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Started listening to the Søren Kierkegaard course on Coursera tonight, taught by one Professor Jon Stewart from the University of Copenhagen. In the introductory video, Professor Stewart interestingly connects Kierkegaard’s alienation towards society and promulgation of subjectivism to the modern world, with our lives constantly changed by new technologies. He helpfully jumps into Kierkegaard’s use of irony in critique. Though he does not seem to be a native himself, Professor Stewart seems to pronounce the Great Dane’s name accurately – “k-yoohk-ard”, in a way that is almost like a fluid slurring. Almost like an eldritch, chthonic being from one of Lovecraft’s stories.

Still gold.

The first week focuses on Kierkegaard’s Socratic task – “The only analogy I have before me is Socrates.” – modeling himself after Socrates, as an enlightener (and a gadfly critic of contemporary thought). The biography characterizes Kierkegaard as a provocateur and a troll since his youth, demolishing the arguments of his peers, which nicely sets up his affinity for Socrates. The Greek philosopher is described as a ‘negative’ philosopher in that he did not present his own theses to advance, but rather operated by attacking the concepts of other thinkers. Kierkegaard utilized Socratic irony greatly in his work, but prior to the development of his own philosophy, he was fascinated by Socrates’ dialogues. Socrates would go around feigning ignorance in the presence of fellow philosophers, or in the case of Euthyphro, know-it-all blowhards who claimed moral superiority when they were simply dummies. By asking pointed questions, he was able to reveal that their intellectual finery were no more than the emperor’s new clothes. Though Socrates doesn’t present his own thesis or ideals through his trolling, Kierkegaard was still attracted to his philosophizing- instead of telling the reader what to think, his dialogues allows us to fill in the blanks through self-reflection.


The great wisdom of Socrates was that he was one self-aware to know that he knew nothing, unlike many supposed experts of his day. He had the true Rumsfeldian knowledge of knowing what he did not know. But I suspect with great wisdom comes less ignorance. He at least had a starter knowledge that made him versed enough in the subjects of ethics, piety, and so forth that allowed him to dissemble his victims’ arguments with lines of questioning. After all, a great cross-examiner in a court is not defined by ignorance, but rather a knowledge that masks itself in ignorance, that takes apart lies and alibis. Socratic irony is ironic because the one wielding it isn’t an ignoramus, but rather a cunning wit, undercover.

I wonder if we live in a world too drenched in irony. Socratic irony is but one manifestation of it.