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Lecture on Kierkegaard and Nietzsche

I gave a short introductory lecture for my new class on Existentialism last Friday. I thought it proper to begin with philosophers that class took up with me a year ago: Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. Supposedly the fathers of Existentialism, without them knowing it, it was interesting to note some of the similarities between the two creators. Some analogues to note:

Kierkegaard :: Nietzsche
  1. The Test of Abraham :: The Death of God
  2. Anxiety, dread, fear and trembling :: the abandonment of God and nihilism
  3. The teleological suspension of the ethical :: the transvaluation of values towards a philosophy which is Beyond Good and Evil
  4. The priority of choice and decision (Either/Or) :: the test of the eternal recurrence (will I choose my life over and again?)
  5. Freedom :: responsibility for one's self
  6. The Knight of Faith :: the Overman
So I asked my students, given the possible kinship of the two, what would be the marked differences between Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. I was happy to hear as the first response that the knight of faith obviously surrenders himself (infinite resignation) to an Other, to God--while Nietzsche's overman is a law unto himself, that is, he is alone. While Abraham breaks all values because he had an absolute relationship with God, Nietzsche's overman has no relationship with anyone else except with himself. Or again, Abraham acquires his license from God, while the superman draws his strength from his own will to power. And finally, because most clearly: Nietzsche's movement goes inward to the self in order to finally become who he is, while the man of infinite resignation directs himself outward to God through passion and love. The first movement is centrifugal, fleeing the self by the force of love, while the other is centripetal, a going back in order to find the center of the self.

But as I told them: The knight's offering and sacrificing need not be a dissolution or destruction of the self. Recalling Augustine (with whom they are more familiar with): the more we approach God the nearer we come to our true selves. God is interior intimo meo--more nearer to me than my innermost self. That is to say, deep down the recesses of my self I find God; or in the desert of the Godhead I find my wandering self (Eckhart).

The paradox of faith is that the more I allow myself to be destroyed by God, the more I am re-created into my true self. Whence Matthew's paradox: "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matt. 10:39). In the time of my greatest destruction and need, I had only one prayer: Destroy me fully so you can renew me completely.

Overcoming one's self is rather tedious and difficult because I may not have enough will and power to do so, which may stem ultimately because I do not know what overcoming myself is for. But the man of faith, to follow this line, is him who is clear to himself that there is a goal and a purpose. He has an intentional object, an aim, a reason--to make God happy. This gives his endeavors and actions meaning and unity. "Purity of heart," says Kierkegaard, "is to will one thing."


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