[MUSIC] In the 21st century, we live in a complex and fast-changing world. The experience of each new generation differs radically from that of the previous one. For example, in the generation of my parents, nobody had a computer or a cell phone, but today virtually everyone has these things. Ask yourself how many things you use your computer and your cell phone for, and how much time you spend with them. You'll get some insight into how different your life is from that of the earlier generation. In the past radical changes of this sort took place over centuries. Now they occur in only a few years. These constant changes over time make people feel uneasy or insecure. Certain practices or traditional things that people have done all their lives suddenly become obsolete. This leads to an experience of disorientation and alienation with modern life. Everything stable seems to slip away and there seems to be nothing fixed to hold on to. This is the situation that we face in the 21st-century. The Danish philosopher and religious thinker Soren Kierkegaard saw these changes taking place in the 19th century and he gave a brilliant analysis of them. While Kierkegaard never heard of the internet, the iPad or the digital camera, none the less, he had great insight into modernity. Today we can read his works and they can help us to understand the world around us and our place in it. Hello and welcome. Wherever you may be, around the world. In Asia, Africa, the Middle East, the Americas, or Europe. Welcome to the course, Soren Kierkegaard, Subjectivity, Irony, and the Crisis of Modernity. My name is Jon Stewart, and I'm a scholar at the Soren Kierkegaard Research Center at the Faculty of Theology at the University of Copenhagen. In this course, we'll examine the thought of Soren Kierkegaard, a unique figure who has inspired, provoked, fascinated and irritated people ever since he walked the streets of Copenhagen. We'll follow in Kierkegaard's footsteps and see the actual places where he lived and wrote his famous works. Today, scholars argue about. Whether Kierkegaard was a philosopher, a theologian, an inspirational writer, a literary author, a psychologist, or something else altogether. In the end, he was a little bit of all these things. And his highly creative form of writing makes it difficult to say exactly what genre he was using. Or what academic field he belonged to. This feature of his writing is reflected in the complex history of the reception of his thought. His works have been enormously influential for a number of different fields. For example, philosophy, theology, religious studies, literary theory, aesthetics and psychology. That a single thinker can appeal to people in so many different disciplines is interesting in itself. But the truly odd thing about this reception is that he's had an appeal to people who radically disagree among each other. And thus represent conflicting positions. He's been seen as an advocate of both progressive political views and reactionary ones. He's been celebrated as both an existentialist and an essentialist. He's been hailed as both a critic of German idealism and a follower of it. One explanation for this odd aspect of his reception is that there's something undetermined or open ended about Kierkegaard's writings. That allows him in a sense to speak to everyone. And in his works, rich and diverse as they are, one can always seem to find something special that gives one special insight into one's own life and situation. I hope that all of you around the world will find this to be true, as you begin to read the texts for this course. I hope that you will find in his texts something that speaks to you personally. In this class, we'll explore how Kierkegaard deals with the problems associated with relativism, the lack of meaning, and the crisis of religious faith that are typical of modern life. In his famous work The Concept of Irony, from 1841. Kierkegaard examines different forms of subjectivism and relativism as they're conceived as criticisms of traditional culture. What do we mean by these terms, subjectivism and relativism? We say, for example, that a certain law or custom is merely relative in the sense that it is only accepted in one culture or society but rejected in others. When we make statements of this sort, they're usually critical and intended to undermine the validity of the law or custom at issue. In other words if something is merely relative, then it doesn't have absolute validity or authority, and therefore we can choose to follow it or not. This is the way that we're used to talking about things like relativism and subjectivism. Kierkegaard refers to these different tendencies under the heading, irony. Why does he use this term? Sometimes when people today say that something is ironic, they mean that it was an unfortunate or fateful event. For example, in the sense that one might say that when a bad thing happened to a bad person, this is ironic. But this isn't what Kierkegaard means. Instead when we're ironic about something we say the opposite of what we really mean, and the context alerts the listener to this. For example here in Copenhagen when we're having bad weather with violent rain or heavy snow I might say it's wonderful weather that we're having. Since the person addressed knows that the weather at the moment is, in fact, very poor, they immediately know that I don't literally mean what I'm saying, but rather, that I'm being ironic. This is the way irony is commonly used. But irony can also be used in a critical manner. For example, in politics, if I disagree with a specific policy or proposed law, I might say. That's a great policy, that's a great law, thereby meaning exactly the opposite. It's this critical sense of irony that is the kind of thing that Kierkegaard has in mind when he associates it with subjectivism and relativism. With this kind of irony, one can criticize accepted customs and practices and indeed absolutely anything at all. In The Concept of Irony, Kierkegaard compares irony in the form used by the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates with modern irony, which is represented by the German Romantics in his own day. In both cases, an attempt is made to use critical reflection to call into question traditional beliefs and ways of thinking. While Kierkegaard is critical of the Romantics. He has great praise for Socrates. Indeed, he takes Socrates as his model in his attempt to criticize his own Danish culture and its concept of religion in the 19th Century. By contrast the Romantics were seen to represent a typical modern kind of problem that we just mentioned, subjectivism, relativism, nihilism, alienation, lack of meaning and so forth. As the modern movements of existentialism, post-structuralism and post-modernism reveal, the issues that Kierkegaard addressed are still among the central problems of philosophy today. At the end of his life Kierkegaard looking back on his work wrote that his task was a Socratic task. Moreover he says I quote, "The only analogy I have before me is Socrates." What did he mean by this? He seems to have taken Socrates, or you could say his own version of Socrates. As his personal model in his own life. In his writings, he took himself to be doing something like what Socrates was doing with his philosophy, so in order to understand what Kierkegaard meant by this, we first need to see how he understood Socrates and what he took Socrates to stand for. One we've identified the key elements of Kierkegaard's understanding of character and philosophy of Socrates, then we can try to see how he'd tried to make use of these in his own work. The obvious place to start with this is with Kierkegaard's book The Concept of Irony which contains his most detailed explanation of the figure of Socrates. In this first lecture we want to make a start at this. Today we'll first look at Kierkegaard's early life, his family background and his education at the School of Civic Virtue here in Copenhagen. We'll then turn to the Concept of Irony and try to understand its structure and argumentative strategy. Finally, we'll have a look at a couple of Plato's dialogues. The Euthyphro and The Apology. In which we'll see some of the key elements of Socrates' philosophy portrayed. Specifically, we'll have a look at the following themes. Socrates' irony. Socrates' ability to reduce his dialogue partner to what's called aporia or being at a loss. Socrates' relation to the sophists. Socrates' self-understanding as the gadfly of Athens. Socrates' daimon or personal spirit. And finally, Socrates' art of midwifery or maieutics. Our goal here is to understand these ideas in the original context of Socrates' thought. As portrayed by Plato. Then we'll go on to see how Kierkegaard understands them and appropriates them for his own purposes. Soren Kierkegaard was born here in Copenhagen on May the 5th, 1813. He came into the world in a house that stood here on this square, called Nytorv, or the new market. Unfortunately, the house was destroyed in 1908, but we can see it portrayed in pictures from the period. The building stood next door to the dominant structure on the square, the courthouse with the large neoclassical columns. Kierkegaard lived during the rich period in Danish cultural life, that's usually referred to as the Danish Golden Age. This was the period when people such as the fairy tale author Hans Christian Andersen and the physicist Hans Christian Orsted flourished. Copenhagen was a relatively small town at the time, and all these figures knew each other and mutually enriched each other's work. For example, Kierkegaard's first book, From the Papers of One Still Living, was published in 1838 and was a criticism of a novel by Hans Christian Andersen. Although this was a rich cultural period in Denmark with regard to economics, at the time of Kierkegaard's birth, Copenhagen was a poor city in an impoverished country. In the year when he was born, the Danish state had gone bankrupt. There were only a few people who could preserve their property in these difficult times. Kierkegaard's father, a man named Michael Pedersen Kierkegaard, was one of these few. He bought a house on Nytorv in 1809, a couple of years before Kierkegaard's birth. Michael Pedersen Kierkegaard was born into a very poor family. He came from Jutland to Copenhagen when he was 12 years old. In Copenhagen he became an apprentice in a wool business of his uncle's. And after about 10 years he became independent and had his own business. He was extremely successful. And in time became rich. Kierkegaard's mother, Ane Sorensdatter Lund was the father's second wife. She was the maid servant in the father's house and they married 13 months after the death of his father's first wife. Kierkegaard's father was a profoundly religious man and Kierkegaard was raised in the tradition of Lutheran Christianity. That stamped the character of Kierkegaard and his elder brother Peter Christian Kierkegaard who went on to study theology and became a leading pastor and later bishop in the Danish church. When Kierkegaard was a boy, his nickname around the house was The Fork. The reason for this was that one day when he was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he replied, a fork. When asked why a fork, he responded, then I can spear anything I wanted on the dinner table. When he was then asked, but what if we were to come after you? He replied, then I'll spear you. The story evidences the fact that the young Kierkegaard was a provocative lad who enjoyed getting the better of people. Soren Kierkegaard was the youngest of seven children. All of Kierkegaard's brothers and sisters died at a fairly young age with the sole exception of his elder brother Peter Christian. The early deaths of his siblings caused a shadow of melancholy to hover over the Kierkegaard home. By 1834 when Kierkegaard was just 21 years old only he, his brother Peter Christian and his father remained. All of the others, five brothers and sisters, and his mother, were dead. This is the school where Kierkegaard first learned Latin and Greek, and developed his interest in the classics. The School of Civic Virtue was founded in 1789. As a school for the sons of wealthy bourgeois families. Kierkegaard attended the school from 1821 to 1830 when he was admitted to the University of Copenhagen. The school was an intensive one that focused on classical education in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. It was here that Kierkegaard learned ancient Greek and developed a love for Greek culture and literature. During his time at the school he studied in Greek, Homer's Iliad and Odyssey and some of Herodotus' Histories and some of the New Testament. Most importantly he also read some of the dialogues of the Greek philosopher, Plato, specifically the Euthyphro. The Apology and The Crito. He also read another important source of the life and teachings of Socrates namely Xenophon's Memorabilia of Socrates. It was presumably here that Kierkegaard first made the acquaintance of the figure of Socrates who'd fascinate him for the rest of his life. But looking back at his time at the school, Kierkegaard probably didn't have so many fond memories. By all accounts, he didn't have many friends, which was probably due to the fact that he had a tendency to tease and antagonize his fellow students. With his superior intellect. He enjoyed demonstrating his cleverness by soundly refuting the arguments of his classmates and making them look silly. Unfortunately since he wasn't the largest boy in the class his provocations had the negative consequence that he occasionally was beaten by others for the humiliation that they had suffered at his hands. In any case, these negative experiences didn't prevent him from returning to the school later in life to teach Latin. Kierkegaard's book, The Concept of Irony, is divided into two large parts. Part One is entitled The Position of Socrates Viewed as Irony. In this part he compares the picture of Socrates that's presented by the three main ancient sources. Plato, Xenophon, and Aristophanes. As we know, Plato and Xenophon were both students of Socrates. And wrote dialogues in which they presented their beloved teacher as the main speaker. By contrast, Aristophanes parodied Socrates in a humorous manner in a comedy called The Clouds. The view that Kierkegaard constantly urges throughout his analysis is that Socrates doesn't have any positive philosophical doctrine or theory, but rather he merely contradicts or refutes what others say without presenting anything positive. In his own name. In this sense Socrates represents a negative, destructive force. Kierkegaard doesn't mean that Socrates is negative in the sense that we mean today when we talk of someone, for example, having a negative disposition. That is someone who is a little bit pessimistic. Rather, Socrates is negative in the sense that he refuses to present a positive thesis or doctrine. With concrete positive content. His undertaking is negative insofar as it is designed to undermine the position of others. In the first part of the work, Kierkegaard wants to establish that this interpretation of Socrates is in fact well-grounded in the ancient sources themselves. This first part of the work is followed by an appendix called Hegel's View of Socrates. This refers to the treatment of Socrates by the German philosopher Hegel in his lectures. Hegel's interpretation of Socrates and his role in the development of philosophy and culture was profoundly influential at the time. Kierkegaard knew this and made a careful study of Hegel's different accounts of Socrates which he critically built on in The Concept of Irony. So in order to understand Kierkegaard's picture of Socrates we also have to have some insight into Hegel's interpretation and Kierkegaard's response to it. This will be the subject of the second video lecture. Part Two of Kierkegaard's work is simply titled The Concept of Irony. It's here that Kierkegaard treats the modern form of irony in the German Romantics. While Socratic irony was given a generally positive treatment, the Romantics are criticized as using irony in the service of relativism or nihilism. Their goal is simply to undermine bourgeois society, but there's no truth or deeper meaning that they wish to propose to replace it. The final short section of the work is entitled Irony as a Controlled Element, the Truth of Irony. This section has been quite controversial in the secondary literature. It seems to be Kierkegaard's presentation of his own view of the proper and appropriate use of irony. Clearly, it's impossible to go back to ancient Athens and use irony in the same way that Socrates did, since the historical and cultural background has changed so radically since his time. Romantic irony is likewise no alternative given Kierkegaard's criticism of that in the pages that precede this section. So, instead, he suggests a limited form of irony which he believes is the most appropriate in his own day.