The Self-actualization of the Individual

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Inherent in the vast array of philosophical systems is the idea of a paradigm shift according to Thomas Kuhn. The evolution of a particular paradigm and its inadequacies brings about crisis and then emerge revolution to give rise to a new paradigm.

There is always the shift of emphasis and concern in philosophical enterprise such was the dawn of dialectical Existentialism.
Dialectics took its root from the Greek word “dialegein” meaning to discourse or to argue or to converse.

In the ancient period dialectics was an act of conversation. In the medieval it means mainly the construction of logical syllogisms for the proof of abstract propositions, for example St. Anselm’s syllogistic proof for the existence of God. In the Modern period, it took a historical meaning, the logical development of thought or reality. It was also given a materialistic interpretation (Karl Marx). Its emergence in the contemporary period was a radical shift from the historical meaning. Kierkegaard saw it as the progressive actualization of the individual. Thus an existential interpretation was proffered.

This analysis of the self-consciousness of the individual according to Kierkegaard took a triadic approach: thesis (aesthetic stage), antithesis (ethical) and synthesis (religious). He borrowed this triadic idea from Hegel. These were the three stages which he divided according to his personal life. His work stood as an attack against the Hegelian abstract thought, where the individual person is submerged. He attempted to live up to feuerbach’s admonition: “Do not wish to be a philosopher in contrast to being a man, do not think as a thinker, think as a living real being, think in existence”.

For the accomplishment of his work we shall give a brief history of Kierkegaard, expose his dialectics. We shall evaluate and criticize him and then conclude

Brief History:
Soren Kierkegaard Aabye was born in 1813 in Copenhagen in Denmark. A post idealist trained in Hegelianism but found it not all sufficient. He was more of a theologian who brought his subjective method to both theology and philosophy. He studied in the University of Copenhagen.

His works are: Fear and Trembling, either-Or, Repetition, the Concept of the Dread, philosophical fragments, concluding unscientific post script. He died in the year 1855.

EXPOSITION OF HIS DIALECTIC: Soren Kierkegaard gave the Hegelian triadic dialectics an existential interpretation. For him Hegel left out the self-realization of the true individual through personal self-commitment in undetermined free choice. Hegel lost the most important element in his attempt to capture all of reality in his system of thought. Existence was relegated to the highest point. Kierkegaard then stood against the submergence of the individual in the collectivity. The individual according to him needs to find the idea for which he can live and die. He must become more truly his individual self by acting resolutely on his own principles of conducts, especially in relating to God as thou. After his drift from the religious and moral way of life he underwent a conversion in two stages. Firstly from the moral perspective down to the religious stage. Thus existence took a new look for him. He divided his life into three stages which comprises his dialectic process. The aesthetic, ethnical and religious stage.

According to Kierkegaard, a man’s first stage of awakening is that of aesthetic consciousness in which he only experiences only the desire to enjoy. Man at this stage behaves according to impulses and emotions. He is for the most part governed by senses. There is no Moral standard or any religious belief. Man at this stage avoids any thing that limits freedom of choice. There is poor quality of existence at this stage. As a result of my awareness that my life is not all about pleasures. But the act of free choice will facilitate my entrance into the next stage of existence. This first stage is the thesis. Man then chooses seriously and passionately the ethical way of life rather than the aesthetic or historic way of life. The ethical stage is the stage of rules and conduct. The person accepts moral rules which give his life elements of form and consistency. He accepts the limitations that moral responsibility imposes on his life. He now experiences or feels the intensity of duty in such, a way that the consciousness of it is for him the assurances of the eternal validity of his being. This inexorable law of movement gives rise within the person to the sense of sin and anxiety or dread. The guilty man knows that “he himself has brought guilt into his world, (and) has himself lost innocence by guilt”. This is the dialectic antithesis that places before me a new either – or. Now I either remain at the actual level or respond to the new awareness. This is an awareness of my own finitude and alienation from God. The transition to the next stage according to Soren is not got by thinking alone but by an act of commitment –that is by a leap of faith.

The last stage (synthesis) is the religious stage which comes through the consciousness of sin. In a moment of decision a man’s life can be changed. The individual becomes acutely conscious of his bad will as something for which he is responsible, and yet which he did not originate. He chooses in a transcendent thou. It is a passionate affirmation and appropriation of the objectively uncertain, a constantly repeated self- commitment to the personal absolute thou. The movement in the two early stages needs an act of choice and commitment but have the leap of faith is not rationalized or objectified. Since God the subject is not sought rationally or objectively. A striking difference between faith and reason was put forward. Any attempt to objectify him is approximation process. Only faith is required for his personal relation to God.

Kierkegaard’s protests against submergence in the collectivity and his insisting on the importance of personal self-commitment in faith had great influence on some existentialist movements and important currents in modern Lutheran though. His writings influenced the religious commitment of Herald Hoff ding and others. Herald abandoned Christianity as a student after reading Kierkegaard’s work. Kierkegaard exercised a simulative effect that he came to be known as the Danish Socrates. He influenced philosophers like Unamuno, Heidegger who found his though the vital core of Kierkegaard’s work. His metaphysics for them appears in systematic and mature way in the very center of present –day philosophy. He is called the father of existentialist philosophy. This his work I see as one great encounter with ingenuity.

According to H.J. Paton the rejection of reason finds its most elaborate modern expression in the voluminous writings of Kierkegaard and his popularity today is a sign of the dangerous pass to which we have come – a mark of desperation and despair.

Kierkegaard undertook a close study on faith. For him the only one way to cross the span between human beings and God is not through speculative reason instead through faith. Existence is not an intellectual matter rather a matter of faith and commitment and a continuous process of choice in the presence of varieties of either – or. He made a striking point that God cannot be known rationally and objectively.

However Kierkegaard whole system is wrecked with subjectivism and individualism. Individualism is as charge that may with some plausibility be leveled against him. According to H.J. Paton if a person was ever self – centered it was Kierkegaard, he hardly ever thinks of any one but himself. This was explicit and he does not hesitate to say bluntly in his works that fellowship is a lower category than the single individual which everyone can be and should be. His arguments allude always to matters in his own personal life. Even if we agree that a personal factor is inevitably present in philosophy we do not expect philosophy to be in any major degree autobiographical. The philosopher must transcend as he can, a narrowly personal point of view.

His knight of faith may be admired for various reasons but scarcely as philosophy and a philosopher may not find much to admire in them at all. Blanshed Brand who challenged the religious irrationalism of Kierkegaard offering elaborate critique of moral subjectivism and ethical emotivism which do not adequately depict the rational temper of moral stage. His formulation of an Anthropology based on idea of existence is of very great interest and of considerable philosophical productivity, in spite of its unsystematic character and of the dangerous irrationalism which has made itself felt in certain Kierkegaard’s followers According to Karl Jasper, reflecting on the life of Kierkegaard clarifies us the potentialities of human existence, he attempted to present his own clarification of existence.


The impact of Kierkegaard’s work has been felt by the modern existentialist philosophy and theology in Europe and America. In fact he has done a wonderful work, although it is more of a theological work than a philosophical work. There is need for reason in faith; according to Aquinas reason is the handmaid of faith. His philosophy would have been wonderful if not for its content of some ‘germs’ of subjectivism and individualism, which can lead to egocentristic living among human beings since man is a being with others according to Jean-Paul Sartre.


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5. Solomon R.: A short History of Philosophy. Oxford Press, London, 1996.

6. New Encyclopedia Britannica Vol. 26 1768, 154 edition


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