Kierkegaard: existentialism and meaning

sartre-quoteWhat I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act. What matters is to find a purpose, to see what it really is that God wills that I shall do; the crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die.

– Soren Kierkegaard, Gilleleie (1 August 1835) Journals 1A

Two of the primary targets of Kierkegaard’s criticism were the Hegelian Idealists and the Danish Church. The thrust of Kierkegaard’s objection to the dogmas of these two groups was that they were teaching the objective certainty of moral and religious truths. Kierkegaard argued that these truths were based on a type of syllogistic logic that ultimately ended in unresolvable paradox and a dreadful sense of the meaninglessness of life.

Kierkegaard’s solution to this problem was to translocate truth from the object to the subject (see the quote above). Kierkegaard invented the concept of the “knight of faith” – a man who uses his own freedom to create himself through a leap of faith rather than attempt to find himself through a rational analysis of external objects. Kierkegaardian existentialism varies from nihilism in that meaning must be manufactured by the individual due to the epistemic limitations of human beings.

Kierkegaard is commonly called the father of modern existentialism; yet, if he is its father than Kant is certainly the grandparent. After all, it was Kant who changed the ethical landscape with his anthropology of autonomy and man as an end in himself.


4 responses to this post.

  1. […] spirit called the zeitgeist. Kierkegaard, contra Hegel, asserted that man progresses by the exercise of his own subjective will. Note that for Hegel what makes man is external and for Kierkegaard […]


  2. […] shares existentialist similarities with Kierkegaard, who also thought truth was subjective and generated through relationship (though particularly with […]


  3. […] is methodological rather than metaphysical. One may also note the modern and especially Kierkegaardian emphasis on the subject as the starting point of philosophy. Heidegger would go on to influence the […]


  4. […] Jean-Paul Sartre (1905 – 1980) was a French philosopher and playwright. His philosophical magnum opus Being and Nothingness (1943) is widely regarded as the most important work in the school of 20th century existentialism. […]


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