’The Crowd is Untruth!’ Kierkegaard on Freedom, Responsibility, and the Problem of Social Comparison

In Fernando Di Mieri & Daniele D'Agostino (eds.), Identità, libertà e responsabilità (Identity, Freedom, and Responsibility). Italy: Ripostes. pp. 53-77 (2018)
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In this essay, I first describe Kierkegaard’s understanding of free and responsible selfhood. I then describe one of Kierkegaard’s unique contributions to freedom and responsibility – his perceptual theory of the emotions. Kierkegaard understands emotions as perceptions that are related to beliefs and concerns, and thus the self can—to some extent—freely participate in the cultivation of various emotions. In other words, one of the ways that self takes responsibility for itself is by taking responsibility for its emotions. In the final section, I turn to Kierkegaard’s understanding of social comparison and the role that the “crowd” plays in shaping the self’s beliefs, desires, and emotions. Kierkegaard is clear that envy and social comparison are detrimental to becoming a self, yet envy and social comparison are pervasive social practices. I conclude that Kierkegaard understands both the value and the difficulty of cultivating social courage: the crowd is untruth due to the difficulty of holding fast to one’s values when confronted by crowd.
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