Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche are widely regarded as the two greatest thinkers of the 19th century. Known as the fathers of the existentialist movement, these two philosophers have revolutionized the way we see the world. Even though it has been over a century since they have both died, the very fact that their texts are being taught in modern curriculum’s, is a testament to how influential their works truly are. Though both men have similarities, in the sense that they wish to discover the true meaning of ones existence, they both come to two completely different conclusions. Though both state philosophy as a means to enrich and appreciate the life you possess, Religion, the major difference between these two thinkers, is what is wrong with their purposed ideas of living a meaningful life.
Kierkegaard, in of his works Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments states:
‘Without risk there is no faith. Faith is precisely the contradiction between the infinite passion of the individual’s inwardness and the objective uncertainty. If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe. If I wish to preserve myself in faith I must constantly be intent upon holding fast to the objective uncertainty, so as to remain out upon the deep, over seventy thousand fathoms of water, still preserving my faith.’
One can wholeheartedly disagree with Kierkegaard, for the simple reason that faith is not a standard for belief. One does not need to believe, because they can not objectively deduce. Kierkegaard’s philosophical opinions were greatly shaped by his religious views, one of the most famous being his theory on The Knight of Faith. Kierkegaard defined the Knight of Faith as “the individual who is able to gracefully embrace life”. He is an individual who relies on acceptance of the absurd as a means of life. The Knight of Faith is willing to step over ethical boundaries for what he believes is a higher purpose. In his work Fear and Trembling Kierkegaard expands on this thought. Kierkegaard’s example of such a knight was the biblical figure of Abraham. When Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son Isaac, he wrestled with the decision. How could he take the life of his beloved son? His heart heavy with sorrow, Abraham took his child to the top of a mountain and raised his hand to kill his son; at the last minute, the angel of the LORD prevented him from doing so. Instead of Isaac, Abraham sacrificed a ram that was trapped in a thicket nearby. Abraham was rewarded with the life of his son, because of his faith in the absurd. Kierkegaard claims Abraham, out of love was willing to kill, and because he was sacrificing his son to god, out of love, he is the true knight of faith. This is what is most confusing. Abraham travels to the top of the mountain to kill his son, believing it will all work out, based on nothing rational. Based on simple ethics, he is going to become a murderer. His loyalty and faith in god puts him above human ethics and morals. This notion is absolutely insane. This notion, that if an act is done out of love, and you receive a message from god, than your actions are suddenly justifiable.
Kierkegaard believed Abraham such a hero, that he not only idolized him, but wept, because he did not believe his faith to be as strong as his. This perfectly connects to his theory of angst. This concept of angst (anxiety) is used to define the feelings of fear and insecurity of the free thinking human being. Kierkegaard meant this in regard to fear of failing in your responsibilities to god, although a person of none, or a different faith, can attribute the same principles to their fear of not living up to their own morals and beliefs. Simply replace God, for anybody whose opinion matters to you, your family, and friends, significant others. The problem of anxiety applies to these situations. You wish so hard to please these people, but the fear of disappointing them is always present in your mind.
In his works Kierkegaard frequently speaks of the sub specie aeterni (from the perspective of eternity). It was in his opinion that ones life should be viewed from the perspective of eternity. Kierkegaard believed all humans were a synthesis of the finite (body) and the infinite (soul) Kierkegaard defined humanity as a tension between the finite and infinite, a tension that should not be disregarded but intensified. For example a guitar is not useful when silent; it’s at its most beautiful when being played, the strings vibrating. For Kierkegaard life was not meant to be lived in just a state of religious solitude, like a monk, one must suffer to experience true “tension”. Those who center their lives on being practical are missing out on spirituality. According to Kierkegaard these people feel hopelessness because they are not experiencing the spiritual aspect of the human experience, thereby unable to be fully human. Where Kierkegaard loses some of his readers is the notion that the finite and infinite synthesis can only occur through god. He lives by the idea that through god people can avoid depression, and this feeling of nihilism. In his text The Sickness unto Death Kierkegaard claims we are all in a state of despair. He states that society as a whole is failing to live up to the true human experience, even going so far as to state it is in fact a SIN in this condition once we have been taught the word of Christ. What if we aren’t in a state of despair? What if we don’t feel our lives are meaningless, and sinful? If someone was not of the Christian faith, perhaps Kierkegaard’s views on sin and despair were irrelevant in his/hers way of life. Without using faith or atheism to analyze his texts, one can gather from Kierkegaard’s works a simple message. Rely on no person or facts of this world to provide you with answers to philosophical and ethical questions. We are the ones who will have to live with the choices we make. We will be held responsible by our consciousness four our ethical decisions. Therefore we should act according to our own personal beliefs: we should do what makes sense to us. Do we really need go to provide us our moral compass? The next philosopher being discussed would argue no.
Friedrich Nietzsche was an atheist. This belief was a major influence in most of his works, going so far as to state “god is dead”. In his text Thus Spoke Zarathustra he states:
God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?
Nietzsche does not mean the literal death of god, but a metaphorical death. Nietzsche hoped that with the death of god, society would finally be able to create their own sense of morals and ethics. He hoped for people to lose their faith in god and come to the realization of nihilism. Defined as the philosophical doctrine suggesting the negation of one or more meaningful aspects of life, most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or value. Nietzsche hope through nihilism humanity would be forced to re-evaluate their very foundations, foundations deeper than Christianity and other abrhamic religions. Understand that Nietzsche was not a fan of nihilism; in fact he was quite fearful of it.
“I praise, I do not reproach, [nihilism’s] arrival. I believe it is one of the greatest crises, a moment of the deepest self-reflection of humanity. Whether man recovers from it, whether he becomes master of this crisis, is a question of his strength! It is possible. . . . (Complete Works Vol. 13)
He saw it as a stepping stone to reach the greater realization of what he believed to be the ultimate way of life, the Will to Power, to become the Übermensch.