In his first published book Either/Or, Kierkegaard portrays two life views: the aesthetic and the ethical.
Kierkegaard wants you to think about them as individual existences. In other words, at any given time, you’re always going to be in one of these existences, an individual is either aesthetic or ethical, even though they might overlap.
The aesthetic is the first stage on life’s way. It is the Greek word for beauty, however it encompasses the realm of sensory experience and pleasures, such as music, seduction, and drama.
To live the aesthetic life to the fullest one must seek to maximise those pleasures. It is one way to fight boredom. Anticipation of an event often exceeds the pleasure of the event itself. However, it is presented as an immature stage, an aesthete’s pleasure is brief, and one can never do something for the good of someone else. Eventually, one must begin seeking ethical pleasures.
The second stage is the ethical. We know that doing things for others without personal motives can actually be enjoyable. Ethics are the social rules that govern how a person ought to act.
It is what psychoanalyst Freud calls the superego, the internalised ideals that we have acquired from institutions and society.
It is based on a coherent set of rules established for the good of society. As Kant would say, “live your life as though your every act were to become a universal law.” However, the ethical still lacks a self-exploration, since one is to follow a set of socially accepted rules.
Therefore, one can choose either to remain oblivious to all that goes on in the world, or to become involved with the world.
Kierkegaard did not try to convince the reader about picking one of them, but rather show that philosophy is about the human experience. Sometimes philosophy can get too abstract and lose its practicality. Kierkegaard brings philosophy down to the human level, and that’s where we’ve got to search for meaning.