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Kierkegaard, Either/Or

"There are situations in life where it would be ridiculous or a species of madness to apply an either/or; but also, there are men whose souls are too dissolute to grasp what is implied in such a dilemma, whose personalities lack the energy to say with pathos, Either/or. Upon me these words have always made a deep impression, especially when I pronounce them absolutely and without specific reference to any objects, for this use of them suggests the possibility of starting the most dreadful contrasts into action."

Either/or is not a strictly philosophical work, but it is an interesting collection of monologues about how to start living a fulfilling life. The main target is unhappiness in the various forms that we encounter it, sometimes early, sometimes late, and sometimes only unconsciously in life. The general solution is to take up our power to make choices, but the two parts of the book--the first concerning an hedonistic attitude towards choosing and the second concerning a dutiful attitude towards it--suggest that the most important choice may be the very attitude we strive to take towards choice.

The book is sometimes seen as a rite of passage for Kierkegaard, who wrote it as a young man in the months following a series of important life decisions, among which were to break off his engagement and to avoid a career in academia.  As such, some of its main themes concern the preoccupations of young people, like whether to get married, how to deal with heartbreak, how to live passionately, how to avoid boredom, whether to study philosophy, what goals to keep, and--maybe most importantly--how to develop an adult personality.

Though there is no systematic theology in the book, Kierkegaard said that while writing it he was already "in the monastery," a metaphor for being steeped in religious thinking about what to do with his life.  Much of what's regarded as "Kierkegaardian" in philosophy is in this book in some germinating form. For those of us who are sensitive to such things, the book is also a profound meditation by someone who is depressed and has thought deeply about how to come out of it.

The first part of the book, "Either," is divided in six sections which we will explore one at a time in meetups.

The first section, "Diapsalmata," is a series of aphorisms and is notoriously loose in argumentation, so we'll organize it by trying to pay attention to a particular question: what are some ways we are led to unhappiness and how can we avoid them?

I hope that in these meetups we will discover the motivation for this thought by Ludwig Wittgenstein: "Kierkegaard was by far the most profound thinker of the last century. Kierkegaard was a saint."

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  • George

    I (and my calendar) remain committed to Friday, 3/8/13 @5:30pm, until/unless you change it to Sunday, 3/10, @ 5:30pm, @ The Bourgeois Pig. In which case, I face another double-feature (i.e. time-conflict or, at least, overlap): an inspiration to Heidegger, followed by one of his best students/successors.

    March 2, 2013

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