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Kierkegaard’s “Spheres” – There It Is . org

Kierkegaard’s “Spheres”

"Kierkegaard," by Mitch Francis

"Kierkegaard," by Mitch Francis
“Kierkegaard,” by Mitch Francis

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

The Melancholy Dane

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) was a Danish philosopher and religious thinker. Once on a course for the ministry and marriage, he abandoned both in his wrestle for authenticity. His philosophy elevates “The Individual” over “The Crowd,” the patterns in whose lives are structured, scripted, and cued by the Lutheran Church or the Press – religious and secular cookie-cutters which undermine human lives of depth. The flame of his own spiritual passion, however, is unmistakeable in his quest to find authentic Christian faith, which, he testifies, is especially hard in Christendom, where “Everyone is a Christian” and it couldn’t be any easier.

He was physically sickly and serious, with melancholy temperament – hence the moniker, “The Melancholy Dane.”

In these selections from Either/Or, Kierkegaard presents the stages through which he proposes unfolding human lives pass: The first mode of life (that of the “Aesthete”) is that of seeking amusement, entertainment, diversion – a quest fueled by an aversion to boredom. He introduces a metaphor – that of crop rotation – and uses it to distinguish two of the Aesthete’s strategies, one more subtle. Do your best to work out his distinction, paying attention to his discussions of “extensive” and “intensive” rotation; and craft an example of each as preparation for our discussion.

The empty nature of the Aesthete’s flight from self is suggested by the word ‘diversion’ above. Kierkegaard offers a critique of this first stage or “sphere of existence” from the point of view of the character who represents the second, the Judge. His mode of life (which Kierkegaard calls the “Ethical”) is that of the particular under the universal, the individual under the law, evaluation of action under principle – a life characterized by seriousness, commitment, and a sense of respect. From the point of view of such a life, Kierkegaard claims, this transition is a clear evolution (not just change, but progress) from lesser authenticity and meaning and richness to greater.

Elsewhere, Kierkegaard introduces a third stage or sphere, The Religious, passing to which mode of life requires faith and a taste for paradox. In these discussions we find some of his most characteristic contributions to philosophy: his introduction of what he calls “subjective truth,” and, relatedly, his spiritual justification for breaking ethical rules. I’ll soon add some suggestions for further reading along these lines.

The primary source reading this time is in a .PDF available on the course web site.