Kierkegaard’s emulation of Socrates in the concept of irony

Praxis 2 (1):11-29 (2009)
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Kierkegaard’s appropriation of Socrates in his work is a well trodden area of inquiry for the Kierkegaard scholar. It is often assumed that Kierkegaard’s earlier work The Concept of Irony does not share the same attitude towards Socrates as the later texts; thus the dissertation is regularly overlooked. This paper challenges this orthodoxy through a close reading of The Concept of Irony. While Kierkegaard’s emulative orientation to Socrates is usually associated with the authorship proper, I will endeavour to locate such emulation in Kierkegaard’s dissertation. I will attempt to show that Kierkegaard presents Socrates as totally consumed by irony yet deliberately undermines the method employed to reach this reading of Socrates. This ironic method of investigation, I claim, mimics a characteristic that both the early and the later Kierkegaard associate with Socrates: the effect of Socratic irony that induces a transformation in an interlocutor’s subjective orientation toward a phenomenon. The author of the The Concept emulates Socratic irony in the hope that his readers will alter how they see Socrates rather than what they see; I will argue that this aspect of The Concept’s style is a significant point of similarity between this early work and the later authorship.



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Matt Bennett
University of Essex

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