Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Søren Kierkegaard, fully Søren Aabye Kierkegaard

Danish Philosopher, Theologian, Poet, Social Critic and Religious Author interested in Human Psychology

"A crowd... in its very concept is the untruth, by reason of the fact that it renders the individual completely impenitent and irresponsible, or at least weakens his sense of responsibility by reducing it to a fraction."

"A man could not have anything upon his conscience if God did not exist, for the relationship between the individual and God, the God-relationship, is the conscience, and that is why it is so terrible to have even the least thing upon one’s conscience, because one is immediately conscious of the infinite weight of God."

"An eternal happiness is a security for which there is no longer any market value in the speculative nineteenth century; at the very most it may be used by the gentlemen of the clerical profession to swindle rural innocents."

"An objective uncertainty held fast in an appropriation-process of the most passionate inwardness is the truth, the highest truth attainable for an existing individual."

"As my prayer became more attentive and inward I had less and less to say. I finally became completely silent. I started to listen - which is even the further removed from speaking. I first thought that praying entailed speaking. I then learnt that praying is hearing, not merely being silent. This is how it is. To pray does not mean to listen to oneself speaking. Prayer involves becoming silent, and being silent, and waiting until God is heard."

"Each age has its own characteristic depravity. Ours is perhaps not pleasure or indulgence or sensuality, but rather a dissolute pantheistic contempt for the individual man."

"Experience, it is said, makes a man wise. that is very silly talk. If there were nothing beyond experience it would simply drive him mad."

"Faith is the highest passion in a man. There are perhaps many in every generation who do not even reach it, but no one gets further."

"I found I had less and less to say, until finally, I became silent, and began to listen. I discovered in the silence, the voice of God."

"In the end physics will replace ethics just as metaphysics displaced theology. The modern statistical view of ethics contributes towards that."

"In the hour of death the only adequate consolation is that one has not evaded life, but has endured it. What a man shall accomplish or not accomplish, does not lie in his power to decide; he is not the One who will guide the world; he has only to obey... The point consists precisely in loving his neighbor, or, what is essentially the same thing, in living equally for every man. Every other point of view is a contentious one, however advantageous and comfortable and apparently significant this position may be... yet in the hour of death, he will confidently dare say to his soul: “I have done my best; whether I have accomplished anything, I do not know; whether I have helped anyone, I do not know; but that I have lived for them, that I do know, and I know it from the fact that they insulted me. And this is my consolation, that I shall not have to take the secret with me to the grave, that I, in order to have good and undisturbed and comfortable days in life, have denied my kinship to other men, kinship with the poor, in order to live in aristocratic seclusion, or with the distinguished, in order to live in secret obscurity."

"It’s quite true what philosophy says, that life must be understood backwards. But one then forgets the other principle, that it must be lived forwards. A principle which, the more one thinks it through, precisely leads to the conclusion that life in time can never properly be understood, just because no moment can acquire the complete stillness needed to orient oneself backwards."

"It requires moral courage to grieve; it requires religious courage to rejoice."

"It seems essential, in relationships and all tasks, that we concentrate only on what is most significant and important."

"No love and no expression of love may, in the merely human and worldly sense, be deprived of a relationship to God. Love is a passionate emotion, but in this emotion, even before he enters into a relation with the object of his love, the man just first enter into a relationship with God, and thereby realize the claim that love is the fulfillment of the law."

"One should not think slightly of the paradoxical; for the paradox is the source of the thinker’s passion, and the thinker without a paradox is like a love without feeling... The supreme paradox of all thought is the attempt to discover something that thought cannot think."

"Subjectivity is the truth. By virtue of the relationship subsisting between the eternal truth and the existing individual, the paradox came into being. Let us now go further, let us suppose that the eternal essential truth is itself a paradox. How does the paradox come into being? By putting the eternal essential truth into juxtaposition with existence. Hence when we posit such a conjunction with the truth itself, the truth becomes a paradox. The eternal truth has come into being in time: this is the paradox."

"The God-relationship determines what love is between man and man, then love is kept from pausing in any self-deception or illusion, while certainly the demand for self-abnegation and sacrifice is again made more infinite. The love which does not lead to God, the love which does not have this as its sole goal, to lead the lovers to love God, stops at the purely human judgment as to what love and what love’s sacrifice and submission are; it stops and thereby escapes the possibility of the last and most terrifying horror of the collision: that in the love relationship there are infinite differences in the idea of what love is."

"The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss - an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. - is sure to be noticed."

"The majority of man are subjective toward themselves and objective toward all others, terribly objective sometimes, but the real task is in fact to be objective towards oneself and subjective towards all others."

"The more people who believe something, the more apt it is to be wrong. The person who's right often has to stand alone."

"To stand on one leg and prove God's existence is a very different thing from going down on one's knees and thanking him."

"To venture causes anxiety, but not to venture is to lose one's self. And to venture in the highest sense is precisely to become conscious of one's self."

"What I really lack is to be clear in my mind what I am to do, not what I am to know, except in so far as to a certain understanding must precede every action. The thing is to understand myself, to see what God really wishes me to do; the thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die."

"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."

"A man’s life begins with the illusion that a long, long time and w hole world lie before him, and he begins with the foolish conceit that he has plenty of time for all his many claims."

"All coming into existence takes place with freedom, not by necessity. Nothing comes into existence by virtue of a logical ground, but only by a cause. Every cause terminates in a freely effecting cause."

"All evils stem from this: that men do not know how to handle solitude."

"During the first period of a man's life the greatest danger is: not to take the risk. When once the risk has really been taken, then the greatest danger is to risk too much. By not risking at first one turns aside and serves trivialities; in the second case, by risking too much, one turns aside to the fantastic, and perhaps to presumption."

"If subjectivity is the truth, the conceptual account of truth must include an expression of the antithesis to objectivity, a mark of the fork in the road where the way swings off; that expression will serve at the same time to indicate the tension of the subjective inwardness. Here is such a definition of truth: the truth is an objective uncertainty held fast in an appropriation process of the most passionate inwardness, the highest truth attainable for an existing individual."

"It is intelligent to ask two questions: 1) Is it possible? 2) Can I do it? But it is unintelligent to ask these questions: 1) Is it real? 2) Has my neighbor Christopherson done it?"

"It is perfectly true, as philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards."

"It is very dangerous to go into eternity with possibilities which one has oneself prevented from becoming realities. A possibility is a hint from God. One must follow it. In every man there is latent the highest possibility; one must follow it. If God does not wish it, then let Him prevent it, but one must not hinder oneself. Trusting to God I have dared, but I was not successful; in that is to be found peace, calm, a confidence in God. I have not dared; that is woeful thought, a torment in eternity."

"People hardly ever make use of the freedom they have, for example, freedom of thought; instead they demand freedom of speech as a compensation."

"Perfect love means to love the one through whom one became unhappy."

"Prayer does not change God, but changes him who prays."

"Repetition is the reality and the seriousness of life."

"The method which begins by doubting in order to philosophize is just as suited to its purpose as making a soldier lie down in a heap in order to teach him to stand upright."

"The paradox is the source of the thinker's passion, and the thinker without a paradox is like a love without feeling; a paltry mediocrity."

"The supreme paradox of all thought is the attempt to discover something that thought cannot think."

"The tyrant dies and his rule is over; the martyr dies and his rule begins."

"When a man has gone astray to the point of perdition and is about to sink, his last speech, the sign, is: "And yet something better in me is being lost.""

"Wherever there is a crowd there is untruth."

"Without risk, faith is an impossibility."

"A free press can of course be good or bad, but, most certainly, without freedom it will never be anything but bad. . . . Freedom is nothing else but a chance to bet better, whereas enslavement is a certainty of the worse."

"A great man is one that can develop convictions in solitude and carry them out in a crowd."

"A man who as a physical being is always turned toward the outside, thinking that his happiness lies outside him, finally turns inward and discovers that the source is within him."

"Above all do not forget your duty to love yourself."

"A slave begins by demanding justice and ends by wanting to wear a crown."

"A poet is an unhappy being whose heart it torn by secret sufferings, but whose lips are so strangely formed that when the sighs and the cries escape them, they sound like beautiful music... and then people crowd about the poet and say to him: Sing for us soon again; that is as much as to say. May new sufferings torment your soul."