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Philosophy as an area of study and quest for truth was based solely on objective, logical approaches right before the 1840’s, where the influential Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard revolutionized the field with his contributions. He is commonly regarded as the “father of existentialism,” a concept that, as the name implies, deals mostly with the problem of existence and other related concepts such as angst, anxiety, and absurdity. However, Kierkegaard himself was more preoccupied with the idea of the individual in that he guides the reader to self-examination, as well as with philosophy that related to life.
Embedded in his philosophy is the core value of authenticity. In his emphasis on the subjective human existence, which deals with the personal human experience, passions and emotions, Kierkegaard embarks on a quest to ultimately engage the reader into creating their own truth and becoming more in tune with themselves. In other words, he prompts the reader to search within themselves and ultimately lead them on a path towards a more authentic individual. Kierkegaard himself says, about the individual, that there “comes a moment in their lives – alas, this is their best time – when they begin to turn inward”. This quest to reflect on oneself, with emphasis placed on the individual and their own experiences, guides he reader on the path that leads to authenticity.
At the start of the course, when we were prompted to narrow down our core values from five to two, one of the values that survived for me was authenticity. I came into the course in order to explore more deeply what these philosophers had to say about living authentically, and perhaps a guide on how one might go about doing so.
Reading Kierkegaard’s works urged me to think more deeply about my decisions and how they impact my quest for authenticity. I reflected on the fact what when you get to the deep stuff that actually matters to you, you lack the ability to articulate or communicate it, and it is these feelings that Kierkegaard wants us to reflect on because they compose the subjective experience, even at the risk of confronting something uncomfortable.
As a fundamentally Christian philosopher, Kierkegaard appealed to me because of his willingness to touch on faith and spirituality, which later authors in the course severely lacked. I resonated most with his idea of faith leading to an expression of passion, leading ultimately to being an authentic individual.
We touched on Kierkegaard very briefly in the beginning, and from then on his philosophy lay embedded in my mind as I viewed the other philosophers. We followed Kierkegaard up with Nietzsche and I absolutely disliked the contrast. Kierkegaard’s writings were poetic, probing, interesting, spiritual, and reflecting. I believe he set us on the correct path to examining our own thoughts, beliefs, values and faith, which is the experience of existentialism I was looking for. Nietzsche and the others (with the exception of Heidegger) felt restrictive, monotonous, and dull.
Since we did not spend much time on Kierkegaard, it is hard for me to say how the core value of authenticity put forward through him affected me throughout the semester. It affected me positively within the first two weeks we touched on him, in that I began to think deeply about my choices, values and passion, and then just like that we left him, busying ourselves with two main ideas that the professor constantly put forth: “say yes to life,” and “remember you will die.” I found myself longing for the authenticity that Kierkegaard brought forth, which focused on an exploration of values, passion, and free will, responsibility and the individual, reflection and deeper thought, finding a truth that is true for you.
Something Kierkegaard said stuck with me throughout the semester. Regarding despair over oneself, he writes that “a person in this kind of despair will hurl himself into life, perhaps into the diversion of great enterprises; he will become a restless spirit whose life certainly leaves its mark…in despair he wants to go back to immediacy, but always with the consciousness of the self he does not want to be”. This thought accompanied me during conversations about our “craziest parties” and other sorts of worldly, cliché, tumblr-esque conversations.
Sometimes, it felt like something was missing, or that we were ignoring the truth of the matter. Kierkegaard says that “this form of despair (ignorance of it) is the most common in the world”. This feeling for want of something deeper came about during our many class discussions. It often felt like we were forced to conform to a particular pro-partying, pro-drugs, pro-sex narrative, which negated the internal experiences of most of the non-vocal class. Listening to this, I had Kierkegaard’s narrative in the back of my mind, a narrative that allowed me to view the discussions critically and think to myself this narrative is not mine. It is no wonder I grew to dislike the class very much, as I felt like it did not allow me to criticize the content and leave room for the topics within these different philosophers that I was actually passionate about. The professor spoke our words for us, guided the class discussions in the narrative that he saw fit, without room for us to say “that is not my narrative. This is not my experience.”
When listening to different philosopher’s narratives, Kierkegaard’s voice was constantly there for me as a reminder to critically think and be aware, that one can conform and lose themselves so easily if one were not careful. His philosophy did not change me as much as it allowed me to critically view the class discussions and grow an appreciation for Kierkegaard, for I think he had the right idea. His philosophy encouraged authenticity and self-reflection, passion and faith, and these concepts remained with me as the course went on, allowing me to look critically into all authors we saw henceforth.
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