chapter  1
11 Pages

The Passion of Kierkegaard's Existential Method

WithLee C. Barrett

Kierkegaard’s ‘method’ of engaging theological and philosophical issues differentiates his work sharply from that of his contemporaries. ‘Method’ has usually suggested a rigorously standardized procedure for addressing questions about general features of life in the world, typically with supporting arguments to demonstrate that the particular method in question is superior to its rivals. Kierkegaard’s authorship, saturated with digressions, shifts in voice, and deliberate irony, looks nothing like this. First, he insisted that the purpose of philosophy and theology is not to develop an indubitable ‘system’ or to prove that a particular view of life is superior to others, but rather to clarify the differences among various existential options, particularly the forms of pathos that constitute them. Secondly, he gave new prominence to the rhetorical dimensions of theological and philosophical texts, for it is literary strategies that can enact the passions intrinsic to particular life-views. Consequently, the reader must always be attentive to the particularities of voice, context, and purpose of any of Kierkegaard’s volumes in order to be enabled to imagine what it would be like to live in a unique way, pursuing distinctive goals, and cultivating distinctive passions. Kierkegaard sought to show through the form of his writing what a life-view involves rather than simply saying it. His rhetorical performance is not an optional embellishment; it contributes to the meaning of his texts. Thirdly, Kierkegaard was convinced that writing about matters of existential importance had to preserve the precious element of risk and choice, for without them passion would be impossible.