Kierkegaard's Socratic Task

Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh (2006)
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The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) conceived of himself as the Socrates of nineteenth century Copenhagen. Having devoted the bulk of his first major work, *The Concept of Irony with Continual Reference to Socrates*, to the problem of the historical Socrates, Kierkegaard maintained at the end of his life that it is to Socrates that we must turn if we are to understand his own philosophical undertaking: "The only analogy I have before me is Socrates; my task is a Socratic task." The overall aim of my dissertation is to examine and critically assess this claim, and ultimately to argue that the Socratic nature of Kierkegaard's endeavor finds its fullest expression in the activity and writings of one of his best-known literary creations, Johannes Climacus, the pseudonymous author of *Philosophical Fragments* and *Concluding Unscientific Postscript*. The first part of my dissertation addresses Kierkegaard's own status as a Socratic figure. I examine Kierkegaard's claim that his refusal to call himself a Christian--in a context where it was the social norm to do so--is methodologically analogous to Socrates' stance of ignorance. I also consider how the use of a pseudonymous manner of writing allows Kierkegaard to employ a Socratic method. In the second part of my dissertation I focus on Kierkegaard's pseudonym Johannes Climacus and his claim that his contemporaries suffer from a peculiar kind of ethical and religious forgetfulness. I argue that Climacus adopts two Socratic stances in order to address this condition. In *Philosophical Fragments* he adopts the stance of someone who has intentionally "forgotten" the phenomenon of Christianity, whereas in the *Postscript* he adopts the stance of someone who openly declares that he is not a Christian. In the process, he develops a conception of philosophy that places a premium on self-restraint and an individual's ability to employ the first personal "I." As Climacus emerges as Kierkegaard's Socratic pseudonym par excellence, we obtain two significant results: a deeper understanding of Kierkegaard's conception of Socrates and Socratic method, and a compelling conception of philosophy rooted in Greek antiquity.
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