On Kierkegaard and Nietzsche

RLST 400 Final Exam, Vered Arnon 


Self-loathing is at the heart of Christianity according to Nietzsche. This self-loathing also resembles Kierkegaard’s analysis of some forms of despair. Kierkegaard would not necessarily disagree or object to Nietzsche’s characterisation. Kierkegaard claims that everyone suffers from some state of despair. This is not the ideal characterisation of Christianity but at the time of Kierkegaard’s writing he believed that most Christians had lost faith and sunk into despair. He might object to Nietzsche’s opinion that self-loathing is a sign of weakness. According to Kierkegaard, the more intense one’s despair and self-loathing is, the stronger they are and the closer they are to regaining faith. They’re not actually weak in Kierkegaard’s eyes. But Kierkegaard views everything as a sort of paradox. Kierkegaard would want Nietzsche to understand the difference between the ‘Christian’ and the person who truly had faith. Nietzsche’s description, Kierkegaard would think was indeed an accurate account of a lot of Christians, but not of people who truly have faith. Kierkegaard thinks people in general are facing just as much of a crisis as Nietzsche does. Where Nietzsche proposes a revaluation of values as a solution, Kierkegaard recommends the ‘leap of faith’.

Nietzsche would most likely respond that though he and Kierkegaard have a similar analysis of society, Kierkegaard’s response merely reaffirms Nietzsche’s notion that Christianity is a sickness that leads people to insanity. He would think that Kierkegaard’s preoccupation with dialectics and paradoxes is symptomatic of sickness. He’d think that Kierkegaard had a strong will, but he would see Kierkegaard’s defense of Christianity in spite of despair, and almost extolling of despair as symbolic of being one step closer to faith, as the ascetic priest’s self-interest. I think Nietzsche would think that Kierkegaard is very much like Nietzsche’s model of the ascetic priest. The ascetic priest recognises the problems and sickness in society but he uses that to bind people more tightly to Christianity and places positive value on suffering (despair, self-loathing). I think Nietzsche would find a resemblance between Kierkegaard and the ascetic priest.


The most significant insight offered by Nietzsche is his prediction of the philosopher of the future. His criticism of the biases of the philosophers of his time points directly at what the problems are in philosophical enquiry. He targets exactly what needs to be changed and fixed— the biases and absolutism— and he also explains why they are problems and why philosophy is in a state of stagnation. He poses questions to go beyond the shallow framework, questions that undermine the framework itself. By raising issues and pointing out the problems, he also poses a solution, by questioning the value of values themselves. This is a new direction of inquiry that has not been possible within the philosophical framework of the past centuries. It requires tearing down constructs and assumptions in order to understand the nature and origins of the notions of ‘true’ and ‘false’ themselves. This is a much deeper and more probing inquiry. He shifts the entire traditional perspective and opens new ground. He claimed that no one in his time really understood what he was writing about, but he predicted that in a couple centuries a new breed of philosopher would arise who would understand him and herald the beginning of a new age. Now, Nietzsche’s ideas don’t seem as extreme as they did during his lifetime, and already in academic fields there has been a significant departure from absolutism, a considerable deconstruction of the notions of ‘true’ and ‘false’. Nietzsche’s ‘philosopher of the dangerous maybe’ has arrived, as Nietzsche predicted.

But the first step towards the philosophy of the future is a step into nihilism. Rejection of absolutes, deconstruction of values, Nietzsche predicts and prescribes all these. However, he does not explain how the philosopher of the future will get through the transitional phase of nihilism and then create a new framework. He points out the problems, points at a path leading someplace better, but he doesn’t explain how to travel to the end of that path. This is his greatest weakness, in my opinion.

But perhaps that is because this is up to us, the philosophers of the future, to figure out. Perhaps it isn’t a flaw. Nietzsche anticipated the philosophers of the future, but he wasn’t one of us. His responsibility, as he saw it, was to help point out the problems and show us how to break down the old framework. And where to go from there wasn’t really his concern, since he doesn’t have any absolute position that he wishes to triumph.

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