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Kierkegaard annoys the crap out out of me, as almost all philosophers do.

But I will say this for the guy: He had humour. A weird, understated, tangled one, but he had it.

Mind you, it is so tied up with his native language and culture, it ought not travel well. And judging by whatever translations I have seen, it hasn't. His worldwide fame is still a mystery to me.

And by the way, correct pronunciation is something like Kierkegore. Fittingly, it means churchyard.

I loved Kierkegaard for his prayers and parables. As for me being a Theological student in grad school his "Practice in Christianity" was read in one sitting at the library, I just picked it off the shelf to see. I ended up buying the same exact library edition on EBay for my birthday. He isn't an easy read but the journey is worth it to understand what he was trying to get across. I always try to get people to read his later works.

His earlier books can drive a person crazy on one hand and his thoughts will never leave you on the other. Fear and Trembling is written from as a non-believer, Johannes DE SILENTIO, trying to understand God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. The conclusion after 160 pages? He still had no idea. That journey of thought through the book 20 years later still travels with me. I'm okay not understanding or having an opinion on everything. That unusual for Theologian students (Not professors). Faith doesn't always = understanding or a complete knowledge. Now is important and those around you are. (Also helps to think that way after my 15 year old sister passed away from brain cancer and my son at 12 from bone cancer)

Also the BIG one for me was the idea of the Demonic Despair where a person's identity was in the tragic absurdness of themselves when not whole. Once we understand that we alone are responsible for having an identity in our experiences and to something higher then us lead me to a conversation with my mom. My mom is now an Licensed Counselor and her final thesis was based on Soren's "Acts of Love."

Thanks for your comments. Does Kierkegaard by any chance suggest a way out of this “Demonic Despair”? A path to follow to find “an identity in our experiences and to something higher than us”?

It leads to the most famous of his ideas and the worst translation of his works. His "Leap of Faith" which really is the "Leap onto Faith." Deciding that what you currently have isn't what you can stand to be the rest of your life and to leap out away from despair and into faith when you don't have faith.

As a cancer dad who has lost a child I am in fairly large network of families that have also lost their child. There has been many times when the grief for friends have gotten so great that they ran into a life crisis. (Usually happens years after the death of their child)They think they are crazy and that they should have gotten to a place of acceptance (That doesn't really happen, at least in my case). There comes a place when you can't just accept your lot without just losing one's self. This leap onto faith seems to have happened with a few families and it really changed people's lives.

For a translation of his humor into English, see The Humor of Kierkegaard, ed. Thomas C. Oden. Some of it is laugh-out-loud funny, like his description of the ridiculousness of state religion:

"Rather than taking part in official Christianity with the thousandth part of my little-finger nail, I would rather engage in the following display of seriousness. A flag is purchased at a hardware store, it is unfurled; with great reverence I approach it, lift up three fingers and swear fidelity to the flag. Thereupon, rigged out in a cocked hat, a cartridge-belt and sword (all from the hardware store), I mount a hobbyhorse, proposing in union with others to make an attack upon the enemy, with contempt for the mortal danger into which I am evidently casting myself, with the seriousness of one who knows what it signifies to have sworn fidelity to the flag."

Kierkegaard's "Attack upon 'Christendom'" [277-78]

Oh man, I couldn't even understand what he meant, let alone find the humour in it.

Yeah, translations need to take into account changes in writing style over the centuries in addition to changes in language.

Here's the joke in "modern English":

Instead of joining the state's church, I propose instead the following. I will buy a flag, a uniform, a gun, and one of those battery-powered toy jeeps that little kids drive around their yards. Then, with grave seriousness, I will declare my faith in God's protection, furl out my flag, and call for the members of the state's church to follow me into battle. I will then hop in my toy jeep and begin driving toward the battle field.

Maybe I'm slow, but I still don't get it. Is he saying that members of the state's church will follow him blindly (making them out to be dumb / sheeple)? Or is he saying that even such a ridiculous sight is less ridiculous than the church? Maybe he's satirizing the state's enthusiasm for war? I feel like I'm missing context here. Or maybe this is why people say his humor is weird...

It's funny to think of a grown man on a little toy jeep/horse all dressed up for war and taking seriously his trip to the front line and into the battlefield. That's the "funny" part of the joke. And it's not weird funny, it's just normal funny.

The deeper point being made isn't possible to ascertain from just this snippet; you'd have to put the joke back into its context and find the larger point being made in the text around the joke. (edit: but, see racer-v's explanation)

I see, thank you, so he's making fun of how silly swearing fidelity is and taking it seriously is.

Yes; there's a certain unwholesome smugness in a person who conflates civic duty (e.g. fighting for his country) with religious purpose, which Kierkegaard mocks here.

The comparison is to a ritual that feels very important and profound to those involved, but to an outside observer is clearly a childish imitation of the real thing (like a hobby-horse):



Ah, thanks, I thought a hobbyhorse was some kind of actual horse, so it looked to me like he was just serious.

why would a philosopher be annoying. confusing, certainly, but annoying?

Socrates was annoying enough to get himself poisoned.

Is it really right to call him a philosopher? I would more fairly consider him a "writer", in the vein of (though nothing like) a GK Chesterton -- capable of opining on philosophical topics but with none of the rigour or fairness expected of an actual philosopher.

Can I ask which philosophers don't annoy you?

Not the OP but to me a non-annoying philosopher would be someone like Russell, Quine or Dennett.

A good philosopher takes the time to define terms, explain the problem clearly, explain other possible views on the matter in a fair and accurate way, then explain their own view as clearly as possible, and then ideally pre-emptively discuss several possible objections or misunderstandings. A good philosopher understands that the subject matter at hand is already very difficult, and therefore the philosopher has an obligation to be clear.

Russell as philosopher may not be annoying but he's a smug prat when writing about contemporary politics and society.

But being precise limits you to those subject that afford precision. Philosophy shouldn't accept such a limitation, and entertain discussions even on subject where absolute precision cannot be achieved.

I am the OP, and you just about summed it up.

If I wish to ascertain the current status of the universe and the human ways of interacting with it, then any day, give me physics, math, brainscans, and controlled experimentation rather than longwinded twaddle from some dude believing his random personal ramplings to be somehow normative.

I prefer reinforcement learning to mind-body philosophy. I think RL has more clear and concise concepts that can be tested and has the potential to create intelligence, something philosophy can't do. I replace the word "consciousness" with "agent" and the word "emotion" with "value function", "sensing" with "neural network based representation" then suddenly so many mind-body debates become easier to grasp. "Reasoning" is just simulation of consequences in the mind, something called model-based RL, the babble of a baby looks like a LSTM learning to generate text, and the chaotic movements of a newborn look like pretraining RL agents for motion control.

Then I visit philosophy forums and people still insist on "qualia this" and "free will that". Qualia is just sensation + action value associated with it, it feels like something because it occupies our perception and value judgement, and determines actions. So many fake mysteries in philosophy, created by fluffy suitcase words like consciousness.

Yeah, but why would sensation and value function feel like anything? Why aren't we p-zombies one might ask? Because we are agents in the world and not being good agents means death, so we have to feel to exist. RL and sister domains like evolutionary algorithms explain consciousness by the opposite of it - death. For example, what is consciousness if not that thing necessary for you to eat, protect yourself and reproduce - in other words, to beat death?

P-zombies don't fear death. Even if one existed, it would not have the drive to protect itself and it would be damaged or destroyed soon enough. So it's like something that can only exist for a short time and not benefit from evolution or RL, similar to a traditional computer program. I wholeheartedly agree with a recent article that put the blame of stagnating philosophy of consciousness on the shoulders of Chalmers and the (philosophically) useless concepts he produced. The "hard problem" is just dualism in disguise. Call something "a hard problem" and it becomes a category of its own, apart from science, in the realm of metaphysics, an euphemism for dualism.

Replacing terms doesn't make the problem go away, nor does providing a possible evolutionary reason. You're advocating a behaviorist approach, which Chalmers and everyone else has been aware of for half a century or more.

And you misunderstand the p-zombie argument. It's functionally and behaviorally equivalent, because it's physically identical. Of course it would seek to avoid death as all life forms do.

The behaviorist approach is good enough to beat us at Go today. I'd say it's not the same as what philosophers rejected 50 years ago. On the other hand, the "hard problem" is just dualism in disguise. It's declaring something "hard", thus "special" and apart from the physical world that can be studied and understood.

> Why aren't we p-zombies one might ask? Because we are agents in the world and not being good agents means death, so we have to feel to exist.

> P-zombies don't fear death. Even if one existed, it would not have the drive to protect itself and it would be damaged or destroyed soon enough.

You missed the point, like many others who think they can 'explain away' consciousness in a 4-paragraph post on an internet forum.

What you described is a difference in external behavior (eating, death avoidance, reproduction, etc). That is not what the problem of consciousness is about, and it's a dead giveaway that you don't understand the issue you're pontificating on.

External and internal are united - if you fail externally, you're dead 'internally' too. You try to separate consciousness from the external world and study it under a microscope (metaphorically), and that's wrong. The agent is part of the world, it can never be anything outside, it can never be understood on its own. By labeling my argument as "behaviorism" and rejecting it because of it's "external" argument, then you ignore the very source of experiences that create consciousness. Then we hear people searching for the "neural correlates of consciousness" like it's a kind of brain secretion that just needs to be found - it's the external world that correlates with consciousness, when you're an AI agent or a brain. Every sensation, every reward and the body itself come from the world, the structure of experiences encountered in the external world creates the contents of consciousness, and yet we search for its explanation just in our brains.

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