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Home Uncategorized The caricature or the man?

The caricature or the man?

Marilyn Piety
There are few philosophers whose views are so poorly understood as Kierkegaard’s. That’s partly because he wrote in Danish, a language that few scholars outside Denmark ever master, and partly because he tended to write in an indirect style. Many of his philosophical views are actually presented in the form of novels and most of his writings were published under pseudonyms, with which he tried to disavow any relation. But if his thought is still not well understood, this is even more true of his life. Unfortunately all the biographies of Kierkegaard in English, including Clare Carlisle’s recent Philosopher of the Heart (Allen Lane, 2019) do little more than recapitulate myths, several of which were decisively refuted back in 2004 in a groundbreaking work by the Danish scholar Peter Tudvad entitled Kierkegaards København (Kierkegaard’s Copenhagen). Although this meticulously researched work is not strictly speaking a biography, it is unquestionably the single best secondary work on Kierkegaard’s life. It makes clear that much of the traditional picture we have got of Kierkegaard from earlier biographies is simply wrong. Unfortunately, it has yet to be translated into English. Kierkegaard’s father, Michael Pedersen Kierkegaard, had originally been poor and had actually begun life herding sheep on the Jutland heath. He eventually made his way to Copenhagen, however, where he opened a business trading first in socks and then later in a variety of goods. He was such a shrewd businessman that he quickly amassed a substantial fortune and was able to retire immediately after his marriage to his second wife and the mother of his children. Born in 1813, when his father was fifty-six and his mother, Ane, forty-four, Kierkegaard was the indulged and pampered baby of the family, the last of seven children. Observations of the large Kierkegaard household, some of which have been collected in Erindringer om Søren Kierkegaard (memories of Søren Kierkegaard) (Reitzel, 1980), invariably describe it as warm and loving. Both of Kierkegaard’s parents appear to have paid a great deal of positive attention to their children, with the result that one of Kierkegaard’s teachers described him, according to Carlisle as “‘still open and unspoiled’ at seventeen”. The Kierkegaard household was unusually religious. They attended weekly services of the Danish Lutheran Church, but also hosted meetings of the pietist Moravian Brethren in their home. The elder Kierkegaard enjoyed debating theological issues with his sons, particularly Søren and his older brother Peter Christian, and both boys…

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