Challenging Reason and Objectivity: on Kierkegaard and Despair

4 min read


Søren Kierkegaard was a prominent Danish philosopher and theologian who sought to correct the theories of Hegel, particularly in relation to his ideas on rationality, truth, and the nature of reality.

One of the primary areas where Kierkegaard disagreed with Hegel was in his understanding of truth. Hegel believed in the concept of absolute knowledge, which held that truth could be universally known and understood through rational inquiry. However, Kierkegaard argued that truth is a deeply personal and subjective experience that cannot be reduced to a universal concept. He emphasized the individual's subjective existence and the importance of personal truth, rather than a collectively agreed-upon truth.

Additionally, Kierkegaard criticized Hegel's system for its emphasis on systematic philosophy. Hegel's philosophy aimed to develop a comprehensive and coherent system that could explain all aspects of reality. In contrast, Kierkegaard argued that human existence is deeply individual and subjective, and therefore cannot be reduced to a systematic framework. He rejected the idea that a single systematic philosophy could encompass the complexity and diversity of human experience.

Furthermore, Kierkegaard also objected to Hegel's emphasis on reason and rationality above all else. He believed that this focus on rationality ignored the importance of passion, emotion, and individual subjectivity in human life. Kierkegaard argued that human existence is characterized by individual choice, anxiety, and the tension between opposing desires and values. He advocated for the recognition of the irrational and the subjective in human life, as opposed to Hegel's emphasis on reason and objectivity.

It is important to understand these prerequisites in general if we want to engage with Kierkegaard's texts. Here we pick out a theme that is often discussed and varied throughout his oeuvre: despair. In his book "The Sickness unto Death," Kierkegaard delves specifically into the concept of despair, which he considers a prominent aspect of the human condition. Kierkegaard's understanding of despair goes beyond the common understanding of the term and delves into its existential dimensions.

For Kierkegaard, despair is not merely a fleeting emotion or temporary feeling of sadness, but rather a deep-seated condition that affects one's entire existence. He argues that despair arises from a discrepancy or imbalance within the self, specifically between one's "finite" and "infinite" aspects.

The finite aspect of the self refers to the individual's physical existence, material needs, and temporal desires. This includes aspects such as the pursuit of pleasure, power, social recognition, and the fulfillment of one's desires in the material world. However, Kierkegaard believed that these finite aspirations are not enough to satisfy the deepest longings of the self.

The infinite aspect of the self, on the other hand, relates to one's spiritual nature and the potential for an eternal significance. It includes the individual's capacity for self-reflection, moral responsibility, and the pursuit of meaning and purpose beyond the finite material realm.

According to Kierkegaard, despair arises when there is a disharmony or dissonance between these two aspects of the self. Despair can manifest in two distinct ways: through "not willing to be oneself" and through "willing to be oneself."

The despair of "not willing to be oneself" occurs when individuals refuse to acknowledge their true selves and instead adopt false identities or conform to societal expectations. This often leads to a sense of emptiness, inauthenticity, and a lack of meaning in life.

The despair of "willing to be oneself" occurs when individuals become overly preoccupied with their own infinite potential and aspirations. They believe they can become their ideal selves through their own efforts alone, neglecting the recognition of their fundamental limitations and reliance on external sources of meaning and purpose. This creates a state of restlessness, anxiety, and constant striving that can never be fully attained.

In both cases of despair, Kierkegaard argues that individuals are disconnected from their true selves and the ultimate source of meaning and fulfillment. The remedy, according to Kierkegaard, lies in acknowledging one's own limitations, embracing one's true self as a finite and flawed individual, and seeking a relationship with the transcendent or divine.

Ultimately, Kierkegaard's understanding of despair goes beyond a psychological state and touches upon the existential dimensions of human existence. It highlights the importance of self-reflection, authenticity, and the pursuit of a higher purpose in order to overcome the existential angst and despair that can plague individuals in their quest for meaning and fulfillment.

As a "solution", Kierkegaard presents authentic faith or the "leap of faith", that is, the conscious renunciation of reason in the sense of recognizing the irrational in the self-understanding of the human condition. This faith does not have to contain any religious dogma, but is in fact to be understood as an existentialist answer to the question of the meaning of life.

So, you've just finished reading the funniest and most enlightening blog article ever written (we simply like exaggerations). Your mind is blown, your sides ache from laughing, and you would like to enjoy this experience regularly. Here's the kicker: you can simply subscribe to our free memesletter to get just such memes and their explanation delivered to your inbox on a weekly basis. Simply sign up at the bottom of this page!

Additionally you realize that you absolutely need some merch to commemorate this momentous occasion. Well, lucky for you, we've got the perfect selection of witty t-shirts, hilarious mugs, and sassy stickers that will forever remind you of that time you read that incredible blog post. And here's the cherry on top - use the promo code "BLOGREADER" at checkout to get a whopping 15% off your entire order! It's like getting a discount on instant joy and everlasting awesomeness. So go ahead and snag some swag, my friend. You deserve it.


You liked this blog post and don't want to miss any new articles? Receive a weekly update with the best philosophy memes on the internet for free and directly by email.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.