Individualism and Religious Transcendence in Kierkegaard’s Thought

  • Robert Gascoigne
Part of the Archives Internationales D’Histoire Des Idees / International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 105)


Kierkegaard’s fundamental objection to the philosophy of Hegal and to the world-view of Hegel’s disciples in Germany and Denmark was his rejection of the doctrine of immanence, the thesis that the absolute reveals itself both in the events of history and in the structure of created being. His own analysis of the significance of Christianity for the individual was an attempt to undermine the self-confidence of speculative reason and to lay bare the false pretences of historicism. For Kierkegaard, the work of Christianity, the highest stage of human existence, was its liberation of the individual from the rule of two idols, history and the collective. Neither of these had any authentic role to play in the task of becoming a Christian, and both had attempted to exercise a fatal domination over the individual, cutting him off from the true sources of grace. For Kierkegaard, the attack on history and the collective was a unity, since all groups or collectives are historically formed and all justify their importance through the significance of their historical role. The group, claiming unity with the divine life of history, with the subterranean current released in the human world by the incarnation, can have no meaning apart from a particular view of the historical process — the view that sees this process as the working-out of the deeds of Jesus, the concretization of his spiritual ideas in inner-wordly institutions.


Christian Faith Religious Authority Established Order Individual Believer Christian Life 
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  1. 1.
    J. Collins, in his The Mind of Kierkegaard (London, 1954), notes that Kierkegaard made a real attempt to keep abreast of intellectual events in Germany, and to acquire a first hand knowledge of Hegel, but that his familiarity with Hegel was less than that he had with the Danish Hegelians, and his attacks on Hegel were generally made through the prism of the presentation of Hegelian thought in Mar-heineke and Martensen, the Danish Professor of Theology and later Bishop. For Collins, * Kierkegaard was not interested in the fine shades of meaning and the purely technical points in Hegel. He studied Hegel as one studies the fons et origo of a broad intellectual and social movement.’ (p. 105)Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    M.C. Taylor’s Kierkegaard’s Pseudonymous Authorship: A Study of Time and the Self (Princeton, 1975) has an extended discussion of the meaning of the various ‘stages of existence’ analysed by Kierkegaard. On the general characteristics of the ‘reflective aesthetical’ stage, see pp. 178–182.Google Scholar
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    The idea of Christ as the forgiver of sins always retained enormous significance for Kierkegaard, fundamentally because of his unwillingness to believe — until his ‘Easter experience’ of 1848 — that his own sins and the sins of his father had been forgiven. His final conviction of Christ’s forgiveness is recorded in his Two Discourses at the Communion on Fridays (1851) (printed with For Self-Examination and Judge for Yourselves in W. Lowrie’s translation, Princeton edition). These discourses are, for G. Malantschuk, in his Kierkegaard’s Thought (Princeton, 1974), the ‘fulcrum of Kierkegaard’s authorship’, since ‘in all his dialectical and existential presentations Kierkegaard always considers the doctrine of grace to be the ultimate and most central doctrine. His own existential experiences had fully taught him how little a man can accomplish’, (p. 355) The increasing emphasis on ‘Christ the pattern’ may perhaps be explained — apart from its link to Christian militancy — by its simplicity, its relationship to contemporaneousness. Even the doctrine of the atonement, at least in its articulated forms, is the product of the work of human reason, and uses various concepts that also have relevance in secular culture. As such it is already a product of the ‘1,800 years’. ‘Christ the pattern’, by contrast, is the most immediate form of contemporaneous discipleship.Google Scholar
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    As Kierkegaard wrote in the Philosophical Fragments: ‘If the contemporary generation had left nothing behind them but these words: ‘We have believed that in such and such a year the God appeared among us in the humble figure of a servant, that he lived and taught in our community, and finally died”, it would be more than enough.’ (p. 130).Google Scholar
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© Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht 1985

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  • Robert Gascoigne

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