Soren Kierkegaard Is a Danish Philosopher and Theologian, the Founder of Existentialism

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Existentialism raises many unresolved inquiries regarding the existence of humanity, the principles of morality, and the discernment of what is right and wrong. Throughout his life, philosopher Soren Kierkegaard dedicated himself to deciphering these enigmatic questions.

According to Oaklander (3), Kierkegaard, a devout Christian, believed that all humans should strive to become Christians like him. Although existentialist philosophy does not center around human life holistically, it highlights the importance of the choices individuals make during their lifetime. The primary goal of existentialist writers is to increase consciousness among all people that they are independent beings who exercise their freedom through decision-making and accepting responsibility for those decisions.

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The existentialists discuss and explore various themes in their writings. These themes include the importance of the individual, criticism of reason, the contrast between inauthenticity and authenticity, the boundary situation, alienation, confronting nothingness, dread, community, freedom, and commitment.

Soren Kierkegaard’s works aimed to answer the question of the ultimate purpose of human existence, with a main focus on matters of religion and advocating for a close connection with God and Christianity. His writings allow individuals to confront their own subjectivity (Oaklander 2). As one of the pioneering existentialists, Kierkegaard believed that truth can only be found within oneself, rejecting psychological experiences, scientific endeavors, philosophical ideas, and worldly knowledge as objects lacking truth (Oaklander 2).

In his book Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard examines three of the eight themes of existentialism mentioned earlier, namely the inauthentic versus the authentic and alienation. The central focus of the text revolves around the narrative of Abraham and Isaac. Kierkegaard utilizes this story as an explanation for his decision to end his long-term relationship with Regine Olsen, his beloved. It is believed that upon discovering his true aspiration in life, which was to embark on a Christian path, Kierkegaard came to the realization that it would be impossible to fully unite with God while simultaneously trying to maintain a marital bond. Therefore, he terminated his engagement with Miss Olsen in order to prioritize his journey towards becoming a Christian.

Kierkegaard posits that there are three stages of human existence. The first and most immature stage is known as the aesthetic stage, as confirmed by Jansen (1). In this stage, individuals are dominated by their desires, whether they be physical, emotional, or intellectual. The main objective for these individuals is to obtain pleasure; however, satisfaction remains elusive. It is at this point that an existentialist would argue that the person is living inauthentically, not fully grappling with their own existence. Stage two marks the emergence of a newfound awareness of moral values, as individuals now confront ethical dilemmas.

According to Jansen (1), individuals in the ethical stage of development may feel equally unfulfilled as those in the aesthetic stage when faced with unclear choices and having to choose between negative options. By the end of this stage, individuals have developed a moral sense, with moral principles guiding their actions. Kierkegaard’s stages of faith include a final stage called the religious stage, which is primarily explored in Fear and Trembling. In this stage, individuals strive for an authentic existence but can be divided into two groups. Group 1 consists of individuals burdened by guilt, while Group 2 comprises those who wholeheartedly dedicate themselves to God.

The themes of alienation and the conflict between the inauthentic and the authentic are illustrated in Kierkegaard’s novel, “Fear and Trembling,” through the story of Abraham and Isaac. This narrative also mirrors aspects of Kierkegaard’s own life. As Abraham progresses through different stages, these themes emerge at each stage. God had promised Abraham that he would become the father of many nations, with a son as a starting point. Until this point in his life, Abraham could be seen as living an aesthetic existence. True to His promise, God blessed Abraham and his wife Sarah with a son named Isaac. This gratified Abraham’s lifelong desire, bringing him contentment.

However, Abraham’s joy was fleeting as he received a command from God to sacrifice his most beloved possession, his son. This dilemma left Abraham torn between his love for his son and his unquestioning devotion to God, his ultimate source of life and sustenance. In a similar vein to the existentialist writers, Abraham now faced a crucial decision, an existential choice. Interestingly, this pivotal moment in Abraham’s life aligns with a significant life decision that Soren Kierkegaard, a renowned philosopher, had to confront.

Kierkegaard, who was once betrothed to Regine Olsen, found himself contemplating the direction of his life. His decision: to embrace Christianity. Yet as he delved deeper into his choice, Kierkegaard realized that it was impossible to maintain a marriage and family while pursuing his ultimate goal of becoming a Christian. Thus, similar to Abraham who obediently carried out God’s command to sacrifice his son, Kierkegaard ended his engagement with Regine Olsen. At this point, both men were situated in the ethical stage of faith. Abraham grapples with the potential disobedience of God’s demands and the act of murdering his own son. By committing this act, not only would Abraham be taking a life, he would also be relinquishing the gift that God had so graciously bestowed upon him.

What if Isaac did not fulfill the prophecy of becoming a great ruler as Abraham had predicted? What if his true purpose was to be offered as a sacrifice to God? In relation to Kierkegaard’s situation, what if he was never destined to be a Christian or a husband? If these were not their intended paths, then both men would only be defying God. Despite their reluctance, both men chose to follow their own judgement, which ultimately aligned with God’s will. After making his decision, Abraham embarked on the religious phase of his faith journey. The final stage, known as the leap of faith, occurs when he believes in the virtue of the absurd – that his son will be spared. (Oaklander 22)

The text highlights the connection made between Abraham, Isaac, and God, which marks a transition from inauthenticity to authenticity. As mentioned earlier, Abraham’s life-altering decision has dissociated him from the inauthentic world. Furthermore, Abraham can be categorized alongside believers who respond to God. Similarly, Kierkegaard, like Abraham, has made a transformative choice to embrace his Christian faith. In this scenario, Abraham relinquishes his individuality and becomes part of the universal, conforming to the actions of others. (Oaklander 23)

Unfortunately, Regine Olsen never again became a part of Soren Kierkegaard’s life, unlike Abraham who was reunited with his son. Fear and Trembling explores the existential theme of alienation. Through the testing of his faith, Abraham becomes acutely aware of his individual existence and the necessity of being alone. (Oaklander 25) He separates himself by defying moral laws and preparing to sacrifice his son. Furthermore, he demonstrates his solitude by keeping God’s commandment a secret, even from his wife. Rather than seeking immediate reconciliation with the world he had fallen from, Abraham instead tries to exert dominance over his surroundings. (Taylor 38).

Both Kierkegaard and Abraham relied on their own guidance without seeking advice from others. However, Abraham recognized that following God’s command would make him a murderer and decided not to proceed. Despite deviating from God’s request, Abraham’s suffering confirms that he made the right choice.

Both Kierkegaard and Abraham reached the pinnacle of Christian faith by fully devoting themselves to God. Kierkegaard, in his work and teachings, exemplified unwavering dedication to God just as Abraham did. Their transformation from living in a state of disingenuousness to authenticity stemmed from their complete responsiveness to God.


  1. Jansen, G.M.A. An Existential Approach to Theology. Bruce Publishing Company: Milwaukee, WI. 1966.
  2. Oaklander, Nathan L. Existential Philosophy: An Introduction. Prentice Hall: Paramus. 1995
  3. Taylor, Mark-Lloyd. Anthropology and Authority: Essays on Soren Kierkegaard. Rodopi: Atlanta, GA. 2000.

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Soren Kierkegaard Is a Danish Philosopher and Theologian, the Founder of Existentialism. (2019, Apr 20). Retrieved from

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