Philosophical Fragments

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Philosophical Fragments, or a Fragment of Philosophy
Manuscript philosophical fragments.png
The Danish text, in Kierkegaard's handwriting, reads: Philosophical Fragments or a Fragment of Philosophy by S. Kierkegaard
Author Søren Kierkegaard (as Johannes Climacus)
Original title Philosophiske Smuler eller En Smule Philosophi
Country Denmark
Language Danish
Series First authorship (Pseudonymous)
Genre Christianity, Philosophy, Psychology
Publication date
June 13, 1844
Published in English
1936 - First Translation
Pages ~83
Preceded by 'Three Upbuilding Discourses, 1844'
Followed by 'Prefaces'

Philosophical Fragments (Danish title: Philosophiske Smuler eller En Smule Philosophi) is a Christian philosophic work written by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard in 1844. It was the first of three works written under the pseudonym Johannes Climacus, the other two were Johannes Climacus, 1841 and Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments, 1846.

Kierkegaardian scholars D. Anthony Storm[nb 1] and Walter Lowrie believe Kierkegaard could be referring to Johannes Climacus, a 7th-century Christian monk, who believed that an individual is converted to Christianity by way of a ladder, one rung (virtue) at a time.[1] Kierkegaard believes the individual comes to an understanding with Christ by a leap.

Kierkegaard scholar and translator David F. Swenson was the first to translate the book into English in 1936. He called it "Philosophical Chips" in an earlier biography of Kierkegaard published in 1921[nb 2]and another early translator, Lee Milton Hollander, called it "Philosophic Trifles" in his early translation of portions of Kierkegaard's works in 1923.[nb 3]

Kierkegaard hinted that he might write a "sequel in 17 pieces" in his preface.[2] By February 22, 1846 he published a 600 page sequel to his 83 page Fragments. He devoted over 200 pages of Concluding Unscientific Postscript to an explanation of what he meant by Philosophical Fragments.[3]

He referred to a quote by Plato in his Postscript to Philosophical Fragments: "But I must ask you Socrates, what do you suppose is the upshot of all this? As I said a little while ago, it is the scrapings and shavings of argument, cut up into little bits." – Greater Hippias, 304a. He could have been thinking about this quote when he wrote this book. Plato was asking "What is beauty?" Kierkegaard asks, "What is Truth?"[4] Kierkegaard had already asked about truth 9 days earlier when he published Three Upbuilding Discourses. A mere 4 days from the publication of Philosophical Fragments he published The Concept of Anxiety.

Kierkegaard wrote his books in reaction to both Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel as well as the philosophic-historical use of speculation in regard to Christianity. Schlegel published a book bearing the same title as Kierkegaard's, Philosophical Fragments in 1799.[nb 4]


Kierkegaard always wrote a preface signed by the name of the pseudonymous author he was using. He began this practice with his unpublished book Johannes Climacus and continued it throughout his writing career. However, he added his own name as the person responsible for publication of Philosophical Fragments, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, The Sickness Unto Death and Practice in Christianity. He also wrote many discourses which he signed with his own name. He began that practice with the writing of Two Upbuilding Discourses in 1843. He divides his book into five major sections

  • A Project of Thought
  • The God as Teacher and Savior: An Essay of the Imagination
  • The Absolute Paradox of the Offended Christian
    • Appendix: The Paradox and the Offended Consciousness
  • The Case of the Contemporary Disciple
    • Interlude
  • The Disciple at Second Hand


Kierkegaard uses familiar Christian vocabulary to develop his own method for arriving at Truth. He presents two views, the Socratic and the religious. Socrates is considered an authoritative voice in the philosophic community so Kierkegaard begins with his ideas. He developed the doctrine of recollection which Kierkegaard makes use of in his explanation of Truth and ignorance.

His aim is to advance beyond Socrates, who was interested in finite truth, to another Teacher who explained Eternal Truth. The Enlightenment movement was intent on combining concepts of God, nature, knowledge and man into one world view. Kierkegaard was a counter-Enlightenment writer.[5] He believed that knowledge of God was a "condition" that only "the God" can give and the "Moment" God gives the condition to the Learner has "decisive significance".[6]

Socrates remained true to himself, through his manner of life giving artistic expression to what he had understood. Philosophical Fragments p, 8

He uses the category of the single individual to help those seeking to become Christians. He says, "I am he who himself has been educated to the point of becoming a Christian. In the fact that education is pressed upon me, and in the measure that it is pressed, I press in turn upon this age; but I am not a teacher, only a fellow student."[7] And again, "Once and for all I must earnestly beg the kind reader always to bear in mente (in mind) that the thought behind the whole work is: what it means to become a Christian."[8] He can only bring an individual to the point of becoming a Christian because the single individual must choose to become a Christian in freedom. Kierkegaard says, either believe or be offended. But choose.

Philosophers and Historians tend to try to prove Christianity rather than teach belief in Christ through faith. Kierkegaard says,

"As long as I keep my hold on the proof, i.e., continue to demonstrate, the existence does not come out, if for no other reason than that I am engaged in proving it; but when I let the proof go, the existence is there." (...) "unless we hold fast to the Socratic doctrine of Recollection, and to his principle that every individual man is Man, Sextus Empiricus stands ready to make the transition involved in "teaching" not only difficult but impossible; and Protagoras will begin where Sextus Empiricus leaves off, maintaining that man is the measure of all things, in the sense that the individual man is the measure for others, but by no means in the Socratic sense that each man is his own measure, neither more nor less. Philosophical Fragments p. 29-30, 32

A Project of Thought[edit]

Kierkegaard uses the Doctrine of Recollection as an example of how truth was found in Ancient Greek philosophy and is still found in psychotherapy and modern medicine. Both of these sciences are based on questioning the patient, "Learner", in the hope of jogging their memory about past events. The therapist could ask the right question and not realize he has received the answer he was looking for, this is known as Meno's paradox. Kierkegaard puts his paradox this way, "what a man knows he cannot seek, since he knows it; and what he does not know he cannot seek, since he does not even know for what to seek."[9]

The problem for the "Learner" is that he is in "Error", and is ignorant of his Error. He had the truth from birth, he knew who his creator was, but forgot. Kierkegaard calls this Error "Sin". How can he find out that he had vested his life in outer goods rather than the inner goods of the Spirit? A Teacher must bring him the "condition"[note 1] necessary for understanding the Truth.[nb 5] He explains the whole process this way:

In so far as the learner is in Error, but in consequence of his own act (and in no other way can he possibly be in this state, as we have shown above), he might seem to be free; for to be what one is by one's own act is freedom. And yet he is in reality unfree and bound and exiled; for to be free from the Truth is to be exiled from the Truth, and to be exiled by one's own self is to be bound. But since he is bound by himself, may he not loose his bonds and set himself free? For whatever binds me, the same should be able to set me free when it wills; and since this power is here his own self, he should be able to liberate himself. But first at any rate he must will it.

for he forges the chains of his bondage with the strength of his freedom, since he exists in it without compulsion; and thus his bonds grow strong, and all his powers unite to make him the slave of sin. -- What now shall we call such a Teacher, one who restores the lost condition and gives the learner the Truth? Let us call him Saviour, for he saves the learner from his bondage and from himself; let us call him Redeemer, for he redeems the learner from the captivity into which he had plunged himself, and no captivity is so terrible and so impossible to break, as that in which the individual keeps himself. And still we have not said all that is necessary; for by his self-imposed bondage the learner has brought upon himself a burden of guilt, and when the Teacher gives him the condition and the Truth he constitutes himself an Atonement, taking away the wrath impending upon that of which the learner has made himself guilty. Such a Teacher the learner will never be able to forget. For the moment he forgets him he sinks back again into himself, just as one who while in original possession of the condition forgot that God exists, and thereby sank into bondage. Philosophical Fragments, Swenson p. 12-13

The conversion of Saint Paul by Andrea Meldolla 1510-1553

Now he owes everything to his Teacher but is saddened that it took so long to find out that he forgot his soul belonged to God and not to the world, and he "Repents".[11] The "Moment"[12] the Teacher brings the condition the learner experiences a "New Birth". Kierkegaard says a "change has taken place within him like the change from non-being to being. He calls this change "Conversion".[13] He says, "When one who has experienced birth thinks of himself as born, he conceives this transition from non-being to being. The same principle must also hold in the case of the new birth. Or is the difficulty increased by the fact that the non-being which precedes the new birth contains more being than the non-being which preceded the first birth? But who then may be expected to think the new birth?"[14] This is a Paradox.

When the seed of the oak is planted in earthen vessels, they break asunder; when new wine is poured in old leather bottles, they burst; what must happen when the God implants himself in human weakness, unless man becomes a new vessel and a new creature! But this becoming, what labors will attend the change, how convulsed with birth-pangs! And the understanding—how precarious, and how close each moment to misunderstanding, when the anguish of guilt seeks to disturb the peace of love! And how rapt in fear; for it is indeed less terrible to fall to the ground when the mountains tremble at the voice of the God, than to sit at table with him as an equal; and yet it is the God's concern precisely to have it so. Philosophical Fragments p. 27

How many an individual has not asked, “What is truth?” and at bottom hoped that it would be a long time before the truth would come so close to him that in the same instant it would determine what it was his duty to do at that moment. When the Pharisee, “in order to justify himself,” asked, “Who is my neighbor?” he presumably thought that this might develop into a very protracted inquiry, so that it would perhaps take a very long time and then perhaps end with the admission that it was impossible to define the concept “neighbor” with absolute accuracy – for this very reason he asked the question, to find an escape, to waste time, and to justify himself. But God catches the wise in their foolishness, and Christ imprisoned the questioner in the answer that contained the task. So it is with all Christ’s answers. Søren Kierkegaard, Works of Love p. 96-97

The truth is within me, that is, when I am truly within myself (not untruthfully outside myself), the truth, if it is there, is a being, a life. Therefore it says, "This is eternal life, to know the only true God and the one whom he sent, the truth." (John 14:6 The Bible) That is, only then do I in truth know the truth, when it becomes a life in me. Therefore Christ compares truth to food and appropriating it to eating, just as, physically, food by being appropriated (assimilated) becomes the life sustenance, so also, spiritually, truth is both the giver of life and the sustenance of life, is life. Practice in Christianity, Hong 1991 p. 206

But Kierkegaard went deeply into the choice in his first book, Either/Or:

Let me make a little psychological observation. We frequently hear people vent their dissatisfaction in a complaint about life; often enough we hear them wishing. Imagine a poor wretch like that; let us skip over the wishes that shed no light here because they involve the utterly accidental. He wishes: Would that I had that man's intellect, or that man's talent etc. Indeed, to go to the extreme: Would that I had that man's steadfastness. Wishes of that sort are frequently heard, but have you ever heard a person earnestly wish that he could be someone else? It is so far from being the case that it is particularly characteristic of people called unfortunate individualities that they cling most of all to themselves, that despite all their sufferings they still would not wish to be anybody else for all the world. That is because such people are very close to the truth, and they feel the eternal validity of the personality not in its blessing but in its torment, even if they have retained this totally abstract expression for the joy in it; that they prefer to go on being themselves. But the person with many wishes is nevertheless continually of the opinion that he would be himself even if everything were changed. Consequently, there is something within him that in relation to everything else is absolute, something whereby he is who he is even if the change he achieved by his wish were the greatest possible. That he is mistaken, I shall show later, but at this point I merely want to find the most abstract expression for this "self" that makes him who he is. And this is nothing other than freedom. By this route it is actually possible to present a very plausible demonstration of the eternal validity of the personality. Indeed, even a suicide does not actually will to do away with his self; he, too, wishes-he wishes another form of his self, and this is why we certainly find a suicide who is very convinced of the immortality of the soul, but whose whole being was so ensnared that he believed he would by this step find the absolute form for his spirit. The reason, however, it may seem to an individual as if he could be changed continually and yet remain the same, as if his innermost being were an algebraic symbol that could signify anything whatever it is assumed to be, is that he is in a wrong position, that he has not chosen himself, does not have a concept of it, and yet there is in his folly an acknowledgment of the eternal validity of his personality. But for him who is in a proper position things take another course. He chooses himself-not in a finite sense, for then this "self" would indeed be something finite that would fall among all the other finite things-but in the absolute sense, and yet he does choose himself and not someone else. This self that he chooses in this way is infinitely concrete, for it is he himself, and yet it is absolutely different from his former self, for he has chosen it absolutely. This self has not existed before, because it came into existence through a choice, and yet it has existed, for it was indeed "himself." The choice here makes two dialectical movements simultaneous-that which is chosen does not exist and comes into existence through the choice-and that which is chosen exists; otherwise it was not a choice. In other words, if what I chose did not exist but came into existence absolutely through the choice, then I did not choose-then I created. But I do not create myself-I choose myself. Therefore, whereas nature is created from nothing, whereas I myself as immediate personality am created from nothing, I as free spirit am born out of the principle of contradiction and am born through choosing myself.

  • Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or Part II, Hong p. 215-216

The God as Teacher, Saviour and the Paradox[edit]

Kierkegaard leads his reader to consider how a teacher might become a teacher. He says life and its circumstances constitute an occasion for an individual to become a teacher and he in turn becomes an occasion for the learner to learn something. Socrates was such a teacher as this. But what about God? What would be the occasion that moved him to become a Teacher? God is moved by love but his love is unhappy. He wants to make himself understood just like a teacher but He's teaching something that doesn't come to an individual from the known world but from a world that is Unknown. "His love is a love of the learner, and his aim is to win him. For it is only in love that the unequal can be made equal, and it is only in equality or unity that an understanding can be effected, and without a perfect understanding the Teacher is not the God, unless the obstacle comes wholly from the side of the learner, in his refusing to realize that which had been made possible for him."[15]

God's goal is to make himself understood and, according to Kierkegaard, he has three options. He could elevate the learner to help the learner forget the misunderstanding. God could show himself to the learner and cause him to forget his Error while contemplating God's presence. Both options are rejected on the basis of equality. How can God make himself equal to man? Only by becoming man himself, but not a king, or a leader of an established order, no, for equality's sake he must become one of the humblest, a servant.[16]

But God can't make himself understood because he's completely unlike every other human being. God has not sinned, whereas every human being has. This is a paradox but the ultimate paradox is that a single individual who looks just like everyone else is God. "The thesis that God has existed in human form, was born, grew up; is certainly the paradox in the strictest sense, the absolute paradox." Christianity is also a paradox as well as the forgiveness of sins.[17] Kierkegaard is saying that the "Moment" the individual comes in contact with the Paradox is of utmost importance because this is where the decision is made. This is his Either/Or. Either believe or be offended.[18] Reason is attempting to understand the Paradox but comes to its own limit and can't understand what it knows nothing about.

how should the Reason be able to understand what is absolutely different from itself? If this is not immediately evident, it will become clearer in the light of the consequences; for if the God is absolutely unlike man, then man is absolutely unlike the God; but how could the Reason be expected to understand this? Here we seem to be confronted with a paradox. Merely to obtain the knowledge that the God is unlike him, man needs the help of the God; and now he learns that the God is absolutely different from himself. But if the God and man are absolutely different, this cannot be accounted for on the basis of what man derives from the God, for in so far they are akin. Their unlikeness must therefore be explained by what man derives from himself, or by what he has brought upon his own head. Philosophical Fragments, Swenson p. 34 (see 31-34)

Kierkegaard says Reason "collides" with the knowledge of the Unknown. If Reason and God have a happy encounter the individual comes to be a believer. If the collision results in an unhappy encounter the Reason is Offended. The Reason says that the Paradox is absurd and can get no meaning from the encounter. But when "Reason yielded itself while the Paradox bestowed itself, and the understanding is consummated in that happy passion, the individual is happy and asks for nothing more."[19][nb 6] Kierkegaard says Christ offers every single individual the "invitation."[nb 7]

The Disciple and the Disciple at Second Hand[edit]

Kierkegaard explores how a contemporary of Christ and succeeding generations receive the "condition" necessary to understand the Paradox that God has permitted himself to be born and wrapped in swaddling-clothes. A contemporary could have been living abroad and in that case the contemporary would have to hear the story from eye witnesses. How reliable would they be? The only thing they saw was a lowly servant.[20] The immediate contemporary can "serve as an occasion for the acquirement of historical knowledge", an occasion to help the individual understand himself in the Socratic sense, or the contemporary could have received the condition from God and become a believer.[21]

The "condition" comes into existence. Kierkegaard says the "coming-into-existence is a kind of change, but is not a change in essence but in being and is a transition from not existing to existing. But this non-being which the subject of coming into existence leaves behind must itself have some sort of being. He asks his reader to consider whether the necessary can come into existence or if the necessary "Is", since everything that comes into existence is historical. But for Kierkegaard "all coming into existence takes place in freedom." The disciple freely chooses to follow Christ when the Holy Spirit convinces him that he's a sinner.

He finally discloses what this "condition" the "Moment" brings to the individual. He says, "faith[nb 8] has precisely the required character; for in the certainty of belief there is always present a negated uncertainty, in every way corresponding to the uncertainty of coming into existence. Faith believes what it does not see..." [23]

Through the objective uncertainty and ignorance the paradox thrusts away in the inwardness of the existing person. But since the paradox is not in itself the paradox, it does not thrust away intensely enough. For without risk, no faith; the more risk, the more faith. The more objective reliability, the less inwardness (since inwardness is subjectivity). The less objective reliability, the deeper is the possible inwardness. When the paradox itself is the paradox, it thrusts away by virtue of the absurd, and the corresponding passion of inwardness is faith. When Socrates believed that God is, he held fast the objective uncertainty with the entire passion of inwardness, and faith is precisely in this contradiction, in this risk. Now it is otherwise. Instead of the objective uncertainty, there is here the certainty that, viewed objectively, it is the absurd, and this absurdity, held fast in the passion of inwardness, is faith. What, then, is the absurd? The absurd is that the eternal truth has come into existence in time, that God has come into existence, has been born, has grown up, has come into existence exactly as an individual human being, indistinguishable from any other human being. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Hong p. 209-210

An individual can know what Christianity is without being a Christian. Kierkegaard says, "By Baptism Christianity gives him a name, and he is a Christian de nomine (by name); but in the decision[note 2] he becomes a Christian and gives Christianity his name.[24] It would indeed be a ludicrous contradiction if an existing person asked what Christianity is in terms of existence and then spent his whole life deliberating on that-for in that case when should he exist in it?"[25][nb 9] [nb 10][nb 11]

Belief is not a form of knowledge, but a free act, an expression of will, its not having a relationship with a doctrine but having a relationship with God. Kierkegaard says "Faith, self-active, relates itself to the improbable and the paradox, is self-active in discovering it and in holding it fast at every moment-in order to be able to believe."[26][nb 12][nb 13]

From the God himself everyone receives the condition who by virtue of the condition becomes the disciple. (..) For whoever has what he has from the God himself clearly has it at first hand; and he who does not have it from the God himself is not a disciple. (...) if the contemporary disciple gives the condition to the successor, the latter will come to believe in him. He receives the condition from him, and thus the contemporary becomes the object of Faith for the successor; for whoever gives the individual this condition is eo ipso (in fact) the object of Faith, and the God. Philosophical Fragments p. 60-61

Kierkegaard mentioned Johann Georg Hamann (1730-1788) in his book Repetition p. 149 (1843) and this book, Philosophical Fragments (p. 38ff, Swenson), and what Kierkegaard writes is written also by Hamann in his book, Socratic Memorabilia, in this way:
Johann Hamann
The opinion of Socrates can be summarized in these blunt words, when he said to the Sophists, the learned men of his time, “I know nothing.” Therefore these words were a thorn in their eyes and a scourge on their backs. All of Socrates’ ideas, which were nothing more than expectorations and secretions of his ignorance, seemed as frightful to them as the hair of Medusa’s head, the knob of the Aegis. The ignorance of Socrates was sensibility. But between sensibility and a theoretical proposition is a greater difference than between a living animal and its anatomical skeleton. The ancient and modern sceptics may wrap themselves ever so much in the lion skin of Socratic ignorance; nevertheless they betray themselves by their voices and ears. If they know nothing, why does the world need a learned demonstration of it? Their hypocrisy is ridiculous and insolent. Whoever needs so much acumen and eloquence to convince himself of his ignorance, however, must cherish in his heart a powerful repugnance for the truth of it. Our own existence and the existence of all things outside us must be believed, and cannot be determined in any other way. What is more certain than the end of man, and of what truth is there a more general and better attested knowledge? Nevertheless, no one is wise enough to believe it except the one who, as Moses makes clear, is taught by God himself to number his days. What one believes does not, therefore, have to be proved, and a proposition can be ever so incontrovertibly proven without on that account being believed. There are proofs of truth which are of as little value as the application which can be made of the truths themselves; indeed, one can believe the proof of the proposition without giving approval to the proposition itself. The reasons of a Hume may be ever so cogent, and the refutations of them only assumptions and doubts; thus faith gains and loses equally with the cleverest pettifogger and most honorable attorney. Faith is not the work of reason, because faith arises just as little from reason as tasting and seeing does. Hamann’s Socratic Memorabilia, (Compiled for the Boredom of the Public by a Lover of Boredom), A translation and commentary by James C. O’Flaherty, 1967 John Hopkins Press p. 167-169

Only one who receives the condition from the God is a believer. (This corresponds exactly to the requirement that man must renounce his reason, and on the other hand discloses the only form of authority that corresponds to Faith.) If anyone proposes to believe, i.e., imagines himself to believe, because many good and upright people living here on the hill have believed, i.e., have said that they believed (for no man can control the profession of another further than this; even if the other has endured, borne, suffered all for the Faith, an outsider cannot get beyond what he says about himself, for a lie can be stretched precisely as far as the truth—in the eyes of men, but not in the sight of God), then he is a fool, and it is essentially indifferent whether he believes on account of his own and perhaps a widely held opinion about what good and upright people believe, or believes a Münchausen. If the credibility of a contemporary is to have any interest for him—and alas! one may be sure that this will create a tremendous sensation, and give occasion for the writing of folios; for this counterfeit earnestness, which asks whether so-and-so is trustworthy instead of whether the inquirer himself has faith, is an excellent mask for spiritual indolence, and for town gossip on a European scale—if the credibility of such a witness is to have any significance it must be with respect to the historical fact. But what historical fact? Philosophical Fragments p. 77

if it is the misfortune of the age that it has come to know too much, has forgotten what it means to exist and what inwardness is, then it was important that sin not be conceived in abstract categories, in which it cannot be conceived at all, that is, decisively, because it stands in an essential relation to existing. Therefore it was good that the work was a psychological inquiry, which in itself makes clear that sin cannot find a place in the system, presumably just like immortality, faith, the paradox, and other such concepts that essentially related to existing, just what systematic thinking ignores. The expression "anxiety" does not lead one to think of paragraph pomposity but rather of existence inwardness. Just as "fear and trembling" is the state of the teleologically suspended person when God tempts him, so also is anxiety the teleologically suspended person's state of mind in that desperate exemption from fulfilling the ethical. When truth is subjective, the inwardness of sin as anxiety in the existing individuality is the greatest possible distance and the most painful distance from the truth. Concluding Unscientific Postscript p. 269

Reviews and assessments[edit]

Kierkegaard was criticized by his former teacher and pastor Hans Lassen Martensen, he concludes from Kierkegaard's writing, here and in Concluding Unscientific Postscript, that he's saying an individual can be saved without the help of the Church. Martensen believed 19th century Socialism would destroy individuality, but regarded Kierkegaard's emphasis on the single individual as too one-sided.[27] Kierkegaard was responding to Hegelian writers such as Ludwig Feuerbach and David Strauss who emphasized the objective nature of God. God is just man's idea.

Man is an object to God, before God perceptibly imparts himself to man; he thinks of man; he determines his action in accordance with the nature of man and his needs. God is indeed free in will; he can reveal himself or not; but he is not free as to the understanding; he cannot reveal to man whatever he will, but only what is adapted to man, what is commensurate with his nature such as it actually is; he reveals what he must reveal, if his revelation is to be a revelation for man, and not for some other kind of being. Now what God thinks in relation to man is determined by the idea of man – it has arisen out of reflection on human nature. God puts himself in the place of man, and thinks of himself as this other being can and should think of him; he thinks of himself, not with his own thinking power, but with man's. In the scheme of his revelation God must have reference not to himself, but to man's power of comprehension. That which comes from God to man, comes to man only from man in God, that is, only from the ideal nature of man to the phenomenal man, from the species to the individual. Thus, between the divine revelation and the so-called human reason or nature, there is no other than an illusory distinction; – the contents of the divine revelation are of human origin, for they have proceeded not from God as God, but from God as determined by human reason, human wants, that is, directly from human reason and human wants. And so in revelation man goes out of himself, in order, by a circuitous path, to return to himself! Here we have a striking confirmation of the position that the secret of theology is nothing else than anthropology – the knowledge of God nothing else than a knowledge of man! The Essence of Christianity, Ludwig Feuerbach, 1841[28]

Otto Pfleiderer wrote an assessment of Kierkegaard's views in 1877.[29] He called his work "ascetic individualistic mysticism."[30]

Robert L Perkins wrote a book about Kierkegaard's books which used Johannes Climacus as a pseudonym.[31] and Kierkegaardian biographer, Alastair Hannay, discusses Philosophical Fragments 36 times in Søren Kierkegaard, A Biography.[32] Jyrki Kivelä wonders if Kierkegaard's Paradox is David Hume's miracle.[32] Which comes first existence or essence? Richard Gravil tries to explain it in his book Existentialism.[32] Kierkegaard says God comes into existence again and again for each single individual. He didn't just come once for all.

Existential point of view[edit]

The Descent of the Modernists

An early existentialist, Miguel de Unamuno, discussed the relation between faith and reason in relation to Kierkegaard's "Postscript" to this book.

just as there is logical truth, opposed to error, and moral truth, opposed to falsehood, so there is also aesthetic truth or verisimilitude, which is opposed to extravagance, and religious truth or hope, which is opposed to the inquietude of absolute despair. For esthetic verisimilitude, the expression of which is sensible, differs from logical truth, the demonstration of which is rational; and religious truth, the truth of faith, the substance of things hoped for, is not equivalent to moral truth, but superimposes itself upon it. He who affirms a faith built upon a basis of uncertainty does not and cannot lie. And not only do we not believe with reason, nor yet above reason nor below reason, but we believe against reason. Religious faith, it must be repeated yet again, is not only irrational, it is contra-rational. Kierkegaard says: "Poetry is illusion before knowledge; religion illusion after knowledge. Between poetry and religion the worldly wisdom of living plays its comedy. Every individual who does not live either poetically or religiously is a fool" (Afsluttende uvidenskabelig Efterskrift, chap, iv., sect. 2a, 2, Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Fragments). The same writer tells us that Christianity is a desperate sortie (salida). Even so, but it is only by the very desperateness of this sortie that we can win through to hope, to that hope whose vitalizing illusion is of more force than all rational knowledge, and which assures us that there is always something that cannot be reduced to reason. And of reason the same may be said as was said of Christ: that he who is not with it is against it. That which is not rational is contra-rational; and such is hope. By this circuitous route we always arrive at hope in the end.[33]

Hegel and his followers accepted Christianity without miracles or any other supernaturalism. Robert Solomon puts it this way:

"What is Christianity, "revealed religion," divested of its "figurative thought"? It is a faith without icons, images, stories, and myths, without miracles, without a resurrection, without a nativity, without Chartres and Fra Angelico, without wine and wafers, without heaven and hell, without God as judge and without judgment. With philosophical conceptualization, the Trinity is reduced to Kant's categories of Universality (God the father) Particularity (Christ the Son) and Individuality (The Holy Spirit). The incarnation no longer refers to Christ alone, but only to the philosophical thesis that there is no God other than humanity. Spirit, that is, humanity made absolute, is God, which is to say that there is nothing other than humanity … What is left after the philosophical conceptualization of religion? To the orthodox Christian, nothing is left, save some terminology which has been emptied of its traditional significance. From Hegel's gutted Christianity to Heine and Nietzsche's aesthetic atheism is a very short distance indeed. From Hegel to Existentialism, By Robert C. Solomon, Oxford University Press US, 1989 p. 61[34]

Eduard Geismar gave a seminar about the religious thought of Kierkegaard in 1933. He said, "Kierkegaard develops the concept of an existential thinker. The task of such a thinker is to understand himself in his existence, with its uncertainty, its risk and its passion. Socrates was such an existential thinker. … from Socrates he has learned his method of communication, the indirect method. From Socrates he has learned to abstain from giving the reader and objective result to memorize, a systematic scheme for arrangement in paragraphs, all of which is relevant only to objective science, but irrelevant to existential thought. From Socrates he has learned to confront the reader with a question, to picture the ideal as a possibility. From Socrates he has learned to keep the reader at a distance, to throw him back on his individual responsibility, to compel him to find his own way to a solution. Kierkegaard does not merely talk about self-reliance; his entire literary art is devoted to the promotion of self-reliance."[35]

Jean-Paul Sartre vehemently disagreed with Kierkegaard's subjective ideas. He was Hegelian and had no room in his system for faith. Kierkegaard seemed to rely on faith at the expense of the intellect. He developed the idea of bad faith. His idea is relative to Kierkegaard's idea of the Moment. If a situation (occasion for Kierkegaard) makes an individual aware of his authentic self and the individual fails to choose that self that constitutes bad faith.

Sartre was against Kierkegaard's view that God can only be approached subjectively.

Compared with Hegel, Kierkegaard scarcely seems to count. He is certainly not a philosopher; moreover, he himself refused this title. In fact, he is a Christian who is not willing to let himself be enclosed in the system and who, against Hegel's "intellectualism," asserts unrelentingly the irreducibility and the specificity of what is lived. There is no doubt, as Jean Wahl has remarked, that a Hegelian would have assimilated this romantic and obstinate consciousness to the "unhappy consciousness," a moment which had already been surpassed and known in its essential characteristics. But it is precisely this objective knowledge which Kierkegaard challenges. For him the surpassing of the unhappy consciousness remains purely verbal. The existing man cannot be assimilated by a system of ideas. Whatever one may say or think about suffering, it escapes knowledge to the extent that it is suffered in itself, for itself, and to the degree that knowledge remains powerless to transform it. "The philosopher constructs a palace of ideas and lives in a hovel." Of course, it is religion which Kierkegaard wants to defend. Hegel was not willing for Christianity to be "surpassed," but for this very reason he made it the highest moment of human existence. Kierkegaard, on the contrary, insists on the transcendence of the Divine; between man and God he puts an infinite distance. The existence of the Omnipotent cannot be the object of an objective knowledge; it becomes the aim of a subjective faith. And this faith, in turn, with its strength and its spontaneous affirmation, will never be reduced to a moment which can be surpassed and classified, to a knowing. Thus Kierkegaard is led to champion the cause of pure, unique subjectivity against the objective universality of essence, the narrow, passionate intransigence of the immediate life against the tranquil mediation of all reality, faith, which stubbornly asserts itself, against scientific evidence – despite the scandal. Existentialism from Dostoyevsky

— Dostoyevsky to Sartre; The Search for Method (1st part). Introduction to Critique of Dialectical Reason, I. Marxism & Existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre 1960[36]

Time Magazine summed up Sartre and Camus' interpretation of Kierkegaard in this way,

Modern "existentialists," like Sartre and Camus, have kidnapped Kierkegaard's "absurdity," stripped it of all religious significance, and beaten it into insensibility, using it merely as a dummy to dramatize what they consider the futility of any way of life.[37]

Christian point of view[edit]

Paul Tillich and Neo-orthodox theologians were influenced by Søren Kierkegaard. Tillich's book The New Being[38] is similar to Kierkegaard's idea of the "New Birth". He's more of a Christian existentialist than an Existentialist. Many of the 20th century Theologians attempt to answer all the questions of Christianity for the individual, like who Jesus was as a person. Kierkegaard's idea was different. He believed each single individual comes to Christ in his or her unique way.[39] He was against all speculation regarding whether or not an individual accepts the prompting of the Holy Spirit. A New Birth doesn't come about through historical or philosophical ponderings. He wrote,

"There is a prayer which especially in our times would be so apt: 'God in heaven, I thank you for not requiring a person to comprehend Christianity, for if it were required, then I would be of all men the most miserable. The more I seek to comprehend it, the more I discover merely the possibility of offence. Therefore, I thank you for requiring only faith and I pray you will continue to increase it." "When love forgives the miracle of faith happens"[40]

Thomas Merton, a Trappist Monk was influenced by Philosophical Fragments and other works by Kierkegaard.[41] He wrote a book about the new birth in 1961.[42] Merton says we come to an understanding with God because he gives us free speech, Parrhesia.[43] Kierkegaard and Merton both point more to understanding than to reason as the motivating factor in belief.

Julie Watkin, from the University of Tasmania, Australia, wrote the following about this book: Philosophical Fragments (…) "investigates in somewhat abstract philosophical language the Platonic-Socratic idea of recollection of truth before considering how truth is brought about in Christianity. The distinction made here is that with the former, the individual possesses the truth and so the teacher merely has to provoke it maieutically to the surface, so to speak, and is not vitally important, since any teacher would do. Where Christianity is concerned, the individual is like a blind person, needing the restoration of sight before he or she can see. The individual had the condition for seeing initially but is to blame for the loss of sight. The individual in Christianity thus needs the God and Savior to provide the condition for learning the truth that the individual is in untruth (i.e., sin). Since the God appears in the form of a lowly human and is not immediately recognizable, there is the element of the paradox. The individual must set aside objections of the understanding so that the paradoxical savior (who is the vitally important object of faith rather than the teaching) can give him-or herself to the individual in the moment along with the condition of faith."[44]

Was Kierkegaard a Monergist or a Synergist? God's love moves everything.

Moved by love, the God is thus eternally resolved to reveal himself. But as love is the motive so love must also be the end; for it would be a contradiction for the God to have a motive and an end which did not correspond. His love is a love of the learner, and his aim is to win him. For it is only in love that the unequal can be made equal, and it is only in equality or unity that an understanding can be effected, and without a perfect understanding the Teacher is not the God, unless the obstacle comes wholly from the side of the learner, in his refusing to realize that which had been made possible for him. But this love is through and through unhappy, for how great is the difference between them! It may seem a small matter for the God to make himself understood, but this is not so easy of accomplishment if he is to refrain from annihilating the unlikeness that exists between them. Philosophical Fragments p. 20

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kierkegaard started talking about the condition in Either/Or

    Every human being, no matter how slightly gifted he is, however subordinate his position in life may be, has a natural need to formulate a life-view, a conception of the meaning of life and of its purpose. The person who lives esthetically also does that, and the popular expression heard in all ages and from various stages is this: One must enjoy life. There are, of course, many variations of this, depending on differences in the conceptions of enjoyment, but all are agreed that we are to enjoy life. But the person who says that he wants to enjoy life always posits a condition that either lies outside the individual or is within the individual in such a way that it is not there by virtue of the individual himself. I beg you to keep rather fixed the phrases of this last sentence, for they have been carefully chosen. Either/Or II p. 180ff see also Fear and Trembling p. 98-100 and Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses p. 27, 132-139

  2. ^ Kierkegaard devoted his first book Either/Or to making a decision and choosing either God or the world. He wrote,

    If a man esthetically ponders a host of life tasks, then he … does not readily have one Either/Or but a great multiplicity, because the self-determining aspect of the choice has not been ethically stressed and because, if one does not choose absolutely, one chooses only for the moment and for that reason can choose something else the next moment. What is important in choosing is not so much to choose the right thing as the energy, the earnestness, and the pathos with which one chooses. In the choosing the personality declares itself in its inner infinity and in turn the personality is thereby consolidated. Either/Or II Part II p. 167

    His self is, so to speak, outside him, and it has to be acquired, and repentance is his love for it, because he chooses it absolutely from the hand of God. What I have expressed here is not academic wisdom; it is something every person can express if he wants to, something every person can will if he so wills. This, you see, is why it is so hard for individuals to choose themselves, because the absolute isolation here is identical with the most profound continuity, because as long as one has not chosen oneself there seems to be a possibility of one way or another of becoming something different. So here you have my humble view of what it is to choose and to repent. It is improper to love a young girl as if she were one's mother or one's mother as if she were a young girl; every love has its distinctiveness; love of God has its absolute distinctiveness, and its expression is repentance. (…) The Either/Or I erected between living esthetically and living ethically is not an unqualified dilemma, because it actually is a matter of only one choice. Through this choice, I actually choose between good and evil, but I choose the good, I choose eo ipso the choice between good and evil. The original choice is forever present in every succeeding choice. I as free spirit am born out of the principle of contradiction and am born through choosing myself. Either/Or Part II p. 217-219

  1. ^ Storm says Johannes Climacus (Kierkegaard) is not a Christian but is explaining how one would become a Christian if one was interested in becoming that. See his commentary on Kierkegaard's unpublished book Johannes Climacus 1841-42
  2. ^ Refer to Søren Kierkegaard, Scandinavian studies and notes, Volume 6 No. 7 August 1921 Editor George T Flom University of Illinois Published in Menasha, Wisconsin p. 24
  3. ^ Hollander provides more insight Selections from the writings of Kierkegaard 1923, Hollander, Lee Milton, 1880–1972
  4. ^ Schlegel's book was bits of philosophy cut up into little fragments Friedrich Schlegel's Lucinde and the Fragments, By Friedrich von Schlegelb University of Minnesota Press, 1971 He also wrote The Philosophy of History, this link takes you to Lecture X - On the Christian Point of View in the Philosophy of History
  5. ^ He forgot about Job's lessons. "His soul belonged to the world as its illegitimate possession; it belonged to God as his legitimate possession; it belonged to Kierkegaard as his possession, as a possession that is to be gained."[10] See Four Upbuilding Discourses, 1843
  6. ^ Dr. Stephen Hicks, Professor of Philosophy at Rockford College created a YouTube video explaining Kierkegaard's view about faith and reason
  7. ^ Kierkegaard explained this further in his book Training in Christianity, which is now translated Practice in Christianity.
  8. ^ "Tro is translated here and in the following three pages as belief or "faith"--- Josiah Thompson says the following about Kierkegaard's use of the word Tro,

    In Fragments Climacus makes clear that he means to give the Danish term for belief, Tro, a double sense. "In the most eminent sense" it will refer to the Christian's faith, his capacity to believe against reason and the awful paradox of God's entry into time through Christ. As the mental act that somehow holds together oppositions of incalculable severity, Tro, in this sense is "the category of despair." But there is another "direct and ordinary sense" of Tro that refers not to the relationship of mind to the Christian paradox, but to "the relationship of the mind to the historical." In this second sense of belief, Tro is "the category of doubt." In both senses Tro is founded on opposition, ultimately on the opposition which is consciousness itself. Also in both senses, Tro is seen as a mental act that respects yet defeats the opposition which upon which it is founded. "Defeat" may be too strong a word, for uncertainty is never really defeated by Tro, but only ignored, uncoupled, put out of circuit. Thus Climacus argues that "in the certainty of belief there is always a negated uncertainty, in every way corresponding to the becoming of existence. Belief believes what it does not see; it sees that the star is there, but what it believes is that the star has come into existence." [22] The essential claim, then, is that the existence of anything cannot be known, but must be believed. Kierkegaard, by Josiah Thompson, Alfred A. Knopf, 1973, p. 173 (See p. 170-180))

    see also Martin Buber I and Thou for his explanation of the same concept
  9. ^ Kierkegaard repeats the same message in The Concept of Anxiety: When a man of rigid orthodoxy applies all his diligence and learning to prove that every word in the New Testament derives from the respective apostle, inwardness will gradually disappear, and he finally comes to understand something quite different from what he wished to understand. When a freethinker applies all his acumen to prove the New Testament was not written until the 2nd century, it is precisely inwardness he is afraid of, and therefore he must have the New Testament placed in the same class with other books. p. 142-143
  10. ^ He says thinking about life or death in an academic way is contemplation but contemplation should lead to a conclusion at some point.

    Indeed, from what does that confusion of thoughtlessness come but from this, that the individual's thought ventures, observing, out into life, wants to survey the whole of existence, that play of forces that only God in heaven can view calmly, because in his providence he governs it with wise and omniscient purpose, but which weakens a human being's mind and makes him mentally deranged, causes him misplaced care, and strengthens with regrettable consolation. Misplaced care, namely in mood, because he worries about so much; regrettable consolation, namely in slack lethargy, when his contemplation has so many entrances and exits that it eventually wanders. And when death comes it still deceives the contemplator, because all his contemplation did not come a single step closer to the explanation but only deceived him out of life. Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions p. 93

  11. ^ He repeated the same thing another way in Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments: "In the animal world, the particular animal is related directly as specimen to species, participates as a matter of course in the development of the species, if one wants to talk about such a thing. When a breed of sheep is improved, improved sheep are born because the specimen merely expresses the species. But surely it is different when an individual, who is qualified as spirit, relates himself to a generation. Or is it assumed that Christian parents give birth to Christian children as a matter of course? At least Christianity does not assume it; on the contrary, it assumes that sinful children are born of Christian parents just as in paganism. Or will anyone assume that by being born of Christian parents one has come a single step closer to Christianity than the person born of pagan parents if, please note, he also is brought up in Christianity? And yet it is of this confusion that modern speculative thought is, if not directly the cause, nevertheless often enough the occasion so that the individual is regarded as related to the development of the human spirit as a matter of course (just as the animal specimen is related to the species), as if development of spirit were something one generation can dispose of by a will in favor of another, as if the generation and not individuals were qualified as spirit, which is both a self-contradiction and an ethical abomination. Development of spirit is self-activity; the spiritually developed individual takes his spiritual development along with him in death. If a succeeding individual is to attain it, it must occur through self-activity; therefore he must skip nothing. Now, of course it is easier and simpler and cheaper to bellow about being born in the speculative 19th century." p. 345
  12. ^ Fragments attempted to show that contemporaneity does not help at all, because there is in all eternity no direct transition which also would indeed have been an unbounded injustice toward all those who come later, an injustice and a distinction that would be much worse than that between Jew and Greek, circumcised and uncircumcised, which Christianity has canceled. Lessing has himself consolidated this issue in the following words, which he has in boldface: contingent truths of history can never become the demonstrations of necessary truths of reason. ... Everything that becomes historical is contingent, inasmuch as precisely by coming into existence, by becoming historical, it has its element of contingency, inasmuch as contingency is precisely the one factor in all coming into existence. –and therein lies again the incommensurability between a historical truth and an eternal decision. … It is a leap, and this is the word that Lessing has employed, within the accidental limitation that is characterized by an illusory distinction between contemporaneity and non-contemporaneity. His words read as follows: "That, that is the ugly broad ditch that I cannot cross, however often and however earnestly I have tried to make the leap." … to have been very close to making the leap is nothing whatever, precisely because the leap is the category of decision. Concluding Unscientific Postscript p. 97-98 See Stages on Life’s Way, Hong p. 443-445
  13. ^ And he explains it again in Preparation for a Christian Life Preparation for a Christian Life (Practice in Christianity)


  1. ^ A Short Life of Kierkegaard, by Walter Lowrie, 1942, 1970 Princeton University p. 166-167
  2. ^ Philosophical Fragments p. 5
  3. ^ See Concluding Unscientific Postscript Chapter IV p 361ff
  4. ^ Concluding Postscript title page
  5. ^ Kierkegaard within your grasp, by Shelley O'Hara, Wiley Publishing inc. p. 10
  6. ^ Philosophical Fragments, Swenson p. 11-14
  7. ^ Point of View, Lowrie p. 75
  8. ^ Point of View, Lowrie, note p. 22
  9. ^ Philosophical Fragments, Swenson p. 9
  10. ^ Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses p. 167
  11. ^ Philosophical Fragments p. 13
  12. ^ Kierkegaard wrote about the finite moment in Either/Or I, Swenson An ecstatic lecture p. 37-38 and Part II, Hong p. 21-22, 83-85 now he's writing about the Eternal Moment.
  13. ^ Philosophical Fragments, Swenson p. 11-15
  14. ^ Philosophical Fragments, Swenson p. 15
  15. ^ Philosophical Fragments p. 20
  16. ^ Read it here from his book:
  17. ^ Concluding Unscientific Postscript p. 217 (read p.202-217) also see Philosophical Fragments p.31-35 and The Sickness Unto Death p. 132-133 Hannay
  18. ^ Kierkegaard wrote about this in Either/Or p. 213-219 as well as his discourses but states it most clearly in Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, Hong 1993, p.203-212|
  19. ^ Philosophical Fragments, Swenson p. 35-38, Either/Or Part II, Hong p. 349-352, Concluding Unscientific Postscript p. 199-222
  20. ^ Philosophic Fragments p. 42-46
  21. ^ Philosophic Fragments p. 52
  22. ^ Philosophical Fragments P. 60
  23. ^ Philosophic Fragments p. 55-56
  24. ^ Concluding Unscientific Postscript p. 272-273
  25. ^ Concluding Unscientific Postscript p. 270
  26. ^ Concluding Unscientific Postscript p. 233
  27. ^ Read Section 63-71
  28. ^ Chapter XXI. The Contradiction in the Revelation of God
  29. ^ That review is listed in Secondary Sources below.
  30. ^ Pfleiderer p. 307-308 see Secondary Sources for more
  31. ^ A free peek from Google Books can be found in Secondary Sources
  32. ^ THE TRAGIC SENSE OF LIFE IN MEN AND IN PEOPLES (1921) Unamuno, Miguel de, 1864-1936 p. 198
  33. ^ (See pages 59-68) as well as Chapter 5 Kierkegaard and Subjective Truth p. 72ff
  34. ^ Lectures on the Religious Thought of Søren Kierkegaard, by Eduard Geismar, Given at Princeton Theological Seminary in March 1936 p. 47-48
  35. ^ See the link to this article in Primary Sources below
  36. ^ Time Magazine, Religion: Great Dane December 16, 1946,9171,934769-1,00.html
  37. ^
  38. ^ Here is a YouTube recording of C. S. Lewis writing about the New Man in the 1940s
  39. ^ Sickness Unto Death, 1989 Hannay p.165, 162 (note), Works of Love, p. 295
  40. ^ See Run to the mountain: the story of a vocation, By Thomas Merton in secondary links below
  41. ^ Read The New Man
  42. ^ The New Man, By Thomas Merton p. 62ff
  43. ^ Historical Dictionary of Kierkegaard's Philosophy, By Julie Watkin, Scarecrow Press, 2001 p. 193-194

Primary sources[edit]

  • Online English text of the Fragments
  • Philosophical fragments Google Books (it has the historical introduction to the book)
  • Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments Volume I, by Johannes Climacus, edited by Søren Kierkegaard, Copyright 1846 – Edited and Translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong 1992 Princeton University Press

Secondary sources[edit]