An Introduction to Fyodor Dostoevsky

A good trick with his name is to say “toy” in the middle: dos-toy-ev-ski.

Fyodor Dostoevsky is most popularly known as a Russian novelist as well as a philosopher. His works explore human psychology in the troubled socio-political atmosphere of 19th century Russia. His novels had a great impact on psychology, the study of how the human mind works, especially of people who lose their reason, who are nihilistic, or who become insane or commit murder. He is considered as one of the greatest psychological novelists in world literature.

Dostoevsky was born in Moscow, Russia, in 1821. His family was very religious and so was he. He began writing widely as a child, as well as being home-schooled until he was sent to a private school when he was 13 years old.

Two years later his mother died of tuberculosis. Dostoevsky’s father, an alcoholic with a short temper, retreated into seclusion, and became even more wretched in temperament. This anger was expressed as abuse on his serfs. When Dostoevsky reached 18 years of age, he attended school to become a military engineer. While still at school, Dostoevsky learned that his father had been murdered, the cause of death was left open to speculation, though some imagined it was his serfs who had killed him as an act of vengeance.

Fyodor’s father: Mikhail Dostoevsky

The death of his father, in circumstances so mysterious and sinister cannot but have affected Dostoevsky profoundly. His first seizure coincided with the death of his father; this was to be his first indication of his lifelong battle with epilepsy.

After finishing his studies in the engineering academy at 23 years old, his passion for literature made him resign from the career he was trained for and devoted himself to writing. Although he had produced some translations of foreign novels, they had little success, and he decided to write a novel of his own to try to raise funds.

He was in great financial difficulty because of his extravagant lifestyle and his developing gambling addiction.

Dostoevsky began his career writing fiction about poor people in harsh situations. In 1843 he published his first novel, Poor Folk, written in the form of letters. It is about an impoverished clerk who is hopelessly in love with a young woman he can never possess. It showcases the life of poor people, their relationship with rich people and poverty in general. The novel was praised by a respected critic, they named it Russia’s first “social novel” and a major socialist work. Unfortunately, his second work, The Double, was received less warmly (it later proved to be a huge success).

His later works did not gain much popularity. This lack of success troubled Dostoevsky. His life and work were characterised by aimlessness and confusion, publishing short stories that are for the most part experiments in different forms and different subject matters.

Some years later, he joined a literary discussion group of revolutionaries called the Petrashevsky Circle, focused on overthrowing the existing social order, opposing the Russian feudal system, which kept millions of serfs trapped in a life of servitude without full legal rights. Inevitably, the members were infiltrated by the secret police and eventually arrested, Dostoevsky was  among them. He found himself incarcerated and in solitary confinement. For Dostoevsky it was the true beginning of his inner life, of the illumination out of which his great works were to come. He was introduced to the theme of punishment he was suffering as well as crime.

Eight months later, he was sentenced to death. He was led to be shot by a firing squad in a public square. At the very last minute, as the rifles were loaded and aimed, a messenger arrived waving a white flag and telling the armed men to stop the execution. It had all been planned. Every last detail had been pre-arranged in a twisted form of psychological torture. 

The mock execution of Fyodor Dostoevsky

He was sent to a prison labour camp in Siberia for four years in extremely harsh conditions followed by another six years of compulsory military service in exile.

The decade of the 1860s was one of the most turbulent in Russian history as well as one with great reforms, with the long-awaited end of the serfdom era.

After he was permitted to return to St. Petersburg some ten years later, he returned a different man. He wrote and published a prison memoir titled Notes from a Dead House, in which he described his own experience as well as the lives of the variety of prisoners he’d encountered in Siberia.

His most popular novels are: Notes from the Underground (1864), Crime and Punishment (1866), The Idiot (1869), Demons (1872) and The Brothers Karamazov (1880).

You can take a look at the book review of Notes from the Underground and Crime and Punishment by clicking on the names (no spoilers).

The statue to Russia’s national poet Pushkin was unveiled in 1880 providing Dostoevsky with the opportunity he’d long sought, actually to speak to his fellow countrymen, warning them of the dangers that lie ahead and the ruinous consequences that would surely ensue if they followed the Westerners with their fraudulent promises of progress and freedom.

Pushkin’s statue

He delivered his address in a hall of columns used by the nobility. A truly prophetic figure, speaking with great force and eloquence and leading up to his tremendous climax when he proclaimed the coming of a universal brotherhood brought about not by socialism and revolution but by the full and perfect realisation of the Christian Enlightenment.

He died a year later in 1881, from his complicated health problems.

Everything that Dostoevsky had warned against had become a reality in Russia, the church had collapsed, nihilism and atheism became prevalent and the ideologies of Marx and Lenin that made people believe that it was possible to create a perfect society without God, caused millions of deaths.

1860's Russia: The Nihilists — Roleplayer Guild
Russian Nihilist Movement

Dostoevsky’s works, far from seeming to belong to a vanished past, grow ever more relevant to the dilemmas and distractions which are part of the experience of living in this age.

All his life he was questing for God and only seems to have found him, if ever, at the end of his days, after passing through what he called the hellfire of doubt.

What makes his books well worth reading now is the unsparing vision of what destructive forces come into the world when there is a vacuum of spiritual understanding.

Freedom to choose between good and evil he saw as the very essence of human existence. All our imperfections are part of the human condition and we shouldn’t torment ourselves with the dream that we could become perfect and ideal beings.

“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” – Dostoevsky.

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Greatest Philosophers In History | Fyodor Dostoevsky

Dostovesky’s works explore human psychology in the troubled socio-political atmosphere of 19th century Russia. His novels had a great impact on psychology, especially of people who lose their reason, who are nihilistic, or who become insane or commit murder. He is considered as one of the greatest psychological novelists in world literature.

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The Ultimate Truth: Subjectivity – Kierkegaard

The world is absurd, and we must live in it.

“As I grew up, I opened my eyes and saw the real world, I began to laugh and I haven’t stopped since”. – Søren Kierkegaard

One can try making sense of life by laying a worldview or template on it, but Kierkegaard would guarantee you that the template would eventually shatter and break.

So, what do you do? Keep trying new templates and see if one works for you? Or maybe the template’s the problem?

Kierkegaard would tell you to start with yourself. He wrote in his journal:

“What I really want is to be clear in my mind what I am to do, not what I am to know, except in so far as a certain knowledge must precede every action. The thing is to understand myself, to see what God really wishes me to do: the thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die.”

Find a truth which is true for you.

Subjectivity. Not trying to find your identity in a system that somebody else created, and probably isn’t working for them either. What is the use of working through all philosophical systems and construct a world which one does not live, but only holds up to the view of others? The view must be taken up into one’s own life, and that is what Kierkegaard viewed as the most important thing.

“Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.”

One must take full possession of one’s existence and accept responsibility for it. Existence is a colossal risk; we can never know whether the way we choose to live is the right way. Anyone who realises this fully, is bound to feel angst according to Kierkegaard.

Such subjective truths supported by no objective evidence are grounded on nothing. We thus come to know the nothingness of existence, the utter uncertainty and illusion.

The only way out of this madness, is to take the leap of faith. The individual is thus saved from this madness, by his subjective inwardness being related to God.

By 1855, at the age of 42 – Kierkegaard was worn out, and the money he had inherited from his father was gone. He collapsed in the street; he was taken to his deathbed in a hospital where he refused to take the Holy Communion from the priest and he wouldn’t see his brother Peter, who was a bishop.

He ended his life with a savage assault on Christendom, attacking an illusion. The established church was supporting the rapid modernisation of Danish society, in the belief that the new liberal state would be a continuation of Christendom by other means.

Established Church.

There was a surprisingly big crowd at the funeral and a protest was started against the way in which the established church had taken possession of the body of the man who had so publicly defied it. Disorder ensued. A fitting end to someone who was always an oddity, an outsider, an exception, an individual.

Statue of Søren Kierkegaard in the Royal Library Garden of Copenhagen.

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Greatest Philosophers In History | Soren Kierkegaard

His concept of anxiety or angst is one of the most profound pre-Freudian works of psychology. His most popular work includes the leap of faith, the concept of angst, the three stages on life (aesthetic, ethical, religious) and the absurd, among others.

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The Sickness Unto Death: Angst & Despair – Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard spends most of his writing talking about concepts such as anxiety or angst and despair. The Sickness Unto Death is a life changing book about the despair of not being one’s true self and also quite short at around a few hundred pages long, depending on the version.

One of his famous quotes is “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom”.

His concept of anxiety or angst is one of the most profound pre-Freudian works of psychology. Human beings enjoy a freedom of choice that we find both appealing and terrifying. It is the anxiety of understanding freedom when considering undefined possibilities of one’s life and one’s power of choice over them. Angst is one of the primary features of Kierkegaard’s philosophy. It is deeper than anxiety, it is a sort of dread, however – dread without an object. Which is worse than dread, you don’t see it coming, you just know something is wrong.

We have an infinite number of possibilities, and when we have to choose one, we become overwhelmed at the sheer amount of them. If you ask someone if they are an individual, they will undoubtedly say yes. However, one may possess the ability to freely act, but if one never uses it and gets lost in the infinite, thinking about an endless sea of possibilities, they are effectively not capable of freely acting.

Infinite possibilities

The other part Kierkegaard emphasises is the finite. That is, not considering enough possibilities and just mindlessly going around the demands of culture and social expectations. The scary part is that most people are less aware of this, they see everything they do as their own choice. However, some people live a complete lie. They live because of what their mom and dad, friends, and society tell them that’s what one does.

Suppose a man that finds his high school sweetheart, they graduate together, they marry and have kids, they get a house mortgage and work at a normal job and so on. This man didn’t do all of this because he wanted to, but because that’s what he was expected to do. He then realises he’s been living a lie, divorces and quits his job. He moves out to find something meaningful in his life, he works in a fast food chain and romanticises about his future day after day, month after month, year after year.

Living a lie

For Kierkegaard, the only way out of this is to take a leap of faith, which may be the ultimate irrational experience, but for him it is the most reasonable thing you can do, you choose the person you are going to be rather than the world choosing for you.

Leap of faith

And when you make that choice, you can actually act on it and be an individual. It is the ultimate subjective experience. This is his justification on why you should take a leap of faith towards true Christianity.

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Greatest Philosophers In History | Soren Kierkegaard

His concept of anxiety or angst is one of the most profound pre-Freudian works of psychology. His most popular work includes the leap of faith, the concept of angst, the three stages on life (aesthetic, ethical, religious) and the absurd, among others.

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Fear and Trembling: The Religious and the Ethical – Kierkegaard

Fear and Trembling is a thrilling and enthralling book as well as a great introduction to Kierkegaard, it is also relatively short at around 200 pages (Either/Or and Stages on Life’s Way are around 800 pages long!)

To recap the previous posts on Kierkegaard, we know that he presents three stages on life’s way: the aesthetic, the ethical and the religious.

His first book Either/Or focuses on the aesthetic and the ethical, while Stages On Life’s Way is a continuation of Either/Or where he introduces the religious stage.

In Fear and Trembling he focuses on the clash between the religious and the ethical stages through the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham who is childless after 80 years, prays to God for a son. He is granted his wish, and 30 years later, God orders him to kill his son, but at the last second God spares Isaac.

Abraham and Isaac, Guns and God | Leah D. Schade
Abraham and Isaac

He presents this story in four different viewpoints:

1. In one Abraham kills his son in accordance to God’s will, telling his son that he is doing it by his own will, not by God’s. This is a lie, but he would rather have Isaac lose faith in him than lose faith in God.

2. In the second version, Abraham decides not to kill his son, and his faith is shaken.

3. In the third version, Abraham decides not to kill his son and prays to God to forgive him for having thought of sacrificing him.

4. And in the final version, Abraham cannot kill his son, and Isaac begins to question his own faith due to Abraham’s refusal to do what God commanded.

Kierkegaard essentially claims that the killing of Isaac is ethically wrong but religiously right. The tension between ethics and religion causes Abraham anxiety.

The Teleological Suspension of the Ethical

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is justice-9017_1280.jpg

For Kierkegaard, Abraham performs what he calls a teleological suspension of the ethical. In other words, he suspends his ethical standards when he decides to kill Isaac, however he has faith in the righteousness of the end that God will bring about. He puts his religious concerns over ethical concerns, thus proving his faith in God.

The book details the relationship between the ethical and the religious in much the same way that Either/Or details the relationship between the aesthetic and the ethical.

Knights of Infinite Resignation and Knights of Faith

In the book, Kierkegaard distinguishes between knights of infinite resignation and knights of faith.

The knights of infinite resignation allow themselves to resign from the nature of the world. Reconciling oneself to loss. Kierkegaard uses the story of a princess and a man who is deeply in love with her.

The knight of infinite resignation gives up their being together in this world. It would amount to the expression of an eternal love, which would assume a religious character, an eternal form that no one can take away from him, this allows the pain caused by his unsatisfied desire to reconcile him spiritually.

On the other hand, the knight of faith does exactly the same as the other knight did, but he takes it one step further: he places complete faith in himself and in God, and since with God all things are possible, even if it is humanly impossible to be together, he still believes that in this world, they will be together, through divine possibility.

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Greatest Philosophers In History | Soren Kierkegaard

His concept of anxiety or angst is one of the most profound pre-Freudian works of psychology. His most popular work includes the leap of faith, the concept of angst, the three stages on life (aesthetic, ethical, religious) and the absurd, among others.

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Book Review: Nausea – Jean Paul Sartre

Nausea is Jean Paul Sartre’s first novel and in his own words, one of his best works. It is also one of the most well known pieces of Existentialism, Nausea delves into the pure absurdity of the world with Sartre’s wild imagination and explores the randomness and superfluity of the world. Everything that we take for granted and seems normal to us, is disintegrated and torn apart to make it look absolutely absurd.

Rating

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The main protagonist, Antoine Roquentin, is a French writer whose only purpose is to write a history book about an 18th century historical figure called Rollebon. His life revolves around writing this book, going to cafés and visiting the library. He is a solitary figure, a solipsist, a lone-wolf, has no friends and usually eavesdrops on other people’s conversations and watches their actions.

Roquentin, like Dostoevsky’s Underground Man, is a militant and a sufferer. He is at war with Bouville (the town in which he lives), at war with the regulars at the café, at war with Anny and the Autodidact (the two principal characters with whom he interacts, which are in some way his doubles), and at war with himself.

The book is written in the form of a diary in which Roquentin documents his every feeling and sensation about the world and people around him. He starts feeling horrified of his existence and its meaninglessness. He finds situations and inanimate objects imbued with meanings which bear the stamp of his existence, all that he encounters in his everyday life is permeated with a horrible taste, evoking in him a sense of Nausea. 

These are episodes in which afflicted by his sense that there is absolutely no reason for living, he is simultaneously alienated from and overimmersed in reality.

“Nothing looked real. I felt surrounded by cardboard scenery which could suddenly be removed. The world was waiting, holding its breath, making itself small – it was waiting for its attack, its Nausea”.

Nausea – Los esfuerzos estériles by Salvador Dalí.

Everyday things such as a pebble, a beer glass, a tree, his own hand, oppresses him with their heavy contingency (an event you can’t be sure will happen or not) and awful superfluity.

“The essential thing is contingency. I mean that one cannot define existence as necessity. To exist is simply to be there; those who exist let themselves be encountered, but you can never deduce anything from them. Only they tried to overcome this contingency by inventing a necessary, causal being. But no necessary being can explain existence: contingency is not a delusion, a probability which can be dissipated; it is the absolute, consequently, the perfect free gift.”

Sartre was an Existentialist Atheist, his philosophy project was to develop a ‘consistent atheist position’, he was interested more in exploring the role that God plays in the human experience, especially with respect to freedom and not metaphysical claims about the existence of a God.

El eclipse de Sartre | Todoliteratura
Sartre

In a peculiar scene, Roquentin finds himself at awe looking at a train seat, he sees it as a pile of dead animal skin. A seat is only a seat by name, and it seems ridiculous to call them seats or anything at all, he says: “I am in the midst of Things, which cannot be given names.” Sartre sees that we structure life by absences, by nullity. We call a tree a ‘tree’ rejecting all other possible names for it.

The concept of freedom is the most important part of the book, to understand how truly free we really are, and how terrifying it actually is as ‘one can do anything.’ But it would be a mistake to consider this as freedom. While Roquentin comes to the realisation of this, the citizens of Bouville whom Roquentin watches going about their everyday business, are still veiled in ignorance of their arbitrariness. They are as unfree as Roquentin, yet they hide the terrible imprisonment of their existences by getting up and going to work and so on. They are examples of what Sartre calls bad faith, a way of denying the fundamental nature of our freedom and responsibility, it is a way of making excuses for ourselves to avoid the anguish of absolute freedom.

Roquentin believes he is free, but his freedom is without value, because his sense of life’s randomness has robbed him of meaningful choice. On one hand it is anguishing since we are sentenced by our freedom, imprisoned by it (since it makes us afraid) and on the other hand it is optimistic because we are truly free and can make free choices.

“Standing in front of the passage Gillet, I no longer know what to do. Isn’t something waiting for me at the end of the passage? But in the place Ducoton, at the end of the rue Tournebride, there is also a certain thing which needs me in order to come to life. I am full of anguish: the slightest gesture engages me. I can’t imagine what is required of me. Yet I must choose: I sacrifice the passage Gillet, I shall never know what it held for me.”

One of Sartre’s famous quote is:

Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.”

Condemned to be free

His sense of life’s pointlessness concerns his awareness that life’s occurrences are random. Life resembles a pack of cards, which he sees earlier in the novel. When we play at cards, we invest each card with a useless significance; for what is more random that that fine King of Hearts, say, which we hold in our hands?

“Handsome king, come from so far away, prepared for by so many combinations, by so many vanished gestures. Now he disappears in his turn, so that other combinations may be born, other gestures, attacks, counterattacks, changes of fortune, a host of little adventures.”

He dreams of killing himself, but even that would’ve been superfluous. The key to his existence, to his Nausea, is the Absurdity of the World. In the climax of the novel, he finds himself looking at a chestnut tree and is flabbergasted by the roots of it, he feels at one with the tree.

“A circle is not absurd, it is clearly explicable by the rotation of a segment of a straight line around one of its extremities. But a circle doesn’t exist either. That root, on the other hand, existed in so far that I could not explain it. Knotty, inert, nameless, it fascinated me, filled my eyes, repeatedly brought me back to its own existence.”

Only at the end of the novel does a chink of hope glance on this hero, when he listens to Some of these days by Sophie Tucker (1927) in a record player and is moved by the idea of living for the first time in years.

Some Of These Days ♪

He thinks of doing something similar to this, not in the realm of music, but in the realm of art. Not a history book, because that is about what has existed. But perhaps an invented story, about something that has never existed:

“It would have to be beautiful and hard as steel and make people ashamed of their existence… A book. A novel.”

The novel being his diary entries, Nausea.

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Stages on Life’s Way: The Religious – Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard’s second book Stages on Life’s Way was written as a continuation of his masterpiece Either/Or where he introduced the Aesthetic and the Ethical stages. In Stages on Life’s Way, Kierkegaard introduces a third stage: the Religious.

Kierkegaard was a Christian, but if you compared him to every other Christian you’ve ever met, he’s a completely different creature. He wanted to become, as he put it: “a Christian in Christendom”. Christendom was represented by the Danish Established Church, which in Kierkegaard’s view, made individuals lazy in their religion, many of the citizens were officially “Christians” without having any idea what it meant to be a Christian.

Te explicamos 10 cosas sobre Kierkegaard que no sabías - P21
Kierkegaard

He wanted to know how to live an authentically religious life while surrounded by people who are falsely religious. Religion had merged with culture, and for that reason, religion had died. For Kierkegaard, the relationship with God is a personal matter. He was a heavy critic of the established church for he saw it as a distraction and interference from the personal relationship a true Christian must undertake.

He considers the religious life to be the highest plane of existence. So, in the aesthetic life one is ruled by passion (the inner world), in the ethical life one is ruled by societal regulations (the outer world), and in the religious life one is ruled by total faith in God. Thus, one can never be truly free. True faith doesn’t lead to freedom, but it relieves the psychological effects of human existence.

One must embrace the absurd – having faith in God, although one cannot believe in God since there is no rational evidence.

He famously said that: “faith is immediacy after reflection.” In other words, the highest belief and goal of life is not to understand the highest, but to act on it. Just as finding your way through a forest, when you come to a parting of the way, you pause, reflect, and then strike out along your chosen path. Commitment brings you back into the forward movement of life, faith is immediacy after reflection.

Choose your path

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Greatest Philosophers In History | Soren Kierkegaard

His concept of anxiety or angst is one of the most profound pre-Freudian works of psychology. His most popular work includes the leap of faith, the concept of angst, the three stages on life (aesthetic, ethical, religious) and the absurd, among others.

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Either/Or: The Aesthetic and the Ethical – Kierkegaard

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.

1. Aesthetic

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.

2. Ethical

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.

La vida sexual y sentimental de Freud
Sigmund Freud

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.

Immanuel Kant - Wikipedia, la enciclopedia libre
Immanuel Kant

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.

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Greatest Philosophers In History | Soren Kierkegaard

His concept of anxiety or angst is one of the most profound pre-Freudian works of psychology. His most popular work includes the leap of faith, the concept of angst, the three stages on life (aesthetic, ethical, religious) and the absurd, among others.

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An Introduction to Søren Kierkegaard

Søren Kierkegaard was a profound and prolific 19th century writer and philosopher in the Danish Golden Age of intellectual and artistic activity. Although he would argue that he wasn’t a philosopher since all he did was write about life, how we choose to live and what it means to be alive, centred in the individual or “existing being”. He is regarded as the father of Existentialism.

Existentialism is a philosophy that emphasises the existence of the individual and subjectivity. The core philosophy is the problem of existence. What is existence? Kierkegaard insisted that every individual should not only ask this question but should make his very life his own subjective answer to it. This stress on subjectivity is one of Kierkegaard’s main contributions.

Subjectivity

The idea of the subjective experience, the one thing we all probably have in common, has long been ignored by philosophers, it was left for simpletons. For almost two millennia, the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle reigned supreme. Kierkegaard helped build the foundations of Existentialist thought.

However, it wasn’t until a century after Kierkegaard’s death that Existentialism gained rapid popularity, with the emergence of French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre, examining the problems of existence, angst, and the absurd.

Jean-Paul Sartre: A Philosopher Of Freedom - Canyon News
Jean Paul Sartre

In the realm of science, we’ve come a long way, a great progress has been undergone. However, in the individual realm, no progress has been or can be made. We all suffer and enjoy the same condition, the human condition, and have done so since time immemorial.

The individual sees the world he wills to see, and this depends upon the values he lives by, the ones that make him what he is. Kierkegaard argues that the values that make the individual what he is, also makes the world what it is.

Søren was the youngest of seven children, however, they all soon died, and he was left with his only sibling, Peter, who became a bishop. Søren had a slight physical handicap, often sickly and frail, yet highly gifted and his father’s favourite. It was his father’s second marriage, to a housemaid, that gave birth to Kierkegaard, when his father was 57 years old. It came within a year to his first wife’s death.

As a child, Søren was a strange kid among his peers. It is thought that he developed his sharp wit and quick thinking as a result of this, as well as with the guidance of his father. He could explore within himself many different forms of consciousness and ways of life, as he said:

“I go fishing for a thousand monsters in the depths of my own self.”

Kierkegaard’s father was a firmly religious and deeply melancholic man. When he was 11 years old, looking after sheep, numb with cold, hungry, and alone – he stood on a hillock and cursed God. He wasn’t able to forget this 71 years later. Kierkegaard’s father went on to become one of the richest merchants in Copenhagen and died at 82 years old, leaving a large sum of money to his son.

After the death of his father, Kierkegaard underwent a transformation of faith in the profoundest sense, to love god, which he considered to be the resolution of the fundamental misfortune of his being and the purpose of his existence.

Christianity

As a student in Copenhagen, he fell in love with Regine Olsen. However, at the age of 27, he still had no career. He contemplated two options: to marry Regine or to become a pastor, as his father had desired.

His hatred of the established church didn’t help him with becoming a pastor.  Alternatively, he could develop the other side of himself, his strange personality, and special gifts, in which case he should remain an outsider and become a writer.

The meaning of Kierkegaard’s whole life hung under a decision and he now saw that choice is everything. He said:

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

He ended up breaking off his engagement to Regine Olsen, causing much pain and scandal. As a result, he had been ostracised by society. Kierkegaard had made up his mind to become a freelance writer living of money left him by his father. His starting point for his writing was inevitably himself, he had to understand and explain his own strange personality.

The public mockery and caricatures by the satirical magazine Corsair forced Kierkegaard into deeper isolation. But this only increased his determination to counterattack. To the public, his writings, with his huge cast of characters, seemed like a kind of theatre, just as the church seems to be concerned with Christianity.

The difference between the theatre and the church is essentially that the theatre honestly acknowledges itself to be what it is, while the church is a theatre which dishonestly tries in every way to hide what it is.

He wrote:

“A fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to warn the public; they thought it was a joke and applauded. He repeated it; they applauded even more. I think that’s just how the world will come to an end: to the general applause of wits who believe it’s a joke.”

Sad clown

Kierkegaard wrote furiously all day and sometimes through the night as well. In 1843, he published nine books, containing the most detailed analysis of the possibilities of human existence yet done by anyone, using many pseudonyms, tricks, and other stratagems to deceive the reader into the truth. The purpose of all this was to make the reader come up with his own conclusion.

He explores different possibilities of human life, with the object of sharing that Christianity is the spiritual discipline that leads us to true selfhood, that tunes our individuality to the highest pitch. He’s interested in nothing but what he calls inwardness or subjectivity. Or as he says: “with the how, rather than with the what.”

Karl Marx, a contemporary of Kierkegaard’s, saw us cooperating with historical forces. The historical process itself becomes the sole redeemer and what the individual does is no longer important, it is all merely objective, rejecting life that starts from the individual person.

Timeline of Karl Marx - Wikipedia
Karl Marx

Kierkegaard took the extreme opposite point of view. The leading edge of reality is nothing but our own personal decisions, the choices we make settle what we become, and what kind of world we’re going to find ourselves in. It is a philosophy action and will. Life’s chief task is to become an individual. And you can only become an individual by action and decision.

The divergence between Kierkegaard and Marx in the 1840s remains fundamental to us to this day.

He feared that in modern consumer society the individual was becoming absorbed into the crowd, a mere member of a herd. The spiritual life of the individual was being stifled by communal, political, and religious illusions. He says: “Any reformation which is not aware that fundamentally every single individual needs to be reformed is an illusion.”

All extraordinary men who had previously lived, had aimed at spreading Christianity, his task was to put a halt to a lying diffusion of Christianity. For him, Christianity which wants every man to be an individual has been transformed by human clumsiness into precisely the opposite.

He famously wrote in his diary: “My task is so new that in the 1800 years of Christianity there is literally no one from whom I can learn how to go about it.”

He hated the crowd and the social scene. When religion is integrated into society, the social scene becomes the religious scene.

Kierkegaard wanted to be an individual, but he couldn’t be an individual without being part of society. We define our meaning in life trying to come up with rational decisions, despite living in an irrational world.

Kierkegaard assigned the authorship of his books to invented authors, and he even made up the editors and compilers. So, you might have a book by Kierkegaard that begins “this was found at the bottom of a lake, by an editor who put it together”, and so on and so forth.

Kierkegaard’s hero was Socrates, who is understood through Plato since we don’t have any of his writings. For Kierkegaard, Socrates is an ironist, one who uses double meaning. He famously said: “I know that I know nothing”. He didn’t have any philosophical system, his whole life was a personal preoccupation with himself, he just asked questions, which led to his death sentence, and he ended up killing himself.

Socrates - HISTORY
Socrates’ suicide.

Kierkegaard some himself that way. The  one thing Kierkegaard does not want to do, is to allow you to systematise him, systematising thought kills life. He saw that with Hegel, whom he wasn’t particularly fond of. Philosophy, for Kierkegaard, is not about understanding concepts, but rather about the human experience.

He uses pseudonyms as masks for personalities, his most famous being Johannes Climacus. They could be positions that he holds in some way, but his main point is to occupy all positions philosophically.

He would sometimes publish different books in a single day, and these books would comment on each other from completely contrasting perspectives. Thus, it becomes too difficult to ascertain which propositions Kierkegaard himself upholds.


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Greatest Philosophers In History | Soren Kierkegaard

His concept of anxiety or angst is one of the most profound pre-Freudian works of psychology. His most popular work includes the leap of faith, the concept of angst, the three stages on life (aesthetic, ethical, religious) and the absurd, among others.

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Shadow Archetype Explained | Carl Jung

Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions. – Carl Jung.

Exploring your shadow can lead to greater authenticity, creativity, energy, and personal awakening. This introspective process is essential for reaching maturity (which is rarer than most think).

So, what is the shadow? It can be described as the unknown dark side of the personality. The shadow forms part of a projection, you deny the existence of all the things you despise in yourself, while attributing them to others. So, whatever qualities we deny in ourselves, we see in others.

Unknown dark side of the personality

The shadow is a moral problem that challenges your ego, it affects you in the deepest roots of your personality. To become conscious of it, you must recognise the dark aspects of your personality as present and real.

For one does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious, that is, by confronting the shadow.

To become a better version of yourself, getting closer to your true self, it is essential to integrate those elements of your psyche that have been repressed and have thus, formed your shadow.

These are all the elements that are considered immoral by society, even though they might be good for you. All we deny in ourselves, whatever we perceive as inferior, evil, or unacceptable, become part of the shadow. All the wrath, selfishness, greed, and envy within us produce resentment and repression, making our shadows bigger, darker, and stronger. To avoid this, we must develop virtues such as temperance, patience, gratitude, and humility.

Be humble

It is very possible that once we undergo the examination of our shadow, we are likely to discover how much hypocrisy, complacency, and fear many of the moral aspects we obey have, even those dictated by social norms.

With our past incidents and our current desires, it is only with considerable effort that we can detach ourselves from the shadow. If it comes to a neurosis, we invariably have to deal with a considerably intensified shadow. And if such a person wants to be cured it is necessary to find a way in which his conscious personality and his shadow can live together.

The shadow plays an important role in the overall psyche, and a weak adaptation can result in becoming a passive victim of your own shadow, constantly worried with what you think that other people think of you. You become a walking persona, putting a mask in social environments, concealing the true nature of yourself. This is especially true now in the era of social media, whereby we only display the pleasant parts and highlights of our lives. Thus, one could say that “the persona is that which in reality one is not, but which oneself as well as others think one is“.

As a consequence of acting with our fake self and repressing our real intentions, we remain obedient, and perhaps likeable, however, it is at the cost of our own mental stability and limiting our self-improvement and growth.

It must be you who integrates your shadow, and not the other way around. Otherwise you will become the slave of your autonomous shadow.

We not only repress the negative elements of our life, but we also repress the positive aspects: our honesty, creativity, competitiveness – these must be rescued from within our dark shadow.

How can we take back those virtues? Acting as a hero would act, mythologically speaking.

The hero is the one who conquers the dragon, and not the one who is devoured by it, only one who has risked the fight with the dragon and is not overcome by it, discovers the hidden treasure.

Be a Hero

He alone has a genuine claim to self-confidence, for he has faced the dark ground of his self and thereby has gained himself. Everything that menaced him from inside he has made his own, acquiring the right to believe that he will be able to overcome all future threats by the same means. He has arrived at an inner certainty which makes him capable of self-reliance.

Self-reliance is a key part of what Jung calls individuation or self-realisation, a lifelong process of distinguishing the self out of each individual’s conscious and unconscious elements, maximizing one’s human potential. This he believed to be the main goal of human psychological development.

Individuation

Imagine that you had a fairly hostile father who was not very well controlled in his aggression, decent person other than that. Your reaction is that “I am never going to be aggressive”, and you build a moral structure that’s part of your personality, stripping the idea of aggression of any ethical utility.

When Nietzsche said that Morality is cowardice, he meant that most of what people claim to be moral virtue is merely their fear to do anything that they would actually like to do, but that society would deem inappropriate.

It’s not that a person is good and doesn’t hurt someone, it’s that the person is afraid to hurt someone, and therefore doesn’t want to admit he is afraid, claiming that he is moral, masking his essential fear and cowardice in a guise of morality.

Being harmless and being moral is far from the same thing. This simplified version of morality stops you from tapping into the deeper parts of your psyche, by denying the worst in yourself, you prevent the possibility of the best.

For those who have weapons and the ability to use them, but determine to keep them sheathed, will inherit the world. Those who are capable of force but decide not to use it are in the proper moral position.

No one can achieve wholeness of personality without integrating their capacity of aggression. Jung’s idea of integrating the shadow, especially in the idea of evil, in part came from the experiences of what happened in Nazi Germany and during the Second World War.

What do you do with the part that’s aggressive and malevolent? You can’t just put it behind you, its existence must be admitted and brought into life, otherwise it  will be lurking in the unconscious and, eventually, strike as an autonomous being when you least expect it.

To gain an in-depth perspective, it is highly recommended that you read Jung’s Collected Works Vol. 9 – both Part I: Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious and Part II: Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self.

Apart from psychotherapy and talking to friends or family about how they think you are, you must notice and contemplate your resentment and decide what you need to do to remove it. Radical honesty and genuine moral effort are good substitutes for psychotherapy.

Let’s say that you go to a party and you’re trying to impress the people that are there, you are trying to get them to like you. Maybe you get a little drunk and you laugh at some jokes, going along with everyone so that they like you, and then you go home. Now you are bitterly resentful about the way you were treated at this party, that’s going to make all sorts of regrets, aggressive and vengeful thoughts flash through your imagination.

The first part of the problem is that you were acting as your Persona, sacrificing yourself at the party so that people would like you. The second part is that you were refusing to admit to the existence of those elements of you that would have actually protected you from doing that.

Now you are home and you’re all bitter and resentful and you have fantasies of revenge. That reveals to you the shadow part of you that’s aggressive, present in every human being, but if you would have integrated the shadow more successfully into your personality, you wouldn’t have had to let people treat you differently to get them to like you.

Bitter and resentful

But most people have already adopted a morality that says:

“Well, I have to be likeable, and I shouldn’t do anything that causes any conflict, I shouldn’t ever hurt anybody’s feelings”.

There is no integration of the shadow in that situation.

Resentment is a good emotion for making contact with the shadow side, it reveals that you are either immature and you should stop whining and get on with things or that people really have been poking at you too much, so you have got things to say that you haven’t been willing to say or don’t know how to say.

And in order to stand up for yourself you must know when you can unsheathe your weapon, and let others know that you are willing to use it, this again might be something that violates your morality. However, when you are able to do this, you generally don’t have to, but they need to know that you can.

So, what would be a practical approach to integrating your shadow?

This practice is known as shadow work. Self-awareness, watching your emotional reactions, being radically honest and recording your dreams and discoveries are the main parts of shadow work.

An integrated person is not one who has simply eliminated the sense of guilt or the sense of anxiety from his life, who is fearless and wooden. He is a person who feels all these things but has no recriminations against himself for feeling them.

Integration of your shadow should be a lifelong process; this will help you get closer to self-realisation. Improving not only yourself, but also your relationship, your perception, your energy and physical health, your maturity, and your creativity.

“There is no light without shadow and no psychic wholeness without imperfection.”

Buy the books!

Part I: Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious

Part II: Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self

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Nietzsche – The Übermensch / Overman

In Nietzsche’s book Thus Spoke Zarathustra, there are three major teachings Zarathustra has to offer: the Will to Power, the conception of the Eternal Recurrence and the advocacy of the Overman.

This is the last post of Nietzsche’s philosophy, where we will explore the meaning behind his final teaching, the Overman.

Zarathustra, who is standing in front of a crowd, begins speaking.  “I teach you the overman! Man is something that shall be overcome.”

“What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be that to overman: a laughingstock or painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape… The overman is the meaning of the earth.”

“Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman – a rope over an abyss. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end.”

The crowd look at him, and then they begin laughing. They think he is some sort of street performer.

Nietzsche created the concept of the Overman, whose antithesis is the Last Man, a mediocre animal without dignity and comfortably surrounded by the herd, who despises everything the overman has to say, the man who is master of himself. But to master oneself is the hardest of all tasks, that which requires the greatest increase in power, and if happiness is the feeling that power increases, that a resistance is overcome, the overman will be the happiest man and, as such, the meaning and justification of existence.

It is the pinnacle of self-overcoming, to rise above the human norm and above all difficulties, embracing whatever life throws at you.

“For believe me! – the secret of harvesting from existence the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment is to live dangerously! 


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Greatest Philosophers In History | Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche’s main concepts on living life revolve around self-overcoming, amor fati, perspectivism, human nobility, the will to power, the eternal recurrence, and the overman.

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