Kierkegaard's Concepts: Psychological Experiment

In Jon Stewart, Steven M. Emmanuel & William McDonald (eds.), Kierkegaard's Concepts. Tome V: Objectivity to Sacrifice. Ashgate. pp. 159-165 (2015)
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For Kierkegaard the ‘psychological experiment’ is a literary strategy. It enables him to dramatize an existential conflict in an experimental mode. Kierkegaard’s aim is to study the source of movement that animates the existing individual (this is the psychological part). However, he is not interested in the representation of historical individuals in actual situations, but in the construction of fictional characters that are placed in hypothetical situations; this allows him to set the categories in motion “in order to observe completely undisturbed what these require” without caring to what extent someone has met this requirement or is able to meet it (this is the experimental part). The ‘psychological experiment’ is a category of indirect communication that is developed most extensively by Frater Taciturnus, the pseudonymous author of the third part of Stages on Life’s Way. (I) Taciturnus introduces the psychological experiment as a new trajectory in modern literature that offers an alternative to poetry and speculative drama. He develops this new trajectory in praxis (in the novella ‘“Guilty?”/“Not Guilty?” A Story of Suffering: A Psychological Experiment by Frater Taciturnus’) as well as in theory (in the ‘Letter to the Reader’ that accompanies his novella). (II) Two other pseudonymous authors further enrich the conceptual field of the psychological experiment. Constantin Constantius develops the notion ‘experimenting psychology’; Johannes Climacus reflects on the reader’s contemporaneity with the character.

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Martijn Boven
Leiden University


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