Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1946/13458
The purpose of this paper is to explore the connection between Kierkegaard and phenomenology. As is well known, Kierkegaard is a complex and peculiar figure in the history of philosophy and his contribution, although significant, is the subject of widely different views and appraisals. This is partly due to his, at times, very complicated style wherein it can be quite difficult for his reader to be sure he has grasped his meaning and intention sufficiently. But his contribution also extends beyond philosophy and is to be seen in religion and literature. Kierkegaard is, perhaps, most famous for being one of the earliest examples of a new philosophical movement which later came to be called existentialism. His contribution to existentialism is generally considered to be so significant that he has often been proclaimed to be the father of the tradition. It is also well known that existentialism has strong ties to phenomenology as some of the same key philosophers played a large part in developing and shaping both movements. But this connection, between Kierkegaard and the phenomenological movement, although certainly recognized, is one which has been investigated to a lesser degree.
When it comes to phenomenology things aren’t quite so straightforward either. It is a movement wherein the very foundations have been subject to extensive critique almost from the very beginning, making it difficult to understand phenomenology as a consistent tradition which agrees on core concerns. The difficulty in getting a good grasp on phenomenology lies to a large extent in the fact that its many adherents, such as Husserl and Heidegger which will be discussed in the following but also others, do not necessarily agree on its fundamental principles. Because of this phenomenology itself has been under constant revision and reinvention, so much so that some commentators have denied that it can be spoken of as a coherent, unified philosophical movement at all.
But I will, in the following, hope to show that there are certain core principles which are at the very basis of phenomenology, and these principles and concerns are very similar to ones which are to be found in Kierkegaard’s writings. This connection between phenomenology and Kierkegaard has been recognized previously, such as by Merleau-Ponty in his famous introduction to Phenomenology of Perception. There he claims that phenomenology is a manner of practicing philosophy which had long been employed before it attained self-awareness, and takes Kierkegaard as an example of this. 1 But what precisely is Kierkegaard’s relation to phenomenology? Is there some way we can view Kierkegaard as a phenomenologist, and his manner of practicing philosophy as phenomenological? Could Kierkegaard’s writings be of benefit to phenomenologists? These are the questions which I seek to explore in the following by focusing on key elements in Kierkegaard’s philosophy on the one hand, and in the phenomenology of Husserl and Heidegger on the other.