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.


The Social Contract

Welcome to another post on philosophy-101 blog. Today we have an audio introduction to The worlds 100 greatest books. This audio package delivers an introduction to why these books are the greatest, the period the books were set in, the brief introductions about the author of the book and then the audio goes into some detail about the story. Some books in this package are not even novels; some of the books are non-fiction. Just like the one I hope to describe here in this blog.

There are such a vast array of books within the audio collection, that the package will not give you the whole story of each book word to word. That would take far too long, but you will get some idea about why such the books are so famous.

The audio package is released by intelliquest who also did the audio collection called “The world’s 100 greatest people“. The reason they released such a collection on books, is because life is so short and some books can take so long to read. One of the books called “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy would take months to read, maybe years, however it is a very easy book to read, but here the audio collection will give you a much shorter the breakdown, summary and idea behind the book along with some symbolism. Can you imagine trying to read and understand “Ulysses” by James Joyce? Unfortunately this collection does not cover James Joyces materials, but it does cover Shakespeare, Stendhal, Gustave Flaubert, Goethe and many more.

I recommend if you are really interested in the study of literature, please visit shmoop gamma. With that site you get an even more detailed analysis, summary and plenty of famous quotes. Shmoop offers breakdowns on tougher books including “Altas Shrugged” by Ayn rand, “Ulysses” by James Joyce and so much more literature. Perhaps you can use the Shmoop in conjunction with the audio collection.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Well lets delve into the book I hope to discuss on the blog today. The book is indeed quite famous or infamous depending who you are talking to. The book is called “The Social Contract” by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This book is number 73 within the audio package and each section is usually 30 to 45 minutes. Rousseau did not have an easy upbringing, his mother died after his birth and his father left him when he was aged 10.

When Rousseau was in his teens, he left for Paris because he became bored and felt trapped in his home town. He was drawn to the bright lights of the city, working in many fields. He found his calling in literature and philosophy, although Rousseau was skilled in many fields. Rousseau won a competition which raised the question if the arts and sciences did society a disservice. Rousseau submitted a paper called “Discourse on the Arts and Sciences”, which argued why the arts and sciences were dangerous to society.

Rousseau took this step further by publishing his most famous book called “The social contract”, which this audio collection describes in some detail.

Interestingly Rousseau is nearly the opposite of what Thomas Hobbes (another philosophy from England) explained about the state of man’s nature in society. In Hobbe’s book called “leviathan”. Thomas felt that man without an established society was weak, living in fear, violent and dangerous. Hobbes argued for a social contract where all would give up their power to the absolute ruler and that contract would hopefully bind all men to live in safety.


Thomas hobbes

Rousseau disagreed and felt that complex societies actually made men more brutal, dangerous, and living in fear and stress. Rousseau felt that man who lived without the need society or possessions did better off, because they did not fear who would take things away from them. All man would need was a place to sleep, eat and not be corrupted by power or knowledge. Rousseau felt such men were “Noble savages”.

Rousseau’s ideas caused friction with those who were in power at the time and Rousseau was hounded by the government and monarchy. Rousseau was even jailed when he criticised those in power. The audio book discusses Rousseau’s life, the idea behind his book and its influences.

You will not be disappointed with this collection. That is unless you really want to read all the books on the list and there is no reason why, but to get through 100 books can take nearly a life time, and some books are not always a fun read.

Knowledge Products on Nietzschie

God is Dead!
This is how the audio course Giants of Philosophy starts off on its explanation of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. If you find the introduction of this course startling and profound Just wait till you hear the rest of the course.  The narration is done by the late great actor Charlton Heston and he does a brilliant job of it too.  Charlton keeps us interested through the course throughout.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche was no stranger to controversy as the start of the course rightly points out. Within the first 10 minutes we learn that the philosophies of Nietzsche was easily adapted for the Nazi’s, Nietzsche hated the Jewish religions and Christianity. At times Nietzsche was extremely nationalistic, deplored morality and through it weak for the heard mentality. Nietzsche also adored those who were strong and were honest enough to use their strength to gain power and flaunt their power.

Nietzsche felt European civilisation was dying off due to its constant belief in Christianity and felt that Europe was becoming decadent. Nietzsche wanted the new man, the “Overman” who would not only become man, but over him, this man would not do deny the meaning of the earth, but enjoy it. Nietzsche hated the pseudo talk of Christianity and felt many Christians could not live up to the ideals of Christianity anyway.

The course examines how Nietzsche fell in love with the philosophies of Arthur Schopenhauer and Søren Kierkegaard, but then Nietzsche disagreed with the conclusion of Schopenhauer’s view of “the will”, which Schopenhauer stated that the meaning of the earth is a cruel meaningless place, where our desires consume us and thus as we try to fight “this will”, it is a losing battle and the only way we could challenge “the will” would be through artistic appreciation or through contemplation, but rationally “the will” concludes absurdity and Nihilism will reign supreme. Nietzsche agreed the world was cruel, but felt that there was little wrong with this, we should celebrate it and we should affirm life. Pointless Nihilism is just a form of giving up.

By the way, Nihilism is the idea that life and rationality is so meaningless, so absurd, that life becomes pointless and we ultimately will believe in nothing, perhaps this nothing will even erode belief. We just live to eat, breed and then die.

Nietzsche also disagreed with Kierkegaard’s view of throwing ourselves into a leap of faith to religion. As pointed out earlier in this course, Nietzsche despised religion and felt religion was for the weak masses, who chain the strong so that the weak could be kept safe. Nietzsche felt religion was a lie that denied the true meaning of the earth.

The course has many voice actors narrating how Nietzsche would have talked. There is also a narration for Bertrand Russell, which I found quite funny, because Bertrand was severely dismissive of Nietzsche and his philosophy, you can listen to Bertrand’s criticism here.

We get to listen to Nietzsche’s idea of the overman, his views into morality. We also hear of Nietzsche’s criticism of how philosophy was developing, where Nietzsche felt philosophy was inventing the world, not realizing the world. The course examines and discusses Nietzsche’s friends and how he fell out with some of them. How Nietzsche felt about women and Nietzsche’s view on art, his admiration for Greek culture and then the course moves on to Nietzsche view on art.

What I have mentioned so far is on the two first tapes and there is around two or three more to go. The style of the course makes it easy for the listener to take in Nietzschian philosophy and it’s easy to listen again and again. The break music can be a bit off putting at times though. You will love the voice acting, its just as if Nietzsche was talking to you, trying to persuade you with his arguments. You will not get a lesson like this from many other courses.

Why was Nietzsche so hated by some philosophers and then only to be cherished by later philosophers?

There are a mix of reasons and I hope to at least point a few out.

The reason why some hate Nietzschian philosophy.
  •  Quite a few Christians (although not all Christians) felt Nietzsche was a blasphemer, you can also imagine what the Jews think of Nietzsche.
  • Nietzsche was not too fond of women and said pretty horrible things about them, including how to treat women and how he felt they lacked rationality.
  • Others questioned Nietzsche ideas of morality.  Stating that the results led to the destructive world wars.
  • Some major philosophers dismiss Nietzsche because his philosophy did not seem to take the rigid structure philosophy can demand, some philosophers go so far to state Nietzsche as poetic, which is quite true in some regards.
  • Nietzsche’s work was easily twisted for Nazi propaganda purposes, especially since Nietzsche despised Jewish religion. There is a good documentary called “Nietzsche and the Nazis” on this subject here.
  • Other philosophers felt Nietzsche was too abstract and his solution to Nihilism does not make much sense.
  • Some philosophers felt Nietzsche cure for Nihilism was worse than the disease.
  • Nietzsche’s disapproval for democracy.
  • Nietzsche’s reaffirmation of values clashes against biological values or is a poor misinterpretation of Darwinism.
  • His philosophy is aimed at the few, this being the elite and perhaps the individual at the cost of the masses. The mass and perhaps downtrodden is ignored since Nietzsche despises them.
Some reasons why Nietzsche philosophies are praised.
  • Some felt that Nietzsche gave birth to Existentialism, although he did not claim to be an existentialist himself, some felt that religion was too stifling and we get a chance to examine how man could perceive himself in the world, even if the world turns out to be cruel.
  • Some major philosophers felt that even if Nietzsche’s philosophy was not so well structured, it is still easily understandable and most influential.
  • We have quite a few state that Nietzsche’s work was adapted for Nazi use by Nietzsche’s sister (Elisabeth Förster) and that the later version of Nietzsche’s work were not his main world.  It is known that Nietzsche fell out with his sister because she married an anti-Semite.  He also fell out with the great composer Wagner because of his anti-Semitism.
  • Nietzsche would have laughed at the idea of the Germans being a great and noble culture or race. At times Nietzsche would criticise his culture as decadent. Nietzsche can easily be associated with anarchy.
  • If your the elite, power hungry or even an artist, you ll love Nietzsche.
  • If Nietzsche can influence literary greats like George Bernard Shaw, postmodern and existentialists philosophers (who are hard to please), feminist movements and psychologists, then something must be good. However we need to note that there is a battle to have Nietzsche as someone who recommends an idea, because he is a much sort after icon.
I am sure I have missed a large amount of points and there are plenty of points others can think of.
Even if you do not manage to get hold of this particular course. It is always possible to read many of Nietzsche’s works.

The thing is that “Knowledge products” is a very old course and its highly unlikely that the knowledge products site even sells the course, but many other audio sites might sell them.

Audio Cover
There are other courses mainly from “The Teaching Company” that cover Nietzsche in depth and I hope to revisit this famous or infamous philosophy again at some point.

Kant’s Copernican Revolution

Here is a good philosophical course for you budding philosophers out there. This course is called “TTC – Modern Intellectual Tradition From Descartes to Derrida” it is taught by Professor Lawrence Cahoone of Stony Brook University.

Professor Lawrence Cahoone

Today we centre on lecture 8 called the “Kant’s Copernican Revolution”. Now Immanuel Kant’s philosophy is not the most easiest to understand, in fact some of his books are such a difficult read, they were revised constantly. Lets take a close look at how this lecture describes Immanuel Kant’s revolution.

Immanuel Kant is considered as one of the greatest western philosophers, but why? This lecture explores part of the reason why. Kant read one of David Hume’s books and was inspired by Hume’s theory that we cannot know anything without experience.

Kant wrote many books, one of the most famous is “The Critique of pure reason”. This lecture examines Kant’s idea of the transcendental dialect.

Immanuel Kant was born in east Prussia, he went on to teach at university of Koenigsberg. Kant is famous for being Known to be punctual, you could actually check your watch by him. One day he made a lot of people late because of reading one of Rousseau’s famous books

As mentioned, Kant wrote many books, the most famous are the 3 big books. Critique of Pure Reason, Critique of practical reason, Metaphysics of Morals. His whole philosophy almost centres on the following question

What the human mind can do?

Immanuel Kant

The lecture proposes this idea. If Hume was right, then science is in trouble. Immanuel Kant takes up the cause. Kant asks if We have necessary true knowledge about the world. How can we have truths about reality?

As noted before the Scottish philosopher David Hume is sceptical about all our knowledge, but Kant tries to break down what Hume describes. Kant tries to tackle Hume’s theory. The idea on how we Experience to know what is true.

The lecture moves on how Kant borrows from another philosopher Leibniz to make truth by definition. Then the lecture describes the use of kant’s theory in statements. Here is an example

“All bachelors are unmarried”, the statement in itself contains the truth.

but the above statement is different from the one below.

“There are bachelors in this room”, but this cannot be true by definition. We would have to ask the people in this room.

Unfortunately as usual, I only have the audio lecture, and the lecture goes on to describe a diagram shown.

The lecture talks about A Priori knowledge v a posteriori knowledge, which takes some getting your head around and getting used to. Kant now tries to classify Hume’s theory, but first he needs to break down Hume’s argument piece by piece.

Kant comes to a conclusion. He states You do not need experience to know that its true, plus new information not in the subject. David Hume feels this is not true, but Kant wants to disprove this. How?

Kant agrees that there are no initate ideas, but that does not mean ALL knowledge comes from experience. The revolution begins, what if the object of our experience conform to our cognition? What if the mind has a way of handling and organising experience?

The keyword here is organises.

The lecture now examines The transcendental activity of organising things.

Here the lecture gives us an example of when we wake up how the mind organises things in the room. What if cognition is active and not passive?

Throughout the history of philosophic thought, Kant feels that philosophers feel that the mind is passive, that the mind just soaks things up. Kant claims the mind grasps and organises experiences. Hence things are switched around, we organise objects, not just receive objects. This could mean we know how the world would be tomorrow, because our cognitive activity begins to experience the world by tomorrow.

The explains there is a problem of objective knowledge regarding the rose coloured glasses problem. Then the lecture discusses Transcendental activity, the stuff that the mind does to organise the world, before it experiences it.

Lecture describes the parallel line problem and how this idea can defeat Hume’s empiricist view.

Then the lecture moves on to describe Kant’s idea of 3 components of mental capacity. Two of the components are

intuition – space and time, all I am perceiving there are empirical facts, but other things are independent of experience.
understanding – concept of substances and properties are part of the “A Priori”, the mind structures into experience, it organises what it experiences.

Remember!! Hume says, no rational reason, we believe things on the basis of habit.

David Hume

Kant says it IS possible to know things without experiencing them, but there is a price to pay, there are problems.

What is the problem of this?

The lecture describes how Kant feels our minds are limited by the boundaries of experience. All of us are experiencing an objective world. We have objective true knowledge, but not of what caused it, but in a sense that at least SOMETHING caused it.

Kant splits things between the empiricists and the rationalists. Kant is a rationalist, he feels mind organises things from time and space. Kant feels we have objective knowledge as the world appears, but not as in things IN THEMSELVES. Notice the keyword is APPEARANCE.

A lot of philosophers feels Kant has caused some damage to Hume s scepticism of knowledge, but the lecture mentions this does come as a price.

This lecture is very tough and you would have to replay the lecture several times to get some ideas of what is going on, but this is beneficial, because you learn new things each time you replay the lecture. This lecture is not really for beginners, but it does explain things without sounding too dry.

The Meaning of Death

The Meaning of Death

It had to happen. I mean although it’s not one of the biggest questions concerning philosophers, usually it is one of the answers to the meaning of life.


Yet, it’s not so simple, because as you might know within philosophy there are questions about questions and that’s when we get metaphysical. So now the biggest question is what is the meaning of death?

Well I have two great pieces of news. The first is there is a course on the meaning of death. It is called “death”, which is obvious for a course on death I guess. It is taught by Professor Shelly Kagan from Yale University. The second piece of great news is that this course is FREE! Unlike the audio book for the meaning of life which isn’t really free.

Shelly Kagan
Prof Shelly Kagan

The course has 23 lectures and it covers several aspects relating to the meaning of death, but be warned, some of the lectures are aimed at high level graduates, while most of the lectures are available for anyone to dive into.

Let’s have a closer look at what this course covers?

Kagan lets us know his conclusion about death at the start of the course, if you do not like his answers, do not let it put you off the course entirely, since the course is quite an eye opener. We all can get something from the course.

We get to look into the dualism which is mind/body problem of death, which is to state what happens after death. Do we get to live on in another form? Do we have a soul? Does that soul die also?

We then move on the Plato’s arguments for the soul and for most of you out there, Plato believed that we can live on in another form, but are his arguments cohesive? Do they make sense?

Next the course moves on to personal identity, I would say this part of the course is where things get little tough, because the course seems to move on to what is known as individuation theory. What is the identify of something through space and time when it ceases to exists? We then move on to how we can be sure if the identify of something or a person is lost? Such theories work best on mechanical objects like a car or train, which Kegan will actually use to define this difficult concept.

We then move on to the badness of death, where we get help from Leo Tolstoy (the Great Russian novelist) and some other great novelists. What is so bad about death? How does existentialism fit into the definition of death? This lecture I felt was a real eye opener, but at times I just cannot help trying to break or counter Kagan’s logic on why he felt some arguments for the badness of death does not make sense.

The course then moves on to immortality, who on earth does not want to be immortal? I mean is death such a bad thing that one prefers to live forever instead? Maybe this is not such a good idea as Kagan explores this subject in great detail. I have not been through all the lectures, but mainly identify theory, badness of death and dualism. I have also just listened to lecture 22 called “The fear of death”.


Fear of death

On this particular lecture, we look at the emotions. Is it appropriate to have a fear of death? What are the conditions for these emotions? Here we look at the psychology of death concerning if we have anyone to blame for death. We know death is coming, so who is to blame? How shall we feel when death takes its icy claws and draws nearer to us?

This lecture also takes a look at our personification of death? If there is someone to blame, then how does this affect our emotions? Examples of the personification of death would be god, since many people would blame god for allowing us to live and then taking our lives or placing in the condition that we have to die, this idea is explained psychologically in this lecture.

We examine pride, fear, sadness and anger. One thing about being alive is that we cannot avoid our emotions. Our emotions revel themselves to events even before we think, maybe perhaps they are ingrained deep within us, perhaps learnt from society or from our habits. Yet when it comes to death, are our emotions rational? Are the emotions appropriate?

Some emotions like sadness or worry might make sense, but it seems fear actually might not be rational since fear does not three conditions. I will not tell you all of the conditions, because I want you to listen to this lecture, heck! I want you to listen to the course (if you have time). Alas time is short, so make time before death takes us, because the meaning to life can heavily lend to the meaning of death and to make sense of life, we must come to terms with death. Within this course we shall find meaning and this is the meaning of death.

Style of course

The lectures (except the first one) are long, nearly an hour per lecture. That’s good, because there is so much to get out of this course, but then it’s bad if you want to get a straight answer. It is worse if you find the course might be out of your level and you still find that you do not understand the meaning of death.

Kagan loves to use examples for his theories, which is good because some theories are difficult to get your head around. This course looks at highly metaphysical arguments, which means beyond ideas that could be easily measured, so Kagan will try to lessen the damage by tackling tough answers from our psychological understand of death.

Sometimes Kagan might take some time to get to a point, but its worth waiting around, because again the ideas can be pretty hard to work out. You might have to read in between the lines. Make sure you listen to the lectures more than once, some will not make sense and you may have to reference the lectures against other material.