Autonomy, authenticity, and the flight from God: The phenomena of despair and defiance in the writings of Soren Kierkegaard and Thomas Aquinas

Peter Edward Hojnowski, Fordham University


In the person of Soren Kierkegaard we find a modern who struggles to counter the Hegelian attempt to divinize the mundane by attempting to retrieve an authentically Christian conception of human existence. Gregor Malantschuk, in his book Kierkegaard's Thought, cites the Danish editors of Kierkegaard's journals and papers as describing this project as the collection of material for a characterization of the spirit of the Middle Ages through a general historical study of the age's distinctive features in all the areas of spiritual-intellectual life.^ In pursuing this project, Kierkegaard avoided a systematic treatment and instead sought to articulate the fundamental conditions and attitudes which characterize the Christian conception of human existence by portraying mentalities which are contrary to an authentic Christian existence and by analyzing concepts which bear upon fundamental conditions of such an existence. The existential possibilities which he uncovered have the potential to bring forth their greatest fruit when they are applied to one of the most systematic products of the Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas' ethical theory.^ In this present work, it will be our task to attempt to bring forth some of this fruit by applying Kierkegaard's existential insights to the ethical theory which Thomas Aquinas unfolds in the Secunda Pars of the Summa Theologiae. Our comparison of Kierkegaard's thought with the most characteristic thinker of the Christian Middle Ages will first serve to illuminate Kierkegaard's own religious intent by juxtaposing his anthropological and ethical writings to those of a aystematic Christian philosopher. Secondly, a reevaluation of Thomistic ethics from the modern perspective of Kierkegaard's anthropological contemplation would allow such existentialist themes as self-appropriation, value-theory, authenticity and alienation to secure a place within an ethical system which continues to attract the attention of contemporary ethical theorists. ^

Subject Area

Medieval literature|German literature|Philosophy of Religion|Philosophy

Recommended Citation

Hojnowski, Peter Edward, "Autonomy, authenticity, and the flight from God: The phenomena of despair and defiance in the writings of Soren Kierkegaard and Thomas Aquinas" (1993). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9403298.