Self-knowledge in Kierkegaard

John Lippitt

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Throughout his authorship, Kierkegaard shows an intense fascination with Socrates and Socratic self-knowledge. This chapter traces, in roughly chronological order: (1) the young Kierkegaard’s autobiographical reflections on self-knowledge, when first coming to understand his task as an author; (2) Socrates as a negative figure in The Concept of Irony - where self-knowledge is understood in terms of separation from others and the surrounding society - and the contrast with the Concluding Unscientific Postscript’s treatment of Socrates as an exemplary “subjective thinker”; (3) in Either/Or, the connection between self-knowledge and self-transparency, and the link between self-knowledge and “choosing oneself”, understood as willing receptivity; (4) in writings such as The Concept of Anxiety and The Sickness Unto Death, the importance of sin and our utter dependence upon God for the question of whether self-knowledge is ever really possible; and (5) in Judge for Yourself! and related journal entries, a more precise specification of what Christian self-knowledge might amount to. I aim to show that, in his account of self-knowledge as much as elsewhere, treatments of Kierkegaard as a proto-existentialist risk misleadingly downplaying the deeply and explicitly Christian nature of his thought.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSelf-Knowledge: A History
EditorsUrsula Renz
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press (OUP)
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9780190630553
ISBN (Print)9780190226428
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jan 2017

Publication series

NameOxford Philosophical Concepts


  • Kierkegaard
  • Self-knowledge
  • Socrates
  • Socratic


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