AN EXAMINATION ON SOREN KIERKEGAARD’S NOTION OF HUMAN EXISTENCE
1.1 BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
Soren Kierkegaard is regarded as the father of contemporary existentialism. Existentialism, according to J. I. Omoregbe (39) deals “with concrete existence as opposed to essence.” This means, for the existentialists, existence precedes essence. Kierkegaard, described by Wittgenstein (cited in Pattison, 1) is “by far the most profound thinker of the last century”. His notion of human existence stems from the fact that Hegel metaphysical idealism presented human existence in an abstract, objective form. Kierkegaard saw Hegel’s philosophy “as inadequate because it shifted attention away from the concrete individual to the concept of universal” (Ozumba 86). For Ozumba (86) this implies that Hegel “merely invited humans to think instead of seeing them as existent being that should be involved in decisions and commitment that have bearing to their individuality and existence”. Kierkegaard’s thought also served as a reaction against speculative philosophy.
In his reaction, Kierkegaard built his existential thought in such a manner that it tended to become “a clarification of issue and an appeal to choose, an attempt to get men to see their existential situation and the great alternatives with which they are faced” (Copleston 336). Kierkegaard’s quest was to disassociate the conception of human existence from abstract object to questions that confront the individual as an existing being. Questions such as: What is the meaning of human life? How can one live authentically as a human person? What is the meaning of human freedom? How can one use his freedom in the face of moral chaos? are pertinent. Kierkegaard understood existence as a distinctive way of being, and that humans often focus on thought of a group to the detriment of their own unique individuality. Other than being an authentic individual, he is therefore subsumed in the crowd, thus, losing his individual self to abstract objective and societal control. In this sense, what it means, therefore, to be an authentic human being forms energetic question prompting this research on Soren Kierkegaard.
1.2 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
The question of human existence has attracted so many considerations. There are some who approached it from the point of view of its absurdity and meaninglessness. Most of such people are atheists like Martin Heidegger, with Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre who played down very much, the essence of human existence as Hegel also did. However, there is the other group of existentialists who discussed human existence as a worthwhile venture. Such include the chief founder of contemporary existentialism in the person of Soren Kierkegaard. These philosophers expounded certain existential tenets which according to Lescoe (9) are geared towards “analyzing the basic structures of human existence and to call individuals to an awareness of their existence in its essential freedom”.
The problem of human existence is related wholly to this concept of freedom. Its use and abuse makes and mars man respectively. This is because freedom remains the pivot upon which man asserts himself. It is his relationship to this that categorizes him either as authentic or inauthentic individual. Thus, the measure of the meaningfulness or meaninglessness of life is highly subjective but whichever way it is determined by the degree of commitment which one puts in as he tries to assert himself by the exercise of freedom.
Another question to be examined here remains whether one can live authentically when one has no authentic relation to the community which Kierkegaard regard as the crowd? It also takes into consideration the question of freedom and choice, man’s quest for existential meaning and Kierkegaard’s analysis of man’s stages on life way.
It is therefore in a bid to clarify some of these mind-bogging issues that the researcher is out to expose what Kierkegaard considers to be the gauge or the standard of meaningful human existence. With this in view, the work is a confrontation of man with the naked facts of his freedom and duty through which he makes the best out of his life as an individual.
1.3 AIMS/OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY
In view of the above stated problems. This work aims at:
- To awakes from slumber those who are yet to give in or enjoy the latest possibilities in them while those who have lost hope in realizing meaning out of their human existence as x-rayed by their excessive obsession or addiction to working so hard are to be reminded that Kierkegaard was right when he said that “until man actualizes his essential self in God, his life is full of anxiety” (Ibe 43).
- To make all see the difficulties in life as things designed to make all better and not bitter.
- To make all realize that human existence is meaningful in so far as it is approached subjectively through individual’s personal experiences, adequate sense and use of freedom, solemn and sincere fear of the Creator.
- To oriented contemporary man with the expression of their individual potentialities to an appreciable extent.
- To ascertain the possibility that man realizes himself when he denounce his moral obligations in submission to the commandments of his Creator.
- To purge man in seeking questions as well as offering answers regarding the meaning of his existence.
1.4 JUSTIFICATION OF THE STUDY
Human day-to-day challenges impact highly at all levels and leaves us with so many complexities to eventually falling into the disposition of ‘follow the trends’ for existential survival. The weaknesses in human authenticity in nearly every facet of human life or society cause man to almost be a blind copy of itself or the other person. Typically, daily problems of existence sometimes isolate us from engaging in self-realization to fully understand ourselves and deal with questions that impugn our very nature so as to realize our purpose in an ever changing and ever complex world. Man often focuses on thought of others to the detriment of his unique individuality. Other than being an authentic individual, who answers the question of freedom, meaning and faces the existential phenomenon of death, suffering, dread, despair, absurdity etc, man is otherwise subsumed in the crowd thus losing his individuality to abstract objective or societal control. Kierkegaard’s opposition to this trend and his answers to the question “what does it mean to be existing as a human being?”, informs the energetic question gingering this research on his notion of human existence. Thereby justifies the rationale behind this research bearing in mind it impact in awakening the contemporary man to the reality of himself as an existing being.
1.5 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
Existential philosophy rest on the conception that man must first exist, then take responsibility of creating meaning or essence for his existence. This task of creating meaning can be says to be enormous. Therefore, man must be at its best to be able to exercise such responsibility. Consequently, questions regarding the human person arise. Questions such as who is a human being? What does existence like? Or what is the meaning of man’s existence. Does man have absolute freedom to make choices? etc. It is in this sense that this research plays a significant role to man as he hopes to realize himself. Thus, the significance of this work can be outline as follows:
- It helps man to realize his purpose of existence thereby fashioning his own life through realization and reflection on himself by excluding himself from the crowd.
- Kierkegaard proposed three stages on life would benefits contemporary man to come to the actualization of his essence with the understanding that to exist is to be an individual who strives, who considers alternatives, who chooses, who decides and who makes a commitment more importantly, for ensuring existential commitment, worthy of making the individual sound, critical focused, brave, courageous and analytical minded in making decisions for his very life.
- It is also of relevance to contemporary man in re-orienting the contemporary world on the fact that self-realization and valuation is possible only if man makes personal decision out of deep personal reflection and free exercise of his will power while being ready to take responsibilities for his subjective decisions than objective crowd following.
- Also, bearing in mind the scope of epistemology which deals with the nature, scope and criterion of knowledge. The research contributes epistemologically by revealing such knowledge that qualifies such a conclusion on human nature. It’s also awakes the slumbering man to take responsibility and create his essence or meaning even in the face of existential predicaments.
1.6 METHODOLOGY OF STUDY
In order to give this work its required philosophical grounding, the researcher made wide consultation of research materials on Kierkegaard. The outcome of that effort is manifested in the acquisition of deep knowledge of existentialists’ concept of human existence. However, there is strict adherence to Kierkegaardian method. Some necessary opinions or insights of others are employed as and when due as the research progresses.
The work therefore employs the philosophical methods of analysis, criticism and prescription. Analytical, as to how it relates the existential ideas to subjective experiences. Critical, in that it does not assimilate all Kierkegaard’s assumptions, rather it appraises his strong points but criticizes the unwholesome aspects of his notion or teachings in regard to human existence. Prescriptive, as it seeks to prescribe answer to the questions regarding the meaning of authentic human existence.
1.7 SCOPE OF THE STUDY
What formed the scope of this work stems eventually from what Kierkegaard applied in his effort to ascribe meaning to human existence through authentic individuality. This implies his ideas of the individual and the mode of the individual’s existence. Also, the scope of this research covers Kierkegaard’s existential philosophy, particularly on his notion of human existence and, by extension, his thought as it affects the contemporary man.
1.8 Organization of the Work
The work is organized into four chapters. While chapter one introduces the work, it also presents the background of the work states the problem, aims/objectives, justification, significance, method, scope, organization of the work and definition of some keys terms. Chapter two reviews related literature, with specific attention to some other existentialists’ views on human existence. Chapter three exposes the main ideas of Kierkegaard as regards human existence. And chapter four concludes the work by evaluating Kierkegaard’s idea of human existence.
1.9 DEFINITION OF TERMS
Meaning of Human
Etymologically, the English loanword from old French “human”, ultimately from Latin “humanus”, the adjective form of homo “man”. In common usage, the species of the genes homo (anatomically and behaviourally modern homo sapiens). It usage often designates differences between that species as a while and any other group or entity. It is a synonym humanity which could be refers to a specific individual of either sex.
Existence denotes the state of being alive or being real; the fact or state of existing. In other words, existence denotes the continuance or maintenance of life; living especially in adverse circumstances. It is synonymous with life, being, duration, subsistence, reality, survival, actuality, continuance, and continuation. In a nutshell, existence implies man’s way of life, situation or life style.
What is Existentialism?
Existentialism as a philosophical endeavour is seen differently from the perspective of different philosophers. According to R. C. Solomon, existentialism:
“is the explicit conceptual manifestation of an existential attitude–a spirit of ‘the present age’. It is a philosophical realization of a self-conscious living in a “broken world”… a world into which we are “thrown” or “condemned” yet “abandoned” and “free”…a world which appears to be indifferent or even “absurd”…” (ix)
This definition sees existentialism “as an attitude which begins with a disoriented individual, facing a confused world that he cannot accept” (Olawonyin 24). On his part, G. O. Ozumba sees existentialism as “the philosophy of human existence…concerned with the individual in the uniqueness of his existence. It therefore renounces reason, universality, abstraction and objectivity in favour of privacy, particularity, randomness and subjectivity” (87-88). Supporting this view, Idang (99) writes that “it would seem, man with his problems, is the main focus of existentialism. It is a manner of philosophizing, a way and manner of looking at the world especially of man and his place in the universe.” For Aqulanna (147) existentialism “is concerned with the ambiguities and paradoxes that constitute the inner being of man”.
From the foregoing, existentialism, generally, is a philosophical outlook that stresses man’s predicament, and lay emphasis on man existence as an individual rather than an abstract being