Søren Kierkegaard Additional Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (KEER-kuh-gahrd) was born in a great house facing the New Market Square in Copenhagen, and he spent his life in that city. He devoted most of his efforts to the development and communication of a philosophy and way of life that was his personal response to the Christian religion and the world about him. Although his early work expressed more faith in philosophy than in religion, he became the founder of Christian existentialism, and his work influenced in a profound way such thinkers as Henrik Ibsen, Martin Heidegger, and Karl Jaspers. Many of his ideas were also incorporated into the thinking of such atheistic existentialists as Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus.ren[Kierkegaard, Soren]}ren[Kierkegaard, Soren]}ren[Kierkegaard, Soren]}

Søren Kierkegaard was the seventh child of Michael Pedersen Kierkegaard and his second wife (his first wife had died childless after two years of married life). The family was prosperous; Michael Kierkegaard had been brought to Copenhagen by his uncle and had built a small business into a flourishing concern; when his first wife died, he retired (at the age of forty) and lived on his securities. He was a strict patriarch, profoundly religious, melancholy, and driven by a compelling sense of anxiety and guilt because as a child, while tending sheep in the cold, he had cursed God for allowing him to suffer. His dominance was a continuous and depressing influence on his children, and it probably played an important part in affecting his son’s attitudes toward Christianity. Early in life Søren Kierkegaard developed the conviction that he was somehow intended to be a sacrifice and that it was his mission in life to rebel against the...

(The entire section is 695 words.)


(Survey of World Philosophers)

Article abstract: Kierkegaard’s challenge to neat systems of philosophical thought, such as that propounded by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, has highlighted his philosophical influence. His predominant assumption, that existence is too multiform to be systematized, is at the basis of existentialism and indeed much of Continental philosophy.

Early Life

Søren Aabye Kierkegaard was the last of seven children born to Michael Pedersen Kierkegaard and his second wife, Ane Sørensdatter (Lund); she had been the maid of Michael’s first wife, who died childless after two years of marriage. The elder Kierkegaard, an affluent businessperson, had been born in poverty and virtual servitude, rising by dint of hard work and good fortune to the comfortable status the family enjoyed at Søren’s birth.

Despite such prosperity, the Kierkegaard household was haunted by early death. Two of Søren’s siblings died before he was nine; his mother and three more siblings died in a span of less than three years before his twenty-first birthday. Michael was never able to overcome the belief that these deaths were punishment for the unpardonable sin he committed when, as a boy of eleven, tending sheep and bitter at his lot, he cursed God.

The influence of the somber elder Kierkegaard on his gifted son is certain, but the extent to which it permeated Kierkegaard’s character and influenced his writings throughout his life is difficult to estimate. A key passage from Kierkegaard’s journals suggests that his father’s inadvertent revelation of some past misdeeds permanently altered their relationship:

An affair between the father and son where the son finds everything out, and yet dare not admit it to himself. The father is a respectable man, God-fearing and strict; only once, when he is tipsy, he lets fall some words that arouse the most dreadful suspicions. Otherwise the son is never told of it and never dares to ask his father or anybody else.

Regarding this incident, Kierkegaard scholar Frederick Sontag says that it thrust Kierkegaard into a “period of dissipation and despair,” causing him for a time to neglect completely his theological studies at the university.

In addition to his father’s influence, Kierkegaard was indelibly marked by his engagement to Regina Olsen. He met her for the first time at a party, when she was fourteen. She was captivated by his intellectual sagacity; he later admitted that that had been his design. They both endured a difficult period of waiting until she was nearly eighteen before they became engaged. Yet, having endured such a lengthy period of waiting, within days after the engagement had been effected Kierkegaard was convinced that it was a mistake. Some years after he had broken the engagement, he wrote in his journal:

I said to her that in every generation there were certain individuals who were destined to be sacrificed for the others. She hardly understood what I was talking about. … But just this spontaneous youthful happiness of hers, set alongside my terrible melancholy, and in such a relationship, must teach me to understand myself. For how melancholy I was I had never before surmised; I possessed no measure for conceiving how happy a human being can be.

In 1841, not long after breaking his engagement, Kierkegaard successfully defended his doctoral thesis and departed for Berlin, where he stayed for several months attending lectures. Within two years, he published his first books, the product of an intense period of creativity, and his career was fully launched.

Life’s Work

Kierkegaard was a powerful and prolific writer. The bulk of his corpus was produced within a period of about seven years, spanning 1843-1850. Appreciative readers of Kierkegaard’s writings can be thankful for the voluminous groundswell of production that came in his early thirties, for he died a young man of forty-two. During the course of his writing career, he pursued several recurring themes; it would be misleading, however, to treat his work as though he had systematically moved from one arena to another in a planned, orderly fashion.

Indeed, Kierkegaard’s decided distrust of the systematizing of philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel had pushed him in the direction of an existential methodology that would be expressive of his whole personality. Rather than creating a system for the whole of reality that was necessarily linked by chains of reasoning, Kierkegaard created in his writings psychological experiments centered on persons confronting life situations. By so doing, he avoided both the strict rationalism and the idealism so characteristic of analytic philosophers and pulled his readers into existential consideration of life’s dilemmas.

Kierkegaard considered his life and his works as an effort to fulfill a divinely appointed task. This conviction had led to his breakup with Regina because of what he called his destiny “to be sacrificed for the others.” It also led him to the realization that his vocation was to confront his contemporaries with the ideal Christian life. He saw that as his purpose in life and consequently chose to lay aside every weight that would...

(The entire section is 2156 words.)


(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

Author Profile

In a span of just thirteen years, from 1842 to 1855, Kierkegaard authored a richly varied, challenging, and copious body of works. These include philosophical and theological treatises, novels, literary criticism, psychological investigations, social analysis, devotional literature, polemical pamphlets, and a literary autobiography. Despite the diverse character of his writings, many of the same themes and concerns run through all of them. In particular, Kierkegaard was concerned by what he saw as the growing tendency to discount the significance of the individual person’s existence and to focus instead on large-scale social and historical phenomena. He regarded this trend as closely related to...

(The entire section is 1509 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (KEER-kuh-gahrd) was born on May 5, 1813, at the family home in Copenhagen, Denmark, to Michael Pedersen Kierkegaard and Ane Sørensdatter Lund. His father was a Jutlander of peasant stock, who, through hard work, had become a well-respected hosier. His mother was a distant cousin of her husband, who had been the family maid prior to the death of Michael’s first wife and had then gotten pregnant out of wedlock by her master. Michael was deeply religious and had a strong sense of guilt, believing that God would punish him by not allowing any of his seven children to live beyond the age of thirty-three, the age reached by Jesus Christ.

As the youngest child in the family, Søren grew up with a...

(The entire section is 933 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Søren Kierkegaard possessed an exceedingly fertile mind that generated a large number of literary, philosophical, and religious works during a thirteen-year-long period. He is particularly well known for the pseudonymous part of his oeuvre, in which he offered a typology of humankind’s approaches to living that contrasts the aesthetic and the ethical modes of existence, giving priority to the latter. Kierkegaard’s primary commitment was religious, as shown by the works Fear and Trembling and The Sickness unto Death, in which such phenomena as religious faith and despair are analyzed. Above all, however, he was a consummate artist and stylist, who handled his various pseudonyms with great flair and whose native Danish is both supple and humorous.