Jest as humility: Kierkegaard and the limits of earnestness

John Lippitt

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


This chapter argues that jest [Spøg] - an apparently marginal and comparatively overlooked feature of Kierkegaard’s treatment of the comic, humor and irony - has far greater significance than is normally realised. It argues that jest is the expression of an existentially important kind of humility. To see this, we need to understand the relation between jest and earnestness (especially, how jest reveals the limits of earnestness for humans qua finite creatures) and the link between this and the important Kierkegaardian category of ‘infinite resignation’. The chapter then explores the dangers of the ‘spirit of comparison’ discussed in Kierkegaard’s 1847 discourses on the lilies and the birds. It argues that jest addresses these dangers through expressing a particular kind of humility, one typified by a recognition of our dependence and a focus on others, rather than underestimating ourselves or not exaggerating our abilities or importance. Finally, it suggests that the relationship between such humility, ‘eschatological trust’ and hope sheds new light on how best to understand Kierkegaard’s claim that awareness of a ‘way out’ must be present if a use of the comic is to be ethically ‘legitimate’.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAll Too Human: Humor, Comedy and Laughter in Nineteenth Century Philosophy
EditorsLydia Moland
PublisherSpringer Nature
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2018


  • Kierkegaard
  • Humility
  • Jest
  • Infinite resignation
  • Earnestness


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