Kierkegaard's Socratic Philosophy

Dissertation, Brown University (1987)

Juan De Pascuale
Kenyon College
A great deal of controversy surrounds Kierkegaard and the works that constitute what he called his "authorship." These works stand out from others in the history of philosophy because of their unusual mode of composition, their dialectical unity as a group and the fact that Kierkegaard wrote many of them under various pseudonyms. Scholars disagree not only about particular points, but about the very nature of these writings and the object of their study. Determining the nature of Kierkegaard's project, therefore, is a necessary first step in forging an appropriate hermeneutical approach to his work. ;In this study I make a modest contribution to the problem of reading and interpreting Kierkegaard by suggesting a category under which to subsume his work. My thesis is that Kierkegaard is a philosopher in the Socratic tradition and that he attempted to carry out in writing what Socrates attempted through conversation. That is to say, Kierkegaard's authorship is particularly aimed at encouraging and guiding the reader in his or her own pursuit of wisdom. Thus given his intention, Kierkegaard ought to be viewed as an "edifying philosopher" rather than as the traditional, "seculative philosopher" he is often taken to be. Reading Kierkegaard from this perspective, I argue, is compatible with his self-definition as a "religious author," discloses what he took Christian faith to be, allows one to make sense of his use of "indirect communication," and generally opens up the authorship to fruitful scholarly and existential interpretation. ;This study is divided into three chapters. Chapter one discusses the obvious and not so obvious features of Kierkegaard's authorship that pose problems for interpretation. Chapter two surveys the various alternative approaches to Kierkegaard's authorship that are dominant in the secondary literature and argues that, for all of their positive value, they share one common weakness: they do not originate from nor do they encourage the kind of reading that Kierkegaard explicitly demanded of his work. Chapter three offers a defense and analysis of the thesis that Kierkegaard is a Socratic philosopher
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