Regine Olsen and Soren Kierkegaard

The strange story of Soren Kierkegaard and Regine Olsen is more than a puzzle for unemployed biographers. Soren's decision to break off their relationship seems to have been motivated by a desire to administer the same sort of "test" that he gave to his readers when he wrote his deliberately misleading or otherwise "ironic" works. As Palmer points out, Regine, like most of those readers, failed his test in the sense that she did not "get" the cryptic messages that he left for her in books that he wrote afterwards. Although heartbroken, she bounced back and married an old boyfriend, whereas Soren languished in bitter disappointment for the rest of his life. One might ask if it wasn't Soren who didn't "get it," since his decision to subject his beloved to such a test put him in the same category of arbitrary authority that God inhabits in the (even more strange) story of Abraham and Isaac. And playing God is, well, not quite the same thing as a leap of faith...

The Royal Palace in the heart of Copenhagen

The three stages of selfhood, which Kierkegaard called the aesthetic pursuit, the ethical life, and religious commitment (the "leap of faith") are justifiably famous. However, I can't help thinking that he was a little hard on those who relish the first level, since he seldom distinguishes between sensualists and those who try to live their lives as (to cite Walter Pater) "a hard gemlike flame." There may indeed be a hierarchy such that the religious "Knight of Faith" outranks the "Aesthetic Man," but that doesn't mean that the pursuit of beauty is itself ignoble. Furthermore, for all its bombast, the title of his essay Either/Or may be a bit simplistic: although situations sometimes arise when one must make a painful choice between beauty and goodness (or as Abraham discovered, between rightness and faithfulness), such situations are not the norm. At least they ought not be the norm if a person really cares about living a life that is respectful of otherness — to be spelled with both lower and upper case "o's."

For these reasons, I choose the "Mickey Mouse Model" (p. 165). Like Aristotle, I think human flourishing is a comprehensive concept and not an "either/or" — at least not in the strict sense. What's your view?

An Existentialist Hero cozies up to the prospect of radical absurdity


There will be no assessment quiz for this chapter. But help is at hand. Just go to the end of the chapter where you will find a summary and set of study questions that will help you get ready for the in-class quiz on Chapter 6.