Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher and religious thinker who wrote literary and philosophical essays that reacted against Hegelian philosophy and the state church in Denmark, setting the stage for modern existentialism. Kierkegaard was born in Copenhagen, the youngest of seven children. He spent his formative years under the influence of his melancholic and devoutly religious father whose teachings stressed the suffering of Christ. Kierkegaard went to study philosophy and theology at the University of Copenhagen, where his personal despair grew, leading him to the therapeutic decision to become a cleric and marry his fiancé Regine Olsen, the daughter of a treasury official. Shortly after completing his doctoral dissertation, The Concept of Irony (1841), he broke the engagement, partly for fear that he and his fiancé might lack common philosophic interests, but he gave the impression of acting out of a brutal and indifferent selfishness in order to make the breach definitive. Thereafter he embarked on a life of seclusion and a writer’s career that produced a constant flow of books over the next ten years with at least twelve major philosophical essays. Few 19th century thinkers have surpassed Kierkegaard’s influence on 20th century thought, yet there is no “Kierkegaardian school” of philosophy or theology, largely due to the fact that he did not develop an all-embracing system. He has had a strong influence on philosophers Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre and on theologian Karl Barth, and has also been admired as a literary stylist and innovator.