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Soren Aabye Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855)


Danish Christian philosopher and theologian, considered to be a founder of Existentialist thought and Absurdist traditions.
Soren Aabye Kierkegaard
A person can wrong another human being with his prayer, and prayer in this manner is a terrible weapon between man and man, perhaps the most pernicious. The strong man is warned not to misuse his power against the weak, but the weak man is also warned not to misuse the power of prayer against the strong. It may well be that a tyrant who misused his power, a deceiver who misused his shrewdness, never perpetrated as atrocious a wrong as the one who cowardly and slyly prayed in the wrong place, prayed in order to advance his will, flung himself in to the weakness of prayer, into imploring misery, in order to shatter another person.
Kierkegaard quotes
Impatience is an evil spirit that can be expelled only by prayer and much fasting. … the hunger of impatience is not easy to satisfy-how, then, through fasting? The demands of impatience certainly use many words and long speeches, but in prayer it is very sparing with words.
Kierkegaard
How does a person learn earnestness? Is it having an earnest person dictate something to him so that he can learn it? Not at all. If you have not yourself learned in this way from an earnest man, then imagine how it goes. See, the learner concerns himself (without concern there is no learner) about some object with his whole soul, and in this way the certainty of death becomes an object of concern. Now the concerned person turns to the teacher of earnestness, and thus death is indeed not a monster except for the imagination. The learner now wants this or that; he wants to do it thus and so and under these assumptions-“And it is bound to succeed, is it not so?” But the earnest person answers nothing at all, and finally he says, yet without mockery but with the calmness of earnestness, “Yes, it is possible!” The learner already becomes a little impatient; he suggests a new plan, changes the assumptions, and concludes his speech in a still more urgent way. But the earnest person is silent, looks calmly at him, and finally says, “Yes, it is possible!” Now the learner becomes passionate; he resorts to pleas or, if he is so equipped, to clever locutions-indeed, he perhaps even insults the earnest person and becomes totally confused himself and everything around him seems to be confusion. But when with these weapons and in this condition he charges at the earnest person, he has to endure his unaltered calm gaze and put up with his silence, because the earnest person merely looks at him and finally says, “Yes it is possible.” This is the way it is with death. The certainty is the unchanging, and the uncertainty is the brief statement: It is possible. Every condition that wants to make the certainty of death into a conditional certainty for the wisher, every agreement that wants to make the certainty of death into a conditional certainty for the person making up his mind, every arrangement that wants to condition the certainty of death as to time and hour for the one who is acting, every condition, every agreement, every arrangement runs aground on this statement: and all passionateness and all cleverness and all defiance are rendered powerless by this statement-until the learner sees the error of his ways. But the earnestness lies just in this, and it was to this that certainty and uncertainty wanted to help the learner. The certainty is allowed to leave open the question of what it can be, like a universal caption over life, instead of being the endorsement of the particular and the daily by usage, as happens with the help of uncertainty-then earnestness is not learned.




When you had doubts about what came from God or about what was a good and perfect gift, did you risk the venture? And when the light sparkle of joy beckoned you, did you thank God for it? And when you were so strong that you felt you needed no help, did you then thank God? And when your allotted portion was little, did you thank God? And when you allotted portion was sufferings, did you thank God? And when your wish was denied, did you thank God? And when you yourself had to deny your wish, did you thank God? And when people wronged you and insulted you, did you thank God? We are not saying that their wrong thereby ceased to be wrong-what would be the use of such pernicious and foolish talk! It is up to you to decide whether it was wrong; but have you taken the wrong and insult to God and by your thanksgiving received it from his hand as a good and perfect gift? Did you do that? Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong, p. 43
Kierkegaard Soren Aabye
This fact, that the opposite of sin is by no means virtue, has been overlooked. The latter is partly a pagan view, which is content with a merely human standard, and which for that very reason does not know what sin is, that all sin is before God. No, the opposite of sin is faith. (pp. 114 - 115)
To tell a young peasant girl that she is pretty, that she has sparkling eyes, to beg her to turn around in order to observe her form, does not exhibit Don Juan as someone exceptional but simply as a lewd fellow who looks over a girl as a dealer does a horse.
Soren Aabye Kierkegaard
But if he nevertheless is unwilling to be an instrument of war in the service of inexplicable drives, indeed, in the service of the world, because the world itself, the object of his craving, stimulates the drive; if he nevertheless does not want to be like a stringed instrument in the hands of inexplicable moods or, rather, in the hands of the world, because the movement of the soul is in accord with the way the world plucks its strings; if he does not want to be like a mirror in which he intercepts the world or, rather, the world reflects itself; if he does not want this, if he himself, even before the eye aims at something to make a conquest, wants to capture the eye so that it may belong to him and not he to the eye; if he grasps the hand before it grasps for the external, so that it may belong to him and not he to the hand; if he wants this so earnestly that he is not afraid of tearing out the eye, cutting off the hand, shutting the window of the senses if necessary-well, then everything is changed: the power is taken away from him, and the glory. He struggles not with the world but with himself.
If one person went to another and said to him, I have often heard faith extolled as the most glorious good: I feel though that I do not have it; the confusion of my life, the distractions of my mind, my many cares, and so much else disturbs me, but this I know, that I have but one wish, one single wish, that I might share in this faith. p. 11
Kierkegaard
The ethical thesis that every human being has a calling expresses that there is a rational order of things, in which every human being, if he so wills, fills his place in such a way that he simultaneously expresses the universally human and the individual. As soon as talent is not regarded as a calling-and if it is regarded as a calling ever human being has a calling-the talent is absolutely egotistic. Therefore, everyone who bases his life on a talent establishes to the best of his ability a robber existence. He has no higher expression for the talent than that it is a talent. Consequently, this talent want to advance in all its difference. Therefore, every talent has a tendency to make itself central; every condition must be present to promote it, because only in this wild onrushing is there the genuinely esthetic enjoyment of the talent. If there is a concurrent talent going in another direction, they clash in a life-and-death struggle, since they have no concentricity, no higher shared expression. So our hero has found what he was looking for, a work from which he can live; he has also found a more significant expression for the relation of this work to his personality: it is his calling-consequently, the carrying out of it is bound up with a satisfaction for his whole personality. He has also found a more significant expression for his relation of his work to other people, inasmuch as his work is his calling, he is thereby placed essentially on the same level as all other human beings. Hence through his work he is doing the same as everyone else-he is carrying out his calling. He insists on this acknowledgment; he does not insist on more, for this is the absolute. “If my calling is a humble one,” he says, “I can nevertheless be faithful to my calling, and then according to what is essential I am as great as the greatest. If my calling is humble, I can nevertheless, be unfaithful to it, and if I am, I am committing just as great a sin as the greatest. I shall not be so foolish as to want to forget the differences or to believe that my unfaithfulness would have just as corrupting consequences for the whole as the unfaithfulness of the greatest-to do so would be of no benefit to me; I myself would be the one who would lose the most.” The ethical view, then, that every human being has a calling, has two advantages over the esthetic theory of talent. First, it does not account for anything accidental in existence but for the universal; second, it shows the universal in its true beauty. In other words, the talent is not beautiful until it is transfigured into a calling, and existence is not beautiful until every person has a calling. (…)When a person has a calling he generally has a norm outside himself, which, without making him a slave, nevertheless gives him some indication of what he has to do, maps out his time for him, often provides him with the occasion to begin. If at some time he fails in his task, he hopes to do it better the next time, and this next time is not so very far away. Our hero has found a more beautiful expression for the relation of his work to the work of other men-that it is a calling. So he has been acknowledged, has received his credentials. But now when he carries out his calling-yes, then he finds his satisfaction in it, but he also insists on an expression of the relation of this activity to other people; he insists on accomplishing something. At this point he may again go astray. The esthete will explain to him that the satisfaction of the talent is the highest, and whether he accomplishes something or does not accomplish anything is entirely beside the point. He may encounter a practical narrow-mindedness that in its bungling zeal thinks it is accomplishing everything, or an esthetic snobbery that thinks that accomplishing something in the world falls to the lot of a chosen few, that there are a few very talented individuals who accomplish something, that the rest of the people are ciphers, superfluities in life, extravagances of the creator. But none of these explanations helps our hero.
Kierkegaard Soren Aabye
The synthesis of absolute innocence and absolute guilt is not an aesthetic category, but a metaphysical one. This is the real reason why one has always been ashamed to call the life of Christ a tragedy, because one instinctively feels that aesthetic categories do not exhaust the matter. In yet another way it is clear that Christ’s life is something more than can be exhausted in aesthetic categories: by the fact that these categories neutralize themselves in this phenomenon, and are still in equilibrium. The identity of an absolute action and an absolute suffering is beyond the powers of aesthetics, and belongs to metaphysics. This identity is exemplified in the life of Christ, for His suffering is absolute because the action is absolutely free, and His action is absolute suffering because it is absolute obedience. Hence the element of guilt which remains is not subjectively reflected, and this makes the sorrow profound.
Soren Aabye Kierkegaard
If sin is ignorance, then sin does not really exist, for sin is precisely consciousness; if sin is ignorance of what is right, and one then does what is wrong because one does not know what is right, then no sin has occurred.




The world can be possessed only by its possessing me, and this in turn is the way it possesses the person who has won the world, since one who possesses the world in any other way possesses it as the accidental, as something that can be diminished, increased, lost, won, without his possession being essentially changed. If, however, he possesses the world in such a way that the loss of it can diminish his possession, then he is possessed by the world. p. 164-165
Soren Aabye Kierkegaard
How many roads there are in the hour of decision! And yet, there is only one road; the others are wrong roads, whether they lead to the place where envy concocts its plans, where grief has its haunts, where the worm of desire does not die, where disconsolateness stares at its loss, where mockery alarms others with its vile wisdom, or where the tongue of slander betrays the abundance of the heart-all these roads lead away, far away, and thought does not even dare to follow them.
Kierkegaard quotes
The veritably great is common property for everybody, a peasant goes to Tribler’s Widow, or to a ballad seller in Halmtorvet, and reads it half aloud to himself at the at the very time Goethe is composing a Faust. And indeed this folk-book merits attention, for it has what one appreciates above all as an honorable quality in wine, it has bouquet, it is an excellent bottling from the Middle Ages, and as one opens it, it bubbles forth so spicy, so sparkling, so characteristically fragrant, that one is quite strangely affected.
Kierkegaard Soren Aabye
If you had loved people then the earnestness of life might have taught you not to be strident but to become silent, and when you were in distress at sea and did not see land, then at least not to involve others in it; it might have taught you to smile at least as long as long as you believed anyone sought in your face an explanation, a witness. We do not judge you for doubting, because doubt is a crafty passion, and it can certainly be difficult to tear oneself out of its snares. What we require of the doubter is that he be silent. That doubt did not make him happy-why then confide to others what will make them just as unhappy. Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong, p. 22-23
I shall suggest in a few words the danger that faces a person in the moment of despair, the reef on which he can be stranded and utterly shipwrecked. The Bible says: For what would it profit a person if he gained the whole world but damaged his own soul; what would he have in return? Scripture does not state the antithesis to this, but it is implicit in the sentence. The antitheses would read something like this: What damage would there be to a person if he lost the whole world and yet did not damage his soul; what would he need in return? There are expressions that in themselves seem simple and yet fill the soul with a strange anxiety, because they almost become more obscure the more one thinks about them. In the religious sphere, the phrase “sin against the Holy Spirit” is such an expression. I do not know whether theologians are able to give a definite explanation of it, but then I am only a layman. But the phrase “to damage one’s soul” is an esthetic expression, and the person who thinks he has an ethical life-view must also think he is able to explain it. We often hear the words used, and yet anyone who wants to understand them must have experienced the deep movements of his soul-indeed, he must have despaired, for it is actually the movements of despair that are described here: on the one side the whole world, on the other side one’s own soul. You will readily perceive, if we pursue this expression, that we arrive at the same abstract definition of “soul” at which we arrived earlier in the definition of the word “self” in the psychological consideration of wishing, without, however, wanting to become someone else. In other words, if I can gain the whole world and yet damage my soul, the phrase “the whole world” must include all the finite things that I possess in my immediacy. Then my soul proves to be indifferent to these things. If I can lose the whole world without damaging my soul, the phrase “the whole world” again includes all the finite qualifications that I possess in my immediacy, and yet if my soul is undamaged it is consequently indifferent toward them. I can lose my wealth, my honor in the eyes of others, my intellectual capacity; and yet not damage my soul: I can gain it all and yet be damaged. What, then, is my soul? What is this innermost being of mine that is undismayed by this loss and suffers damage by this gain?
Soren Aabye Kierkegaard
He must increase-who is this “he”? In the sense in which we have used the word, everyone can identify him with another name; this is how change occurs here on earth; one increases and another decreases, and today it is I and tomorrow you. But one who in humble self-denial and with genuine joy saw another increase-his mind will be turned into a new joy, and this new joy of his will surely be full. … An old saying states that everyone would rather see the rising sun than the setting sun. Why everyone? Do you suppose this includes someone whose sun it is that is setting? Yes, for he, too, ardently desires to rejoice just as the bridegroom’s friend does when he stands and hears the bridegroom’s voice.
...our Lord satisfies the stomach before the eye, but fantasy does just the opposite.
Soren Aabye Kierkegaard
Irony limits, finitizes, and circumscribes and thereby yields truth, actuality, content; it disciplines and punishes and thereby yields balance and consistency.
Kierkegaard Soren Aabye
When one suffers misjudgment it is easy for one to become more self-important; he does not judge others but he wants his deeds to judge others and in a crafty way. He wants to build up a larger balance with God. He is not content with being an unworthy servant; he wants to be a little more than that.


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