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Existentialism - Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855)

life passionately subjective rational

Kierkegaard was born and raised in Copenhagen, where he spent virtually his entire life. He was a pious Lutheran who once defined his task in philosophy as "a Socratic task," to define (or redefine) what it is to be a Christian. At the time, the rationalist influence of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) dominated the Lutheran church, but Kierkegaard insisted that faith was by its very nature irrational, a passion and not a provable belief. Against Hegelian Holism, Kierkegaard insisted on the primacy of the individual and the profound "Otherness" of God. And against the worldly Lutherans, Kierkegaard preached a stark, passionate, solitudinous, and unworldly religion that, in temperament, at least, would go back to the monastery. To properly and passionately choose to be a Christian—as opposed to merely being born into the church and mindlessly reciting its dogmas—was to enjoy true existence. To be or become a Christian, according to Kierkegaard, it is necessary to passionately commit oneself, to make a "leap of faith" in the face of the "objective uncertainty" of religious claims. One cannot know or prove that there is a God; one must passionately choose to believe.

Kierkegaard formulated the seemingly self-contradictory notion of "subjective truth" in opposition to the idea that all life choices have a rational or "objective" resolution. In choosing the religious life, for example, Kierkegaard insists that there are no ultimately rational reasons for doing so, only subjective motives, a sense of personal necessity and a desire for passionate commitment. Similarly, choosing to be ethical, which is to say, choosing to act according to the principles of practical reason, is itself a choice, which is not rational. The notion of subjective truth does not mean, as it may seem to mean, a truth that is true "for me." It means resolution in the face of the objectively unknown. More important than what is believed is how it is believed. Against the calm deliberations of so much of the history of philosophy, in opposition to the celebration of reason and rationality, Kierkegaard celebrates angst and the passions, the "leap" into the unknown, and the irrationality of life.

Existentialism - Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) [next]

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Kierkegaard was born and raised in Copenhagen, where he spent virtually his entire life. He was a pious Lutheran who once defined his task in philosophy as "a Socratic task," to define (or redefine) what it is to be a Christian. At the time, the rationalist influence of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) dominated the Lutheran church, but Kierkegaard insisted that faith was by its very nature irrational, a passion and not a provable belief. Against Hegelian Holism, Kierkegaard insisted on the primacy of the individual and the profound "Otherness" of God. And against the worldly Lutherans, Kierkegaard preached a stark, passionate, solitudinous, and unworldly religion that, in temperament, at least, would go back to the monastery. To properly and passionately choose to be a Christian—as opposed to merely being born into the church and mindlessly reciting its dogmas—was to enjoy true existence. To be or become a Christian, according to Kierkegaard, it is necessary to passionately commit oneself, to make a "leap of faith" in the face of the "objective uncertainty" of religious claims. One cannot know or prove that there is a God; one must passionately choose to believe.

Kierkegaard formulated the seemingly self-contradictory notion of "subjective truth" in opposition to the idea that all life choices have a rational or "objective" resolution. In choosing the religious life, for example, Kierkegaard insists that there are no ultimately rational reasons for doing so, only subjective motives, a sense of personal necessity and a desire for passionate commitment. Similarly, choosing to be ethical, which is to say, choosing to act according to the principles of practical reason, is itself a choice, which is not rational. The notion of subjective truth does not mean, as it may seem to mean, a truth that is true "for me." It means resolution in the face of the objectively unknown. More important than what is believed is how it is believed. Against the calm deliberations of so much of the history of philosophy, in opposition to the celebration of reason and rationality, Kierkegaard celebrates angst and the passions, the "leap" into the unknown, and the irrationality of life.



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