Either/Or Book Summary - Either/Or Book explained in key points
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Either/Or summary

A Fragment of Life

4.4 (56 ratings)
18 mins
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    Shaped by loss

    Born into a wealthy family in Copenhagen in 1813, by the age of just 25 Kierkegaard had lost six of his seven siblings, as well as both parents – leaving him nearly alone in the world. This early and intense confrontation with death shaped his outlook profoundly. He was drawn to deep introspection, theology, and philosophy from the start, but his experience of loss came to dominate his point of view

    In his grief, he came to view the comfortable bourgeois, Christian, middle-class life around him as an illusion – one that distracted people from the deeper meaning of existence. He saw clearly that death awaited everyone, that it could come at any time. Perhaps it was this looming sense of mortality that drove him to work constantly

    Obsessed with mortality, Kierkegaard devoted himself to writing. Between 1843 and 1855, he published over 20 books articulating his philosophy and critique of modern life. Alongside this outsized philosophical production, he was an avid journal writer and they provide considerable insight into his philosophical investigations.

    His first major work is Either/Or, which appeared in 1843. Here, Kierkegaard explored the idea of aesthetic and ethical ways of life in a creative way through a fictional collection of letters. This was followed just a year later by his seminal Philosophical Fragments. In 1846 came the influential Concluding Unscientific Postscript, which expanded on existentialist notions of truth and subjectivity.

    Works like these argued that superficial religious faith allows people to live inauthentic lives conforming to societal norms. True fulfillment requires facing life's hard truths – the chaos, suffering, and absurdity of the human condition – and making radical choices to live with passion and purpose.

    Kierkegaard rejected abstract theologizing and philosophy. He used literary techniques to emphasize subjective viewpoints and to make readers confront the uncertainty of real life. His focus on individual choice and responsibility in finding meaning laid the groundwork for existentialism.

    But Kierkegaard took existential angst far beyond his successors. He saw the absurdity of an indifferent universe in the face of human desires for order and purpose. For him, only embracing this absurdity allowed authentic religious faith – a paradoxical belief at first glance. But it was the simple gospel teachings of his father when he was a child from which Soren found comfort, not the organized church.

    The next sections will explore some key themes of Either/Or more deeply. By doing so, we’ll unwrap the aesthetic and ethical lifestyles Kierkegaard contrasts, his views on choice and anxiety, the philosophical legacy of his ideas, and their continuing resonance today.

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    What is Either/Or about?

    Either/Or (1843) contrasts aesthetic and ethical approaches to life through a series of fictional letters between two characters. Their dialogue explores themes of existential anxiety, subjectivity, and the search for meaning, and became foundational for 20th century existentialism.

    Either/Or Review

    Either/Or (1843) explores the fundamental choices and dilemmas we face in life, making it a thought-provoking read. Here's why this book is worth your time:

    • Featuring a rich tapestry of philosophical reflections and existential musings, it challenges readers to ponder the complexities of human existence.
    • The book offers profound insights into the nature of love, freedom, and individuality, sparking introspection and deep contemplation.
    • Through its engaging and thought-provoking narrative, it presents diverse perspectives on life's biggest questions, ensuring a stimulating and intellectually rewarding experience.

    Who should read Either/Or?

    • Philosophy enthusiasts
    • Anyone seeking intellectual stimulation
    • Individuals interested in existential themes

    About the Author

    Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) was an influential and prolific Danish philosopher and religious thinker considered a founder of existentialism. His major philosophical works include Either/Or (1843), Fear and Trembling (1843), Philosophical Fragments (1844), Stages on Life’s Way (1845), The Concept of Anxiety (1844), and The Sickness Unto Death (1849).

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    Either/Or FAQs 

    What is the main message of Either/Or?

    The main message of Either/Or revolves around the concept of choice and the implications of living authentically versus aesthetically.

    How long does it take to read Either/Or?

    The reading time for Either/Or varies, but it generally takes a considerable amount of time. The Blinkist summary can be read in around 15 minutes.

    Is Either/Or a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Either/Or is a thought-provoking read that delves into deep philosophical themes, making it worth exploring for those interested in existential questions.

    Who is the author of Either/Or?

    The author of Either/Or is Soren Kierkegaard.

    What to read after Either/Or?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Either/Or, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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