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  • The Transparency of Self-Love?Kierkegaard vs. Frankfurt
  • Pia Søltoft

In Works of Love, Kierkegaard offers six precise descriptions of what it is to not love oneself in the right way, and of how these negative forms of self-love express themselves in a person. The text is therefore concerned with descriptions of selfish forms of self-love as these find expression in someone who does not love herself correctly.

These six descriptions of negative self-love are collected in a long exposition given in the second discourse of Works of Love, which bears the title "You Shall Love" (Kjerlighedens 25 / Works 17).1 In what follows, I will break this long exposition up into its six individual descriptions, in order to highlight the six different ways in which selfish self-love can be expressed—six ways which all have negative implications for a person's relation to themselves. These six negative forms of self-love are represented by the following types:

  1. 1. The Bustler (the Busy one)

  2. 2. The Light-minded

  3. 3. The Heavy-minded

  4. 4. The Person (visibly) in Despair

  5. 5. The Self-tormentor

  6. 6. The Suicide

Kierkegaard offers these descriptions in the form of questions to the reader, which suggests that we must ask ourselves whether we can recognize these descriptions of selfish self-love from our own relationship to ourselves. This question is necessitated by the fact that self-love [End Page 1115] usually keeps itself hidden or else takes a form other than its own. For this reason, Kierkegaard connects negative self-love with double-mindedness, and in order to shed light on the significance of this I will draw upon H.G. Frankfurt's discussion of self-love in The Reasons of Love.

1. Negative forms of Self-Love

In Works of Love, Kierkegaard first asks: "When the bustler wastes his time and powers in the service of futile, inconsequential pursuits, is this not because he has not learned rightly to love himself?" (Kjerlighedens 30 / Works 23). The bustler is someone who wastes his time, and thereby his life, in trivial and insignificant business. The bustler allows himself to be defined exclusively by the prevailing opinion of the time. This is a matter of negative self-love because such a person, who is exclusively taken up with 'what the times demand,' overlooks the fact that he has a self that is fundamentally intended to love itself, and not a self that is only loveable if it lives up to the demand of the times. The bustler is altogether too busy mirroring the spirit of the times. And Kierkegaard does not hesitate to call this form of self-love despair. It is a manner of despair because, properly speaking, the bustler does not love himself, but only the self he makes himself into by living up to the trends of the times. The self he loves is one that others have deemed loveable on the basis of a set of contemporary, and therefore relative, criteria.

Kierkegaard goes on to ask: "When the light-minded [letsindige] person throws himself almost like a nonentity into the folly of the moment and makes nothing of it, is this not because he does not know how to love himself rightly?" (30-31 / 23). The light-minded person, who throws himself into "the folly of the moment," is someone who never thinks more deeply about what he is doing with himself, indeed, never reflects at all that he has a self that does not simply take shape by abandoning itself to the moment. The light-minded person can be described as someone who allows himself to be lured by the pleasure of the now, the euphoria of raw experience, the momentary fame. The light-minded person finds it all too easy to let himself go, such that he throws himself away. This person is thus also one who "does not know how to love himself rightly"; a person who is fundamentally in despair over himself and therefore finds it so easy to let go of it.2 [End Page 1116]

And Kierkegaard's description goes on: "When the heavy-minded [tungsindige] person desires to be rid of life...


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