KIERKEGAARD, Soren (1813-55).
Neglected in his lifetime, or ridiculed as a dangerous fanatic, the Danish religious philosopher Kierkegaard has come to be regarded in the 20th century as one of the most influential and profound of modern thinkers. He was the most brilliant interpreter of Protestant Christianity in the 19th century. He is generally considered the founder of existentialism, a philosophy that in its simplest terms seeks to explain the significance of the freedom of an individual human being within his or her time on Earth.
Soren Aabye Kierkegaard was born in Copenhagen on May 5, 1813. His prosperous father died in 1838, leaving his two sons an inheritance that freed them from the need to work. Soren was able to devote most of his life to study and writing. He studied philosophy and theology at the University of Copenhagen.
Kierkegaard was a prolific writer. His subject matter encompassed three basic areas: consideration of the function of the individual human life; vehement opposition to the philosophy of G.W.F. Hegel, whose thought dominated 19th-century Europe; and a clear delineation of Christianity in opposition to the secularism of the state church of Denmark.
His major works on the human predicament are 'Either/Or', published in 1843, 'Fear and Trembling' (1843), 'The Concept of Dread' (1844), and 'Stages on Life's Way' (1845). His two primary religious-philosophical works, including the attack on Hegel, are 'Philosophical Fragments' (1844) and 'Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Fragments' (1846). The works dealing with Christianity are 'Edifying Discourses in Divers Spirits' (1847), 'Works of Love' (1847), 'The Sickness unto Death' (1849), and 'Training in Christianity' (1850). His last major work, 'Attack upon "Christendom" ' (1855), was a strong, satirical attack on the Lutheran state church of Denmark.
Although the works of Kierkegaard were known in Denmark and Germany in the late 19th century, it was not until after World War II that their influence became widespread in Europe and the United States. Throughout his career, Kierkegaard led a sort of double life. To his friends he was witty, charming, and brilliant in conversation. By himself he was thoroughly melancholy, a man driven to explore the problems of human nature, of philosophy, and of religious discourse. Kierkegaard died on Nov. 11, 1855, in Copenhagen.