Perhaps the capacity to think through abstract ideas differentiates us from the rest of the animals and allows us to act in very intelligent ways, but it also places us in a position of vulnerability. The fact of being aware of ourselves makes us face existential questions without a clear answer, and this uncertainty is capable of leaving us immobile, trapped in our own lives without knowing what to do.

Søren Kierkegaard’s thought is an attempt to provide a philosophical framework through which to address questions such as “who am I”, “what do I live for”, or “what should I do”. It is a form of philosophy that focuses on human subjectivity.

In this article we will review the foundations of Kierkegaard’s existentialist theory .

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Who was Søren Kierkegaard?

The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard was born in Copenhagen on 5 May 1813 into a well-to-do family. He studied theology in his hometown, and also trained in philosophy, to which he eventually dedicated his life.

Melancholy was one of the elements that marked the history of Søren Kierkegaard, a highly emotional person who, in turn, impregnated his philosophy with this characteristic. In turn, he was harshly critical of both the Church and Hegelian philosophy, which was hegemonic in Europe for a good part of the nineteenth century, given that the latter spoke about absolutes and left aside subjectivity .

Kierkegaard died in Copenhagen in 1855 after suffering a crisis and spending several weeks in hospital.

Kierkegaard’s Existentialist Theory

Next we will see what were the most remarkable aspects of Kierkegaard’s philosophy, in its most existentialist facet.

1. Freedom of choice defines life

Kierkegaard believed that life is fundamentally about choice. It is through choices that we develop our existence, which speaks about who we are and what stories we have left behind.

2. Choices are inevitable

Whatever we do, we must constantly decide, since doing nothing is also an option we have chosen when we find ourselves at a crossroads of possible actions to take.

3. Morality is also part of freedom

Decisions are not limited to observable actions; there are also some that have a marked moral character . That is why we must choose between what is right and what gives us pleasure.

For Søren Kierkegaard, however, the conditions under which we choose depend solely on us, and not on anyone else or the context. Everything is our responsibility, because for this philosopher we have to assume that we choose from scratch.

This implies, for example, that neither our past nor the history of our family or neighborhood has any influence.

4. Anxiety fills us

As we constantly move from one choice to another, we experience distress to a lesser or greater extent. We would prefer to live without having to make constant choices, and the times of the past, which we see through the illusion that they were not based on decisions, seem more attractive to us than the present.

5. Vertigo

We constantly feel the weight of freedom, which makes us feel existential vertigo at the idea that there is nothing that separates us from the void. Uncertainty makes us feel that everything can be spoiled.

Criticisms of Kierkegaard’s philosophy

The ideas of this Danish thinker are not exempt from criticism. For example, it is common to accuse Kierkegaard of being too individualistic , since he starts from philosophical questions that have to do with the person alone and not with the person in society. It is as if the outside world does not exist and social phenomena have a negligible impact on our lives.

On the other hand, he is also criticized for not taking into account history, what makes a culture what it is. In this way, he makes it seem that decisions depend on you, and that neither our past nor the past of our family line has any influence on any of this. This is something that later existentialists tried to correct in order to get out of this individualism, the price of adopting a philosophy centred on the subjective.