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  • Irony and Dialectic:On a Critique of Romanticism in Kierkegaard and Hegel's Philosophy
  • Lore Hühn1


Kierkegaard's University thesis of 1841, On the Concept of Irony, with Continual Reference to Socrates, has from its first literary reception been analyzed in view of its position on Hegel and Hegel's own critique of the form of irony in romanticism (cf. Pivčević 45-48; vom Hofe 134-136; and Stewart, Kierkegaard's 135f.). Kierkegaard's intellectual affinity with Hegel and his consistent borrowings from Hegel's terminology are indisputable, yet in their meaning highly contentious. The discussion revolves to the present day around two alternatives:

On the one hand, Kierkegaard's work on irony is placed within the domain of Hegel's philosophy, even in its criticism of the latter, and is valued at most as an anticipation of the themes that take hold in the authorship proper, beginning with Either/Or (cf. e.g. Himmelstrup 32-60). The consequence of this interpretation is that the essay is thus detached from the main corpus of Kierkegaard's writings,2 insofar as an anti-Hegelian standpoint otherwise sets the scene for later works; [End Page 1061] a standpoint which is frequently scathing. There is little doubt that Kierkegaard's work on irony borrows from Hegel's own writing, at times word for word, sometimes paraphrasing important passages, be it from Hegel's Lectures on Aesthetics, published by Hotho, from the Lectures on the Histor y of Philosophy, or from the Philosophy of Right.3 Furthermore, Kierkegaard at times even sides with Hegel's crushingly critical judgment on the Fichte-inspired notion in romantic philosophy of art of a subjectivity that oversteps its boundaries. If there were a "citation index" of Kierkegaard's work The Concept of Irony, Hegel's writings would appear at the top, indeed with a considerable gap to the next author. But there is also little doubt that quantitative results of this type tell us little, especially since Kierkegaard's philologically verifiable interest in Hegel's criticism of romanticism ought to have much deeper roots than can be shown by any reconstruction of influences that merely remains at the text's surface. It is certainly not a bad thing that, for now, this superficial approach in reconstructing influences has come to a halt. The fact that an interpretation of this type, i.e. one that is not conscious of any kind of shortcoming and which completely misses the core of Kierkegaard's interpretation of Hegel, was upheld and persisted for such a long time in academic research may well have to do with Kierkegaard's own retrospective view of his earlier work. Kierkegaard's own comments gave this type of interpretation an authoritative hold; this type of interpretation became popular through a passage written by Johannes Climacus, which had been crossed out prior to publication: "In his dissertation, Mag. Kierkegaard was concerned with discovering what is Socratic, but he did not, as far as can be said, understand it, probably because, with the aid of Hegelian philosophy, he had become super clever and objective and positive…" (Papirer VI B35, 24; trans. David Carus. Cf. Schwab, "Zwischen" 136, as well as Stewart, "Hegel" 173).

Kierkegaard openly states that his project was addressed in various ways at Hegel, initially with an open though ambivalent attitude towards him, yet latterly with a distinctly dismissive tone. The later Kierkegaard makes no secret of what he—ironically enough—sees as a type of youthful indiscretion, let us say, a sin. He frequently asserts that he created his own misgiving in The Concept of Irony by applying Hegelian ideas, ideas which he latterly considered scandalous [End Page 1062] and only mentions with scathing criticism. This is the historical and Hegelian context in which Kierkegaard had compared the elements of the Socratic concept of irony with the romantic concept of irony as an existential form of negative freedom and ultimately had them confront each other as manifestations of a potentiating relationship to self (cf. esp. Kierkegaard, Om Begrebet Ironi 281-284 / The Concept of Irony 241-245).4 He had done this by basing the relationship between them on a concept of...


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