard about, read about, nor even seen; but, if one will, they are to be lived.

In my opinion his most impressive and thought-worthy statement about life is the following quote:
Our life can only be understood backwards, but it has to be lived forwards.

Statue of Soren Kierkegaard

The Soren Kierkegaard Statue in Copenhagen

As mentioned before Soren Kierkegard was very productive as a writer, and the complete list of Kierkegaard books is very long. In this article I will only focus upon three tittles:
Fear and Trembling, - Either Or, - and The Concept of Anxiety.

In Fear and Trembling Kierkegaard deals with morality and the question about whether something that is obviously wrong at the same time can be the right thing to do. He uses the story from the Bible about Abraham who is ordered by God to kill and sacrifice his own son.

It is in Either Or that Kierkegaard in particular criticize Hegel; the debate is basically about some of the Aristotelian Logic, which Hegel had attacked. Kierkegaard argued that Hegel had made the wrong conclusion because he hadn't emphasized the human's personal freedom and choice. Kierkegaard published Either Or in a very entertaining way, and it was not published (to begin with) as one book; instead it was published in many small booklets under several different pseudonyms, who argued pro and con about different stages of the development of a man (one of the all-time-popular parts is the Diary of a Seducer).

In The Concept of Anxiety Soren Kierkegaard lays the foundation of some important philosophical and psychological concepts. This book has even introduced a Danish word into the English language. The original tittle in Danish of this book is Begrebet Angest and it is the Danish word angst (today also an English word) that now more precise than the word anxiety describes the feeling of dread when one is aware of the possibility of the freedom of choice, but simply do not know what to do. This feeling is angst!

After Soren Kierkegaard's death in 1855, he was at the risk of being almost forgotten, and he was not recognized worldwide as an important philosopher until almost 80 years after his death.
Soren Kierkegaards grave in Assistens Kirkegaard (churchyard)

Soren Kierkegaards grave in Assistens Kirkegaard (churchyard)

19th century philosophers
There are several reasons why the two 19th century philosophers, Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, should be compared. Both of them were not respected and recognized while they lived, in fact neither of them became popular before several decades after their death. The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard died in 1855 and Nietzsche was born in 1844, so they are not exactly contemporary with each other.
You can read more about Friedrich Nietzsche in my InfoBarrel article: Will to Power by Friedrich Nietzsche

The illustrations in this article have been imported from Wikipedia:
An overview of Soren Kierkegaard's life and works is found at Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Søren_Kierkegaard

A review of Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fear_and_Trembling

A review of Either Or by Soren Kierkegaard http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Either/Or

A review of The Concept of Anxiety by Soren Kierkegaard http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Concept_of_Anxiety

For a complete bibliography, see List of works by Soren Kierkegaard http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_works_by_Søren_Kierkegaard



Mar 23, 2010 11:40am
This fine article made me remember when I first read Kierkegaard's 'Fear and Trembling' in high school. And I'm somewhat proud that I chose to read it instead of having it assigned. I remember it meant a lot to me at the time. I changed over from trying to finish it quickly, as was my necessity then and now, to 'wanting to make it last longer.' It caused me to have to THINK -- a really worthwhile and unusual diversion for me as a teenager!
Mar 23, 2010 1:06pm
Thank you for you comments! I am glad you enjoyed to read it.
Feb 10, 2011 10:24am
I had never read anything about Kierkegaard before. Interesting and informative. It is funny that he and Andersen had to use the same publisher. Today we choose publishers based on our own beliefs and "fit" with our material. Back in their day you chose a publisher based on where you lived and who was available.
Feb 11, 2011 3:02am
This comment has been deleted.
Feb 11, 2011 3:04am
It was actually the publisher C A Reitzel who had problems due to the hostile climate between Hans Christian Andersen and Soren Kierkegaard. - Or maybe he wanted to protect Hans Christian Andersen from the well known sarcasm of Kierkegard, who was an expert of sarcasm and irony. - Kierkegaard's Doctors Degree even had the tittle: "On the Concept of Irony. With Due Respect to Socrates"
Feb 10, 2011 10:17pm
Very interesting article on Kierkegaard! I love the quotes you chose to use, and think this article will inspire others to read more of Kierkegaard's writings!
Feb 11, 2011 3:16am
I believe that the starting point of Kierkegaard reading should be some of the modern 'rewrites' which include some explaining comments about the ideas and life in Europe (Denmark) 150 years ago. But, I agree with you, and some of Kierkegaard's books can actually be bought very cheap in translated versions. Danish isn't an easy language to learn, but some foreigners actually learn Danish for the sole purpose of being able to read Kierkegaard's works in the original version.
Feb 12, 2011 7:11pm
Wow "some foreigners actually learn Danish for the sole purpose of being able to read Kierkegaard's works in the original version. " - that's really impressive. Not many fans but quality fans! I love this quote: "Our life can only be understood backwards, but it has to be lived forwards.'
Jun 5, 2012 2:15am
I agree! Thank you.
Mar 14, 2011 11:47am
Thanks for this very interesting article about the famous and infamous Dane.
Mar 17, 2011 6:37pm
Kierkegaard is a highly original and underrated thinker. This article makes me want to re-visit his work. I adore the more pessimistic and controversial philosophers like Nietzsche, but Kierkegaard's ideas are just as thought provoking and possibly more uplifting.
Jun 5, 2012 2:15am
Thank you for your positive comments!
Mar 21, 2011 7:27am
Thought provoding article. Thank you! The sayings are so true esp about the freedom of personal choice.
Mar 22, 2011 3:06pm
Thanks. I was just exploring Kieregaard (or the "Great Dane" as I like to call him) and Nietzsche. I haven't read them since college. They indeed foreshadowed contemporary existentialism.
Apr 13, 2012 6:34pm
Very interesting! I agree with Kierkegaard on the importance of choice and I didn't know 'angst' was a Danish word, always assumed it was German.Also, I would like to read more article like this!
Apr 14, 2012 1:37am
Angst is Germanic, so the word 'angst' is the same in Danish and German. Thank you for liking my article.
Jun 27, 2012 9:57am
Hi--Yes, I really enjoyed your article and, like you, I am no lover of Hagel and no lover of systems in anycase. However, I have always tended to feel bad for Nietzche in terms of his bewilderments. Nevertheless, thanks for the insights and as always enjoyed your thoughts and talents. A truly great mindscape!!!
Jun 27, 2012 2:42pm
Thank you very much for your read and your comments!
Dec 2, 2012 1:09am
Great article. Entertaining, enlightening and informative. What more could one ask for?
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