K is for Kierkegaard

| May 5, 2014


Life can be only understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards

I first came across this quote while writing my thesis for my undergraduate degree.

I had chosen to write on philosophy, rather than education, on somewhat of a whim. I had always loved exploring ideas and thinking about existence, but had never taken a philosophy course in my life. How I got my advisor to agree to let me write on philosophy is beyond me.

But it was during this time, during weekly meetings with my thesis advisor, that I fell in love with philosophy. I came to him with incredibly ill-formed ideas about what I might be interested in writing about, and he suggested some texts. I read them and came back and he recommended more. This happened every week and was only hindered by my physical ability to carry all the books I was reading at one time (To put it in perspective, at one point I reached the library’s limit of how many books you could check out at once).

It was during this time that I first encountered Soren Kierkegaard, a founding father of Existentialism and the philosopher who validated all my feelings on anxiety about life. Reading Kierkegaard you get the sense that he was quite an… “unsettled” man. He doesn’t write with the staunch authority of many philosophers. At times he is timid. He expresses his anxieties like a friend would lament over their past due bills. His voice carries a sense of urgency, a true concern for humanity.┬áHe is a brilliant writer who contributed greatly to the domain of philosophy. He is also the writer I return to when I have woes about my own prospects as a philosopher.

While sitting in my advisor’s office one Tuesday morning I had just ended a lengthy rant mixed with anxieties over deadlines and confusions over the metaphysical properties about Plato’s allegory of the cave and how I just wanted to be able to know everything without confusion when my advisor turned to Kierkegaard and responded, “Life can be only understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”. At the time I thought it might be the most brilliant thing I had ever heard. It still might be.