Kierkegaard as a Father of Existentialism

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The study of Kierkegaard’s influence on philosophy is an important academic exercise, which divulges how a scholar’s work can leave memorable blueprints. While doing so, it is imperative to note that various readers who interact with his works make divergent inferences. For instance, many people view him primarily as a philosopher, and for Christian thinkers, he is a great theologian. On the same plinth, he was a great psychologist, which was demonstrated in his writing infused with incisive cultural criticism.

In this regard, this study focuses on his philosophical thoughts, which led him to be named the father of existentialism. In doing so, proper attention is paid to different pieces of literature around his thought on existentialism. The pieces of literature include three primary sources and three secondary sources. It is important to note that Kierkegaard’s passion in writing in this area was influenced by the interest to challenge the common tenets of Hegelian philosophy that advanced the historical dialectic method, which dominated the European philosophical thought around the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Review of Primary and Secondary Sources

This study relies on six distinct literature sources (primary and secondary) that inform the ideas shared herein. This important to give the readers the true outlook of Kierkegaard’s foundation in philosophy and how ideas created a remarkable influence on the western philosophical thoughts. To begin with, Forster (1993) is significant in this study as it gives the readers the actual components of the Hegelian dialectic method, which inspired Kierkegaard’s desire in philosophy. Kierkegaard was openly against this direction.

Socrates and Plato introduced the dialectic method importantly when they sought to establish a truth-value of a particular argument. It involves an individual proposing an idea or a belief then another person refutes it by highlighting areas of flaws. The two parties continue with the argument until all misconceptions are dealt with to give room for the truth to stand out. Hegel advanced this thought by putting all thoughts into a logical structure, including the conversation about God. This does not ogre well with Kierkegaard who believes that God should not be put to any logical test since He is above any logic. He points out that the only way to reach God is through faith and not any other way.

Another important primary source in this study is Kierkegaard’s first published book, Either/Or. 1843, where he sought to ask very fundamental questions about human life. He considers human life a precious rare thing that should be lived with the utmost care and awe. In this book, he points out that he first coined out the concept of existentialism, where he expressly examined individual existence, something that was seen to be independent of illusion. He believes that an individual should be ready and willing to flout some accepted practices, more so if doing so is necessary to be personally meaningful and valid in life. Through the book, he recommends that an individual should choose between two existence spheres of life, which he dubbed as ethical and aesthetic.

The third primary source in this study is Kant’s Idea For A Universal History With A Cosmopolitan Purpose (1784). Immanuel Kant was highly focused on time, space and causation, which he calls mere sensibilities. In this milieu, he alludes that things exist in themselves, even though their nature is incomprehensible. In this dictum, he advances the argument that human experience shares particular structural features, and thus, the mind structures and shapes experience. This is something that impressed Kierkegaard in his philosophy. He was more interested in knowing more about the arguments about human existence, and alongside other thinkers like Socrates and Plato, he sought to do more to divulge the way people relate to objective truths about life.

Other sources used in this study include Schönbaumsfeld’s work, which outlines Kierkegaard’s religious thought and how those thoughts influence his philosophical outlook. Another important one is Sartre’s Existentialism and Humanism (1947), which paints the picture of existentialism. In fact, Sartre’s writing makes it profound that Kierkegaard’s existentialist philosophy has greatly influenced the western philosophical thought. The same is evident in Oaklander’s Existentialist philosophy: An introduction, which makes it explicit that existentialism is an important concept, more so in regards to human responsibility for any action he or she takes. These secondary sources are significant in this study as they help to align Kierkegaard’s thoughts with the later thinkers to make sense about his contribution in the western philosophy.

Kierkegaard’s Influence on Philosophy (Existentialism)

This study explores the philosophy of existentialism, which became so popular around the twentieth century, and it was majorly centered on the analysis of the concept of existence and human life meanings. Many thinkers associate existentialism to Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, who were interested in human existence and being as well as the centrality of human choice. Its main theoretical vitalities are centered on ontology and decision. Kierkegaard first coined out the term having been influenced by renowned Greek Philosophers, Socrates and Plato who were known for the rhetoric approach to convey their arguments. Socrates championed the thought that the knowledge of wise men and experts were guided by poor reasoning. He would prove this by having the wise men engage in a dialogue in order to examine their beliefs. He would then discover that most of these people had accepted dogmas from the earlier generations without interrogating them well.

From this foundation, Kierkegaard developed a satiric approach to provoke his readers to develop answers for themselves (Schönbaumsfeld 25). In his philosophy, the main question for humanity is to explore the understanding of his or her existence. This means that an individual should deeply explore a proper relationship with the self, and this is what has been dubbed as an existential question. It is not only an intellectual question to be asked by professional and expert philosophers, but also a question that really matters that should be explored ardently. The question has a direct impact on human beings since it influences the choices that people make in their general lives. From this standpoint, he is considered the father of existentialism.

The western philosophical thought became, more so in his statement that human beings have forgotten what it means to exist, which begs the question about what it means to exist. He accuses the ever-growing knowledge of the human person that has led him to forget about his true existence. He does not imply that knowledge is a bad thing, but he depicts that in the pursuit of knowledge, people become distracted from the fundamental existential issues. The main question that he thinks should obsess human thoughts is the purpose of knowledge and the way it enhances human life, and this must infinitely pay sufficient attention to the meaning of life and why it matters.

Notably, his work Either / Or (1843) points out that people should either choose aesthetic or ethical life (Kierkegaard 11). According to him, aesthetical life is lived in pursuit of things that give pleasure, novelty, and romance. He goes ahead to state that people who seek pleasure eventually find life meaningless, and this lead to boredom and ominous frustration. On the other hand, ethical life is lived with duty and purpose to confessional and societal obligations. Living this way would be easy, but on the other hand, it involves a lot of compromise due to genuine human aptitudes and capabilities.

Even though it leads to a bourgeois-satisfactory way of life, it erodes human integrity. From this argument, it is evident that there is no satisfactory way for an individual to live his or her life to the fullest, which made him discover the third sphere, the religious life. In this sphere, people live in truth and understand that they exist before an eternal being to whom they truly belong. Living in a religious sphere makes people connected to purpose, and therefore, it is a valid choice to make an individual live a fulfilling way of life.

Kierkegaard did much to put the human person on the higher pedestal of emotional responsibilities. His influences extend to all areas of philosophical thinking in both secular and religious. People like Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre became so popular in advancing existential thoughts that were begun by Kierkegaard. He played an important role in shaping the way people think during the twentieth century, something that is still felt today (Schönbaumsfeld 27). His understanding of God is so unique.

To him, God is a transcendental being with infinite qualities that set Him apart from the human person. He brings together faith and reason by making the human persona responsible for being with a proper understanding of self and the utmost reason for existence. Many thinkers initially thought that faith is tragically divorced from reason and that having one divorces the other. In this outlook, his main position was that faith lays a better foundation for reason. In his view of existentialism, authenticity makes a greater appeal for a good life. It affirms the nature of existence.

In other words, an authentic being recognizes the nature of existence, not from an intellectual point of view, but in accordance with the true ambiance of nature. However, many existentialists today make the concept of authenticity absurd and difficult. For instance, Oaklander is uncomfortable with the instrumentalist notion of value and reason. Therefore, the concept of authenticity needs to be explored deeply to make it sound in the understanding of existentialism, more so in the contemporary philosophy.

More importantly, some special themes stand out in Kierkegaard’s philosophy. One of them is alienation, which implies a moral collapse in society (Kierkegaard 32). He accepts the veracity of alienation in distinctly original terms. He thinks that the present age is reflective, and thus, it should value objectivity and think rather than action. He is worried about the meaning of values, which seemed to have been divorced from life. As a result, he believed that there is a need to find the truth and legitimate authority. He states that humanity loses its meaning when too much emphasis on the criterion of reality and truth that is more ambiguous and subjective.

This position is much far from the Hegelian thought that advances the concept of absolute knowledge anchored on science and logic. In this mindset, it was thought that anybody who would comprehend the dialectical progression of Hegelian logic could understand the mind of God. In opposing this thought, Kierkegaard considers it a hubristic approach. He considers a scientific approach to human questions as a major obstacle to human redemption. Through this, he became so much preoccupied with the mode of being and identifying the true meaning of being. This is something that the contemporary philosophers promoted by investigating the meaning of being and existence.

According to Sartre, existence is universal and being is distinct (115). It is therefore important for the contemporary philosophers to understand these differences because it is apparent from the standpoint that various entities share existence and not being. Plato and Socrates shared existence, but never shared being. The aspect of being is what differentiates people. A philosopher and a medical doctor share existence, but they do not share being. As indicated in Schönbaumsfeld’s study, the concept of clarity and distinctness demand that an individual should a thing exists in its own right and become after the making (21).

Being is natural, but becoming is an effort. An individual decides to be good and pursues it. On the other hand, an individual can decide to be immoral and lives as so. More importantly, existentialism gives attention to the human concept of free will and life choices. It also points out that an individual becomes better by constantly struggling against an individual nature. It also identifies that certain things are not rational and should not be encouraged, and for the people who are primarily obsessed with the world desires, their personal responsibility and discipline are easily compromised. This makes it profound that Kierkegaard left a legacy that still influences the world philosophy today.


In conclusion, it is inferential that Kierkegaard played a major and crucial role in shaping the world’s philosophical thought and today’s culture. This is felt in different disciplines, including religion and psychology. He introduced the concept of existentialism, which became so popular in the later ages when many philosophers began to ask fundamental questions about the true meaning of life. Kierkegaard’s thoughts were greatly shaped by his Christian upbringing, which made him make an effort to remind the society about the forgotten responsibility of living according to God’s will and expectation. In the ace of continuous scientific discoveries, he infused faith and reason, stating that an individual in faith is also guided with reason.

To him, having faith is a better foundation for reason. Even though human beings thrive on free will and personal choices, he asks people to be very critical in the kind of life they choose. After examining aesthetical and ethical lifestyles, he realized that the two do not provide the exact answer about the true meaning of being, and as a result, he introduced the religious sphere, which he believed is the best way to live. Many scholars were influenced by his ideas, such as Jean-Paul Sartre who became so popular by advancing the existentialist thoughts. Today, existentialism is a popular philosophy, and much credence is given to Kierkegaard. Therefore, this study is important, more so in divulging Kierkegaard’s thoughts that set the path or the contemporary philosophical thinking.

Cite this paper

Kierkegaard as a Father of Existentialism. (2021, Apr 17). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/kierkegaard-as-a-father-of-existentialism/

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