Universiteit Leiden

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PhD project

The Influence of Fichte’s Theory of Self-consciousness on Kierkegaard's Notion of the Self

The central subject of this dissertation is the influence of Fichte’s theory of self-consciousness on Søren Kierkegaard's philosophical notion of the self in the way Kierkegaard describes the self in his philosophy in the writing 'The Sickness unto Death' (1849). The main question this dissertation seeks to answer is: how, if at all, is Kierkegaard’s notion of the self, primarily in 'The Sickness unto Death', influenced by Fichte’s theory of self-consciousness?

Suzan ten Heuw

In the field of Kierkegaard research in relation to classical German philosophy between 1984 to 2013, a few studies on Fichte and Kierkegaard have been published, but Fichte is still underrepresented in the Kierkegaard research. In 1984, the dissertation 'Das Existenzproblem bei J.G. Fichte und S. Kierkegaard' by Anton Hochenbleicher-Schwarz appeared. His approach is typically systematic and he contrasts Kierkegaard’s existential-dialectical perspective with the transcendental-philosophical perspective of Fichte’s Wissenschaftslehre.

In 2009, Lore Hühn has published on Kierkegaard and German Idealism in 'Kierkegaard und der deutsche Idealismus. Konstellationen des Übergangs', which is an adaptation of the author’s Habilitationsschrift from 2002. She focuses on the difference between the existential approach of the self and the idealist perspective of self-positing and self-realizing. Hühn puts the position of Anti-Climacus in line with the later Schelling and in contrast with Fichtean and Hegelian notions of the self.

In 2010 the collection of essays 'Kierkegaard und Fichte. Praktische und religiöse Subjektivität' was published by Jürgen Stolzenberg and Smail Rapic. The main theme of the bundle is the extent to which Kierkegaard falls back on positions developed by Fichte in his dispute with Hegel. The contributions explore this theme from Kierkegaard’s dissertation 'On the Concept of Irony' on up to 'The Sickness unto Death' in a thematic way. The thematic spectrum ranges from the theory of self-consciousness and the basis of ethical reflection to the anthropological basis of religion.

Although these three studies contribute to a more in-depth reading of Kierkegaard’s discussions with Fichte, neither of them investigates the influence of Fichte’s theory of self-consciousness on Kierkegaard’s notion of the self, nor elaborates the topic of research from an historical and analytical perspective. Thus, since my approach will be historical and I will investigate a not further investigated topic, and will pay close attention to the argumentative structure in 'The Sickness unto Death', I hope to fill a lacuna in the literature by providing an explanation of the way in which Kierkegaard’s notion of the self is influenced by Fichte’s theory of self-consciousness.

The two other key publications of Kierkegaard with regard to the self are: 'The Concept of Anxiety' (1844) and 'Works of Love' (1847).The way Kierkegaard elaborates on the concept of the self is analysed, compared to and evaluated in light of the theory of self-consciousness of Fichte.

The approach of the theme of the self in this research is primarily historical-philosophical. The choice for this historical-philosophical approach means that I will investigate the influence of Fichte’s theory of self-consciousness on Kierkegaard's notion of the self. Thus, the dissertation aims at understanding the source of the Kierkegaardian philosophical image of the self.

In the nineteenth century, Kierkegaard, in contrast to Hegel, thematises in his writing 'The Sickness unto Death' the notion of the self, not in its logical determination as a notion of reflexion, but as an existential subject in its particularity. Kierkegaard describes the self in terms of a relation, and as either established by itself or by another. The evaluative question is to what extent Kierkegaard represents a point of view that brings forward a still tenable insight concerning the self or if we, after an evaluation, must conclude that we need to take leave from his notion of the self. In the last case, the question is why and to what extent Kierkegaard's position is no longer tenable.

A ‘method’ to test the tenability of Kierkegaard’s notion of the self is to compare his notion with modern analytical theories of the self such as from Roderick Chisholm, Sydney Shoemaker and Galen Strawson. By discussing Kierkegaard's concept of the self in dialogue with modern analytical theories of the self, Kierkegaard becomes culturally relevant.

An important starting-point in this research is not only to question Kierkegaard's notion of the self from the point of view of Fichte’s theory of self-consciousness within classical German philosophy, but also to ask new questions from modern analytical theories of the self to Kierkegaard's notion of the self. 

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