Three Upbuilding Discourses, 1844

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Three Upbuilding Discourses
AuthorSøren Kierkegaard
Original titleTre opbyggelige Taler
SeriesFirst authorship (Discourses)
GenreChristianity, psychology, philosophy
PublisherBookdealer P. G. Philipsen
Publication date
June 8, 1844
Published in English
1945 – first translation
Media typepaperback
Preceded byTwo Upbuilding Discourses, 1844 
Followed byPhilosophical Fragments 

Three Upbuilding Discourses (1844) is a book by Søren Kierkegaard.


Kierkegaard published his Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses throughout the years 1843 and 1844. He followed the Socratic Method by publishing his own view of life under his own name and different views of life under pseudonyms. His own view was that of "a committed Christian trained for the ministry."[1]

He published three books on the same day in 1843 and now, in 1844, he will publish four books in the month of June: Three Upbuilding Discourses, June 8, Philosophical Fragments, June 13, Prefaces, and The Concept of Anxiety, June 17. He had a plan in mind as he published these works.

Kierkegaard says, "all who are expecting do have one thing in common, that they are expecting something in the future, because expectancy and the future are inseparable ideas."[2] But many people live in "conflict with the future"[3] Yet, "by the eternal, one can conquer the future, because the eternal is the ground of the future, and therefore through it the future can be fathomed. What, then, is the eternal power in a human being? It is faith. What is the expectancy of faith? Victory-or, as Scripture so earnestly and so movingly teaches us, that all things must serve for good those who love God."[4] Kierkegaard writes about expectancy once more in these discourses. Expectancy has to do with hope. "The healthy individual lives simultaneously in hope and in recollection, and only thereby does his life gain true and substantive continuity. Thus he has hope and therefore does not wish to go backward in time, as do those who live only in recollection. What, then, does recollection do for him, for it certainly must have some influence? It places a sharp on the note of the moment; the further back it goes, the more often the repetition, the more sharps there are. For example, if in the present year he experiences an erotic moment, this is augmented by his recollection of it in the previous year etc. … Hope hovers over it as a hope of eternity that fills out the moment.[5]

Kierkegaard writes about remembering one's Creator, hoping, being concerned about one's eternal salvation, and knowing one's place in the world in these discourses.


His three discourses are dedicated "To the late Michael Pedersen Kierkegaard formerly a clothing merchant here in the city My Father". All but one of his Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses were dedicated to his father. He also includes a dedication: "to that single individual whom I with joy and gratitude call my reader". Regine Olsen is "my reader" according to some scholars.[6] Here is his dedication for these discourses.

Even though this little book (which is called "discourses," not sermons, because its author does not have authority to preach, "upbuilding discourses," not discourses for upbuilding, because the speaker by no means claims to be a teacher) addresses itself to a reader, to that single individual whom I with joy and gratitude call my reader, the speaker nevertheless does not forget that to be able to speak is an ambiguous art, and even to be able to speak the truth is a very dubious perfection. In this consciousness, the book goes out into the world; inclosed in itself, it pays no heed to the weather, does not inquire about the wind, does not look to the clouds, is not mistaken about anything but seeks and looks for only that favorably disposed person who takes an interest in the seeker, gives an opportunity to what is said, brings the cold thought into flame again, transforms the discourse into a conversation, the honest confidentiality of which is not disturbed by any recollection of the one who continually desires only to be forgotten, and this is primarily and preferably the case precisely when the recipient accomplishes the great work of letting the perishability of the discourse arise in imperishability. Preface p. 231

His discourses;

  • Think about Your Creator in the Days of Your Youth
  • The Expectancy of an Eternal Salvation
  • He Must Increase; I Must Decrease

Think about Your Creator in the Days of Your Youth[edit]

Based on the following text; "REMEMBER ALSO your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come, and the years draw nigh, when you will say, "I have no pleasure in them"" Ecclesiastes 12:1 RSV, The Bible

This discourse begins with the question of truth. He identifies two kinds of truth, one which is indifferent to the single individual because it pertains to all human beings equally. He says,

"There is a truth, the greatness and the grandeur of which we are accustomed to praise by saying admiringly that it is indifferent, equally valid, whether anyone accepts it or not; indifferent to the individual's particular condition, whether he is young or old, happy or dejected; indifferent to its relation to him, whether it benefits him or harms him, whether it keeps him from something or assists him to it; equally valid whether he totally subscribes to it or coldly and impassively professes it, whether he gives his life for it or uses it for ill gain; indifferent[note 1] to whether he has found it himself or merely repeats what has been taught."[7]

Creation of man Prometheus Berthelemy

Then he writes of another kind of truth.

There is another kind of truth or, if this is humbler, another kind of truths that could be called concerned truths.[note 2] They do not live on a lofty plane, for the simple reason that, ashamed, as it were, they are conscious of not applying universally to all occasions but only specifically to particular occasions. They are not indifferent to the single individual's particular condition, whether he is young or old, happy or dejected, because this determines for them whether they are to be truths for him. Neither do they promptly let go of the individual and forsake him, but they continue to be concerned about him until he himself completely breaks away, and even to this they are not indifferent, although he is not able to make these truths doubtful about themselves. Such a truth is not indifferent to how the individual received it, whether he wholeheartedly appropriates it or it becomes mere words to him. This very difference certainly shows that it is jealous of itself, is not indifferent to whether the truth becomes a blessing or a ruination to him, since this contrary decision witnesses specifically against the equal validity; it is not indifferent to whether he honestly places his confidence in it or whether, himself deceived, he wants to deceive others, since this avenging wrath expressly shows that it is not indifferent. Such a concerned truth is not independent of the one who has propounded it; on the contrary, he remains present in it continually in order in turn to concern himself about the single individual. Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, p. 233-234

Kierkegaard says the text from Ecclesiastes should "awaken you to concern about yourself." "The thought of the Creator is youth's most beautiful splendor" and the Preacher "is not just saying that you can think about your Creator, but he admonishes you to do it; and if you are young, whether you are joyful or dejected; whether you are carefree or discouraged, whoever you are, it is nevertheless to you, precisely to you, that he is speaking, you to whom the admonition applies ...[8][note 3]

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, 1832

The existence of God has been debated throughout time. Both Hegel and Schelling attended the University of Tübingen, the school was interested in using higher criticism of Biblical texts to determine the truth of the claims of Christianity. Hegel wrote the following in 1832,

What has to be done, therefore is to restore the proofs of the existence of God to their place of honour, by divesting them from what is inadequate in them. We have God and His existence (Dasein); existence is determinate finite Being; the Being of God is not in any way whatever a limited Being; existence (Existenz) too is taken in the sense of specific existence. We thus have God in His being, actuality, objectivity, and the process of proof has for its object to point out to us the connection between the two determinations, because they are different and not immediately One. Hegel, Lectures on the philosophy of religion, together with a work on the proofs of the existence of God p. 168 [note 4]

He says religion has always stopped the philosophers and scientists from gaining knowledge because the Christian religion is opposed to any knowledge that differs from Biblical knowledge. Hedgel is indifferent to what the Bible says. He writes in his Philosophy of Religion

If at the present day philosophy be an object of enmity because it occupies itself with religion, this cannot really surprise us when we consider the general character of the time. Every one who attempts to take to do with the knowledge of God, and by the aid of thought to comprehend His nature, must be prepared to find, that either no attention will be paid to him, or that people will turn against him and combine to oppose him. The more the knowledge of finite things has increased and the increase is so great that the extension of the sciences has become almost boundless, and all regions of knowledge are enlarged to an extent which makes a comprehensive view impossible so much the more has the sphere of the knowledge of God become contracted. There was a time when all knowledge was knowledge of God. Our own time, on the contrary, has the distinction of knowing about all and everything, about an infinite number of subjects, but nothing at all of God. Formerly the mind found its supreme interest in knowing God, and searching into His nature. It had and it found no rest unless in thus occupying itself with God. When it could not satisfy this need it felt unhappy. The spiritual conflicts to which the knowledge of God gives rise in the inner life were the highest which the spirit knew and experienced in itself, and all other interests and knowledge were lightly esteemed. Our own time has put this need, with all its toils and conflicts, to silence; we have done with all this, and got rid of it. What Tacitus said of the ancient Germans, that they were securi adversus deos,[9] we have once more become in regard to knowledge, securi adversus deum.[10]

It no longer gives our age any concern that it knows nothing of God; on the contrary, it is regarded as a mark of the highest intelligence to hold that such knowledge is not even possible. What is laid down by the Christian religion as the supreme, absolute commandment, "Ye shall know God," is regarded as a piece of folly. Christ says, "Be ye perfect, as My Father in heaven is perfect."[11] This lofty demand is to the wisdom of our time an empty sound. It has made of God an infinite phantom, which is far from us, and in like manner has made human knowledge a futile phantom of finiteness, or a mirror upon which fall only shadows, only phenomena. How, then, are we any longer to respect the commandment, and grasp its meaning, when it says to us, " Be ye perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect," since we know nothing of the Perfect One, and since our knowing and willing are confined solely and entirely to appearance, and the truth is to be and to remain absolutely and exclusively a something beyond the present? And what, we must further ask, what else would it be worth while to comprehend, if God is incomprehensible? P. 35-36

Kierkegaard addressed this idea of proving God in this discourse. He says, "When one grows older, everything becomes so miserable. God in heaven has to sit and wait for the decision on his fate, whether he exists, and finally he comes into existence with the help of a few demonstrations[note 5]; human beings have to put up with waiting for the matter to be decided. Suppose that a person died before that time; suppose that when the matter was finally decided he was not in the practice of thinking about God as a Creator and the joy over that was all gone!"[12] He also said, "Even though the Preacher ordinarily speaks rigorously to people, he nevertheless is so courteous as to assume that you understand that there is a God is not so vain as to think that he has invented the existence of God.[13][nb 1] He had already made his decision about Christianity as early as 1835 when he wrote:

it is not possible to harvest immediately what one has sown. I will remember that philosopher's method of having his disciples keep silent for three years; then I dare say it will come. Just as one does not begin a feast at sunrise but at sundown, just so in the spiritual world one must work forward for some time before the sun really shines for us and rises in all its glory; for although it is true as it says that God lets his sun shine upon the good and the evil and lets the rain fall on the just and the unjust, it is not so in the spiritual world. So let the die be cast — I am crossing the Rubicon! No doubt this road takes me into battle, but I will not renounce it. I will not lament the past — why lament? I will work energetically and not waste time in regrets, like the person stuck in a bog and first calculating how far he has sunk without recognizing that during the time he spends on that he is sinking still deeper. I will hurry along the path I have found and shout to everyone I meet: Do not look back as Lot's wife did, but remember that we are struggling up a hill. Journals of Kierkegaard, IA August 1, 1835[14]

This idea of separating the Creator and youth's thought about the Creator is harmful. He says, "with the years came understanding, and with understanding knowledge, and with knowledge grief,-and with increased knowledge increased grief. But as he was developed and educated in this way, the simple became more difficult for him, and since with out this guidance he wanted to rule himself, everything became more and more complicated. – Perhaps he chose the guidance of thought, and in order not to owe anyone anything he let this seed sow itself and let one thought evolve out of another, until eventually the infinite manifested itself to him and made him dizzy. The more he stared fixedly at it, the more his eye lost the visual power to find the way back to finitude.-Perhaps desire blinded him, life seemed like a joke to him, and he let God grieve in heaven while he chose pleasure and let enthusiasm speak in vain about conflict and struggle, about courage in dangers, patience in tribulation, love in life, victory in death, reward in heaven, while he let every day have its pleasure.-Perhaps a worldly-minded worry about food and clothing scattered his mind so that he did neither the one nor the other." Kierkegaard's remedy for this individual is to find a place to be alone with God. He says, "Just as the first book in the Old Testament has been called Genesis, the second Exodus, so it could very well be said that in human life there is a third book called Retreat."[15] He continues, "We are speaking only of the beautiful meaning of the retreat for human life and of how having thought about the Creator in one's youth is the retreat's rescuing angel. Let a person's work take from him what belongs to it, his time, his diligence, but in the advancing years, O God, preserve a recollection of youth that preserves youth's thought of the Creator. Woe to him who separates what God has joined together, who to him who separates adulthood from its youth.[16]

The Expectancy of an Eternal Salvation[edit]

based on this text; "For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." 2 Corinthians 4.17-18

"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." The Bible (KJV)

Kierkegaard moves the reader from the idea of the Creator to that of an eternal salvation. Is there such a thing as an eternal salvation? He says.

It may be a merit of our present age that in many ways it has known how to work the wish weary and in that way to wean the soul from wishing; it may be to its advantage if it thereby has developed an honest earnestness that for the good renounces the fraudulence of wishes. We do not reproach the age for having made the idea of the power of the wish into playing with words if it thereby motivates someone to work with his own hands instead of with the borrowed energy of the wish. But the wish for heaven's salvation-is this, too, a play on words, as wishing for heavenly help has become for the frivolous, who thinks that we ought to depend on God the way we depend on people –that is, if you help yourself then God does the rest. And if the wish for heaven's salvation has become playing with words, has the aim in it been to incite people to work all the harder to gain it? This seems not at all to be the case. Instead, eternal salvation seems to have become what the thought of it has become, a loose and idle phrase, at times virtually forgotten, or arbitrarily left out of the language, or indifferently set aside as an old-fashioned turn of speech no longer used but retained only because it is so quaint. And whereas in the old days one received heaven's salvation by the grace of God, nowadays heaven's salvation often seems to have become like an old, decrepit person who in the house of the mighty sustains his life on the miserable bread of charity. Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, p. 254

Kierkegaard asks, where does the single individual turn if he wants to think about the expectancy of an eternal life? How does it work in civic affairs? Does a state official turn to "aliens and foreigners" or to "loafers and irresponsible tramps" or "robbers and agitators" to discuss the state of the nation? No, the official goes to someone who has a "concern" for the "welfare of the country."[17] The single individual doesn't go to someone who says "salvation is a matter or course" he goes to someone who knows "that no one can serve two masters, since he must hate the one and love the other" (Matthew 6:24), whose soul is fully awakened from sleep to understand what presumably would hurl the sleepwalker into the abyss, "that love of the world is hatred of God!" (James 4.4)[18] Kierkegaard puts it this way,

The expectancy of an eternal salvation will help a person to understand himself in temporality. … It is important as a guide in life, because temporal life is piecemeal and is like a dark saying that is best understood when it is understood little by little. Experience has the advantage of always having a goal by which it measures, a goal toward which it strives, and as it divides up the range of finitude it always knows how to measure out the particular, and as it proceeds from the certain it knows how to calculate the uncertain. It knows how to make a rough estimate, to determine the length of the way and of the time; it has a criterion for power and endurance, for resistance, for dangers and difficulties, and whether life enters in favorably or disturbingly, it knows how to cope with it accordingly; it is not easily caught napping, and if it is, it quickly rallies and measures again. Perhaps many a human life goes on in this way, actively engaged in the service of temporality, but also belonging totally to temporality. If, however, a person's soul is expecting an eternal salvation, this expectancy will no doubt disturb him momentarily, cause him to disdain experience, since its goal is too low for him, its criterion on too small a scale. Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, p. 259-260

Pontius Pilate: What is truth? by Nikolaj Nikolajewitsch Ge, 1890

How can we find out of the single individual is ready for eternal salvation? Kierkegaard says, "Any army sometimes has a select little group called the immortal battalion, and a warrior esteems it a great honor to be accepted into it. Let us suppose that there was a man who was just as concerned about being in that battalion as everyone ought to be concerned about being an heir of heaven's salvation. The conditions were sufficiently known; distinction in battle was required, but also a certain appearance, a specific height, physique, etc. He would then examine himself to see whether he filled all the requirements, not in general, not casually, because he would be too concerned for that, and he knew that if he was deficient in merely the slightest way he would not be accepted. And whether anything was lacking or everything was present in the right proportion the commander would decide in his appraisal.[19] Can we talk about the Christian in the same way? No. Kierkegaard says, "every person has heaven's salvation, only by the grace and mercy of God, and this is equally close to every human being in the sense that it is a matter between God and him; and let no third person,[20] himself having been restored to grace, forfeit this by unwarranted interference. If there was a person who embittered my life early and late and thought nothing but the worst of me, would his also being saved be able to disturb my salvation?[21]

Eternal salvation is equally close to everyone.[22] There is no distinction between the simple and the wise. He says, "If one was not what in a more elevated way is called a simple man, but what in plain, everyday speech is called a real simpleton, and you, my listener, were a wise person who profoundly asked, "What is truth?" and restlessly pondered the question with competence and success-do you suppose it would disturb you if he became just as blessed as you and heaven's infinite salvation made you both equal?"[23]

A book propounds the question of the immortality of the soul; the contents of the book are, of course, the answer. But the contents of the book, as the reader convinces himself by reading it through, consists of all the wisest and best men's opinions, strung on a thread, concerning immortality. Consequently immortality is the opinions of all the wisest and best men concerning immortality. O thou great Chinese god! Is this immortality? Is, then, the question about immortality a learned question? Honor be to learning! Honor be to the one who can learnedly treat the learned question of immortality! But essentially the question of immortality is not a learned question; it is a question belong to inwardness, which the subject by becoming subjective must ask himself. … Socially the question cannot be answered at all, because socially it cannot be enunciated, since only the subject who wills to become subjective can grasp the question and rightly ask: Do I become immortal or am I immortal? Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Hong p. 173

Kierkegaard questions whether having arrived at a truth is better than the continual striving after truth. First a quotation from this discourse and then two similar quotations from Concluding Unscientific Postscript and then one from Practice in Christianity.

Oh, "if God held all truth in his right hand and in his left eternal striving ….. no, if God held salvation in his right hand and also held in his left hand the concern that had become the content of your life,[note 6] would you not yourself choose the left although you nevertheless became like someone who chose the right? There must indeed be an equality in which people sometimes take refuge, the equality of death that makes everyone equally poor, and what is more blessed than the equality that makes everyone equally blessed? Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, p. 272

Lessing has said: "If God held all truth enclosed in his right hand, and in his left hand the one and only ever-striving drive for truth, even with the corollary of erring forever and ever, and if he were to say to me: Choose!-I would humbly fall down to him at his left hand and say: Father, give! Pure truth is indeed only for you alone!" Concluding Postscript p. 106

Søren Kierkegaard said, "It is easier to become a Christian if I am not a Christian than to become a Christian if I am one..." because everyone in Denmark is naturally born into Christendom. There was no personal decision involved in the transition from not being a Christian to becoming a Christian. He wondered how on earth anyone can "find out what Christianity is without becoming a Christian oneself." And regarded it 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?" So Johannes Climacus, a pseudonym of Kierkegaard said, "I am not a Christian." "My thinking goes something like this: if it is the highest good, then it is better that I definitely know that I do not possess it, so that I can aspire to it with all my might, than to be entranced in illusion and to imagine that I possess it and consequently do not even consider aspiring." Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments, p. 366, 371, 370, 381

The being of truth is the redoubling[24] of truth within yourself, within me, within him, that your life, my life, his life expresses the truth approximately in the striving for it, that your life, my life, his life is approximately the being of the truth in the striving for it, just as the truth was in Christ a life, for he was the truth. And therefore, Christianly understood, truth is obviously not to know the truth but to be the truth. Despite all modern philosophy, there is an infinite difference here, best seen in Christ's relation to Pilate, for Christ could not, could only untruthfully reply to the question "What is truth?" precisely because he was not the one who knew what truth is but was the truth. Not as if he did not know what truth is, but when one is the truth and when the requirement is to be the truth, to know the truth is untruth. For knowing the truth is something that entirely of itself accompanies being the truth, not the other way around. And that is why it becomes untruth when knowing the truth is separated from being the truth or when knowing the truth is made identical with being it, since it is related the other way. Being the truth is identical with knowing the truth, and Christ would never have known the truth if he has not been it, and nobody knows more of the truth than what he is of the truth. Practice in Christianity, 1848, Hong, 1991, p. 205-206

He Must Increase; I Must Decrease[edit]

the text; "He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease." Gospel of John 3.29-30

Kierkegaard talks about the same things he's been talking about in all his writings, self-knowledge. He says, "Everyone else would presumably understand that self-knowledge[25] is a difficult matter; although it is easy to understand the rest of the world, the understanding suddenly changes very substantially when it pertains to oneself."[26] He speaks of choosing oneself in Either/Or, "When a person considers himself esthetically his soul is like soil out of which grow all sorts of herbs, all with equal claim to flourish; his self consists of this multiplicity, and he has no self that is higher than this (...) Someone who views the personality ethically has at once an absolute difference: namely, the difference between good and evil. And if he finds more of evil in him than of good, this still does not mean that it is the evil that is to advance, but it means that it is the evil that is to recede and the good that is to advance. (...) It truly takes considerable ethical courage to acknowledge the good as the highest, because one thereby falls into altogether universal categories."[27]

And now the many to whom the Baptizer's exalted example is entirely applicable, although in unpretentiousness, he many who at an early age are given to understand humbly that for them the form of a servant is not something assumed, those who at and early age are prompted to bear in mind that for them there is someone who must increase while they decrease.[28]

He uses another single individual, John the Baptist to talk about "the rising and setting of the sun." He says, "all deeper and more inward self-knowledge sees the finger of God that points to him."[29] John was "the voice crying in the wilderness", then the "morning star" came and his disciples were sad because people were going to him and John said, "He must increase; I must decrease." John was willing to step aside because "he knew that the ceremony after which he was named would be abolished, would disappear as a baptism with water in contrast to a baptism with fire and the Holy Spirit."When a common danger stands at everyone's door, when a common calamity teaches people to hold together and drums reconciliation into them, then it certainly is seen how they are reconciled in the understanding of the same things and how this reconciliation would benefit them jointly and would benefit the individual. But when the danger is over and the calamity has had its day, then there is all too quickly a relapse into the old ways of life, and the reconciliation coerced by the need sometimes carries within itself the seed of a deeper separation than the one that was eliminated. And even if that reconciliation casts an enhancing radiance over the period of the individual's lives, it nevertheless belongs essentially not to them but to the observation and the observer who inherits it, until the story about it is also forgotten. Even though it is beautiful to envision this, such a life is a life of temporality, is the fruit of temporality, but also the prey of temporality, and the most that can be said of it is that it was a beautiful moment. But compared with eternity, this beautiful moment of temporality is nothing but the silver flash of imitation metal. When a common danger stands at everyone's door, when a common calamity teaches people to hold together and drums reconciliation into them, then it certainly is seen how they are reconciled in the understanding of the same things and how this reconciliation would benefit them jointly and would benefit the individual. But when the danger is over and the calamity has had its day, then there is all too quickly a relapse into the old ways of life, and the reconciliation coerced by the need sometimes carries within itself the seed of a deeper separation than the one that was eliminated. And even if that reconciliation casts an enhancing radiance over the period of the individual's lives, it nevertheless belongs essentially not to them but to the observation and the observer who inherits it, until the story about it is also forgotten. Even though it is beautiful to envision this, such a life is a life of temporality, is the fruit of temporality, but also the prey of temporality, and the most that can be said of it is that it was a beautiful moment. But compared with eternity, this beautiful moment of temporality is nothing but the silver flash of imitation metal.Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, p. 233-234 "John remained true to himself.[30]

Kierkegaard says to his readers,

It is easy to find partially or totally analogous situations on a small scale in everyday life, and that the situations are smaller, not in any valid sense crucial, not world-historical, not historic, makes no essential difference; an arithmetic problem is the same whether is involves millions or pennies. If parents have the right understanding of themselves, their humble self-denial begins the minute their child is born. This does not mean that the child is to be sovereign without listening and obeying; but, although this subordination to the parents is essential for the child, in the expression of joy that a child is born into the world there is a beautiful harmony with the thought: He must increase; we must decrease. Or would it not be foolish for someone to think that this is valid only for a much later time and for a certain few parents who discovered to their amazement that their child was superior to others? Is not this thought really insulting to parents, inasmuch as it would have brought about a distortion so that they, even though they fought the good fight, would have spoiled it because, forgetting that they were parents, they fought the good fight more as an outsider in relation to an outsider. Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong, p. 281

Slaughter of the Innocents, by Guido Reni
Perhaps there was someone who did not fail to notice that a new day was beginning to dawn; who the successor would be was not yet discernible-then he wanted to know nothing. But daybreak cannot be concealed; nevertheless, who the coming one was could not be determined. Then, like Herod, he ordered that all the children under two years of age should be killed.[31]

John's "joy became more for him the more he was diminished. … This was John, and this is how the single individual is to fulfill something similar in lesser situations. If he has first of all learned to deny himself humbly and to master his mind, then joy will also be victorious. But the first must be learned first-later, that which is greater; one is first initiated into the lesser mystery, later into the mystery."[32] Kiedrkegaard says, what about the single individual who wants to be like John? Do we all know how to deny ourseves with humility? He says,

Who does not know that things like these have happened and do happen in the world-that someone who once ruled over countries and kingdoms has ceased to rule and is obliged to see a more powerful ruler take his place; that someone who once was hailed with jubilation soon, yes, so soon that the whole things seems to have been a dream, hears the same jubilation shouting another name, that someone whose commanding figure was familiar to everyone regards himself in the next moment with the anxiety of uncertainty about whether he has lost his mind or the world its memory so that it confused with him someone else; that the master whole pupil only yesterday sat at his feet must bow his shoulders today under the other's advancement; that the businessman who was kind enough to set his servant on his path now sees that his path means the benefactor's downfall; that the girl who once filled her beloved's thoughts now sits and sees his bold ambition pursuing a higher goal; that the singer whose words were on everyone's lips is forgotten today and his songs have been more than replaced; that the orator whose words echoed everywhere must now seek the solitude of the desert if he wants echo; that the friend from youth who was on an equal basis with his fellows now with amazement perceives the distance; that the lowly cottage where the parents lived, where the humble cradle stood, is now collapsing like a recollection that cannot catch up with the mighty. And yet, how strange-if you let your thoughts dwell on those distinguished people whose memory the generations have preserved, you will find that the way each individual distinguished himself is different, and you will find in turn that several are distinguished by the same thing. But in that select group you still seem to lack one place, and yet the lack is indeed a contradiction; how would the one whose task it was to be reconciled-to being forgotten-find a place in recollection? But for this very reason it is important to consider it by itself, and it is especially beautiful to do this-because no earthly reward is beckoning. Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong, p. 278-279

He begins with the rising and setting sun and ends on the same note.[33] His message to the single individual is: "Every human being is only an instrument and does not know when the moment will come when he will be put aside. If he himself does not at times evoke this thought, he is a hireling, an unfaithful servant, who is trying to free himself and to cheat the Lord of the uncertainty in which he comprehends his own nothingness. That much in life is empty and worthless, people certainly do know, but how frequently the single individual makes an exception, and even the highest mission in the spiritual world is only an errand, and one who is equipped for it with all spiritual-intellectual gifts is only on an errand..." He says, "John was the bridegroom's friend, who stands and hears his voice and rejoices greatly; but the least one in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John, because he does not stand outside listening to the bridegroom's voice."[34]


Niels Treschow ~ 1751-1833

The Encyclopædia Britannica had an article about Kierkegaard in their 1910 issue. "Kierkegaard, Søren Aaby (1813–1855) Danish philosopher, the seventh child of a Jutland hosier, was born in Copenhagen on the 5th of May 1813. As a boy he was delicate precocious and morbid in temperament. He studied theology at the university of Copenhagen, where he graduated in 1840 with a treatise On Irony. For two years he travelled in Germany, and in 1842 settled finally in Copenhagen, where he died on the 11th of November 1855. He had lived in studious retirement, subject to physical suffering and depression. His first volume, Papers of a Still Living Man (1838), a characterization of Hans Andersen, was a failure, and he was for some time unnoticed. In 1843 he published Euten-Eller (Either-or) (4th edition 1878), a work on which his reputation mainly rests; it is a discussion of the ethical and aesthetic ideas of life. In his last years he carried on a feverish agitation against the theology and practice of the state church, on the ground that religion is for the individual soul, and is to be separated absolutely from the state and the world. In general his philosophy was a reaction against the speculative thinkers-Steffens (q.v.), Niels Treschow (1751–1833) and Frederik Christian Sibbern (1785–1872); it was based on the absolute dualism of Faith and Knowledge. His chief follower was Rasmus Neilsen (1809–1884) and he was opposed by Georg Brandes, who wrote a brilliant account of his life and works. As a dialectician he has been described as little inferior to Plato, and his influence on the literature of Denmark is considerable both in style and in matter. To him Ibsen owed his character Brand in the drama of that name."[35]

Charles Darwin as an ape (1871) "Such works are mirrors: when an ape looks in, no apostle can look out." Søren Kierkegaard quoting Lichtenberg, on the frontpage of Stages on Life's Way, 1845, Hong 1988 p. VI 14

"[Treschow's] favourite subject is a question, which is very well understood abroad, but not much considered here, Anthropology. His Elements of the Philosophy of History is a purely Anthropological Work. He calls himself Physical rather than Material. He disclaims the notions of Lamarck. Man has not been developed out of a Monad, but he has been developed out of some condition inferior to his present one. There was once a time when he could neither speak plainly, nor walk uprightly, just as certainly as there was once a time when he could neither read nor write. The primaeval state of man lay within certain limitations. It was never indefinitely low in the scale of Creation; inasmuch as Nature produces parallel types subject to parallel developments. Man grew out an Aquatic, or (I speak as a Quinarian) a Natatorial type. In the inferior stages of his organization he was, not a Monkey, but a Walrus. The history of the individual is the history of the species. The human kind in general, like the human being in particular, has its ages of childhood, youth, manhood, &c. &c. with their characteristic virtues and vices. The uterus is to the embryo as the tohu wabohu was to the world. Our nature proceeds gradually towards perfection."[36]

"Hegelianism promised to make absolute knowledge available by virtue of a science of logic. Anyone with the capacity to follow the dialectical progression of the purportedly transparent concepts of Hegel's logic would have access to the mind of God (which for Hegel was equivalent to the logical structure of the universe). Kierkegaard thought this to be the hubristic attempt to build a new tower of Babel, or a scala paradisi — a dialectical ladder by which humans can climb with ease up to heaven. Kierkegaard's strategy was to invert this dialectic by seeking to make everything more difficult.[37] Instead of seeing scientific knowledge as the means of human redemption, he regarded it as the greatest obstacle to redemption. Instead of seeking to give people more knowledge he sought to take away what passed for knowledge. Instead of seeking to make God and Christian faith perfectly intelligible he sought to emphasize the absolute transcendence by God of all human categories. Instead of setting himself up as a religious authority, Kierkegaard used a vast array of textual devices to undermine his authority as an author and to place responsibility for the existential significance to be derived from his texts squarely on the reader." Sanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Søren Kierkegaard, First published Tue December 3, 1996; substantive revision Fri May 8, 2009

Kierkegaard had two visions, one in which everyone would hold together in temporality. He says,

When a common danger stands at everyone's door, when a common calamity teaches people to hold together and drums reconciliation into them, then it certainly is seen how they are reconciled in the understanding of the same things and how this reconciliation would benefit them jointly and would benefit the individual. But when the danger is over and the calamity has had its day, then there is all too quickly a relapse into the old ways of life, and the reconciliation coerced by the need sometimes carries within itself the seed of a deeper separation than the one that was eliminated. And even if that reconciliation casts an enhancing radiance over the period of the individual's lives, it nevertheless belongs essentially not to them but to the observation and the observer who inherits it, until the story about it is also forgotten. Even though it is beautiful to envision this, such a life is a life of temporality, is the fruit of temporality, but also the prey of temporality, and the most that can be said of it is that it was a beautiful moment. But compared with eternity, this beautiful moment of temporality is nothing but the silver flash of imitation metal. Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, p. 265-266

The existentialist, Albert Camus follows this line of thought with his book The Plague. He says finite concerns hold people together. He noted that a plague or other disaster would bring people together in a common concern. Camus and other writers, like Martin Heidegger believe common outer experiences hold people and nations together. Kierkegaard believes the inner expectations of Christians hold them together. Kierkegaard began his study of the inner and the outer with his first book, Either/Or.

Kierkegaard says, "When life's demands exceed experience's understanding, then life is disordered and inconsolable, unless the expectancy of an eternal salvation orders and calms. (...) The expectancy of an eternal salvation will reconcile everyone with his neighbor, with his friend, and with his enemy in an understanding of the essential."[38] Kierkegaard believed in just one commandment, Love thy neighbor as thyself.[39]

the person who turns away from the temporal to the eternal is concerned about his salvation is reconciled with himself and with everyone else, because the eternal is always in agreement with itself, and its agreement shuts out only that which shuts out itself. But "concerned about his salvation"-is not this expectancy a new burden one takes upon oneself instead of being the eternal remedy that heals all sickness, even the sickness unto death? Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses p. 266-267


  1. ^ see Existential therapy for various viewpoints about indifferent and concerned truths
  2. ^ Kierkegaard says the following in Concluding Unscientific Postscript "People want the momentous and only that, they are concerned only with the accidental, the world-historical outcome, instead of being concerned with the essential, the innermost, freedom, the ethical. p 135 and

    "…it should immediately be borne in mind that the issue is not about the truth of Christianity but about the individual's relation to Christianity, consequently not about the indifferent individual's systematic eagerness to arrange the truths of Christianity in paragraphs but rather about the concern of the infinitely interested individual with regard to his own relation to such a doctrine. To state it as simply as possible (using myself in an imaginatively constructing way): "I, Johannes Climacus (a pseudonym of Kierkegaard's), born and bred in this city and now thirty years old, an ordinary human being like most folk, assume that a highest good, called an eternal happiness, awaits me just as it awaits a housemaid and a professor. I have heard that Christianity is one's prerequisite for this good. I now ask how I may enter into relation to this doctrine. "What matchless audacity," I hear a thinker say, "what horrendous vanity, to presume to attach such importance to one's own little self in this world-historically concerned, this theocentric, this speculatively insignificant nineteenth century." I shudder; if I had not hardened myself against various terrors, I would probably stick my tail between my legs. But in that respect I find myself free of all guilt, because it is not I who of my own accord have become so audacious; it is Christianity itself that compels me. It attaches an entirely different sort of importance to my own little self and to every-so-little self, since it wants to make him eternally happy and that precisely within this single individual it presupposes this infinite interest in his own happiness as condition sin qua non (indispensable condition), an interest with which he hates father and mother and thus probably also makes light of systems and world-historical surveys. Although an outsider, I have at least understood this much, that the only unforgivable high treason against Christianity is the single individual's taking his relation to it for granted. However modest it may seem to be included as part of the bargain in this way, Christianity specifically regards it as effrontery. I must therefore most respectfully refuse all theocentric helpers and the assistance of helper's helpers to help me into Christianity in that way. So I prefer to remain where I am, with my infinite interest, with the issue, with the possibility. It is not impossible that the individual who is infinitely interested in his own eternal happiness can some day become eternally happy; on the other hand, it is certainly impossible that the person who has lost a sense for it (and such a sense can scarcely be anything but an infinite concern) can become eternally happy. p. 15-17

  3. ^ Kierkegaard said the same thing in his Preface to Either/Or Part I "You know how the prophet Nathan dealt with King David when he presumed to understand the parable the prophet had told him but was unwilling to understand that it applied to him. Then to make sure, Nathan added: You are the man, O King. In the same way I also have continually tried to remind you that you are the one who is being discussed and you are the one who is spoken to." p. 5 He wrote all of his books to "the single individual"
  4. ^ See The Essence of Christianity by Ludwig Feuerbach and Carl Friedrich Kielmeyer for other views of current at the time
  5. ^ Kierkegaard is against using demonstrations to prove God's existence. He says the following in Philosophical Fragments

    The works of God are such that only the God can perform them. Just so, but where then are the works of the God? The works from which I would deduce his existence are not directly and immediately given. The wisdom in nature, the goodness, the wisdom in the governance of the world -- are all these manifest, perhaps, upon the very face of things? Are we not here confronted with the most terrible temptations to doubt, and is it not impossible finally to dispose of all these doubts? But from such an order of things I will surely not attempt to prove God's existence; and even if I began I would never finish, and would in addition have to live constantly in suspense, lest something so terrible should suddenly happen that my bit of proof would be demolished. From what works then do I propose to derive the proof? From the works as apprehended through an ideal interpretation, i.e., such as they do not immediately reveal themselves. But in that case it is not from the works that I make the proof; I merely develop the ideality I have presupposed, and because of my confidence in this I make so bold as to defy all objections, even those that have not yet been made. In beginning my proof I presuppose the ideal interpretation, and also that I will be successful in carrying it through; but what else is this but to presuppose that the God exists, so that I really begin by virtue of confidence in him? p. 31-32 here is a link to that section

  6. ^ Kierkegaard spoke of this concern in Either/Or this way: "In a spiritual sense that by which a person gives birth is the formative striving of the will and that is within a person's own power. What are you afraid of then? After all, you are not supposed to give birth to another human being; you are supposed to give birth only to yourself. And yet I am fully aware that there is an earnestness about this that shakes the entire soul; to become conscious in one's eternal validity is a moment that is more significant than everything else in the world. It is as if you were captivated and entangled and could never escape either in time or in eternity; it is as if you lost yourself, as if you ceased to be; it is as if you would repent of it the next moment and yet it cannot be undone. It is an earnest and significant moment when a person links himself to an eternal power for an eternity, when he accepts himself as the one whose remembrance time will never erase, when in an eternal and unerring sense he becomes conscious of himself as the person he is." Judge Vilhelm, Either/Or II p. 206 Hong 1987
  1. ^ Kierkegaard was popular in the America of the 1960s. The God is dead movement was based on the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche. See Thomas J. J. Altizer. Both Nietzsche and Altizer were Hegelians.


  1. ^ Historical Dictionary of Kierkegaard's Philosophy, Julia Watkin, Scarecrow Press, 2001 p. 6
  2. ^ Eighteen Upbuilding Discouses, Hong p. 16
  3. ^ Eighteen Upbuilding Discouses, Hong p. 255
  4. ^ Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong p. 19
  5. ^ Either/Or II p. 142-143
  6. ^ A Short Life of Kierkegaard, by Walter Lowrie, Princeton University Press, 1942, 1970 p. 150ff, Søren Kierkegaard, A Biography, by Johannes Hohlenberg, Translated by T.H. Croxall, Pantheon Books 1954 p. 115-116, Eighteen upbuilding discourses by Søren Kierkegaard, Robert L. Perkins p. 15ff
  7. ^ Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong 1990 p. 233 see also Either/Or II p. 174-175 Hong 1987 Fear and Trembling, Hong 1983 27-29
  8. ^ Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, p. 234, 238
  9. ^ Here is what Tacitus said,
  10. ^ Secure against the designs of god, (editor)
  11. ^ Matthew 5:48
  12. ^ Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, p. 242-243
  13. ^ Søren Kierkegaard, Papers and Journals V B 194 n.d. 1844
  14. ^ The quote is from here:,Soren/JournPapers/I_A.html
  15. ^ Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, p. 247-248
  16. ^ Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, p. 249-250
  17. ^ Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, p. 254
  18. ^ Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, p. 256, 258
  19. ^ Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, p. 269
  20. ^ Philosophical Fragments, Swensen p. 76, Repetition 202-203, Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses p. 168, The Concept of Anxiety p. 85, The Concept of Anxiety p. 96-97
  21. ^ Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, p. 270-271
  22. ^ See Four Upbuilding Discourses, 1843 1.3 Every Good Gift And Every Perfect Gift Is From Above
  23. ^ Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, p. 271-272
  24. ^ See Kierkegaard's Journals X2A 560 for more on Reduplication,Soren/JournPapers/X_2_A.html
  25. ^ See Philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard#Individuality
  26. ^ Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong, p. 275
  27. ^ Either/Or Part II P. 225-226
  28. ^ Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong, p. 281
  29. ^ Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong, p. 60-61, 275-276
  30. ^ Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong, p. 284
  31. ^ Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong, p. 274
  32. ^ Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong, p. 288
  33. ^ Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong, p. 275, 289
  34. ^ Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Hong, p. 287
  35. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Kierkegaard, Sören Aaby" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 15 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 788; see last sentence.
  36. ^ Norway and the Norwegians, Volume 2 By Robert Gordon Latha Chapter XII Treschow —His writings — Anthropology — Eilschow. p.149- 153 1840 p. 152-153
  37. ^ See Concluding Postscript p. 241-251
  38. ^ Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, p. 263-264, 265
  39. ^ Either/Or Part II p. 255


Primary sources[edit]

Secondary sources[edit]

External links[edit]