Either/Or (1843) (original Danish title: Enten-Eller) is an influential book written by the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, in which he explores the aesthetic and ethical "phases" or "stages" of existence. It is the first of his works written pseudonymously, a practice which he developed during the first half of his career. In this case, four pseudonyms are used: "Victor Eremita", "A", "Judge Vilhelm", and "Johannes". Victor Eremita is the fictional compiler and editor of the texts, which he claims to have found in an antique escritoire. "A" is the moniker given to the fictional author of the first text ("Either") by Victor Eremita, whose real name he claims to have not known. "Judge Vilhelm" is the fictional author of the second text ("Or"), while "Johannes" is the fictional author of a section of 'Either'; "The Diary of a Seducer". The views of the book are not neatly summarized, but are expressed as lived experiences and embodied by the pseudonymous authors. The book's central concern is the question asked by Aristotle, "How should we live?"
Part One: Either
- Dear Reader: I wonder if you may not sometimes have felt inclined to doubt a little the correctness of the familiar philosophic maxim that the external is the internal and the internal the external. … For my part I have always been heretically-minded on this point in philosophy, and have therefore early accustomed myself, as far as possible, to institute observations and inquiries concerning it. I have sought guidance from those authors whose views I shared on this matter; in short, I have done everything in my power to remedy the deficiency in the philosophical works. Gradually the sense of hearing came to be my favorite sense; for just as the voice is the revelation of the inwardness incommensurable with the outer, so the ear is the instrument by which this inwardness is apprehended, hearing found a contradiction between what I saw and what I heard, then I found my doubt confirmed, and my enthusiasm for the investigation stimulated.”
- A’s papers contain a number of attempts to formulate an aesthetic philosophy of life. A single, coherent, aesthetic view of life can scarcely be carried out. B’s papers contain an ethical view of life. As I let this thought sink into my soul, it became clear to me that I might make use of it in choosing a title. The one I have selected precisely expresses this. The reader cannot lose very much because of this title, for while reading the book he may perfectly well forget the title. Then, when he has read the book, he may perhaps reflect upon the title. This will free him from all finite questions as to whether A was really convinced of his error and repented, whether B conquered, or if it perhaps ended by B going over to A’s opinion. In this respect these papers have no ending.
- These papers have afforded me an insight into the lives of two men, which has confirmed my hunch that the external is not the internal. This was especially true about one of them. His external mode of life has been in complete contradiction to his inner life. The same was true to a certain extent with the other also, inasmuch as he concealed a more significant inwardness under a somewhat commonplace exterior. Either/Or Part I, Swenson Part I p. 14
- What is a poet? An unhappy man who conceals profound anguish in his heart, but whose lips are so fashioned that when sighs and groans pass over them they sound like beautiful music.
- People flock about the poet and say to him: do sing again; Which means, would that new sufferings tormented your soul, and: would that your lips stayed fashioned as before, for your cries would only terrify us, but your music is delightful. And the critics join them, saying: well done, thus must it be according to the laws of aesthetics. Why, to be sure, a critic resembles a poet as one pea another, the only difference being that he has no anguish in his heart and no music on his lips. Behold, therefore would I rather be a swineherd on Amager, and be understood by the swine than a poet, and misunderstood by men.
- I feel like a piece in a game of chess when my opponent says of it: That piece cannot be moved.
- In addition to my numerous other acquaintances I have still one more intimate friend — my melancholy. In the midst of pleasure, in the midst of work, he beckons to me, calls me aside, even though I remain present bodily. My melancholy is the most faithful sweetheart I have had — no wonder that I return the love!
- Variant: My depression is the most faithful mistress I have known — no wonder, then, that I return the love.
- Of all ridiculous things the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy — to be a man who is brisk about his food and his work. Therefore, whenever I see a fly settling, in the decisive moment, on the nose of such a person of affairs; or if he is spattered with mud from a carriage which drives past him in still greater haste; or the drawbridge opens up before him; or a tile falls down and knocks him dead, then I laugh heartily.
- Let others complain that the age is wicked; my complaint is that it is paltry; for it lacks passion. Men’s thoughts are thin and flimsy like lace, they are themselves pitiable like the lacemakers. The thoughts of their hearts are too paltry to be sinful. For a worm it might be regarded as a sin to harbor such thoughts, but not for a being made in the image of God. Their lusts are dull and sluggish, their passions sleepy. They do their duty, these shopkeeping souls, but they clip the coin a trifle, like the Jews; they think that even if the Lord keeps ever so careful a set of books, they may still cheat Him a little. Out upon them! This is the reason my soul always turns back to the Old Testament and to Shakespeare. I feel that those who speak there are at least human beings; they hate, they love, they murder their enemies, and curse their descendants throughout all generations, they sin.
- Variant translation: Let others complain that the times are wicked. I complain that they are paltry; for they are without passion. The thoughts of men are thin and frail like lace, and they themselves are feeble like girl lace-makers. The thoughts of their hearts are too puny to be sinful. For a worm it might conceivably be regarded a sin to harbor thoughts such as theirs, not for a man who is formed in the image of God.
- When I was young, I forgot how to laugh in the cave of Trophonius; when I was older, I opened my eyes and beheld reality, at which I began to laugh, and since then, I have not stopped laughing. I saw that the meaning of life was to secure a livelihood, and that its goal was to attain a high position; that love’s rich dream was marriage with an heiress; that friendship’s blessing was help in financial difficulties; that wisdom was what the majority assumed it to be; that enthusiasm consisted in making a speech; that it was courage to risk the loss of ten dollars; that kindness consisted in saying, “You are welcome,” at the dinner table; that piety consisted in going to communion once a year. This I saw, and I laughed.
- Variant translation: When I was very young I forgot in the Trophonian cave how to laugh; but when I grew older and opened my eyes and contemplated the real world, I had to laugh, and have not ceased laughing, ever since.
- A strange thing happened to me in my dream. I was rapt into the Seventh Heaven. There sat all the gods assembled. As a special dispensation I was granted the favor to have one wish. "Do you wish for youth," said Mercury, "or for beauty, or power, or a long life; or do you wish for the most beautiful woman, or any other of the many fine things we have in our treasure trove? Choose, but only one thing!" For a moment I was at a loss. Then I addressed the gods in this wise: "Most honorable contemporaries, I choose one thing — that I may always have the laughs on my side." Not one god made answer, but all began to laugh. From this I concluded that my wish had been granted and thought that the gods knew how to express themselves with good taste: for it would surely have been inappropriate to answer gravely: your wish has been granted.
- Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it.
- Old age realizes the dreams of youth: look at Dean Swift; in his youth he built an asylum for the insane, in his old age he was himself an inmate.
- How absurd men are! They never use the liberties they have, they demand those they do not have. They have freedom of thought, they demand freedom of speech.
- There are, as is known, insects that die in the moment of fertilization. So it is with all joy: life's highest, most splendid moment of enjoyment is accompanied by death.
- A fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to warn the public; they thought it was a joke and applauded. He repeated it; the acclaim was even greater. I think that's just how the world will come to an end: to the general applause of wits who believe it's a joke.
- If you marry, you will regret it; if you do not marry, you will also regret it; if you marry or do not marry, you will regret both; Laugh at the world’s follies, you will regret it, weep over them, you will also regret that; laugh at the world’s follies or weep over them, you will regret both; whether you laugh at the world’s follies or weep over them, you will regret both. Believe a woman, you will regret it, believe her not, you will also regret that; believe a woman or believe her not, you will regret both; whether you believe a woman or believe her not, you will regret both. Hang yourself, you will regret it; do not hang yourself, and you will also regret that; hang yourself or do not hang yourself, you will regret both; whether you hang yourself or do not hang yourself, you will regret both. This, gentlemen, is the sum and substance of all philosophy. An ecstatic lecture
The Immediate Stages of the Erotic, or Musical Erotic
- While the preceding argument has tried in every possible manner, conceivable and inconceivable, to have it recognized that Mozart’s Don Juan takes the highest place among all classical works, it has made practically no attempt to prove that this work is really a classic; for the suggestions found here and there, precisely as being only suggestions, show that they are not intended to furnish proof, but only to afford an opportunity for enlightenment. This procedure may seem more than peculiar. The proof that Don Juan is a classic work is in the strictest sense a problem for thought; while, on the contrary, the other attempt, with regard to the exact sphere of thought, is quite irrelevant. The movement of thought is satisfied with having it recognized that Don Juan is a classic, and that every classic production is equally perfect; to desire to do more than that is for thought a thing of evil.
- Swenson p. 56
- Man's essential idea is spirit and we must not allow ourselves to be put off by the fact that he is also able to walk on two legs. The idea of language is thought, and we must not permit ourselves to be disturbed by the opinion of certain sentimental people, that its highest significance is to produce inarticulate sounds. Mozart is the greatest among the classic composers, and his Don Juan deserves the highest place among all classic works of art. Swenson p. 63
- If I imagined two kingdoms adjoining one another, with one of which I was fairly well acquainted, and although unfamiliar with the other, and I was not allowed to enter the unknown realm, however much I desired to do so, I should still be able to form some conception of its nature. I could go to the limits of the kingdom with which I was acquainted and follow its boundaries, and as I did so, I should in this way describe the boundaries, and as I did so I should in this way describe the boundaries of this unknown country, and thus without ever having set foot in it, obtain a general conception of it. And if this was a task that engrossed my energies, and if I was indefatigable in my desire to be accurate, it would doubtless sometimes happen that, as I stood sadly at my country’s boundary and looked longingly into the unknown country, which was so near me and yet so far away, some little revelation might be vouchsafed to me. And though I feel that music is an art which to the highest degree requires experience to justify one in having an opinion about it, still I comfort myself, as I have so often done before, with the paradox that, even in ignorance and mere intimations, there is also a kind of experience. I comfort myself by remembering that Diana, who had not herself given birth, nevertheless came to the assistance of the child-bearing; moreover, that she had this as a native gift from childhood, so that she came to the assistance of Latona in her labor, when she herself was born. The kingdom known to me, to whose utmost boundaries I intend to go in order to discover music, is language.
- Either/Or Part I, Swenson p. 64-65
Ancient Tragical Motif
- Should anyone be called upon to say that the tragic always remains the tragic, I should in a sense have no objection to make, in so far as every historical evolution always remains in the sphere of the concept. On the supposition that his statement has meaning, and that the two-fold repetition of the word tragic is not to be regarded as constituting a meaningless parenthesis enclosing an empty nothing, then the meaning must be this, that the content of the concept does not dethrone the concept but enriches it.
- Either/Or Part I Swenson, p. 137
- If an old aesthetician has said that comedy presupposes character and situation, and has for its purpose the arousal of laughter, one might indeed turn back to this again and again; but when one reflects upon how widely different are the things which can make a human being laugh, then one soon becomes convinced of how tremendously inclusive this requirement was. Whoever has at any time made his own laughter and that of others the subject of his observation; whoever, in this study, has had his eye no so much on the accidental as on the general; whoever has observed with psychological interest how different are the things which in each generation arouse laughter, will readily be convinced that the invariable requirement that comedy ought to arouse laughter contains a high degree of variability relative to the different conceptions of the ridiculous entertained in the world consciousness, without the variability becoming so diffuse that the corresponding somatic expression would be that laughter expressed itself in tears. So also in relation to the tragic.
- Either/Or Part I, Swenson p. 138
- It is of the essence of joy to reveal itself, while grief tries to hide, sometimes even to deceive. Joy is communicative, social, open-hearted, and desires expression; grief is secretive, silent, solitary, and seeks to retire into itself. The truth of this remark will surely not be denied by anyone who has even a moderate acquaintance with life. There are men so constituted that under the stress of emotion, the blood rushes to the surface, making the inner emotion outwardly visible; others are so constituted that the blood flows backward, seeking the inner parts of the chambers of the heart. A somewhat similar relation exists as to the mode of expression, between joy and grief. Either/Or Vol I Shadowgraphs p. 167
- Reflective grief cannot be represented artistically partly because it never is, but is always in the process of becoming, and partly it is indifferent to and unconcerned with the external and visible. Hence, unless the artist is satisfied with the naïveté sometimes found in old books, where a figure is drawn that could represent almost anything, which bears on its breast a plate in the form of a heart or the like, to which it points or otherwise calls attention, whereupon one may read a description of the picture, an effect the artist could just as well have produced by writing above the picture: Please note-he will have to renounce the idea of portraying reflective grief, leaving it to be dealt with by poets or psychologists. It is this reflective grief which I now propose to bring before you and, as far as possible, render visible by means of some pictures. I call these sketches Shadowgraphs, partly by the designation to remind you at once that they derive from the darker side of life, partly because like other shadowgraphs they are not directly visible. Either/Or Vol I Shadowgraphs p. 170-171
- Sometimes when you have scrutinized a face long and persistently, you seem to discover a second face hidden behind the one you see. This is generally an unmistakable sign that this soul harbors an emigrant who has withdrawn from the world in order to watch over secret treasure, and the path for the investigator is indicated by the fact that one face lies beneath the other, as it were, from which he understands that he must attempt to penetrate within if he wishes to discover anything. The face, which ordinarily is the mirror of the soul, here takes on, though it be bur for an instant, an ambiguity that resists artistic production. An exceptional eye is needed to see it, and trained powers of observation to follow this infallible index of a secret grief. This eye is eager, and yet to solicitous; anxious and compelling, and yet so sympathetic; persistent and shrewd, and yet sincere and benevolent. It lulls the individual into a certain pleasant languor, in which he finds an almost voluptuous pleasure in pouring forth his grief, like the pleasure said to accompany blood-letting. The present is forgotten, the external is broken through, the past is resurrected, grief breathes easily. The sorrowing soul finds relief, and sorrow’s sympathetic knight errant rejoices that he has found the object of his search; for we seek not the present, but sorrow whose nature is to pass by. In the present it manifests itself only for a fleeting instant, like the glimpse one may have of a man turning a corner and vanishing from sight. Either/Or Vol I Shadowgraphs p. 173
- …only he who has been bitten by a serpent knows the suffering of one who has been bitten by a serpent. Either/Or Vol I Shadowgraphs p. 213
The First Love
- When the muse summoned them, she beckoned them away from the world, and they now listen only to her voice, and the wealth of thought lies open before them, but so overpoweringly that although every word stands out clearly and vividly, it seems to them as if it were not their own property. When, then, consciousness has so come to itself that it possesses the entire content, then the moment has arrived which contains the possibility of real creation; and yet something is missing; missing is the occasion, which one might say is equally necessary, although in another sense, it is infinitely insignificant. Thus it has pleased the gods to join the greatest contradictions together. This is a mystery in which reality abounds, a stumbling block to the Jews, and to the Greeks foolishness. The occasion is always the accidental, and thus is the tremendous paradox, that the accidental is just as absolutely necessary as the necessary. The occasion is not in the ideal sense the accidental, as when I logically think the accidental; but the occasion is, irrationally regarded, the accidental, and yet in this accidentality, the necessary.
- Either/Or Part I, Swenson p. 231-232
The Unhappiest Man
- The unhappy person is one who has his ideal, the content of his life, the fullness of his consciousness, the essence of his being, in some manner outside of himself. He is always absent, never present to himself. But it is evident that it is possible to absent from one’s self either in the past or in the future. This, then, at once circumscribes the entire territory of the unhappy consciousness. For this rigid limitation we are grateful to Hegel; and now, since we are not merely philosophers beholding the kingdom from afar, we shall as native inhabitants give our attention in detail to the various types which are implied herein. The unhappy person is consequently absent. But one is absent when living either in the past or in the future. The form of expression must here be carefully noted; for it is clear, as philology also teaches us, that there is a tense which expresses presence in the past, and a tense which expresses presence in the future; but the same science also teaches us that there is a tense which is plus quam perfectum, in which there is no present, as well as a futurum exactum of an analogous character. Now there are some individuals who live in hope, and others who live in memory. These are indeed in a sense unhappy individuals; in so far, namely as they live solely in hope or in memory, if ordinarily only he is happy who is present to himself. However, one cannot in a strict sense be called an unhappy individual, now is present in hope or in memory. That which here must be emphasized is that he is present to himself in one or the other of these forms of consciousness. We shall also see from this that a single blow, be it ever so heavy, cannot possibly make a man the unhappiest of all. For one blow can either deprive him of hope, thereby leaving him present in memory, or of memory, thus leaving him present in hope. Either/Or Vol I The Unhappiest Man p. 220-221
- A young woman sits here of thoughtful mien. Her lover was faithless-but this we cannot take into consideration. Young woman, observe the serious countenances of this society; it has heard of more terrible misfortunes, its daring soul demands something greater still.-Yes, but I love him and him only in all the world; I loved him with all my soul, and with all my heart, and with all my mind.-You merely repeat what we have already heard before, do not weary our impatient longing; you can remember and grieve.-No, I cannot grieve, for he was perhaps not a deceiver, he was perhaps not faithless.-Why, then, can you not grieve? Come nearer, elect among women; forgive the strict censor who sought for a moment to exclude you. You cannot sorrow. Then why not hope?-No, I cannot hope; for he was a riddle.-Well, my girl, I understand you. You stand high in the ranks of the unhappy; behold her, dear Symparanekromenoi, she stands almost at the pinnacle of unhappiness. But you must divide yourself, you must hope by day and grieve by night, or grieve by day and hope by night. Be proud; for happiness is no real ground for pride, but only unhappiness. You are not indeed the unhappiest of all; but it is your opinion, dear Symparanekromenoi, is it not, that we ought to offer her an honorable accessit (mention)? The tomb we cannot offer her, but the place adjoining shall be hers. ... For there he stands, the ambassador from the kingdom of sighs, the chosen favorite of the realm of suffering, the apostle of grief, the silent friend of pain, the unhappy lover of memory, in his memories confounded by the light of hope, in his hope deceived by the shadows of memory. His head hangs heavy, his knees are weak; and yet he seeks no support save in himself. He is faint, and yet how powerful: his eyes seem not to have wept, but to have drunk many tears; and yet there is a fire in them strong enough to destroy the world, but not one splinter of the grief within his breast. He is bent, and yet his youth presages a long life; his lips smile at a world that misunderstands him. Stand up, dear Symparanekromenoi, bow before him, ye witnesses of grief, in this most solemn hour! I hail thee with thy title of honor: The Unhappiest Man!
- Either/Or Part I p. 226-227 Swenson
- Idleness, then, is so far from being the root of all evil that it is rather the true good. Boredom is the root of evil; it is that which must be held off.
- Since boredom advances and boredom is the root of all evil, no wonder, then, that the world goes backwards, that evil spreads. This can be traced back to the very beginning of the world. The gods were bored; therefore they created human beings. Adam was bored because he was alone; therefore Eve was created. Since that moment, boredom entered the world and grew in quantity in exact proportion to the growth of population. Adam was bored alone; then Adam and Eve were bored en famille. After that, the population of the world increased and the nations were bored en masse. To amuse themselves, they hit upon the notion of building a tower so high that it would reach the sky. This notion is just as boring as the tower was high and is a terrible demonstration of how boredom had gained the upper hand. Then they were dispersed around the world, just as people now travel abroad, but they continued to be bored. And what consequences this boredom had: humankind stood tall and fell far, first through Eve, then from the Babylonian tower.
- To forget — this is the desire of all people, and when they encounter something unpleasant, they always say: If only I could forget! But to forget is an art that must be practiced in advance. To be able to forget always depends upon how one experiences actuality.
- Married people pledge love for each other throughout eternity. Well, now, that is easy enough but does not mean very much, for if one is finished with time one is probably finished with eternity. If, instead of saying "throughout eternity," the couple would say, "until Easter, until next May Day," then what they say would make some sense, for then they would be saying something and also something they perhaps could carry out.
- Never take any official post. If one does that, one becomes just a plain John Anyman, a tiny little cog in the machine of the body politic. The individual ceases to be himself the manager of the operation, and then theories can be of little help. One acquires a title, and implicit in that are all the consequences of sin and evil. The law under which one slaves is equally boring no matter whether advancement is swift or slow. A title can never be disposed of, it would take a criminal act for that, which would incur a public whipping, and even then one cannot be sure of not being pardoned by royal decree and acquiring the title again.
- There are men who have an extraordinary talent for transforming everything into a matter of business, whose whole life is business, who fall in love, marry, listen to a joke, and admire a picture with the same industrious zeal with which they labor during business hours.
Part Two: Or
Esthetic Validity of Marriage
- There is a restlessness in me over which consciousness nevertheless hovers, bright and clear; my whole soul is concentrated upon this single point, my understanding contrives a hundred plans; I arrange everything for the attack, but it miscarries at a single point, and then my almost diabolical dialectic is instantly ready to explain what happened in such a way that it will benefit the new plan of operation.
- How often do we have an urge to go beyond the historical consciousness, a longing, a homesickness for the primeval forest that lies behind us, and does not this longing acquire a double significance when it joins to itself the conception of another being whose home is also in that region? Therefore, every marriage, even one that is entered into after sober consideration, has an urge, at least in particular moments, to imagine such a foreground. And how beautiful it is that the God who is spirit also loves the earthly love. That there is much lying among married people on this score, I readily admit to you, and that your observations along this line have frequently amused me, but the truth in it ought not to be forgotten. Perhaps someone thinks it is better to have complete authority in the choice of “one’s life-partner,” but such an expression as that betrays an extreme narrowness of mind and foolish self-importance of understanding and has no intimation that in its genius romantic love is free and that precisely this genius constitutes its greatness. Either/Or Part II p. 20-21
- … what you lack, altogether lack, is faith. Instead of saving your soul by entrusting everything to God, instead of taking this shortcut, you prefer the endless roundabout way, which perhaps will never take you to your destination.
- the instant becomes the main thing, and how often have these brazen words been heard from that kind of a lover to the unhappy girl who could love only once: I do not ask for so much, I am satisfied with less; for be it from me to demand that you go on loving me forever if you will just love me in the moment I desire it. Lovers of that sort know very well that the sensuous is transitory; they also know which is the most beautiful moment, and with that they are satisfied. Such an attitude is absolutely immoral; theoretically, however, it contains in a way an advance toward our goal, inasmuch as it lodges a veritable protest against marriage. Insofar as this same disposition tries to assume a somewhat more respectable appearance, it restricts itself not only to the particular moment but extends this into a longer period of time, yet in such a way that instead of assimilating the eternal into its consciousness it assimilates the temporal or in this opposition to the eternal entangles itself with the conception of a possible change in time. It thinks that one can probably stand living together for some time, but it wants to keep an escape open in order to make a choice if a happier choice comes along. It makes marriage into a civil arrangement; one needs only to inform the proper authority that this marriage is over and a new one has been contracted, just as one reports that one has moved. Whether the state is served thereby, I shall leave undecided; for the particular individual it must truly be an odd relationship. Either/Or Part II p. 23
- It is beautiful and healthy if a person has been unfortunate in his first love, has learned to know the pain of it but nevertheless remains faithful to his love, has kept his faith in this first love; it is beautiful if in the course of the years he at times very vividly recalls it, and even though his soul has been sufficiently healthy to bid farewell, as it were, to that kind of life in order to dedicate himself to something higher; it is beautiful if he then sadly remember it as something that was admittedly not perfect but yet was so very beautiful. And then sadness is far more beautiful and healthy and noble than the prosaic common sense that has long since finished with all such childishness, this devilish prudence of choir director Basil that fancies itself to be healthy but which is the most penetratingly wasting illness; for what does it profit a man if he gained the whole world but lost his soul? For me the phrase “the first love” has no sadness at all, or at least only a little admixture of sweet sadness; for me it is a password, and although I have been a married man for several years, I have the honor fight to under the victorious banner of the first love. Either/Or II p. 37
- A religiously developed person makes a practice of referring everything to God, of permeating and saturating every finite relation with the thought of God, and thereby consecrating and ennobling it.
- The way it happens is that in taking their first love to God the lovers thank God for it. Thereby an ennobling change takes place. … it is truly far more beautiful to take the beloved as a gift from God’s hand than to have subdued the whole world in order to make a conquest of her.
- For the happy individualities, the first love is also the second, the third, the last; here the first love has the qualification of eternity; for the unhappy individualities the first love is the instant; it acquires the qualification of the temporal.
- Isaac presumably dared with a certain degree of assurance to expect that God would surely choose a wife for him who was young and beautiful and highly regarded by the people and lovable in every way, but nevertheless we lack the erotic, even if it was the case that he loved this one chosen of God with all the passion of youth. Freedom was lacking. Either/Or: Part II Søren Kierkegaard Edited and translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong 1988 p. 48
- What kind of authority is it that dares to thrust itself between me and my bride, the bride I myself have chosen and who has chosen me. And this authority will command her to be faithful to me-does she need, then, a command-and what if she would be faithful to me only because a third party, whom she loved more than me, commanded it! And it orders me to be faithful to her-do I need to be ordered, I who belong to her with my whole soul! And this authority determines our relation to each other; it says that I am to order and she to obey; but what if I do not want to order, what if I feel too inferior for that? No, her I will obey; for me her hint is my command but I will not submit to an alien authority. Ether/Or: Part II Søren Kierkegaard Edited and translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong 1988 p. 53
- Alone in his kayak, a person is sufficient unto himself, has nothing to do with any person except when he himself so wishes. Alone in his kayak, a person is sufficient unto himself-but I cannot really understand how this emptiness can be filled … but you do have a person who can help fill up the time. You should say, therefore: Alone in one’s boat, alone with one’s sorrow, alone with one’s despair-which one is cowardly enough to prefer to keep rather than to submit to the pain of healing. Allow me to point out the dark side of your life … think of the pain, sadness, and humiliation involved in being in this sense a stranger and an alien in the world. ... think of family life in its beauty, founded on a deep and intimate community in such a way that what joins it all together is still mysteriously hidden, the one relationship ingeniously entwined with the other so that one has only an intimation of the coherence; think of this family’s concealed internal life, clad in such beautiful external form that one nowhere encounters the hardness of the joints-and now contemplate your relationship to such a family. Either/Or II p. 84-85
- It has really made me uneasy to hear the jubilation with which younger men, just like the terrorists in the French Revolution, shout: de omnibus dubitandum. Perhaps I am prejudiced. But I do believe, however, that we must distinguish between personal and scientific doubt. Personal doubt is always a special matter, and such an enthusiasm for destruction, which we hear so much about, has at best the result that a goodly number of men venture out but do not have the power to doubt, and they succumb or become irresolute, which is likewise certain destruction. But if an individual’s wrestling in doubt develops the power that in turn overcomes the doubt, such a sight is elevating, since it shows the quality of the person, but it is not really beautiful, because to be that requires that it have immediacy within itself. Such a development produced in the highest degree through doubt aims at what in an extreme expression is called: making one into a completely different person. Beauty, however, consists in this, that immediacy is acquired in and with the doubt. I must emphasize this in opposition to the abstraction in which doubt has been affirmed, the idolatry with which people have engaged in it, the rashness with which people have plunged into it, the blind trust with which people have hoped for a glorious result from it. Either/Or: Part II Søren Kierkegaard Edited and translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong 1988 p. 95
- In my insisting that adversity is part of marriage, I by no means permit you to identify marriage with a retinue of adversities. It is already implicit in the resignation contained in the resolution that there will be accompanying adversities, except that these have not as yet assumed a definite shape and are not alarming, since on the contrary they are already seen as overcome in the resolution. Furthermore, adversity is not seen externally but internally in its reflection in the individual, but this belongs to the shared history of marital love. Secretiveness becomes a contradiction when it has nothing to keep secret, a childishness when it is only amorous bric-a-brac that constitutes its deposit. Not until the individual’s love has truly opened his heart, made him eloquent in a much profounder sense than that in which one usually says that love makes one eloquent (for even the seducer may have that kind of eloquence), not until the individual has deposited everything in the shared consciousness, not until then does secretiveness gain its strength, life and meaning. But a decisive step is required for this, and consequently courage is also required; yet marital love collapses into nothing if this does not take place, for only thereby does one show that one loves not oneself but another. Either/Or Part II p. 109
- … in no way does the secrecy system lead to a happy marriage and thus neither to an esthetically beautiful marriage. No, my friend, honesty, frankness, openness, understanding-this is the life principle in marriage. Without this understanding, marriage is unbeautiful and actually immoral, for then the sensuous and the spiritual, which love unites, are separated. Either/Or II 116
- When you are sitting in a theater, intoxicated with esthetic pleasure, then you have the courage to require of the poet that he let the esthetic win out over all wretchedness. It is the only consolation that remains, and, what is even more unmanly, it is the consolation that you take, you to whom life has not provided the occasion to test your strength. You, then, are impoverished and unhappy, just like the hero and the heroine in the play, but you also have pathos, courage, a round mouth from which eloquence gushes, and a vigorous arm. You and your kind conquer, you applaud the actor, and the actor is yourselves and the applause from the pit is for you, for you are indeed the hero and the actor. In dreams, in the nebulous world of esthetics, there you are heroes. I do not care very much for the theater, and as far as I am concerned you and your kind can mock as much as you like. Just let the histrionic heroes succumb or let them be victorious, sink through the floor or vanish through the ceiling-I am not greatly moved. But if it is true, as you teach and declaim to life, that it takes far fewer adversities to make a person a slave so that he walks with his head hanging down and forgets that he, too, is created in God’s image, then may it be your just punishment. God grant, that all playwrights compose nothing but tearjerking plays, full of all possible anxiety and horror that would not allow your flabbiness to rest on the cushioned theater seats and let you be perfumed with supranatural power but would horrify you until in the world of actuality you learn to believe in that which you want to believe in only in poetry. Either/Or II p. 122
- The first thing I must now protest against is your right to use the word “habit” for the recurring that characterizes all life and therefore love also. “Habit” is properly used only of evil, in such a way that by it one designates either a continuance in something that in itself is evil or such a stubborn repetition of something in itself innocent that becomes somewhat evil because of this repetition. Thus habit always designates something unfree. But just as one cannot do the good except in freedom, so also one cannot remain in it except in freedom, and therefore we can never speak of habit in relation to the good. Either/Or: Part II Søren Kierkegaard Edited and translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong 1988 p. 127
- And in truth, he who has humility and courage enough to let himself be esthetically transformed, he who feels himself present as a character in a drama the deity is writing, in which the poet and prompter are not different persons, in which the individual, as the experienced actor who has lived into his character and his lines is not disturbed by the prompter but feels that he himself becomes a question whether he is putting the words in the prompter’s mouth or the prompter in his, he who in the most profound sense feels himself creating and created, who in the moment he feels himself creating has the original pathos of the lines and the moment he feels himself created has the erotic ear that picks up every sound-he and he alone has brought into actual existence the highest in esthetics. But this history that proves to be incommensurable even for poetry is the inner history. This has the idea within itself and precisely therefore is the esthetic. Therefore it begins, as I expressed it with the possession, and its progress is the acquiring of this possession. It is an eternity in which the temporal has not disappeared as an ideal element, but in which it is continually present as a real element. Thus, when patience acquires itself in patience, it is inner history. Either/Or II 137-138
- There are people who are so enervated that they need loud noise and diverting surroundings in order to work. What is the reason for this if it is not that they lack self-control, except in the inverse sense? When they are alone, their thoughts wander into the wild blue yonder; then, however, there is nose and confusion around them, they are required to set their wills in opposition. This is why you are afraid of peace and quiet and rest. You are inside yourself only when there is opposition, but therefore you actually are never inside yourself but always outside yourself. In other words, the moment you assimilate the opposition there is quiet again. Therefore you dare not do so, but then the result will be that you and the opposition stand there face to face, and consequently you are not inside yourself.
- … what does it mean to commit oneself to love? Where is the boundary? When have I fulfilled my duty? In what, more closely defined, does my duty consist? In case of doubt, to what council can I apply? And if I cannot fulfill my duty, where is the authority to compel me? State and Church have indeed set a certain limit, but even though I do not go to the extreme, can I not therefore be a bad husband? Who will punish me? Who will stand up for her who is the victim? Answer: you yourself. Either/Or II p. 150-151
Balance between Esthetic and Ethical
- Also translated as "Equilibrium between the Aesthetic and the Ethical in the Development of Personality"
- This is what is sad when one contemplates human life, that so many live out their lives in quiet lostness; they outlive themselves, not in the sense that life's content successively unfolds and is now possessed in the unfolding, but they live, as it were, away from themselves and vanish like shadows. Their immortal souls are blown away, and they are not disquieted by the question of its immortality, because they are already disintegrated before they die.
- I see it all perfectly; there are two possible situations — one can either do this or that. My honest opinion and my friendly advice is this: do it or do not do it — you will regret both.
- Imagine a captain of a ship the moment a shift of direction must be made; then he may be able to say: I can do either this or that. But if he is not a mediocre captain he will also be aware that during all this the ship is ploughing ahead with its ordinary velocity, and thus there is but a single moment when it is inconsequential whether he does this or does that. So also with a person-if he forgets to take into account the velocity-there eventually comes a moment where it is no longer a matter of an Either/Or, not because he has chosen, but because he has refrained from it, which also can be expressed by saying: Because others have chosen for him-or because he has lost himself.
- …take care that the great things to which you are really sacrificing your life do not deceive you. Either/Or II p. 170
- I ask: What am I supposed to do if I do not want to be a philosopher, I am well aware that I like other philosophers will have to mediate the past. For one thing, this is no answer to my question “What am I supposed to do?” for even if I had the most brilliant philosophical mind there ever was, there must be something more I have to do besides sitting and contemplating the past. Second, I am a married man and far from being a philosophical brain, but in all respect I turn to the devotees of this science to find out what I am supposed to do. But I receive no answer, for philosophy mediates the past and is in the past-philosophy hastens so fast into the past that, as a poet says of and antiquarian, only his coattails remain the present. See, here you are at one with the philosophers. What unites you is that life comes to a halt. For the philosopher, world history is ended, and he mediates. This accounts for the repugnant spectacle that belongs to the order of the day in our age-to see young people who are able to mediate Christianity and paganism, who are able to play games with the titanic forces of history, and who are unable to tell a simple human being what he has to do here in life, nor do they know what they themselves have to do.
- So the richest personality is nothing before he has chosen himself; and … the poorest personality is everything when he has chosen himself, for the greatness is not to be this or that but to be oneself, and every human being can be this if he so wills it. Either/Or II 177
- Every human being, no matter how slightly gifted he is, however subordinate his position in life may be, has a natural need to formulate a life-view, a conception of the meaning of life and of its purpose. The person who lives esthetically also does that, and the popular expression heard in all ages and from various stages is this: One must enjoy life. There are, of course, many variations of this, depending on differences in the conceptions of enjoyment, but all are agreed that we are to enjoy life. Either/Or II p. 179-180
- What, then, is depression? It is hysteria of the spirit. There comes a moment in a person’s life when immediacy is ripe, so to speak, and when the spirit requires a higher form, when it wants to lay hold of itself as spirit. As immediate spirit, a person is bound up with all the earthly life, and now spirit wants to gather itself together out of this dispersion, so to speak, and to transfigure itself in itself; the personality wants to become conscious in its eternal validity. If this does not happen, if the movement is halted, if it is repressed, then depression sets in. Either/Or II p. 188-189
- What intoxication is as beautiful as despair … It gives a slight flourish to the hat and to the whole body; it gives a proud, defiant look. The lips smile haughtily. It provides an indescribable lightness to life, a regal outlook on everything.
- … anyone who suffers from indigestion has the right to call himself depressed, something we see quite frequently in our age, since being depressed has almost become the status of our age. … you scarcely assume, as do many physicians, that depression inheres in the physical, and, strangely enough, physicians nevertheless are unable to eliminate it. Only the spirit can eliminate it, for it inheres in the spirit, and when it finds itself all the little afflictions vanish, all the causes that produce depression in some people, according to their view-such as not feeling at home in the world, not finding one’s place in life-because the person who possesses himself eternally comes into the world neither too early nor too late, and the person who possesses himself in his eternal validity certainly does find his meaning in his life. Either/Or II p. 189-190 Hong
- I believe that deep in the solitariness of the forest, where the trees are mirrored in the dark waters in its dark secrecy, where there is twilight even at midday, there lives a creature, a nymph, a maiden; I believe that in the morning she braids garlands, at noon she bathes in the cool waters, that in the evening she sadly plucks the leaves from the garlands. I believe that I would be happy, the one and only human being who would deserve to be called happy, if I could capture her and possess her. I believe that there is a longing in my soul that searches the whole world; I believe that I would be happy if my longing were satisfied. I believe that there is indeed meaning in the world if only I could find it-now, do not tell me that I am not strong in faith or ardent in spirit.
- You see, there is an Either/Or here. … if you want to go on amusing your soul with the trifling of wittiness and the vainglory of the intellect, then do so. Leave your home, emigrate, go to Paris, devote yourself to journalism, court the smiles of languid women, cool their hot blood with the chill of your wit, let it be your life’s proud task to dispel an idle woman’s boredom or the gloomy thoughts of a burned out sensualist; forget that you were a child, that there was piety in your soul and innocence in your thoughts; muffle every lofty voice in your heart, loaf your life away in the glittering wretchedness of social gatherings; forget that there is an immortal spirit within you, torture the last farthing out of you soul; … But if you cannot do that, if you do not want to do that-and that you neither can not will-then pull yourself together, stifle every rebellious thought that would have the audacity to commit high treason against your better nature, disdain all that paltriness that would envy your intellectual gifts and desire them for itself in order to put them to even worse use; disdain the hypocritical virtue that is unwilling to carry the burdens of life and yet wants to be eulogized for carrying it; but do not therefore distain life, respect every decent effort, every modest activity that humbly conceals itself, and above all have a little more respect for women…. if you cannot control yourself, you will scarcely find anyone else who is able to do it.
- But what is it, then, that I choose-is it this or that? No, for I choose absolutely and I choose absolutely precisely by having chosen not to choose this or that. I choose the absolute, and what is the absolute? It is myself in my eternal validity. Something other than myself I can never choose as the absolute, for if I choose something else, I choose it as something finite and consequently do not choose absolutely. Even the Jew who chose God did not choose absolutely, for he did indeed choose the absolute, but he did not choose it absolutely, and thereby it ceased to be the absolute and became something finite. But what is this self of mine? If I were to speak of a first moment, a first expression for it, then my answer would be this: It is the most abstract of all, and yet in itself it is also the most concrete of all-it is freedom. P. 213-214
- Anyone who refuses to struggle with actualities acquires phantoms to struggle against. P. 223
- When a person considers himself esthetically his soul is like soil out of which grow all sorts of herbs, all with equal claim to flourish; his self consists of this multiplicity, and he has no self that is higher than this, p. 225
- The person who lives ethically does not exterminate the mood. He looks at it for a moment, but this moment saves him from living in the instant; this moment gives him supremacy over the desire, for the art of mastering desire is not so much as in exterminating it or utterly renouncing it as in determining the moment. p. 230
- It is curious that the word “duty” can prompt one to think of an external relation, since the very derivation of the word suggests an internal one: for that which is incumbent upon me, not as an individual with accidental characteristics bit in accordance with my true being, certainly has the most intimate relation with myself. That is, duty is not something laid upon one but something that lies upon. When duty is regarded in this way, it is a sign that the individual is oriented within himself. Then duty will not split up for him into a multiplicity of particular stipulations, for this always indicates that he has only an external relation to duty. He has put on duty; for him it is the expression of his innermost being. When he is thus oriented within himself, he has immersed himself in the ethical, and will not run around performing duties. Therefore, the truly ethical person has an inner serenity and sense of security, for he does not have duty outside himself but within himself. the more deeply a man has structured his life ethically, the less he will feel compelled to talk about duty every moment, to worry every moment whether he is performing it, every moment to seek the advice of others about what his duty is. When the ethical is viewed properly, it makes the individual infinitely secure within himself; when it is viewed improperly, it makes the individual utterly insecure, and I cannot imagine an unhappier or more tormented life then when a person has his duty outside himself and yet continually wants to carry it out. p. 254-255
- The self the individual knows is simultaneously the actual self and the ideal self, which the individual has outside himself as the image in whose likeness he is to form himself, and which on the other hand he has within himself, since it is he himself. Only within himself does the individual have the objective toward which he is to strive, and yet he has this objective outside himself as he strives toward it. that is, if the individual believes that the universal human being lies outside him, so that it will come to him from the outside, then he is disoriented, then he has an abstract conception, and his method will always be an abstract annihilating of the original self. Only within himself can the individual become enlightened about himself. That is why the ethical life has this duplexity, in which the individual has himself outside himself within himself. Meanwhile the exemplary self is an imperfect self, for it is only a prophecy and thus is not the actual self. But it escorts him at all times; yet the more he actualizes it, the more it vanishes within him, until at last, instead of appearing before him, it is behind him as a faded possibility. This image is like a person’s shadow. In the forenoon he casts his shadow before him; at noon it walks almost unnoticed beside him; in the afternoon it falls behind him. When the individual has known himself and has chosen himself, he is in the process of actualizing himself, but since he is supposed to do that freely, he must know what it is he wants to actualize. What he wants to actualize is certainly himself, but it is his ideal self, which he cannot acquire anywhere but within himself. if he does not hold firmly to the truth that the individual has the ideal self within himself, all of his aspiring and striving becomes abstract. Both the one who wants to copy another person and the one who wants to copy the normative person become equally affected, although in different ways. Either/Or Part 2 Hong p. 259
- When a person considers himself esthetically, he may made distinctions as follows. He says: I have a talent for painting-this I regard as an accidental trait; but I have keen wit and a keen mind-this I regard as the essential that cannot be taken away from me without my becoming somebody else. To that I would answer; This whole distinction is an illusion, for if you do not take on the keen mind and the keen wit ethically, as a task, as something for which you are responsible, then it does not belong to you essentially, and primarily because as long as you live merely esthetically your life is totally inessential. To a certain degree, the person who lives ethically cancels the distinction between the accidental and the essential, for he takes responsibility for all of himself as equally essential; but it comes back again, for after he has done that, he makes distinction, but in such a manner that he takes an essential responsibility for excluding what he excludes as accidental. Insofar as the esthetic individual, with “esthetic earnestness” sets a task for his life, it is really the task of becoming absorbed in his own accidental traits, of becoming an individual whose equal in paradoxicality and irregularity has never been seen, of becoming a caricature of a human being. The reason we rarely meet such characters in life is that we rarely meet people who have a notion of what it means to live. But since many people have a decided penchant for chattering, we encounter on the streets, at parties, and in books a great amount of chatter that has the unmistakable stamp of the mania for originality that, carried over into life, would enrich the world with a host of artificial products, one more ridiculous than the other. Either/Or Part 2, Hong p. 260-261
- Do not interrupt the flight of your soul; do not distress what is best in you; do not enfeeble your spirit with half wishes and half thoughts. Ask yourself and keep on asking until you find the answer, for one may have known something many times, acknowledged it; one may have willed something many times, attempted it — and yet, only the deep inner motion, only the heart's indescribable emotion, only that will convince you that what you have acknowledged belongs to you, that no power can take it from you — for only the truth that builds up is truth for you. p. 354
- Father in heaven! Teach us to pray rightly so that our hearts may open up to you in prayer and supplication and hide no furtive desire that we know is not acceptable to you, nor any secret fear that you will deny us anything that will truly be for our good, so that the labouring thoughts, the restless mind, the fearful heart may find rest in and through that alone in which and through which it can be found-by always joyfully thanking you as we gladly confess that in relation to you we are always in the wrong. Amen. P. 341
- Only man is wrong; to him alone is reserved what is denied to everything else-to be in the wrong in relation to God. EO II p. 344
- A human being is a frail creature, it says; it would be unreasonable of God to require the impossible of him. One does what one can, and if one is ever somewhat negligent, God will never forget that we are weak and imperfect creatures. Shall I admire more the sublime concepts of the nature of the Godhead than this ingenuity makes manifest or the profound insight into the human heart, the probing consciousness that scrutinizes itself and now comes to the easy cozy conclusion: One does what one can? Was it such an easy matter for you, my listener, to determine how much that is: what one can? Were you never in such danger that you almost desperately exerted yourself and yet so infinitely wished to be able to do more, and perhaps someone else looked at you with a skeptical and imploring look, whether it was not possible that you could do more? Or were you never anxious about yourself, so anxious that it seemed to you as if there were no sin so black, so selfishness so loathsome, that it could not infiltrate you and like a foreign power gain control of you? Did you not sense this anxiety? For if you did no sense it, then do not open your mouth to answer, for then you cannot reply to what is being asked; but if you did sense it, then, my listener, I ask you: Did you find rest in those words, "One does what one can"? EO II 344-345
- If a person is sometimes in the right, sometimes in the wrong, to some degree in the right, to some degree in the wrong, who, then, is the one who makes that decision except the person himself, but in the decision may he not again be to some degree to the right and to some degree in the wrong? Or is he a different person when he judges his act then when he acts? Is doubt to rule, then, continually to discover new difficulties, and is care to accompany the anguished soul and drum past experiences into it? Or would we prefer continually to be in the right in the way irrational creatures are? Then we have only the choice between being nothing in relation to God or having to begin all over again every moment in eternal torment, yet without being able to begin, for if we are able to decide definitely with regard to the previous moment, and so further and further back. Doubt is again set in motion, care again aroused; let us try to calm it by deliberating on: The Upbuilding That Lies In The Thought That In Relation To God We Are Always In The Wrong. E/O II 346
- wishing to be in the wrong is an expression of an infinite relationship, and wanting to be in the right, or finding it painful to be in the wrong, is an expression of a finite relationship! Hence, it is upbuilding always to be in the wrong-because only the infinite builds up; the finite does not! EO II. P. 348
- The movement of doubt consisted precisely in this: that at one moment he was supposed to be in the right, the next moment in the wrong, to a degree in the right, to a degree in the wrong, and this was supposed to mark his relationship with God; but such a relationship with God is not relationship, and this was the sustenance of doubt. In his relationship with another person, it certainly was possible that he could be partly in the wrong, partly in the right, to a degree in the wrong, to a degree in the right, because he himself and every human being is finite, and their relationship is a finite relationship that consists in a more or less. Therefore as long as doubt would make the infinite relationship finite, and as long as wisdom would full up the infinite relationship with the finite-just so long he would remain in doubt. Thus every time doubt wants to trouble him about the particular, tell him that he is suffering too much or is being tested beyond his powers, he forget the finite in the infinite, that he is always in the wrong. Every time the cares of doubt want to make him sad, he lifts himself above the finite into the infinite, because this thought, that he is always in the wrong, is the wings upon which he soars over the finite. This is the longing with which he seeks God; this is the love which he finds God. p. 352-353