happy 200th birthday, søren kierkegaard

Sketch of Søren Kierkegaard. Based on a sketch by Niels Christian Kierkegaard (1806-1882)

Sketch of Søren Kierkegaard. Based on a sketch by Niels Christian Kierkegaard (1806-1882)

Hegel was the great system-maker. What others viewed as his grand achievement Kierkegaard viewed as his unforgivable crime, the attempt to rationally systematise the whole of existence. The whole of existence cannot be systematised, Kierkegaard insisted, because existence is not yet whole; it is incomplete and in a state of constant development. Hegel attempted to introduce mobility into logic, which, said Kierkegaard, is itself an error in logic. The greatest of Hegel’s errors, however, was his claim that he had established the objective theory of knowledge. Kierkegaard countered with the argument that subjectivity is truth. As he put it, “The objective uncertainty maintained in the most passionate spirit of dedication is truth, the highest truth for one existing.” … Kierkegaard, it remains to be said, is not a systematic theologian. We know what he thought of systems and system makers, of which Hegel was the prime example. There is hardly a page in his writings that does not prompt from the systematically minded reader a protest against disconnections and apparent contradictions. Like Flannery O’Connor, he shouted to the hard of hearing and drew startling pictures for the almost blind.

— Richard John Neuhaus, in Kierkegaard for Grownups (2004)

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