The Great Philosophers

 Soren Kierkegaard: The first existentialist

While Kierkegaard’s life appears unremarkable, in truth it was far more complex and was crucial to his existentialist philosophy

Tuesday 02 November 2021 21:30
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<p>Great Dane: the 19th-century philosopher Soren Kierkegaard</p>

Great Dane: the 19th-century philosopher Soren Kierkegaard

Soren Kierkegaard (1813–55) is generally recognised as the first existentialist philosopher, but unlike many other existentialists, there is a strong theological vein running through his philosophy.

Kierkegaard’s life was in many ways a quiet one – he only ever left his native Denmark on three occasions, and his leisure time was spent mainly visiting the theatre and walking in Copenhagen – yet it is not possible to appreciate his work properly without knowing something about his biography. Fortunately for us, Kierkegaard kept voluminous journals from the age of 21, which help us to understand how his life and philosophy connect together.

He was born on 5 May 1813 in Copenhagen, and was the youngest child of Michael Kierkegaard, an affluent Danish businessman, and Ane Sorensdatter Lund, the one-time maid of his father’s first wife. His father, the most significant figure of his youth, was a deeply religious man who was committed to a particularly pious form of Lutheranism, and was racked with chronic anxiety and guilt. Some commentators locate the source of these feelings in an incident from his childhood where he had cursed God from the top of a hill after he had become exhausted and cold while tending sheep. Others point to the possibility that he impregnated his second wife before he married her. Whatever the truth of the matter, he passed on his pessimistic and gloomy religious outlook to his son, who later described his upbringing as “insane” and wrote in a journal entry that he had come into the world as the result of a “crime”.

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