Soren Kierkegaard’s Crises

Here we have an interesting lecture from the course by The Teaching Company, called “Philosophy as a Guide to Living” which is taught by Professor Stephen A. Erickson. The course has 24 lectures, each lasting 30 minutes. However today I will be briefly going through lecture 12 called “Kierkegaard’s Crises”.


Professor Stephen A. Erickson

As you might know, lecture 16 is perhaps half way through the course and Prof Stephen reflects on what he has looked at understanding the meaning of life. Prof Stephen feels that life seems complicated and complex, but now we have reached a dead end.

Stephen discusses the previous lectures and what philosophers have thought about life. Stephen mentions lectures 8 and 9 which centers on Schopenhauer’s Pessimism and realism. These lectures conclude that Life cannot be such a burden, although we must fight our animalistic passions in order to gain a higher sense of worth. We struggle in this cruel world and struggle with our inner demons or animalistic intentions, but we can resign ourselves to peace and art to withdraw from the world, if only for a moment.

Prof Stephen then briefly talks about lecture 10 and 11, which is on Alienation in Marx and his utopian Hope. Prof Stephen feels that We do not all need to contemplate revolution, even if life is quite hard.

Now its time to look at Kierkegaard’s ideas. Søren Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher, poet and thelogen born 5 May 1813 – 11 November 1855. He is actually called an existentialist. What this philosophy or movement is defined as is that we all need to look at ourselves individually to understand the power we hold, we are all free to make our own decisions and must avoid being pressed into organisations, definitions and institutions. Soren’s ideas present that we MUST become individuals, we are not born individuals.

Philosophy at that time was you were born into something. You was born as a Christian or born into another religion, you can read many books and that was the only sure way to represent that religion. Soren felt this was easy, all too easy, all too secure.


Søren Kierkegaard

Prof Stephen talks a bit about how humans have a lower and a higher nature. what can connect us with our reason? where can we discover meaning? Stephen mentions that the Greeks felt we perhaps could detach from our emotions and find something that would give a lasting value to us. The Greeks almost seem obsessed about finding truth and beauty.

Maybe if truth is eternal and we perhaps could know it, then maybe there is something eternal about us. Perhaps and only just perhaps there is some objective immortally we can grasp, before we leave this planet, maybe then we can find something that matters to us, something that MEANS something to us and subdue our lower nature and enhance our higher nature.

Soren Kierkegaard read a lot about the thinkers in his day. Most of these were danish hegelians. They talked about a lot of history as Friedrich Hegel did in his day. Soren felt that the ideas like this to explain life was being abused. Soren Felt such academics who read hegal were into trivialities and being pompus about it. He noticed that everyone is making life easier, this cannot be so. Soren now wants to be famous, but instead of making things easier, how about he makes things more difficult. Why not look into the small things that seem unimportant, but they SHOULD matter. so that we pay attention to the details of life.


Friedrich Hegel

Kierkegaard’s Meaning in life is found through living through situations that do not seem to make sense. We are stuck by either/or situations.

Prof Stephen quotes Kierkegaard on a few things. Stephen states that Kierkegaard feels Life is not where history of dialectic ideas or about the history of this or that.

Kierkegaard wrote many books. One of them was “fear and trembling” This famous book about the dilemma of Abraham a biblical character, he was asked to sacrifice his only son Isaac. Such a dilemma to Kierkegaard was The teleological suspension of the ethic,

What does this mean?

Prof Stephen explains that this means that “There is morally no justification for you to sacrifice your son”, but god has command him to make this sacrifice, but why? God has commanded, and thus Abraham must do it, but it cannot not be morally right, but it is however justified by a higher reason. Thankfully god saves Abraham from the painful and moral dilemma by sending him an angel to stop the sacrifice. Still for those of us who are not fortunate, we struggle with moral, ethical and religious values every day. To Kierkegaard, this is actually a GOOD thing. We should struggle and question our individuality in accordance to religion, we should NOT be so sure of ourselves, but we should struggle within and not show our pain as if we bear a cross.

Soren tells us that the true meaning of our lives is within us and hidden, but it seems no one else can know it, touch it or understand it, but perhaps only through a relationship with god. As you probably can guess Soren Kierkegaard is deemed to be a Christian philosopher and a lot of his knowledge is set on Christian terms.

Soren sets to explain his ideas through through two concepts. They are two knights, think perhaps of those who fight for their belief and are on a quest.

The first concept is the Knight of resignation. Soren has troubles with such people who are knights of resignation. Those who display their religion, display their humility and poverty, they resign but call attention to themselves.

knigt of resignation

The other concept is the Knight of faith. Now soren prefers these people, they are inward, unseen, but you do not know that they are a knight of faith, you cannot tell from their external appearance on who they really are. They sometimes act on their faith, but they will not tell you they acted on this because their religion told them to.

knight of faith

Could you tell she is a knight?

Kiekegaard felt you should not display your relation to god, but understand it, in accordance to finding your meaning of life.

The lecture mentions that Soren also stressed the importance of separateness and isolation from others as quite a good thing. We must not be too overly connected with others. There was a Danish journal called “The Corsair” which often satirised people, eventually the journal satirised Soren Kiekegaard and eventually made serious fun out of him.

Children began to throw stones at Soren when they saw him in the streets. The lecture states this was a sad and cruel situation, but Soren felt this seemed quite a good thing. Soren actually practised what he preached. Security with others is a kind of death, we put on faces to meet the faces that we see, but this is almost inner agony. Have a think about this one one for a moment.

The lecture concludes that we Set of reflections regarding oneself, to realise one isn’t but MUST become an individual. Essential existentialism, our true nature to be reached, we need to be specific with god. This lecture is part one in this course next lecture looks through stages on the meaning of life according to Kierkegaard lecture 13 – Kierkegaard’s Passion.


Questioning the value of life’s horrors

Here we have a difficult lecture that I often listen to. Why is it difficult? well as you can guess it is difficult because of its title “Life’s Horrors”, which is lecture number 16.

The lecture looks into why the horrors of life causes problems with life’s values. I would also like to mention the lecture can be quite tough to get your head around, not because its not explained well, Professor Patrick Grim explains the lecture’s content extremely well, but some points raised can be challenging. This lecture is taken from a course called “Questions of Value


Professor Patrick Grim

The lecture starts off with the notion that It seems you cannot completely avoid the horrors what the world sometimes reflects. Perhaps all you need is to turn on the TV and watch the news then in a few minutes you are tuned into a report of immense suffering.

This lecture concentrates on two ideas. One is how some people react to horrors using religion, while the other is the reaction to horror using anti-religion. Hence they feel religion cannot fully explain away the deep meaning of the horrors of life.

Well what does this lecture means by life’s horrors? Lets look into this more deeply.

We are giving a detailed breakdown of life horrors in the first part of this lecture. The first is what is horror itself?

Prof Patrick feels such horrors life hold are fatal, unpredictable, unavoidable.

Then we are taught about Natural horrors and what they consist of being floods, tornadoes, earthquakes and so on. Then the next type of horrors are diseases, plaques, fevers causing millions of deaths. We are then shown what organic horrors are, being cancer, strokes or when the body attacks itself.


What about the Pain that is caused by life horrors? The result of the horrors not on its victim, but also on those who try to care for the person, those who feel helpless and struggle or witness such horrors or its after effects? Such horrors can go so deep that it blots out even love that aids to try and recover from the pain. A good example is that of Alzheimers which causes so must strife not only for the victim but for their carers who at times feel helpless to stop the ultimate suffering of those who are unlucky enough to be struck down by the illness.

So then how does Theology tackle these natural evils? How can religion explain away the cause? Are we meant to suffer? It is mentioned in this lecture those who support the religious view is that we are meant to suffer, because it adds character, strength and understanding of such horrors, but wait there are other types of horrors

What about human evils? We have horrors caused by War. Where innocents are slaughtered and killed in such terrible ways. Humans, especially men have caused rape, which can scar those physically and mentally for life. We have those who inflict suffering on others, not just from error, but some do this because they enjoy inflicting suffering. They enjoy the result such horrors can bring, although not fully mentioned in this lecture. The argument why horror has been brought about by mankind is that the ultimate ruler of the universe has granted mankind free will to choose between good and evil, but how is this justified?


The lecture then describes other horrors. We have accidents, political oppression, the economic climate, addiction. Horrors so bad that not even innocence and protect against horrors. The young, innocent and even animals are no barrier against the forces of such horrifying conclusions. One horror that can affect all and usually does affect the majority of the worlds population is that of starvation, which does not discriminate on those it chooses to attack. Tearing families down and causing deaths in an untold number.

What could be a normal life? Progressive development, retirement, old age and a painless death. This is what life is suppose to be? However most lives do not fit this picture, does it not seem unfair? That is it so Unjust to receive such horrors? Do we not deserve our due.

Prof Patrick Grim feels that justice has nothing to do with human suffering on these scales, the universe does not seem to care. If we were to pick at random another person in history and brought them forward to our modern life, what are the chances that his or her life would be as good as ours?

Some lives are randomly victimised by crime. At most a lot of people ask Why me? What is the justification of it all? This lecture tries to tackle how others justify the horrors brought on life.

So what is the point of all this horror? There seems to be no justification.
There are many conclusions that try to justify the horrors unleashed upon us, the lecture looks at What these conclusions are?

First we can look at one of the Religious answer to justifying life’s horrors

Those who follow some religions state that We need to suffer to understand the positives about life. Without suffering, how can we understand what is valuable in life, hence the title of this course “Questions of Value”

The lecture examines this argument and gives us other reasons why we have to suffer according to religious concepts.

It seems suffering can give Courage in the face of adversity, we need fear in order to learn courage. Plus suffering allows us to increase Human dignity.

The lecture mentions celebrity and how their suffering inspires others. One such famous celebrity is Steven Hawkins, for such a genius it is amazing how he can cope with such a deliberating disease and still work and try to build upon science.

The other celebrity is the movie actor Christopher Reeve, who starred in many successful movies including superman films of the 1980s. Later on during his life, he fell from a horse and suffered devastating spinal cord injuries leading to paralyse. We look upon how much suffering Christopher had to go to and how such suffering lead to Christopher becoming a good example to others, using his fame to highlight the heartache of serve injuries.

Christopher Reeve

The lecture moves on to question what emotions can help in justifying such horrors?

One emotion is Sympathy for others, it seems again that Suffering seems to add character, although no one would rush to suffer to gain this. The lecture looks into other claims made from religious traditions concerning suffering.

However there is a problem, why should someone’s pain is your gain? Why should someone else have build up of character because they sympathize with those who suffer from such horrors? This lecture then looks at What is the trade off? What is the justification?

Those that follow some religions might use the argument that it is god who decides who should suffer, but then this leads on to other problems. The lack of justice, which is exemplified by the book called “The Brothers Karamazov” written by Fyodor Dostoevsky.


Fyodor Dostoevsky

In the book a character named Ivan tells a story about a powerful aristocrat whose dog has become injured because one of the kenal staff that being a boy accidentally hurts the dog. The Boy is then locked up and the next morning the boy is let loose, starving, frightened and cold. He is let loose to run for his life while the aristocrat sends a pack of dogs sent to kill boy. Before his mothers eyes. The story goes into heart breaking detail as the dogs finally catch the young boy and kill him before his mother’s eyes.

With this Ivan renounces religion, because children and the innocent do not understand it. Why should children suffer for the greater good?

Does the goal of harmony or greater good, justifies the suffering of the one child.

The lecture takes one last look at the examples of horror and looks at unknown suffering, how such horrors can actually destroy character rather than add to it, destroy relationships rather than build it. There are also higher order evil, than just higher order goods. It seems understanding horror is so deep, so complex and so mysterious, perhaps the idea of the forces of good cannot justify the reason for horrors.

So it seems “not every horror brings a higher order good”

The second opinion that being Anti-religious critique feels that this is not “The best of all possible worlds”. It does not seem to wash. Here the lecture quotes from the famous ethical and empiricist philosopher David Hume.


David Hume

Quote from Hume

Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?…
Nothing can shake the solidity of this reasoning, so short, so clear, so decisive.

The Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, which was published after Hume’s death because of the controversy it would have caused.

He feels there is no such thing as a single powerful ruler of the universe that can justify the horrors unleashed on humanity.  Even if such a god was all powerful and could stop such horrors, would we not go against such a god if we tried to fight such horrors?  How far can we choose to go against such ruler?

This is a difficult and brilliant lecture and the course is a challenging one. You will probably have to play most lectures several times to get their concepts and conclusions. I do feel the lecturer sometimes talks a bit quickly, but he does get your attention.