Existentialism revolves around the story behind the human existence and talks about the meaning and purpose of life. It is a philosophical way of thinking and Soren Kierkegaard was the first philosopher to have an impactful thinking on existentialism. His work highlights the theory behind life and human existence. He has extensively worked on the problems around religion, moral and ethics. His contributions are related to the origin of romanticism and all these critical way of thinking and he has analysed each one of them with a new perspective. This study would focus on Soren Kierkegaard work around existentialism. A detailed analysis of his work would be done based on the literature available and a summary of the insights would be shared. This research would help us in understanding the concept of existentialism better and would throw a light on the philosophy of human existence. The ideas shared with existentialism would answer a plethora of queries about the purpose of life and human values. The study would also help in determining the spiritual and religious origin of thoughts in our world.
Keywords: Soren Kierkegaard, Existentialism, Human existence, Philosophy, Romanticism
Kierkegaard (1813-1855) was one of the revered philosopher and poet of the nineteenth century. His engagement with the world of human life and existence has been phenomenal in understanding the theory of life and beliefs. He has analysed the meaning of Christianity from a different perspective and has challenged the age old beliefs. He has inspired people to see the existentialism from a new pair of lens and has talked about the human existence in detail. His works The Absurd, Angst, Existential Despair, Existential Philosophy, Authenticity, Knight of Faith, Leap of Faith and Present Age has answered multiple questions related to existentialism and human existence. The romanticism in his theories has attracted the readers to go through his analysis from a fresh mindset and connect with his thinking. 1
His thoughts in his work Leap of Faith give a glimpse of this thinking where he says that No one’s life is perfect and imperfection is the essence of life. Some people have a natural strength to deal with it positively and some need help to do the same. Ultimately, the intent is to live and appreciate the life God has given us with a smile. Sometimes in life we give so much importance to trivial things that the real essence of life and relationship seems to fade away. He further shares his thoughts and says that sometimes you need to live in the moment instead of worrying about the superficial things. Rules and discipline are fine but sometimes you need to be flexible enough to let the love bring happiness in life. Moreover, his point is that in our life balance is very necessary. If we don’t learn to balance things in our life we will end up losing in the long run. 2
His work Existential Philosophy highlights the fact that No matter how much unhappy you are in a relationship, there is always a way to sort things out. And if fixing things are not possible, it’s okay to part ways in a peaceful way. We always hear that love is meant to be eternal but in case there is no love it is better to end the companionship rather than making it ugly. Losing dignity, betrayal and disrespecting can never be a wise way of dealing with the problem in your life. This solution would not help anyone in the long run. His philosophy about life states that in life sometimes we think that we have given our best and have planned things in the best possible way. We are so hopeful and positive about the return that we fail to realise that there can be a scope of improvement. We might miss to see things the way other person can or suggest. So it is very important to have a two way communication to know how the other person feels instead of assuming to be the best one. As he says – Nothing is perfect and imperfection is the essence of life. 3
Further in his writing Existential Despair he shares his thinking and says that people wonder about why God has given everything to the ones who never desired for it. They speculate on why they not chosen for that blessing and they were wanted to know what wrong they did to deserve such a huge hit in their life. Eventually, they get their answers. They learn that God give everything to people who walk on the path of unconditional love, compassion and are satisfied with whatever they have got in life. People who chose shortcuts or the wrong path to get their desires fulfilled get the hit from the cycle of Karma. He further states that life comes in a circle, whatever we give definitely comes back to us. He explains that the tough rides that life gives make people stronger and wiser. They see the real life in such experiences. I start appreciating what God had given them and want to share that with the people in need. They develop the feeling of compassion and a sense of responsibility for the weaker section of our society and start understanding the meaning of life better. 4
Existentialism explores the meaning of life and human existence and develops a philosophical way of thinking with the life experiences. Soren Kierkegaard has analysed the philosophy of life and experiences with romanticism and has shared a new of looking into the meaning of life. He explains in his concept of existentialism that people utilise another chance given by life to improve their track record. And as we do not have control on what has already happened. We can only work on our future actions to correct our past and improve our future. He believes that’s how cycle of life works. He further states in his works that the tough times people face gives them an awakening call in the life and then people start believing in the real meaning of existentialism. 5
His philosophical contributions about life clearly states that existentialism is about forgiveness. He says that even if we want to punish someone, taking revenge is not the right solution, as that will make them feel proud of their decision of bad deeds. He suggests that if we really want someone to realise the importance of life and human values, the best way is to leave them, forget them and forgive them. If they are meant to be in our life and exist in this world, they will come back on the right track, else just let them go. It is good to end things on a happy note and live life with compassion. He says that is the real meaning of human existence. He further states that bitterness is not going to help anyone. Life is long and it is fine to end a chapter and start a new one if we are stuck and not going anywhere. There is no point spending our time and energy in anything which is aimed for destruction. In life change is the only constant and we have to keep on moving to survive. His theory states that life does not give many chances and we have to correct ourselves before it’s too late. 6
In his analysis regarding romanticism, Kierkegaard states that being in love is a beautiful feeling. And life is bland without love. No material thing can replace the satisfaction that is given by the beautiful feeling of love. He explains that love can be found in different forms. It was not necessary to get a partner to have a feeling of romance. It was very important to understand self love first, in a way that makes us happy. It was significant to love others as well. Any action of ours that give others a reason to be happy will give us the kind of satisfaction which cannot be defined. He says that meaningful transition in the life is after a powerful awakening call given by the almighty. His contributions in the field of existentialism through the concept of romanticism will also encourage people to believe in Karma and God and would make them realise that science and faith go hand in hand. No one can predict the future, but good deeds always pay off and his research will establish this thought process. 7, 8
His concept of existentialism highlights that God has plan for each one of us and we cannot change that. But we can take the control of whatever is in our hand and work for a better life. Instead of focusing on the outcome we shall focus on our efforts. We can help each other to fight with the bad times and can stand up together as a family for those in need. As God only help those who help themselves. Moreover, his philosophy believes that good deeds and faith in the almighty will definitely help us in the long run. 9
- A critical analysis of Soren Kierkegaard’s existentialism
Kierkegaard has analysed the concept of existentialism and has realised that we might think that this is how the human society is and we have to be with it. And, if this has to change, it is going to take an era to change this kind of age old thinking and beliefs. But, someone has to start. Someone has to create a benchmark. Such benchmarks are an inspiration for the society and can start the wind of change. That change will bring a constructive transformation in our lives and we would utilise our resources in a more efficient way. It might help in boosting our happiness index as well. Life is full of uncertainty and we cannot predict it. His contributions around existentialism revolves around the romanticism and deals with the real life experiences that would help us in understanding the essence of life and follow the right path. He has made sincere efforts to strengthen the bond between almighty and us by sharing the untold tales revolving around the power of Karma. He prays to God that all of us get the strength to cope up with our life problems and stay contented for the lifetime. 10,11
In his analysis he states that in life, no matter how much we plan, we should never forget the power of Karma. We all want well for us but for that to happen we have to be good to others as well. We cannot hurt people and expect good things to happen to us. Karma is powerful and that is the essence of life. No one can dodge that fact. I strongly believe in the saying that – what goes away comes back. This means we have to treat others the same way we want to be treated. That is the simple meaning of life that should always be kept in mind. His analysis on the concept of existentialism proposes that life is not a bed of roses and everybody has its own set of challenges. At times we sit and think what wrong we did to see such a bad time in our life. We do not realise the mistakes that we would have done in our life and we fail to understand that action of ours comes back to teach a lesson. The suffering for having evil thoughts is inevitable and Karma is the most powerful truth of life. Nobody can dodge it. The day we would understand this, we would attain a state of peace and wisdom in our life. And nothing is more satisfying than that. That is the truth of life. 12, 13
His experiences in life have made him philosophical and impacted his believes accordingly. He feels that Life is not a bed of roses, this is what we have read and experienced so far. But, still we hope for all our dreams coming true. It is the hope which keeps a dream alive. It gives us the required energy and stamina to work hard and pursue our dreams. Ones who do not leave hope even after a lot of downturns in life and survives the hardships of bad times with grace and stood together as a family are the examples of real existentialism. He further states that the family linage plays a very important part in defining our personality. Our early years of growth are the most important period of our life where we learn the basic lessons of life. It shapes our family values and we transfer these values to our future children. The ones who believe in leading a simple life with honest approach towards life, had shaped their basic roots and kept them intact and grounded even in such complicated life situations. The hardships only add to the learning curve and make us more perseverant. 14
Kierkegaard explains through his works that we should know the difference between needs and wants and should master the art of finding happiness in simplicity. We see people who are happy even with luxurious life and people having just the basic necessities for life could be happy. His followers had realised the secret of happiness and turned out to be a winner at the end. He further states that Life is full of ups and downs and those who fight and survive the low times tend to emerge as a winner in the end. We always feel bad about the tough times we face in life but these struggles make a person more prepared for all the challenges of life. Sometimes, it brings the humankind together and places them on the same boat to fight the hardships of life together and work as a team to strive for the good times. 15
- Study limitation and future scope
The study talks about the concept of existentialism from Kierkegaard’s perspective. It analyses his work and contributions about the meaning of life and human existence. However, the works of other philosophers could also be analysed to get a comparative analysis on the concept of existentialism. Kierkegaard theory of romanticism to define the world has been an inspiring contribution to this world. But, this theory could be studied and researched further from a new perspective. The literature review available supports the Kierkegaard theories but we also need someone to challenge his thoughts to get a fresh and a balanced perspective. The future scope of work could be to study the work of his contemporaries and bring a new perspective to his analysis and thought processes. 16
The study concludes that the real struggle of life starts only when we come out of our comfort zone. It gives us an opportunity to fight our weaknesses and master our strengths. It brings the best version of a human being when we continue to work hard with honesty and perseverance. It is the fate of nature that people who fight, struggle and adapt turns out to be the winner in the end. And people who do not have either willingness or skills to change as per the changing time are out of the race eventually. There are two types of people, one who accepts the fate and lose the hope easily and crib about their bad times. There is another type, who takes all the problems of life as a challenge and work harder to overcome the troubles.
The philosophy of Kierkegaard states that sometimes the hit takes us down when that is least expected. And that is when life quickly takes a reverse turn and we get back at square one, in fact in a worst situation than ever before. He sees that, one hit makes us realise the importance of hard work and independence but when the strike comes again, it takes down our entire enthusiasm and positivity in most of the cases. The research concluded that Sometimes, life gives us opportunities even in the testing times and we just need to keep on trying and wait for the right prospect. This state of life is the silver lining in the distressed situation of hit. This becomes the new hope. We use our will power and intuition to survive and turn the table again in our favour. 17
Further, the study also concludes that the hope is the essence of life. The entire world is surviving on hope. We need to look forward to something in life to be able to keep on going in all forms of life. Time is not same and every phase of life is different. The only thing that is common during all times if the hope on which we build our dreams. Life is not about the destination. It is about the journey that we had to reach to that destination. We have to enjoy every moment of it instead of waiting for the good times to come and bring joy. Happiness is not something which can be asked for. It lies within the person and we have to feel it. Material things and fancy ways of life might seem alluring in the beginning. But, if we will think deeper and introspect, we will realise that happiness has nothing to do with the material things in life. The key of a happy and successful life is having a string faith and devotion. That will give us a hope and would keep our soul calmer and happier. The main essence of life is staying happy. Everything comes later. Humankind has understood that essence and are always ready to face any challenge life threw on them and survived all the hardships of life with dignity and wisdom which comes only with hope and faith.
Moreover, the research highlights that the learning from life experiences is priceless and hence we should capture that through our deeds. The study talks about all the ups and downs and the ways we use to handle the grim phases of his life. It is a live example of the power of honesty and patience which always pays off in the end. The works of Kierkegaard is an ideal learning model for all the people in this world who has been facing rejections and hardships and had been thinking that bad fate does not have any solution. His contributions could help all those who think that they cannot fight with the bad times of life and have lost the hope. The humans’ fighting spirit and the perseverance has helped them rise and shine in the end and that would inspire many more lives to follow that path. 18
The concept of existentialism, based on the philosophy of Kierkegaard is a beautiful manifestation of the life and its meaning. Humankind has seen a huge change in the societal norms and thinking processes over the period of time. The complexity of thoughts and society has added the pressure and confusion about the meaning of life. And such contributions of literature help us and guides to a path of salvation. It liberates the soul and imparts a clear thinking process which helps a human being to survive with grace, dignity and peace. The essence of life and love is powerful and if that is used with wisdom, that can bring wonders to the life.
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- Kierkegaard, Søren. “Practice in Christianity”, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991.
- Kierkegaard, Søren. “The Sickness unto Death: A Christian Psychological Exposition for Upbuilding and Awakening”, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980.
- Kierkegaard, Søren. “Without Authority”, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997.
- McDonald, William. “Philosophy/Philosophers.” In Kierkegaard Research: Sources, Reception and Resources Volume 15.
Kierkegaard and existentialism: A critical Analysis – i need the name for who wrote the piece so that i can cite it in my essay
Dr. Madan Mohan Jha