"For Self-Examination/Judge for Yourself" by Søren Kierkegaard

For Self-Examination

Against Humanity

Jesus and Socrates have much in common, according to Kierkegaard: Both were terrible robbers and both were sentenced to death for their robbery.

“What is assaulting a lone traveler on a highway perhaps a half-dozen times compared with his assault upon the whole human race and upon what it means to be a human being! A thief can steal my money; in so doing we are in disagreement, but in another sense we are completely in agreement, because the thief really shares my opinion that money is a great good. A slanderer can steal my honor and reputation, but the slanderer shares my opinion that honor and reputation are a great good, and that is why he robs me of mine. But in a much more cunning way one can rob us, so to speak, of all our money, honor, reputation, etc., steal from our human lives that in which we human beings have our lives. That is indeed what he, the accused, did.

He did not steal the rich man’s money–no, but he took the idea away from the possession of money. “O miserable, despicable Mammon,” that is what his life expressed… Neither was he a slanderer who diminished anyone’s honor and reputation–no, but he took the idea away from human honor and reputation. “O miserable fool’s costume,” his life expressed,…

For the kind of robbery he has committed against us all there is only one punishment–the death penalty.”

I suspect Kierkegaard would have charged both Socrates and Jesus with “crime against humanity” if the term had been in use in his time. Which is worse, to deprive millions of their lives (and yet in doing so affirm their humanity in a perverse way), or to deny the humanity and dignity of the whole human race? Socrates exposed the worthlessness of common lives by living an “examined life”; Jesus condemned humanity by contrasting it with his own blameless life. It is not surprising, therefore, that humanity sentenced them both to death, acting in self-defence.

Becoming Sober

“To become sober is: to come to oneself in self-knowledge and before God as nothing before Him, yet infinitely, unconditionally engaged.”

“To become sober is: to come so close to oneself in ones’ understanding, in one’s knowing, that all one’s understanding becomes action.”

Christ is the Prototype

“This is Christian piety: renouncing everything to serve God alone, to deny oneself in order to serve God alone –and then to have to suffer for it– to do good and then to have to suffer for it. It is this that the prototype expresses.”

The Craving

“The craving is strong momentarily; if it has its way only momentarily, then from its side there is nothing against making a lifetime promise. But to reverse the situation and say, ‘No–only not today, but tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, etc.’ — that fools the craving, since if there is waiting to do, then the craving loses the craving. If the craving is not granted entrance the moment it announces itself, ahead of every other, if it is told that it cannot be admitted until tomorrow, then the craving understands (even more swiftly than the most ingratiating and ingenious courtier or the wiliest woman understands what is means when this happens to them in the reception room), then the craving understands that it no longer is the one and only — in other words, it is no longer ‘the craving’.”


  • Kierkegaard, Søren. For Self-examination ; Judge for Yourself! Trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991.

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