The Three Stages of Life Experience at KierkegaardJune 27, 2021
The core of Kierkegaad’s philosophy can be seen in his doctrine that there are three phases of life experience: aesthetic, ethical and religious.
These three stages can be thought of as attitudes towards life or attitudes towards life.
1. Aesthetic Stage
In the first stage of life experience, the individual may be a hedonist seeking pleasure and love, or an intellectual predominantly interested in abstract philosophical speculation. At this stage, it is typical to escape the boredom and pains of life by trying one by one the pleasures of a buffet variety. The aesthetic phase is a phase where desires are satisfied and the moment is lived. Here, nothing is enough for the individual. Anyone who engages in philosophical abstractions loses himself in speculation; up on the hill, in its ivory tower, away from real-world events. The abstract intellectual observes the world in a detached and objective way, without ever taking the risk of getting involved.
Kierkegaard has observed deeply how man tries to escape from himself by deceptions and diversions that provide him with a kind of momentary distraction. This constant search for distraction is graced in Kierkegaard’s “rotational method” as follows: One gets bored with life in the suburbs, thus seeking satisfaction in village life; He gets bored in the village, this time he returns to the heart of the city. He soon gets bored with his hometown, this time traveling abroad. Again, he succumbs to boredom in a foreign country and begins to constantly think about the idea of traveling to relieve his boredom. With this melancholy, one sets out on a dizzying hunt that destroys oneself in pursuit of the perfect source of distraction. However, this adventure is doomed to fail: the quest for distraction can never be satisfied. Aesthetic existence ends in futility.
Main Note: Kierkegaard was very adept at eloquence. One of these phrases reveals his distaste for abstract and intellectual philosophy that does not appeal to emotional and intellectual beings: “The point is to find the truth that is true for me, to find ideas for which I can live and die.”
Estet finally realizes that she cannot find herself outside herself. There is no satisfaction in his endless hedonistic and sensual pursuits, nor in the abstractions of his speculative thoughts. Plato is right: a person who constantly seeks pleasure is like a sieve with holes. Nothing is ever enough for him. To discover the meaningful, one must turn inward. Here he will find sincerity, seriousness, passions, resolutions, dedication and freedom. The result of the pursuits at this stage is disappointment and despair, which can ultimately lead to a commitment to ethical values. In fact, by choosing despair and despair, “self” reborns itself and passes from the aesthetic stage, which is the stage of indecision, to the ethical stage, which is the stage of determined dedication.
2. Ethical Stage
The ethical stage is a stage of determination and strong dedication. The ethical (moral) person accepts boundaries and obeys the rules of behavior in a way not found in the aesthetic person. The person in the aesthetic stage succumbs to their urges when it comes to the call of food, drink, or sexual attraction. However, the ethical person does not surrender. In the ethical stage, satisfaction is sought through devotion to a sense of duty and obedience to the dictates of an objective morality. Through determination and devotion, the “self” becomes complete, whole, and anchored.
The center of the ethical man is within himself, as he has shouldered the responsibility of decision. It is vitally centered and unified. But once again, the experience lacks personal meaning and fails to validate one’s individual existence. Dedication to the ethical stage can be achieved through an act of faith. You are aware of your crimes and sins. It is only through determination and dedication at this stage that the “self” can discover its wholeness and unity. Socrates said, “Know thyself”. But at the ethical level this is interpreted as, “Choose yourself”.
3. Religious Stage
The aesthetic stage is characterized by hedonistic pursuits, the ethical stage by a sense of duty, and the religious stage by obedience and devotion to God. The religious stage represents the culmination, the exaltation, of the first two stages. Kierkegaard did not fail to give the religious stage the importance it deserves in Stages in the Path of Life (1845), written two years after Either — Or. Belief in this stage is the opposite of hopelessness and helplessness in the first stage. Hopelessness is reluctance to be oneself; Christian despair is a “deadly sickness” (The Deadly Sickness is the title of Kierkegaard’s book written in 1849), because it is the result of dying.
Intermediate Note: Did Kierkegaard think that the believer coexists with doubt? Kierkegaard believed that in the same individual who believes, there is skepticism. Doubt is necessary because faith is without substance. Believing in God’s existence without any doubt cannot be a belief worth having.
In the religious stage, you are willing to have a personal, subjective experience of God. Only this action opens the way for you to communicate with God.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Ataturk University Sociology Department 1st Class “To Philosophy”