In today’s spotlight I wish to address the notion of a truth and through the thinking of one of the world’s great philosophers, that of Søren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard learned a way of thinking—a way of life, from Socrates. Kierkegaard sought a “truth…for which he was willing to live and die.”
A Life Worth Living
Nowhere is Kierkegaard’s life intention captured better than in the words of Hans Friedrich Helweg who, about a month after Kierkegaard died, published an article entitled Hegelianism in Denmark. A large part of Helweg’s article focuses on a review of Kierkegaard’s master’s thesis, The Concept of Irony. Helweg makes this statement, “The members of the Faculty of Philosophy who were supposed to judge the work hardly suspected that in this effort of a young author they had not so much a qualification for a master’s degree but a program for life, that here it was not a matter of giving a solution to an academic problem but of a task of life.”
Socrates remained a central focus of Kierkegaard’s work throughout his life. For Kierkegaard, as with Socrates himself, the subjective appropriation of knowledge was the foundation of an examined life. Only in this way could one come to truly comprehend. The practice of negation exposed ignorance and the practice of subjective appropriation individualized meaning in a truly existential manner. The use of irony was the path used to uncover ineptitude in those who would offer the positive—a so-called ‘truth’ or higher understanding.
Truth: Higher Understanding
Indeed, Kierkegaard’s concept of appropriation led to his denial that he was himself a Christian, and he insisted that he was able to make it manifest that others were not also. Kierkegaard defined a Christian in such an ideal sense that it was impossible for anyone to be a Christian.
Strangely enough, Kierkegaard held that Socrates had become a Christian. One is forced to review Kierkegaard’s Christian ideal, definition, to see what he means by this assertion. Socrates lived a poor life, teaching without taking money; Socrates mixed with the people and challenged the words of the Sophists with his irony; Socrates endured ridicule; Socrates gave his life for his truth; and so forth. This is the way Jesus taught and the way the New Testament informs us the early Christians lived. It is also something Kierkegaard personally identified with—he too had been attacked by ridicule and condemnation, he too was willing to die for what he believed, he too walked the streets with the common people, and he too was a teacher.
Why does this all matter? The fact is, the connection between Socrates and Kierkegaard is still relevant in the world today for we live at a time when we are all too easily lost in the pursuit of consumerism—“more, more, and more” as an added drive. It is an era of technology where we are inundated on a 24-7 basis with advertising designed to convince us that we are somehow deficient and therefore need the product or service being advertised. We spend hours in front of televisions, smartphones, computers, pads and the like, sometimes easily lost in a world of avatars and anonymous warriors. People comment on social media due to their anonymity in ways they would never think of speaking in person. We are sold what to believe by the billion-dollar complexes intent on owning our beliefs. As a result, it is easy to become lost in the crowd.
The Examined Life
Socrates is quoted by Plato in the Apology as saying, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Today’s world, perhaps more than in the day of Kierkegaard, is in need of reflection and appropriation. Surrounded by science, pseudo-science, new-age culture, old-age doctrines, and so much more that more often than not contradict one another in different ways, appropriating the knowledge available to us, in the sense used by Kierkegaard, would appear to be a requirement of an examined life.
For myself, Kierkegaard and Socrates represent the necessary approach required for any truly deep inquiry. For how is a person to investigate the unknowable with the intent to identify, label, and define? It is as Kierkegaard put it, paraphrased some, “What would you like to discover that thought cannot think?”
Those are my thoughts, what are yours?
Thanks for the read,