Kierkegaard: Philosophy in an Hour, Paul Strathern
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Paul Strathern

Kierkegaard: Philosophy in an Hour

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Joost Klooster
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Objective truth, such as the truths of history and science, are related to the external world. They can be confirmed by reference to outer criteria. In other words, objective truth depends upon what is said. Subjective truth, on the other hand, depends upon how a thing is said.
Joost Klooster
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But Kierkegaard makes his basic distinction between the aesthetic and the ethical clear enough. One is ‘outer’, contingent, inconsistent, and self-dissipating; the other is ‘inner’, necessary, consistent, and self-creating. This is convincing, apart from one basic flaw. We can never live an exclusively ethical life – there will always necessarily be an element of the ‘outer’ and accidental about our lives
Joost Klooster
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Here we see the categorical difference between the aesthetic and the ethical: the former is concerned with the outer world, the latter with the inner. The ethical individual seeks to know himself and tries to turn himself into something better – he aims at becoming an ‘ideal self’. Precisely why he should choose to do this is unclear, unless we accept that in getting to know himself he is bound to become enlightened and thus wish to aim for a ‘higher’ life involving a set of ethical standards.
Joost Klooster
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This leads us to the alternative to the aesthetic life – the ethical. Here subjectivity is the ‘absolute’, and the foremost task is ‘choosing oneself’. The individual who lives the ethical life creates himself by his choice, and self-creation becomes the goal of his existence. Where the aesthetic individual merely accepts himself as he is, the ethical individual seeks to know himself and to change himself by his own choice. He will be guided in this by his self-knowledge and his willingness not to accept what he discovers but to try to improve upon it.
Joost Klooster
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His stripping away of the layers of self-delusion points the way out of the aesthetic condition. We may find it difficult to agree with his ultimate conclusion (which was inevitably Christianity, in a forbiddingly spiritual guise), but the steps by which he leads us along the way are compelling. For, most important, he is leading us out of the abyss of despair, into a life where we take full responsibility for what we make of that life.

The despair that Kierkegaard describes is a profound condition which has become increasingly prevalent in our time. Kierkegaard’s delineations of this despair – the forms it takes, the psychological fallacies behind which it shelters – were highly prescient. His solution to it was equally radical. The only answer is to take full possession of one’s existence and accept responsibility for it.
Joost Klooster
Joost Kloosterciteerde uit5 maanden geleden
On a basic level, the individual who lives the aesthetic life is not in control of his existence. He lives for the moment, prompted by pleasure. His life may be self-contradictory, lacking in stability or certainty. Even on a more calculating level, the aesthetic life remains ‘experimental’. We follow a certain pleasure only as long as it appeals to us.

The inadequacy of the aesthetic viewpoint is fundamental. This is because it relies upon the external world. It ‘expects everything from without’. In this way it is passive and lacking in freedom. It relies upon things that remain ultimately beyond the control of its will – such as power, possessions, or even friendship. It is contingent, dependent upon the ‘accidental’. There is nothing ‘necessary’ about it.

If we understand such things, we see the ultimate inadequacy of the aesthetic existence. When an individual who lives the aesthetic life reflects on his existence, he soon realises that it is lacking in any certainty or meaning. Such a realisation often leads to despair.
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