Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Fine Arts


Theory and Criticism


Schuster, Joshua


This thesis explores the philosophy of early existentialist Søren Kierkegaard as implicitly critiquing the assumed essence of objectivity both directly understood as Absolute Truth in a classically Hegelian sense, but also in a more oblique meta-textual fashion in the presence of his varied pseudonymity. The first chapter takes on classical readings of Kierkegaard as a philosophy of stages—sometimes as aesthetic-ethical-religious, or otherwise despairing-anxious-faithful—and offers the alternative comprehension of a philosophy of moods which encompasses all these same “stages” as existing in and through each other in subjective existence. In the second chapter, I take the traditional reading of stages and unpack its complications in the presence of the varied and complicated pseudonyms his works were published under. These pseudonyms represent an ironic distance not simply from the ideas embraced in each work but from philosophy itself understand as instances of objective reasonings. In the third chapter, I explore Theodor Adorno’s book on Kierkegaard which refuses readings of him centered on the necessity of the pseudonyms. His refusal to comprehend the writing of philosophers as poetry and his ultimate desire for the “truth content” that followed him to the very end in his Aesthetic Theory are underlined by the very hermetic irony held in his essential style; himself subject to the poetry he longs to rid of. It is with this modern critique that I hold my interpretation of Kierkegaard as implicitly attacking the very foundations of philosophy as reason and calling to its readers to re-examine the idea that, as Kierkegaard famously wrote, “subjectivity is truth.”

Summary for Lay Audience

This thesis examines the philosophy of Soren Kierkegaard—often referred to as the godfather of existentialism—in order to reframe how we understand the idea of truth as a fixed entity in being. The idea of a “truth” in any given instance is assumed as an intangible constant. Something that is true is always true beyond the finite, like mathematics or the beauty of the sunset against a mountaintop. But what Kierkegaard aimed to do in his philosophy was to explore the idea that what we understand as truth does not in fact derive from the outside world. That is, the truth of the beauty of a sunset against a mountaintop is not a truth inherent in the sunset or the mountaintop but is instead a truth from within is. The idea that “subjectivity is truth” is that from which my thesis stems as the ground to explore the ways he did this in his texts—both on purpose and by accident. The main feature I explore is that his works were nearly all published under a variety of pseudonyms. What this aims to illustrate to the reader is that the idea of reading a philosophy text—when the pseudonyms are accounted for—should not be considered without authority but absolutely without it. We should not truth philosophy as imparting truth, but rather as explicating the truth of a single individual.

Included in

Aesthetics Commons