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The Present Age by Soren Kierkegaard

The Present Age (1847)

by Soren Kierkegaard

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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I loved the first essay, “the present age”

The present age is a rant on the change of times and the ideas in it matter even more today. Kierkegaard here talks about the loss of passion. loss of passion leading to indolence and the lack of action. Loss of individuality and the rise of mob mentality.

It is an age of advertisement, an age of publicity. Nothing happens but there is instant publicity about it.

The second essay, “the difference between a genius and an apostle” deals with the topic of authority.

The genius is what he is by himself and apostle is what he is by divine authority. The genius has immanent teleology and the apostle has absolute teleology.

Authority is a specific quality that enters from somewhere else and qualitatively asserts itself precisely when the content of the statement or the act is made a matter of indifference aesthetically.

( )
  kasyapa | Oct 9, 2017 |
The Present Age is an impressionistic diatribe against various aspects of the "present age" that Kierkegaard finds objectionable. I'm not sure how to read it yet. Overall it feels mostly like a screed, with occasional hints of insight, curious moments of self-contradiction, and a bit too much barely concealed self-aggrandizement for my taste. A hopefully not-too-distorted gloss on the central theme would be: Kierkegaard is concerned to diagnose the social ills presented by the overwhelming modern tendency towards social leveling, while nevertheless (apparently) recognizing the way in which this leveling and the concomitant overemphasis on reflection and lack of enthusiasm somehow prepares the way for a deeper mode of religious life and insight.

I found the second, shorter essay, "On the Difference between a Genius and an Apostle," much more enjoyable. More tightly argued (as much as Kierkegaard may be said to argue anything), it is compact, precise, persuasive. Kierkegaard contends that to present religion (particularly, e.g., the words of the Apostles and Christ) as legitimated by anything other than their God-given authority is to wholly miss their specific nature and bastardize them into sayings that can be evaluated for their aesthetic qualities, their profundity, or even their rationality alongside any other instance of human communication. ( )
  lukeasrodgers | Jul 6, 2013 |
If you're gonna read Kierkegaard, don't read this book first. I never had the impression that the book delivers a comprehensive view of any subject in particular. It rather reads as a collection of pet peeves. And I don't think that Kierkegaard's observations pertain specifically to the "present age," which he seems to define as the age after Antiquity. His remarks on "talkativeness" or "the public" have been valid, I think, ever since men were men.
The second essay in the book ("Of the difference between a genius and an apostle") is more focused. ( )
  ftorralba | Mar 10, 2008 |
Philosophy and Authority, September 21, 2006

In this review I would like to consider the second essay collected in this edition -'On the Difference between the Genius and the Apostle'- which is too often overlooked by readers. Kierkegaard begins this meditation by denouncing the tendency of nineteenth century Christians to assume (even hope that) the Apostles were 'geniuses'. But according to Kierkegaard "St. Paul cannot be compared with either Plato or Shakespeare, as a coiner of beautiful similes he comes pretty low down on the scale, as a stylist his name is quite obscure..." So, why read the Apostle Paul? "Genius is what it is of itself, i.e. through that which it is in itself; an Apostle is what he is by his divine authority..." The Apostle represents an Eternal Paradox, the Word made flesh, while the genius may initially be paradoxical "but ultimately the race will assimilate what was once a paradox in such a way that it is no longer paradoxical." Thus the mere 'genius' St. Paul becomes, like the 'mere' genius of Plato, another name one surveys in a 'History of Western Thought' college course.

But an "Apostle is not born; an Apostle is a man called and appointed by God, receiving a mission from him." And what of the Apostle's message? "The new which he may have to bring forth is the essential paradox. However long it may be proclaimed in the world it remains essentially and equally new, equally paradoxical, and no immanence can assimilate it." Kierkegaard is here maintaining that while the Hegelian dialectic may assimilate every other; it cannot assimilate the Eternal Other of God's Word - "for the essential paradox is the protest against immanence." And genius, or so Kierkegaard maintains, is merely the finest flower of imminence. "Divine authority is, qualitatively, the decisive factor." Thus ultimately the Apostle appeals to Authority while the genius can only has resort to his all-to-human reason and rhetoric.

Kierkegaard rightly sees this attempt to assimilate the category 'genius' to the category 'Apostle' as a consequence of modern skepticism about God and authority. But as a consequence of this assimilation the Apostle is "an examinee who appears on the market with a new teaching." And once this teaching is assimilated "there would cease to be any difference between the teacher and the learner." Of course, this is the ideal of Enlightenment; knowledge spread through the world equalizes everyone. To these "impertinent people who will not obey, but want to reason" Kierkegaard says that, "Authority is, on the contrary, something which remains unchanged, which one cannot acquire even by understanding the doctrine perfectly." Divine Authority can never be subsumed in any dialectic because "if authority is not 'the other', if it is in any sense merely a higher potency within the identity, then there is no such thing as authority." In fact, "between man and man qua man, then, no established or continuous authority was conceivable..." Kierkegaard is indicating that either we submit to Divine Authority or we submit to nihilism. There is no third choice.

Many Christians agree with this last but still want to see the Apostle as a genius. But to do so is to make the same what is forever Other and to compare the Incomparable. "To ask whether Christ is profound is blasphemy, and is an attempt (whether conscious or not) to destroy Him surreptitiously; for the question conceals a doubt concerning His authority, and this attempt to weigh Him up is impertinent in its directness, behaving as though He were being examined, instead of which it is to Him that all power is given in heaven and upon earth." Kierkegaard reminds us that no apodictic statement can be profound. "The decisive thing is not the statement, but the fact that it was Christ who said it..." One is tempted to here sneer that people too unintelligent or immature to judge statements on their own will always need some authority. Of course, it is now commonly thought that the Enlightenment is the 'adulthood of the human race', as Kant once remarked. But this is the exact possibility that Kierkegaard is denying; humanity, in its relation to God, will never achieve adulthood. Humanity will always be under the Authority of the Divine Other.

Even the great genius of the genuine philosopher does not escape this stricture. "What Plato says on immortality really is profound, reached after deep study; but then poor Plato has no authority whatsoever." In fact, philosophy, which is thought to be the ultimate 'authority' for our modern 'enlightenment', can be considered the ultimate target of this essay. "The whole of modern philosophy is therefore affected, because it has done away with obedience on the one hand, and authority on the other, and then, in spite of everything, claims to be orthodox." By 'modern philosophy' Kierkegaard is of course here alluding to Hegel. The most important distinction that Kierkegaard makes between the philosopher (i.e., the greatest genius) and the Apostle is that it is only the Apostle that has a purpose, properly speaking. How can we recognize the Apostle? "...[T]hat a man is called by a revelation to go out in the world, to proclaim the Word, to act and to suffer, to a life of uninterrupted activity as the Lord's messenger." But it is otherwise with genius. "Genius has only an imminent teleology; the Apostle is absolutely, paradoxically, teleologically placed."

The genius is "an unnecessary superfluity and a precious ornament." This superfluity is underlined by Kierkegaard's closing remarks on genius: "he has nothing to do with others, he does not write in order that: in order to enlighten men or in order to help them along the right road, in order to bring about something; in short, he does not write in order that. The same is true of every genius. No genius has an in order that; the Apostle has absolutely and paradoxically, an in order that." A genuine 'in order that' (i.e. purpose) must come from God or it is only, at bottom, a private fancy. All philosophers, from Plato to Hegel and beyond, ultimately only have their word on the Truth of whatever it is they teach. Only the Apostle ultimately has a purpose, because it is only he that is not spreading some private fancy.

If there is a God then there is something that endures. If there is no God then we can only have a succession of genius de jour - forever. The History of Philosophy is in fact this History of 'genius de jour'. As High Modernity continues its long disintegration into our low postmodernity we see the consequences of trusting in genius without Authority. It has now been seen by our postmodern nihilists that, regarding their grand theories, Plato and Hegel (and Marx and Nietzsche) only have their word on it. Thus 'reasons' and, far more ominously, thus does everyone (or an ever increasing fraction of everyone) on the planet. Modernity had staked everything on philosophical creativity -the ongoing creation of 'world-views'- but the ongoing war between various philosophical artifacts makes on wonder about the intelligence of this bet. It is the various irreconcilable philosophical artifacts, and their world-views, that are tearing our world apart.

One certainly doesn't need to believe in Divine Authority in order to believe in the utility of authority. But, and this is the answer of philosophy to Kierkegaard's attack, if Divine Authority remains powerless (or unwilling) to enforce its Will then philosophy must continue to 'create'; that is, philosophy will continue to bring a temporary but unifying purpose into the world. All that philosophy has is this ersatz purpose to pit against nihilism - a world bereft of meaning and purpose. And this is all philosophy ever will have... ( )
2 vote pomonomo2003 | Dec 1, 2006 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Soren Kierkegaardprimary authorall editionscalculated
Alexander DruTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kaufmann, WalterIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0061300942, Paperback)

The first book ever to explore the popular culture created by new media technologies (in this case, newspapers), The Present Age is shockingly relevant despite being written more than 100 years ago. Kierkegaard's prescience in predicting a public that consumes the lives of media stars speaks for itself: "The public ... this indolent mass ... is on the look-out for distraction and soon abandons itself to the idea that everything that anyone does is done in order to give it something to gossip about." The Present Age does a better job of describing the manipulation of mass opinion by the media than anything written since the rise of television, and contains Kierkegaard's cutting wit and nimble prose, to boot.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:45 -0400)

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