Continental Philosophy Review

, Volume 43, Issue 4, pp 485–507 | Cite as

Fearful asymmetry: Kierkegaard’s search for the direction of time

  • Patrick Stokes


The ancient problem of whether our asymmetrical attitudes towards time are justified (or normatively required) remains a live one in contemporary philosophy. Drawing on themes in the work of McTaggart, Parfit, and Heidegger, I argue that this problem is also a key concern of Kierkegaard’s Either/Or (1843). Part I of Either/Or presents the “aesthete” as living a temporally volatilized form of life, devoid of temporal location, sequence and direction. Like Parfit’s character “Timeless,” these aesthetes are indifferent to the direction of time and seemingly do not experience McTaggart’s “A-Series” mode of temporality. The “ethical” conception of time that Judge William offers in Part II contains an attempt to normativize the direction of time, by re-orienting the aesthete towards an awareness of time’s finitude. However, the form of life Judge William articulates gives time sequentiality but not necessarily the robust directionality necessary to justify (and make normative) our asymmetrical attitudes to time. Hence while Either/Or raises this problem it remains unanswered until The Concept of Anxiety (1844). Only with the eschatological understanding of time developed in The Concept of Anxiety does Kierkegaard answer the question of why directional and asymmetrical conative and affective attitudes towards time are normative.


Kierkegaard Temporality Heidegger McTaggart Parfit Eschatology 


  1. Bedell, George C. 1969. Kierkegaard’s conception of time. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 73 (3): 266–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Behrendt, Kathy. 2006. Reasons to be fearful: Strawson, death and narrative. In Narrative and understanding persons, ed. Daniel D. Hutto, 133–153. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Connell, George. 2006. Four funerals: The experience of time by the side of the grave. In International Kierkegaard commentary: Prefaces/writing sampler and three discourses on imagined occasions, ed. Robert L. Perkins, 419–438. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Davenport, John J., and Anthony Rudd eds. 2001. Kierkegaard after MacIntyre: Essays on freedom, narrative and virtue. LaSalle, IL: Open Court.Google Scholar
  5. Dunning, Stephen N. 1985. Kierkegaard’s systematic analysis of anxiety. In International Kierkegaard commentary: The concept of anxiety, ed. Robert L. Perkins, 7–33. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Ferguson, Harvey. 2003. Modulation: A typology of the present age. In Immediacy and reflection in Kierkegaard’s thought, ed. Paul Cruysberghs, Johan Taels, and Karl Verstrynge, 121–142. Leuven: Leuven University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Grøn, Arne. 2000. Temporality in Kierkegaard’s edifying discourses (trans: K. Brian Söderquist.). In Kierkegaard Studies Yearbook 2000, ed. Niels Jørgen Cappelørn, Herman Deuser and Jon Stewart, 191–204. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyer.Google Scholar
  8. Grøn, Arne. 2001. Spirit and temporality. In The concept of anxiety (trans: K. Brian Söderquist.). In Kierkegaard Studies Yearbook 2001, ed. Niels Jørgen Cappelørn, Herman Deuser and Jon Stewart, 128–140, Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyer.Google Scholar
  9. Heidegger, Martin. 1962. Being and time (trans: Macquarrie, John and Robinson, Edward.). New York, Hagerstown, San Francisco and London: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
  10. Hinman, Lawrence M. 1980. Temporality and self-affirmation: A Kierkegaardian Critique of Nietzsche’s Doctrine of the Eternal Recurrence of the Same. Kierkegaardiana XI 93–119.Google Scholar
  11. Høffding, Harald. 1905. A philosophical confession. Journal of Philosophy Psychology and Scientific Methods 2 (4): 85–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. James, William. 1907. Pragmatism: A new name for some old ways of thinking. New York: Longmans, Green and Co.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. James, William. 1912. Essays in radical empiricism. New York: Longmans, Green and Co.Google Scholar
  14. Kangas, David. 2007. Kierkegaard’s instant: On beginnings. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Kant, Immanuel. 1983. “The end of all things”. In Perpetual Peace and Other Essays (trans: Ted Humphrey.). Indianapolis, IA: Hackett.Google Scholar
  16. Lucretius. 1951. The nature of the Universe (trans: Ronald Latham.). Middlesex: Penguin.Google Scholar
  17. MacIntyre, Alasdair. 1984. After virtue, 2nd ed. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.Google Scholar
  18. McDonald, William. 2003. Love in Kierkegaard’s Symposia. Minerva 7: 60–93.Google Scholar
  19. McTaggart, J.Ellis. 1908. The unreality of time. Mind New Series 17 (68): 457–474.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. McTaggart, J.Ellis. 1909. The relation of time and eternity. Mind 18 (71): 343–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Parfit, Derek. 1984. Reasons and persons. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  22. Pound, Marcus. 2005. Having a good time with Kierkegaard: McTaggart, Kierkegaard, and the ethical status of time. Philosophical Writings 28(Spring): 13–22.Google Scholar
  23. Price, Hew. 1996. Time’s arrow and Archimedes’ point: New directions for the physics of time. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Roberts, Robert C. 2008. Kierkegaard and ethical theory. In Ethics, love and faith in Kierkegaard, ed. Edward F. Mooney, 83–102. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Rovane, Carol. 1993. Self-reference: The radicalization of Locke. Journal of Philosophy 90 (2): 73–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Rudd, Anthony. 2008. Kierkegaard on patience and the temporality of the self: The virtues of a being in time. Journal of Religious Ethics 36 (3): 491–509.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Taylor, Mark C. 1975. Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous authorship: A study of time and the self. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Warren, James. 2004. Facing death: Epicurus and his critics. Oxford: Clarendon Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy Group, School of HumanitiesUniversity of HertfordshireHatfieldUK

Personalised recommendations