1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kierkegaard, Sören Aaby

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Kierkegaard, Sören Aaby (1813-1855), Danish philosopher, the seventh child of a Jutland hosier, was born in Copenhagen on the 5th of May 1813. As a boy he was delicate, precocious and morbid in temperament. He studied theology at the university of Copenhagen, where he graduated in 1840 with a treatise On Irony. For two years he travelled in Germany, and in 1842 settled finally in Copenhagen, where he died on the 11th of November 1855. He had lived in studious retirement, subject to physical suffering and mental depression. His first volume, Papers of a Still Living Man (1838), a characterization of Hans Andersen, was a failure, and he was for some time unnoticed. In 1843 he published Enten—Eller (Either—or) (4th ed., 1878), the work on which his reputation mainly rests; it is a discussion of the ethical and aesthetic ideas of life. In his last years he carried on a feverish agitation against the theology and practice of the state church, on the ground that religion is for the individual soul, and is to be separated absolutely from the state and the world. In general his philosophy was a reaction against the speculative thinkers—Steffens (q.v.), Niels Treschow (1751-1833) and Frederik Christian Sibbern (1785-1872); it was based on the absolute dualism of Faith and Knowledge. His chief follower was Rasmus Nielsen (1809-1884) and he was opposed by Georg Brandes, who wrote a brilliant account of his life and works. As a dialectician he has been described as little inferior to Plato, and his influence on the literature of Denmark is considerable both in style and in matter. To him Ibsen owed his character Brand in the drama of that name.

See his posthumous autobiographical sketch, Synspunktet for min Forfattervirksomhed ("Standpoint of my Literary Work"); Georg Brandes, Sören Kierkegaard (Copenhagen, 1877); A. Barthold, Noten zu K.'s Lebensgeschichte (Halle, 1876), Die Bedeutung der dsthetischen Schriften S. Kierkegaarde (Halle, 1879) and S. K.'s Personlichkeit in ihrer Verwirklichung der Ideate (Gutersloh, 1886); F. Petersen, S. K.'s Christendomsforkyndelae (Christiania, 1877). For Kierkegaard's relation to recent Danish thought, see Hoffding's Archiv At' Geschichte der Philosophie (1888), vol. ii.