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Søren Kierkegaard as the philosopher of hope

For Søren Kierkegaard, self-help books, coaches and experience economists are signs of a deep and underlying despair.

2013.07.24 | Af Kresten Lundsgaard-Leth

In the bicentenary year of Søren Kierkegaard's birth, the Danish thinker's diagnosis of modern man and his challenges is in many ways even more topical than it was in the 1840s and '50s when he presented his views and understanding of contemporary society.

Thus, Kierkegaard thoroughly rejects phenomena such as the aesthetic hunger for new experiences, the levelling, boring and stressed trends of mass society as well as the widely held notion of man as a self-realising and self-making creature. All ideas that must be said to be even more prevalent and "trendy" than they were at the time when Kierkegaard did his thinking and writing.

In brief, Kierkegaard regards these existential "offers" as being rooted – in various ways – in beliefs about the possibilities of human life which bear no resemblance to the actuality of human existence. Human beings cannot, through experiences, "democratisation" or self-creation, come to lead happy and meaningful lives, as suggested by self-help books, coaches and experience economists. Rather, Kierkegaard sees such projects and hopes as reflections of an underlying despair.

Instead, the hopes of modern man should – as far as Kierkegaard is concerned – rest on the possibilities integral to each individual's "task" of becoming the concrete self which he or she already is, without trying to create themselves in the name of self-realisation or that of interesting experiences.

The possibilities open to human beings, in the context of Kierkegaard's hope, thus lie between the "misty precinct of the probable", which characterises the comfortable bourgeoisie, and the excessively "abstract" possibilities that characterise the hope of dreamy romantics, self-realising coaches and philosophers lost in thought.

Kresten Lundsgaard-Leth is a PhD student of Philosophy

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