Free Study of the Life and Writing of Kierkegaard – Focus on Socrates

Søren Kierkegaard is sometimes considered to be a philosopher and sometimes considered to be nothing more than a writer. Today, he may have been a blogger. Whatever he was, he was a 19th-Century thinker who wrote about the crisis of modernity before what we today know as modern had ever become. If you are interested in taking the Free Class from the University of Copenhagen: Søren Kierkegaard – Subjectivity, Irony and the Crisis of Modernity, you can Google it. Hopefully, the following link will get you there. The class started yesterday. Here

Kierkegaard grew up in Copenhagen.

He lived during the Danish Golden Age.

He lived in Denmark at the same time as Hans Christain Andersen lived there.

Kierkegaard’s father was deeply religious, and Kierkegaard grew up in the faith of the Lutheran Church.

When Kierkegaard was young, he studied Classical Greek Literature and Ancient Greek Philosophy. He read the works of Plato, Socrates, and Xenophon. Kierkegaard would carry his Socratic influence throughout his life.

In the second of the week 1 lectures, the lecturer shared an example of Socratic Irony. Socrates happened to meet in court a man who was legally accusing his own father. This kind of disrespect was uncommon in Ancient Greece, and in order to illustrate the absurdity of the other man’s behavior, Socrates pretended to be ignorant and begged for more and more details of the man’s charge. At each step along the way, Socrates continued to feign ignorance and pose more questions, ostensibly to become better enlightened. Yet, one step at a time, Socrates used irony to shoot holes in the other man’s argument.


Ultimately, the other man, Euthyphro, essentially threw up his hands and scurried away. In pretending that he was ignorant to coax someone else to make a fool of himself, Socrates used his own version of Irony, and he used it again in his summation of the conversation:

Socrates. “Alas! my companion, and will you leave me in despair? I was hoping that you would instruct me in the nature of piety and impiety; and then I might have cleared myself of Meletus and his indictment. I would have told him that I had been enlightened by Euthyphro, and had given up rash innovations and speculations, in which I indulged only through ignorance, and that now I am about to lead a better life.” For the full text, look Here.



The more that Socrates questioned Euthyphro, the less clear Euthyphro’s views became. Ultimately, the dialogue resulted with Euthyphro’s running away, demonstrating the aporia of the discussion. Aporia means that “at a loss.”

Horse, Nostrils, Mold, Fly, Pasture, Fly Mask

Socrates the Gadfly or the Horse Fly

Unlike the other Athenian scholars of his day, Socrates didn’t consider himself to be a teacher–someone who charged money to share their thoughts. Rather, he believed that he had a god-given mission to poke holes in what the “teachers” were saying. He was likened to a gadfly or a horse fly, who flew amongst the scholars of his day, landing on them–thus irritating them and casting doubt about what others were teaching.

Kierkegaard believed that he had a similar mission to question what the scholars of his day were teaching in Denmark.

Socrates and His Daimon

Ultimately, Socrates was put on trial and was sentenced to death. One of the accusations against him was that he worshiped foreign gods that were not worshiped by other Athenians.

Socrates merely called his inspiration his Daimon, which he describes as a type of inner voice that urges him. Once again, I am almost ignorant about Ancient Philosophy, but the Daimon of Socrates seems to be what I call intuition or perhaps it is merely what we call conscience. Socrates described his Daimon in saying: “The favor of the gods has given me a marvelous gift, which has never left me since my childhood. It is a voice which, when it makes itself heard, deters me from what I am about to do and never urges me on.”

Kierkegaard felt that he had the same type of inner voice that guided his life and that guided his writings. I often write about how intuition guides the artist’s hand and the pen of the writer. This seems to me to be the same thing.

Socrates and Maieutics

Socrates also believed that people had within themselves the answers that they seek. I often write about this, too. One of the purposes of my upcoming event Mine Your Memories: Find Your Voice is that of helping people to pull from within themselves the writing that is already there. You can read more about my Free Writing Event Mine Your Memories: Find Your Voice, that will begin October 1, 2016, Here.

Maieutics literally refers to midwifery, and Socrates’s mother was a midwife. He speaks of Maieutics in a slightly different, but similar,  way. Socrates maintained that he did not actually teach anything but that he helped others give birth to their own ideas. This led to Socrates’s belief in innate ideas. Kierkegaard shared this view, too–especially in regards to his helping people give birth to their own ideas of Christianity.

In the above, I have paraphrased the videos that are form Week 1 of the University of Copenhagen Mooc on Kierkegaard.

©Jacki Kellum August 2, 2016







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