Part I: Kierkegaard’s Socratic Task
A guest post by Eric Lee, Doctoral Student of Theology, University of Nottingham
A warm thanks to Cynthia for inviting me to write a series of guest posts on Søren Kierkegaard. It is a welcome opportunity to serve as a kind of ‘midwife’ to a Kierkegaardian text that usually does not receive very much attention. I want to blog through a piece entitled “My Task” which was the last piece of writing that Kierkegaard intended to publish in the series of writings known as The Moment. I will have two posts which work through the piece itself and then a final, third post which will attempt to show how these insights can be reflected back on Kierkegaard’s prior authorship in its pseudonymous guises.
While many familiar with Kierkegaard will know the phrase “the moment” (Øieblikket in old Danish, augenblick in German) from his Philosophical Fragments to define that moment of decision at which something absolutely new enters the picture such that it changes everything for the reception of a moment of transformation-Kierkegaard’s series by the same name of The Moment signify a collection of writings in newspaper article and pamphlet form that intended to be a kind of ‘attack’ upon the Christendom of Copenhagen generally. Specifically, they arose from his feud with Professor Hans Lassen Martensen.
The religious climate of Kierkegaard’s time was such: because everyone was a Christian, baptised a Lutheran at birth, combined with a watered-down Christianity that used Hegelian terms to direct discourse and action (and not, say, the other way around)-the end result is that nobody in Copenhagen is thus a Christian. Those familiar with Philosophical Fragments, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, and Practice in Christianity will be well-versed with Kierkegaard’s emphasis on the paradox of faith-the God-Man of Jesus Christ-and his concommitant bemoaning of the ‘slackening’ of this paradox such that the Christian faith is lived with no difficulty whatsoever. In fact, it is as simple as putting on one’s socks in the morning!
In light of this situation, Kierkegaard saw himself as a modern-day Socrates. He spells the form of this comparison in his The Point of View for My Work as an Author, but in “My Task,” Kierkegaard goes into more depth concerning the comparison itself regarding both the person of Socrates as a distant echo of Kierkegaard as well as the culture of Athens and its own Sophistical leanings as an antecedent of Copenhagen’s Christians, especially Copenhagen’s “associate professors.”
To begin, Kierkegaard starts out with the following provocative declaration:
‘I do not call myself a Christian; I do not speak of myself as a Christian.’ It is this that I must continually repeat; anyone who wants to understand my very special task must concentrate on being able to hold this firm.
Kierkegaard’s situation is that his entire culture has declared itself Christian, but in doing so, and in the way in which it has (among other things) forgotten the offense of the Cross, it has put itself into a situation where they have abolished Christianity. So, if this is what Christianity has become, and if these are who the Christians are, then how can Kierkegaard call himself a Christian? It is here where Kierkegaard makes the Socratic comparison, culminating into a paean to Socrates himself!
The only analogy I have before me is Socrates; my task is a Socratic task, to audit the definition of what it is to be a Christian-I do not call myself a Christian (keeping the ideal free), but I can make it manifest that the others are that even less.
You, antiquity’s noble soul, you, the only human being I admiringly acknowledge as a thinker: there is only a little preserved about you, of all people the only true martyr of intellectuality, just as great qua character as qua thinker; but how exceedingly much this little is! Even though over the centuries there have lived in Christendom a few isolated significant thinkers-how I long to be able to speak with you for only a half hour, far away from these battalions of thinkers that ‘Christiendom’ places in the field under the name of Christian thinkers!
And in his Journals and Papers, Kierkegaard says:
I have the deepest respect for Luther-but was he a Socrates? No, no, far from that. When I talk purely and simply about man I say: Of all men old Socrates is the greatest-Socrates, the hero and martyr of intellectuality. Only you understood what it is to be a reformer, understood what it meant for you yourself to be that, and were that.
And later on in his Journals, Kierkegaard compares the martyrdom of Socrates to Christ:
Socrates is the only one, is “the martyr” in the eminent sense, the greatest man; whereas Christ is “the truth,” and it would be blasphemous to call him a “martyr.”
Why cannot Christ be called a martyr? Because he was not a witness to truth but was “the truth,” and his death was not martyrdom but the Atonement.
If it was not already apparent through Kierkegaard’s continual use of irony and masks throughout his pseudonymous works-and even though Kierkegaard declares Socrates a “hero” in his Concept of Irony dissertation before beginning his official authorship with Either/Or-Kierkegaard reminds us at the end of his life in The Moment and in his journals of the utmost importance of the person of Socrates for his work. Socrates is not only the one thinker worth spending time with contra the Christian “thinkers” of his age, but Socrates himself, more than Luther and the Reformers and all their passionate writings (Kierkegaard himself a Lutheran!), is the only true and proper martyr to the intellect. Socrates, more than “a few isolated significant thinkers” in Christendom, is worth mentioning as “great” in both character and thought.
Why is this so? Aside from the fact that most philosophers in the 18th and 19th centuries held Socrates in extremely high regard, it seems that Kierkegaard sees in Socrates a kindred spirit who is experiencing similar conflicts with his present age and dealt with these problems in a way most admirably in Kierkegaard’s eyes. In my next post, I will continue working through “My Task” in The Moment and thereby explore these themes further in Kierkegaard’s comparison of Christendom with a kind of Sophistry.
 Cf. Plato’s Theaetetus 150b-151d.
 There are a few exceptions, notably the recent essay by Paul Muench based on his PhD dissertation, see Paul Muench, “Kierkegaard’s Socratic Point of View,” in A Companion to Socrates (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2009), pp. 389-405. For his dissertation, see Paul Muench, “Kierkegaard’s Socratic Task” (PhD Dissertation: University of Pittsburgh, 2006). Accessed online, http://etd.library.pitt.edu/ETD/available/etd-04222006-115744/. Major studies that tend to overlook these final “moments” are Benjamin Daise, Kierkegaard’s Socratic Art (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2000) and Jacob Howland’s otherwise extremely excellent Kierkegaard and Socrates: A Study in Philosophy and Faith (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).
 Augenblick subsequently had prominent use in Nietzsche’s, Jaspers’, and Heidegger’s philosophies, although it is arguable that Nietzsche only had secondary familiarity with Kierkegaard’s work. On this, see Thomas H. Brobjer, “Nietzsche’s Knowledge of Kierkegaard,” Journal of the History of Philosophy 40, no. 4 (2002): 251-63.
 See Søren Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments / Johannes Climacus, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985. Also, for an important new translation of this text, see Søren Kierkegaard, Repetition and Philosophical Crumbs, trans. M. G. Piety (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009). I have not read this yet but it looks hopeful!
 For an in-depth and impressively exhaustive look at this life-long feud with Martensen (among other local Danish Hegelian targets), see Jon Stewart, Kierkegaard’s Relations to Hegel Reconsidered (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).
 See Søren Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), p. 35.
 Søren Kierkegaard, The Point of View, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009).
 Søren Kierkegaard, The Moment and Late Writings, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998), p. 340.
 Cf. Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity, pp. 69-144
 Although he does not argue it here, Kierkegaard makes the case in The Point of View that the whole of his authorship poses the issue of “becoming a Christian” (pp. 55, 78, 93-4). It could thus be argued that the reason Kierkegaard cannot ever call himself a “Christian” is because ultimately he is only ever on the way to becoming one, and is never in a final state of “having arrived,” contra his fellow Danish Hegelians.
 Kierkegaard, The Moment and Late Writings, p. 341, emphasis in original.
 Søren Kierkegaard, Journals and Papers 2514, 3.80 (X2 A 559 n.d., 1850).
 Kierkegaard, Journals and Papers 2651-2, 3.160 (X.1 A 119-20).
 Søren Kierkegaard, Concept of Irony with Continual Reference to Socrates, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), p. 211: “At this point, I trust that two things are apparent-namely, that irony has a world-historical validity and that Socrates is not depreciated by my interpretation of him but really becomes a hero, so that he is seen going about his business, so that he becomes visible to the one who has eyes to see, audible to the one who has ears to hear.” C.f. Matthew 11:15 and Mark 8:18.
 One notable exception is Nietzsche, but even this picture is not as straightforward as Walter Kaufmann makes it out to be in his Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Anti-Christ, 4th edition (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974). On this see Werner Dannhauser, Nietzsche’s View of Socrates (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1974) and Paul Harrison, The Disenchantment of Reason: The Problem of Socrates in Modernity (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1994), pp. 121-76.