Ph.d., Dr. habil. theol. & phil.
Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Foreign member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters
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“The Problem of Nihilism
in the Danish Golden Age”
“Moral Nihilism in the
Danish Golden Age: P.M. Møller and F.C. Sibbern”
Philosophy Department, University of Tromsø, Norway
June 6, 2017.
Session for the
for the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Studies
May 11-13, 2017, Minneapolis
Organizers: Jon Stewart and Nathaniel Kramer
many interesting debates and polemics, the leading figures of
Denmark were in agreement about the fact that their age was in a
crisis. They believed that the quick pace of change since the
led to a sense of alienation from traditional values and ways of
produced uncertainty that resulted in different forms of
subjectivism and nihilism.
The poet-philosopher, Johan Ludvig
dramatically announced the great cultural crisis of the day in
his treatise On the
Significance of Philosophy for the
Present Age from 1833. According to Heiberg, people in his
lost their belief in truth and beauty in any deeper sense.
Likewise, in 1837
the classicist and philosopher, Poul Martin Møller followed this
thinking in his influential article “Thoughts on the Possibility
of Proofs of
Human Immortality,” in which he claims that modern scientific
thinking has undermined the traditional belief in the
immortality of the soul. In
this context he too explores the movement of nihilism that he
characterizes the age. In 1842 the theologian Hans Lassen
Martensen published an article entitled
“The Present Religious Crisis,” where he argues that much of the
religion is the result of the work of, among others, the German
Friedrich Strauss, who argued that Christianity was a form of
philosopher Søren Kierkegaard treated the idea of a cultural and
crisis in a number of his famous works, such as The Concept of Irony, Either/Or,
A Literary Review of Two
Ages, and The
Many of the texts from the
Golden Age strike the reader as profoundly modern since they
seem to anticipate
key characteristics of the crisis of the 21st century. In
keeping with the
conference theme—Nordic Connections: Old and New—we invite
papers focused on
the Danish Golden Age and its philosophical, literary and
that explore the theme of crisis and examine the resemblances
perils and crises of the Danish Golden Age and those of our own.
Interpretation of the Greek Religion as a Religion of Spirit”
“The Determinate Religions: Hegel's Interpretation of the Religions of the World”
“The Religion of the
Sublime: Hegel’s Controversial Account of Judaism”
“The Determinate Religions: Hegel's Interpretation of the Religions of the World”
Philosophy Department, Boston University
November 4, 2016.Read more
Crisis of Religion and the Logic of the Gods: Hegel’s Interpretation of the
Religions of the World”
Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard UniversityOctober 19, 2016.
“Humanities Education in a Globalized World and Our Modern Prejudices”
conference “Classical Education in the 21st Century: Challenges, Continuity,
Thales Academy, Rolesville, North Carolina
October 7, 2016.Read more
See the video of the lecture
The Conference, “The Registers of Philosophy II,”
Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Pázmány Péter Catholic University,
Budapest, Hungary, May 14, 2016.
Read the article
Description of the conference:
Jon Stewart has recently argued in his book The Unity of Content and Form in Philosophical Writing (2013) that the style of contemporary philosophy – particularly in its Anglo-American version – is extremely impoverished. This homogeneity, according to Stewart, has its roots in the scientific model of philosophy and philosophical writing, in the philosophy of language that was popular in the beginning of the last century and in the fact that during the professionalization of philosophy a particular mode of writing proved to be the most useful one. Noting the deep similarities of current philosophical pieces would of course not cause any surprise – but Stewart went on to argue that this kind of uniformity in philosophical writing causes much harm to philosophy itself. The standardization not only causes some thoughts to be only ineffectively expressible in philosophy, but shifts the attention of courses both at undergraduate and graduate level to the regular type of philosophical texts. Irregular genres or styles are left out from the curriculum at many places, their own characteristics and the messages encoded in philosophical styles do not gain attention. ‘By insisting on a single form of writing – Stewart emphasized –, professional philosophy implicitly imposes a certain notion about how to read philosophy.’ The ability to read some classics is fading away. And works falling outside of the scope of the writing which people are now accustomed to are deemed to be unphilosophical, lacking rigor and therefore uninteresting.
Nevertheless one might argue that even nowadays various philosophical genres and styles are flourishing, and not only in continental philosophy. Philosophical novels and poems are being published, philosophy is present in theatres and cinemas, not to mention the different web pages that are dedicated to philosophical topics. Even analytic writings do not always use the same style. Furthermore, as Keith Allen noted in his review of The Unity of Content and Form in Philosophical Writing, ‘Stewart’s selection of case studies to illustrate the diversity of forms that philosophical writing can take raises interesting questions about when it is appropriate to describe a work as a work of philosophy.’
Now how uniform really is today’s philosophy? Is the homogeneity of styles dangerous for philosophy itself? What are the themes that only fit well with some genres or styles? What is the exact connection between content and form? Should philosophers pay attention to genres practiced outside of academia? The aim of our series of conferences is to investigate these questions and more. We would like to look at the problems of content and form in philosophy both from historical and contemporary perspectives, from the viewpoint of analytic and continental philosophy as well as from the standpoint of styles that fall outside the scope of academic philosophy. Stewart claimed that questions of form, genre and style should be entertained not only at the literature departments but by professional philosophers too. As he argued: ‘To read philosophical texts as literature is to miss the specifically philosophical meaning that they contain.’ We would like to give a joint occasion for both of these disciplines to discuss the problems introduced above. Like Stewart, we would like to bring philosophers to the edges of conformity, to explore the various forms and the diverse ways of not only writing, reading and interpreting philosophy but teaching, discussing, presenting, popularizing or doing it.
An online course in Coursera
It is often claimed that relativism, subjectivism and nihilism are typically modern philosophical problems that emerge with the breakdown of traditional values, customs and ways of life. The result is the absence of meaning, the lapse of religious faith, and feeling of alienation that is so widespread in modernity.
The Danish thinker Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55) gave one of the most penetrating analyses of this complex phenomenon of modernity. But somewhat surprisingly he seeks insight into it not in any modern thinker but rather in an ancient one, the Greek philosopher Socrates.
In this course we will explore how Kierkegaard deals with the problems associated with relativism, the lack of meaning and the undermining of religious faith that are typical of modern life. His penetrating analyses are still highly relevant today and have been seen as insightful for the leading figures of Existentialism, Post-Structuralism and Post-Modernism.
To date more than 70,000 students from around the world have been involved in the course. The course is absolutely free of charge. No prior knowledge is required.
The course can now be taken on an on-demand basis, and thus students can start at any time and can follow the video lectures at their own pace.
book is an introductory text that attempts to introduce the
thought of Søren Kierkegaard to first-time readers. At the end of his
life Kierkegaard says that the only model that he ever had for his work
was the Greek philosopher Socrates. This work takes this statement by
Kierkegaard as its point of departure.
It tries to explore what Kierkegaard meant by this and to show how different aspects of his writing and argumentative strategy can be traced back to Socrates. The main focus is The Concept of Irony, which is a key text at the beginning of Kierkegaard’s literary career. Although it was an early work, it nevertheless played a determining role in his later development and writings. Indeed, it can be said that in it Kierkegaard laid the groundwork for much of what would appear in his later famous books such as Either/Or and Fear and Trembling.
Søren Kierkegaard is a highly complex author who spans a handful of disciplines. Claimed equally by philosophers, theologians, and literary scholars, he continues to exercise an enormous interest internationally. The Companion to Kierkegaard offers the best single-volume overview of Kierkegaard studies available today. The volume is divided into four major sections that reflect the main areas of Kierkegaard studies today: I. Philosophy, II. Theology and Religious Studies, III. Aesthetics and the Arts, and IV. Social Sciences and Politics. Moreover, in order to cover in a systematic manner each of these disciplinary areas, the volume further subdivides these categories into three subsections: A. Sources, B. Reception and C. Concepts and Contributions. This organization allows for the presentation of all the major aspects of the broad field of Kierkegaard research. Although written by specialists, this volume will constitute a major a reference work for students, instructors, and general readers.
Date of publication: March, 2015
Danish Golden Age spanned a period of time that saw a number of
different kinds of crisis: political, economic and cultural. Events
such as the French Revolution, the Napoleonic wars, the national
bankruptcy in 1813, the Revolution of 1848 and the first Schleswig War
radically transformed Danish society. The many changes that took place
at this time made it a dynamic period in which artists, poets,
philosophers, and religious thinkers were constantly enjoined to
reassess the current situation. Some of Denmarks greatest luminaries,
such Johan Ludvig Heiberg, Hans Lassen Martensen and Soren Kierkegaard,
articulated the nature of the crisis and proposed different solutions
The present work traces the different aspects and dimensions of this crisis by means of a series of case studies. It shows how the perception of the crisis was a kind of spirit that haunted many of the intellectuals and artists of the period. But far from being something negative or destructive, it was a motivating and stimulating force that helped to make the Golden Age what is was. It made artists and thinkers more willing to break with the past and seek new solutions and approaches. Thus it is argued that the crisis can be seen as one of the central defining elements of what we know as Danish Golden Age culture. But the present work is not a purely historical study since it is shown that many of the key elements of the crisis can still be found in our modern world today. Heiberg's diagnosis of the period as suffering from relativism, subjectivism and nihilism sounds strikingly familiar to the modern reader. When seen in this manner, the Danish Golden Age becomes profoundly interesting and relevant for the broad spectrum of problems of modernity.
Claus Møller Jørgensen, "The Cultural Crisis of the Danish Golden Age - Heiberg, Martensen and Kierkegaard," BogFeature, 23 November, 2015. http://www.historie-online.dk/nyt/bogfeature/b20154805.htm
“Jon Stewart viser, at det giver god mening at åbne historiske tekster op ved at læse dem i sammenhæng med andre samtidige tekster som de direkte eller—som ofte er tilfældet her—indirekte refererer til og er i dialog med. Ud af det kommer der overbevisende, men også meget tekstnære og detaljerede analyser af afgrænsede problemstillinger.”
Claus Møller Jørgensen, "The Cultural Crisis of the Danish Golden Age - Heiberg, Martensen and Kierkegaard," BogFeature, 23 November, 2015.
Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press 2017