Kierkegaard, considered by many to the first 'existentialist'

Søren Kierkegaard - 1813-1855AD

"Don't forget to love yourself."

Søren Kierkegaard was born in Copenhagen and is considered by many to the first 'existentialist'.

Kierkegaard's philosophy opposed Hegel, one of the dominant philosophers of his day. Hegel believed individuals to be of little consequence within the overall scheme of things, whereas Kierkegaard, as an existentialist, placed the individual at the centre of his philosophy.

"Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved."1

Existentialism is a philosophical movement which puts forward the view that individuals create the meaning and the essence of their lives, as opposed to a 'divine being' or authorities creating it for them. By placing the individual at the centre, he is free, and therefore, ultimately responsible for his own behavior. Kierkegaard said that "life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards".

Kierkegaard's major works included Either/Or, Repetition, Fear and Trembling and The Concepts of Anxiety.

In Either/Or, Kierkegaard set out his position regarding what makes human beings happy. His beliefs were similar in many respects to other great philosophers, such as Socrates, Aristotle, Descartes, Locke and Mill.

Kierkegaard identified three types of existence, the aesthetic, the ethical and the religious.

Aesthetic, ethical and religious existence

The aesthetic involved living for the moment, with little thought for culture and the arts, a largely hedonistic life; the ethical involved an obligation to living ethically, fulfilling obligations; and the religious life involved accepting the ethical ideals as part of a wider obligation to humanity and God.

He believed that dissatisfaction with the aesthetic and ethical elements of life was the cause of the feelings of guilt and anxiety. The alternative was a religious existence.

"Faith is the highest passion in a human being. Many in every generation may not come that far, but none comes further."


In Fear and Trembling Kierkegaard analysed the conflict between the demands of ethics and religion. He recognized that there may be times when even by behaving ethically, it may conflict with higher religious obligations.

It's unfortunate that in modern day society many never have the need to consider such ethical dilemmas, as they never get past the aesthetic stage. If they could, a more fulfilling and happier existence may be waiting.

For more information about the great philosophers and their views on narcissism and happiness, read Finding Happiness.

1 Kierkegaard