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The connection between Kierkegaard and Socrates goes through a definite development over the years.

Kierkegaard dedicated his dissertation to the figure of Socrates, later through his pseudonymous authorship
he tried to put the Socratic method into practice. As Mary-Jane Rubenstein shows Socrates is viewed and
used in different ways throughout Kierkegaards writings: in The Concept of Irony, Socrates knows
nothing and therefore falls short of the speculative. In Philosophical Fragments, Socrates knows everything
from eternity and therefore marks the inception of the speculative. In the Concluding Unscientific
Postscript, Socratic uncertainty, falling between the categories of knowing and not-knowing, might be
sufficiently elusive to resist the speculative.i In the last stage of his authorship Kierkegaard gave up on
indirect communication and offered us a point of view, a so-called Socratic viewpoint to make intelligible
his activities as a writer and to make it possible to his readers to grasp how his Socratic task gets
implemented in practice. To make this arc of Kierkegaards understanding of Socrates more plausible I
think his final text My Task would be a useful place to start.

In the manuscript for the tenth issue of The Moment we can find Kierkegaard's refusal to call himself a
Christian which may be considered analogous to Socrates's claim of ignorance. "Yes, I well know that
it almost sounds like a kind of lunacy in this Christian world where each and every one is Christian,
where being a Christian is something that everyone naturally is that there is someone who says of
himself, "I do not call myself a Christian", and someone whom Christianity occupies to the degree to
which it occupies me."ii At first glance it seems like Kierkegaard uses the Socratic method here to
point out to his fellow citizens that they lack the true idea of Christianity, hence Christian faith now
lacks any kind of difficulty, so it become as simple as putting on one's socks in the morning. iii
Christendom lies in the abyss of sophistry claims Kierkegaard, and he continues that is even
much, much worse, than when the Sophists flourished in Greece. iv In light of the situation
Kierkegaard might saw himself as a modern Socrates, who takes upon the task of a gadfly to make his
contemporaries aware of a deeper sense in which they are not Christians, yet they self-deceptively
think they belong to Christianity. The invitation to follow along Kierkegaard through his task can be
found in his The Point of View for My Work as an Author. This text can be read as a literary
autobiography that supposed to reveal the information to the reader about Kierkegaards dialectically
doubled authorship. After reading this book we might feel certain we have got hold of Kierkegaard,
but our certainty only lasts for a moment. If we read his works further we might find ourselves lost
again in the riddles of Kierkegaard. After all it seems like he wants us to be better readers: our task is
to become suspicious and doubtful hence his works require a careful inspection, yet in My Task he
gives us the key of the proper reading of his writings. This key is his comparison of himself with
Socrates.
Now if we return to his claims about Christendom the analogy between the representatives of the
Danish church and the ancient Greek Sophists can be drawn easily. The pastors and theologians
correspond to the professional teachers of Athens, to those who took money for their services even if
their doctrines remained empty after the slightest touch of the wind of Socratic irony. Kierkegaard
contends here that the church has become business which is built on an abstract crowd, a horde of
people who failed to cultivate themselves as individuals. His Socratic task here includes both to fight
against the corrupting influence of the Sophist of his day and to seek some ways to reform the public.
For this he must take upon the Socratic position of ignorance instead of declaring himself as an
extraordinary Christian.
At this point Kierkegaards position as Socratic ignorance has some other important aspects: alongside
being a gadfly to his contemporaries, Socrates claims his task was given by the Oracle, this way he
invokes that his life as a philosopher is an expression of his divine task. For Kierkegaard Socrates
practice of philosophy means a rigorous task of self-examination. In My task Kierkegaard addresses
Socrates openly, this way the ancient philosopher slowly becomes Kierkegaards inner companion in
his isolation from his Danish contemporaries. Therefore Socrates becomes the key figure through
Kierkegaards authorship: he devoted his first work, The Concept of Irony to develop the account of

his understanding of Socrates, later he uses his figure as a model in the examination of the individual
and in the end he points his readers toward this unique figure. Kierkegaard suggests to examine his
writings in the light of Socrates, this way we can avoid misunderstanding him as his Danish
contemporaries did so. At this point the relation between Socrates and Kierkegaard draws a full circle
from the dissertation to his last work; from pure negativity of the ironist, through the teacher to the
existential thinker who exists in subjective inwardness. After this short overview, the task to answer
the question: What did Kierkegaard learn from his study of Socrates? became quite complex. Ive
tried to outline some of the major aspects on the relation between Socrates and Kierkegaard, yet I still
feel like instead of getting closer to finally grasp the answer my way leads to a state of aporia. Is this is
the way one might understand the kierkegaardian claim: irony as the negative is the way; it is not the
truth
but
the
wayv?

i Mary-Jane Rubenstein, Kierkegaards Socrates: A Venture in Evolutionary Theory, Modern Theology 17,
no. 4 (October 2001), p. 443.
ii The Moment and Late Writings, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press, 1998), p. 340.
iii Practice in Christianity, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press, 1992), p. 35.

iv The Moment and Late Writings, p. 341.


v Concept of Irony with Continual Reference to Socrates, ed. and trans. Howard V.
Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), p. 327. Cf.
John 14:6.