Soren Kierkegaard was an 18th century Danish philosopher who focused in on how we live our lives and why. To Kierkegaard, he perceived that there were three mutually exclusive ways to live your life: the aesthetic life, the ethical life, and the religious life. The differentiating factor between these three ways of life is the purpose in which you're perform your actions. Although the actions themselves are important and a key to understand who we are, more important than what we do is why we do it. Subsequently these three categories are divided due to the motivation of our actions rather than our actions themselves.
The Aesthetic Life is a life in pursuit of interest, often sensual in nature. These people will seek out adventure and interest, their actions are guided by the all important question: “Is this, or will it be, interesting?” The Ethical Life is very much reason based and driving, often societal based, it is a life of ethics, commitment, and self sacrifice. In the minds of the ethical based they sacrifice sensual pleasure for a more lasting enjoyment. The Religious Life is a life motivated by faith in God, the question that motivates their actions is can be seen as the platitude “What would Jesus do?” Everything revolves around what God would have them do and how “this” action will affect their relationship with God. Often these choices are neither logical nor sensually beneficial. Although these categories are in Kierkegaard’s philosophy are mutually exclusive it is possible to belong to different categories of living at different point in your life as long as you belong to only one of the above categories at one time.
Having outlined Kierkegaard’s philosophy of living we naturally introspectively ask ourselves: “Who am I? What motivates me?” For different people come different answers; our perception of ourselves often is not our reality. Many would like to think of themselves as living ‘religious’ lives, or living a reasonable “ethical life’ but often we allow our desires cloud our perception of who we really are.
In my self analysis I perceive that I live an ethical life style. In my attempt to objectively view my actions and motivations, I noticed several indicators that were either inconsistent with a religious or aesthetic life, or were supportive of an ethical life. I will examine each life in turn with examples that illustrate my alignment or dissidence with the said categorical life.
The Aesthetic Life
In my personal life I abhor dramatic or theatrical displays of emotion or conflict. When there is emotional dissonance in my life I seek the fastest and most efficient solution so as to eliminate the emotional turmoil. I am forthright and blunt with my feelings seeking for solidity and “the bottom line”. These actions eliminate much potential “interesting” living; many people who live the aesthetic life seek out and revel in such emotional unsurety and bore of uniformity.
Another indicator that I am not living an aesthetic life is that I gain power and motivation from commitments. I construct personal commitments and account to myself in their completion because I feel the need to have that structure in my life. Those who live the aesthetic life shy from commitment preferring to be free to indulge in spontaneous interesting activities rather than be tied down. Their ambition and commitments are like the ocean, constantly revising the moving depending on which way the wind is blowing today. They will constantly look to see what, or who, is more interesting than what they are currently occupied with.
The Religious Life
Although I personally am religious (meaning that I have a belief in deity) I do not believe I live a religious life. I have faith in a God, and that he is striving to communicate to me. My first reaction to conflict or dilemma is not “what would my God have me do?” but “what makes logical sense? What will ultimately bring the greatest quantity of long term happiness?” For one who lives a religious life is not concerned with their desires or well being or with his fellow man but for his Deity and the relationship that exists therein.
If God asked me to do something that did not make sense to me, such as Abraham when he was asked to sacrifice Isaac, I do not think I would do it based purely on faith, at least not initially. It might trigger a change in me to live a religious life, but currently I think the first thing I would do is ask “why”, which is rational, not faithful. A true religious liver, or as Kierkegaard coined “a knight of faith”, would act without question.
The Ethical Life
The Ethical life if venerated by Georg Hegel as the greatest, or highest, form of living. It is reason based. It is a system of weights and measurements, the person is always calculating what will be most beneficial for him and his fellowman. Commitment and sacrifice are employed to achieve a greater end.
This afternoon I was in a cafeteria and was hungry. I went to the various food establishments to view their goods. I saw many choices, and as I viewed the selections aromas triggered in my brain intense hunger. As I surveyed the food I had a desire to eat it, but as I viewed the prices I was forcibly reminded of last night when I was in the grocery store. The pricesfor the food was much higher for the amount of nourishment here than it was at the store, so I left the cafeteria and decided to forgo lunch for a few hours until I returned home. This is an example of living an ethical life. I sacrificed what I very sensually wanted for logical reasons. I believed that practicing self sacrifice then would greater benefit me in the future.
As mentioned about I commit myself to principles and values which is a sign of the ethical life. Often times I will ignore chosen aspects of living because I am not yet ready to commit to living them. When I learn I feel an obligation to apply through commitments, and when I commit I feel it almost impossible to discard the commitment. I do this because I believe that by binding down ourselves in actions we ultimately can have greater freedom and pleasure in the long run.
In reflection of Kierkegaard’s philosophical standards I feel confident in my assessment I would be considered currently to be living an ethical life. This knowledge allows me to better understand myself, understand others, and apply that understanding (in my ethical way) to best benefit myself and my fellow man. Through this I can understand and better predict what and why different people do different things, I can more accurately select friends, associates and environments which will support and augment my personal characteristics and endeavors. By understanding others you better understand yourself.