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The Soren Kierkegaard statue in the Royal Library Garden in Copen­hagen, Denmark | Wiki­media Commons

One time my suit­emate popped his head into the room and men­tioned that he wanted to read Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. 

“I’ve heard tons of people talk about him,” he said. “But nobody reads him.” 

“Bet,” I replied. 

Within the hour, we had looked up some basic bio­graphical facts on Kierkegaard and ordered matching copies of “Either/Or.”

Now, I had doubts about Kierkegaard. Almost everyone I know who reads him turns into some quasi-cult member. What’s all the hype?

Regardless, when Thanks­giving and Christmas break came along, I really dug into the text. I high­lighted every line that I found inter­esting and wrote a number in the margins next to it, putting a cor­re­sponding number and comment in a google doc.

I am only halfway done with the book, but let me say this: I am now a cult member.

Kierk­a­gaard ought to be included in Hillsdale’s Intro­duction to Phi­losophy (PHL 105) courses. Here are my two reasons why. 

First, Hillsdale stu­dents are in touch with their hearts. Despite the con­stant emphasis on reason and faith, much of the vigor of the com­munity comes from its strong emo­tional quality. There is nothing these people are not pas­sionate about, and Kierkegaard deals with emo­tions in a way other philoso­phers do not. He treats human nature on an intimate level, such that some of his foremost asser­tions are about love, desire, sorrow, anxiety, and depression. This is a fairly unique field amongst philoso­phers: many treat logos, some eros, but almost none make an attempt at thumos. Thus, there is a great potential for affinity between his writings and our stu­dents.  

Second, Kierkegaard can rescue phi­losophy from its most common dif­fi­culty here at Hillsdale College. I mean, let’s face it: how many times have you talked to an English or phi­losophy major who says he is “depressed about phi­losophy” or a Christian who has an almost axiomatic dis­trust for phi­losophy? This comes from two main factors. First, that a common theme of the books we read in our core English courses is the Mil­tonic Prin­ciple of being “lowly wise.” This can easily be mis­con­strued into Hume’s sug­gestion of playing backgammon and aban­doning phi­losophy since “reason entirely sub­verts itself.” Some­times, stu­dents con­clude that they might not need phi­losophy or reason to act in accor­dance with their nature. But the opposite is true: res­o­nance with one’s nature requires under­standing — in short, the liberal arts — phi­losophy, English, the­ology, and geometry. 

The mod­ernists and post­mod­ernists we read in PHL 105 have a sin­gular incom­pat­i­bility with Christian faith. A close reading of Locke, Descartes, Hume, Kant, or Niet­zsche can cast someone into serious doubt about the use of phi­losophy, or reason, or even about their per­sonal faith itself. As Hillsdale College Pres­ident Larry Arnn likes to point out, edu­cation is dan­gerous. The PHL 105 course often reads like a roller­coaster — it’s all downhill after the initial climb of Plato’s “Republic.”

Kierkegaard can save us. He grew up Lutheran, entered sem­inary, and was betrothed to a woman he loved dearly, but gave that life up to devote himself fully to phi­losophy. He con­stantly ref­er­ences the Bible in his writings — but not in the cryptic way of Neitzsche and many others. His writings are lit­tered with ideas from, and com­par­isons to, the Greeks, and his outlook par­tic­i­pates in many central Christian beliefs. For example, he writes that “it is through sin that one first catches sight of sal­vation,” and “the reli­gious is the expression of a paternal love.” 

There are, of course, many philoso­phers who are highly influ­ential and deserve a spot in any survey course. Some stu­dents spec­ulate that there should be two semesters of PHL 105 in order to treat thinkers like Hegel, Hei­degger, and even con­tem­po­ra­neous writers like Mac­Intyre. These may be argued at a later date, but Kierkegaard remains sin­gular amongst the philoso­phers in his holistic treatment of man. The Western Canon is vast, but Kierkegaard holds a unique position to speak to the hopes, fears, minds, and hearts of under­grad­uates. He deserves a spot in our Intro­duction to Phi­losophy course.

 

Joseph Teti is a sophomore studying English.