Kierkegaard and Classical Greek Thought

Kierkegaard and Classical Greek Thought. Edited by William McDonald, & Andrew J. Burgess. Acta Kierkegaardiana, vol. 7. Central European Research Institute of Søren Kierkegaard, Filozoficka fakulta Univerzity Konstantina Filozofa v Nitra, Slovakia & Kierkegaard Circle, Trinity College University of Toronto, 2017. Pp. 227. ISBN: 978-0-9878168-5-6.

This book, published as the seventh volume of the project Acta Kierkegaardiana, is devoted to the theme of the connection of Kierkegaard’s philosophy with classical Greek culture. The book is a collection of articles by an international team of authors (from Denmark, United Arab Emirates, USA, and other countries). There are ten articles which are divided into five sections: Greek Literature and Fine Arts, Socratic Irony, Socrates in Kierkegaard’s Religious Writings, Greek Rhetoric, and Greek Philosophers Other than Socrates and Plato. Kierkegaard’s legacy is considered there in connection with various topics related to ancient Greek culture: in addition to the theme of Socratic irony and the Socratic method, always touched upon in relation to Kierkegaard, also the satire of Aristophanes, Greek sculpture, Plato, Aristotle and Epicurus. These articles are very different, and all of very high quality.

To better understand the linkage between Kierkegaard’s thought and Ancient Greek culture is important for Kierkegaard research: almost all of his works contain explicit or implicit references to that. Kierkegaard was well acquainted with Greek culture, both because that was an integral part of the cultural environment of his time and because of his interests: his dissertation was dedicated to Socrates. Thus, the book performs a very important task, because the influence of ancient culture to Kierkegaard was not a point, but total. Therefore, the book is devoted ultimately not to the consideration of a narrowly special problem as it may seem at first glance, but to the clarification of Kierkegaard's thought in general. The articles proposed in the book, considering the individual influences and references, suggest the intention and purpose of all his work as a whole, explaining not only its conceptual side, but also its presuppositions which were based on the Kierkegaard’s life-view.

Since the articles are devoted to the reception of ancient Greek culture by Kierkegaard, reader unfamiliar with classics would welcome them, and also these working in the area of classics. All of them can find out how Greek culture was considered and interpreted by Kierkegaard, as well as to assess how that influenced his philosophy.

Of course, the book is more about Kierkegaard than Ancient Greece. Greece here is a prism through which his work is viewed and reconstructed. The content of the articles shows that this influence was fundamental. As we hinted above, Greek culture was not only the cultural background of Kierkegaard’s thought, but an important source of his ethical and religious outlook. Thus, we can advisedly recommend the collection to those who are just beginning to get acquainted with this amazing thinker, because the book not only gives a general idea about him and his thoughts, but also clearly expresses the spirit in which Kierkegaard created. The reader is presented with a lonely tragic figure of a thinker who clearly saw the vices of his time and tried to heal society through his work.

The conclusion, written by the compilers and editors of the collection (McDonald and Burgess), deserves a separate analysis, since, apparently, it is intended to affect the overall impression of the whole collection of articles. On the one hand, the authors creatively solve the necessary tasks: briefly recall the content of all articles and add the final finishing touches to the image of Kierkegaard, which was formed by the reader as he read the book. The form of the conclusion is very interesting: in the Introduction the authors propose us to imagine Kierkegaard’s hiring interview at the Department of Classics at the University of Copenhagen, if he miraculously came to life and appeared in our time, in the Conclusion we are offered a transcript of such an imaginary interview.

Responding to questions from members of the committee, Kierkegaard, among other things, briefly recounts the essence of the articles included in the collection. I would like to note that chosen form, with all its ingenuity, is not suitable for this book. Interview in the presence of the whole committee of scholars in a live broadcast contradicts Kierkegaard’s thought. He would have agreed to an interview as such, but he would never have agreed to a live interview. He would not have agreed to answer the questions using the works devoted to his heritage: these answers are sometimes too “academic”, which is exactly what Kierkegaard did not like. In general, it is a risky enterprise to imagine how one or another philosopher reacted to the research works devoted to him. Kierkegaard in his writings often speaks with dislike about such scholar studies. He would even prefer not to be investigated at all, so any researcher of Kierkegaard’s heritage in this sense walks on the razor’s edge, risking at any time to distort the original thought of Kierkegaard. On the other hand, it is also risky to assume that the thinker would agree with the content of the secondary literature about him. First, the result of any such research is always inevitably only a hypothesis, and second, even if this hypothesis is correct, it does not mean that the thinker will necessarily agree with it (Heidegger did not consider himself an existentialist, for example). The idea of an interview could be left as presented in the Introduction to emphasize Kierkegaard’s competence in matters of ancient culture, for the Conclusion should have chosen a different form. However, the last part of the conclusion completely saves the situation, returning the reader to the impression about the personality of Kierkegaard, which he should to get from the book as a whole.

Natalia Faustova
Lomonosov Moscow State University


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