Kierkegaard's Romantic Legacy: Two Theories of the Self

Kierkegaard's Romantic Legacy: Two Theories of the Self

by Anoop Gupta


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In Kierkegaard's Romantic Legacy, Anoop Gupta develops an original theory of the self based on Kierkegaard's writings. Gupta proceeds by historical exegesis and considers several important ways of thinking about self outside of the natural sciences. His study moves theories of the self from theology toward sociology, from a God-relationship to a social one, and illustrates how a loss in theological underpinnings partly contributes to the rise in the popularity of cultural relativism. By drawing on Kierkegaard's writings, Gupta develops a metaphysical account of the self that provides an alternative to the idea that there is no such thing as human nature.

Keywords: Kierkegaard; Philosophy; Theory of self; Metaphysics; Theology; Sociology

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780776606163
Publisher: University of Ottawa Press
Publication date: 12/01/2005
Series: Philosophica
Pages: 142
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Anoop Gupta is an independent scholar and recent PhD graduate in Philosophy from the University of Ottawa.

Read an Excerpt


Structure of the Self

For Kierkegaard, though we must make our selves, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. His understanding of self fits well with the ethos of Aristotelian metaphysics, where what a thing is is defined by what it is meant to be. I shall argue, therefore, that the proper perspective for understanding the metaphysics of Kierkegaard’s notion of the self is that of teleology. 

There is generally a lack of appreciation of how traditional Kierkegaard’s seemingly iconoclastic theory of the self is. In this chapter, we will see that he does in fact retain a metaphysical conception of the self.

Below, I consider Kierkegaard’s definition of selfhood, and what goads us to develop despair. Then I explore his notion of despair, specifically why he thinks it to be necessary for human development.


Anti-Climacus, the pseudonym used to write Sickness unto Death, provides valuable insight in what the self was for Kierkegaard. Anti-Climacus says, “A self is spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self.”1 Anti-Climacus also remarks, “The self is not a relation but the relation’s relating to itself. A human being is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity.”2 According to Kierkegaard, the self is a synthesis, such that we cannot have the conception of infinitude without the finite, of freedom without necessity, of the eternal without the temporal. For him, each item is metaphysically related to its opposite. There is also the further relation that relates to itself. “This relation is the positive third, and this is the self.”3

For Kierkegaard, the self is reflection. Anti-Climacus says that imagination also is reflection. It is by imagining that we in fact represent ourselves to ourselves. We do not simply look in a mirror and say, “yes, there I am.” We have a certain conception of ourselves as lazy, courageous, worthless, independent, and so on. The self represents itself as possibility. Anti-Climacus says, “The imagination is the whole of reflection’s possibility; and the intensity of this medium is the possibility of the self’s intensity.”4 If we are to admit that we imagine ourselves in a particular way, it is clear that part of this imagining is that of thinking of what we can be. Thus we have people who always knew they were going to be doctors, lawyers, musicians, or amount to nothing.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Preface  ix

Acknowledgements    x

Documentation   x

Search for the Kierkegaardian Self  1

Kierkegaard’s Theological Self

1 Structure of the Self   7

  Despair   7

  Analysis   11

2 Self-Becoming  15

  Sin   15

  Anxiety   16

  A Cure  18

  The Aesthetic Stage   20

  The Ethical Stage   22

3 The God-Relationship   25

  The Religious Stage  25

  Motivation  29

  God and Ethics  33

4 Self and Knowledge   39

  Myself  39

  Godless 44

5 Reflections and Appraisals  49

  Life and Psychology   49

  Modern Loss   55

The Sociological Self

6 Rousseau   61

  Nature   61

  Morality   65

  The Social Being   67

7 Durkheim   69

  Sociologist  69

  Religion   71

  Suicide   72

8 Winnicott   77

  Dependence and Independence   77

  Interdependence   79

Some Consequences For Practice

9 The Idea of Suicide 85

  Moral Problem   85

  Social Problem  87

10 Suicide and Schizophrenia   91

  Suicide: Three Approaches   91

  Schizophrenia: Three Approaches   94

11 Existential Psychology   99

  Alfred Adler and Ludwig Binswanger  99

  Rollo May   100

  R. D. Laing   101

  Comparisons  104

12 The Self According to Kierkegaard   107

  Kierkegaard Revisited   107

Notes   111

References   129

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