Kierkegaard and the 3 Stages of a Full and Happy Life

What an Old Danish Philosopher Can Teach Us About Cultivating a Richer Existence

Mike Sturm
Nov 26, 2017 · 5 min read
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Image for post
Kierkegaard — or at least a statue of him

Aesthetic Stage

The main motivation in this stage is pleasure. You could think of this stage as basically a from of psychological hedonism (i.e., if it feels good, it is good). In this stage, people are after pleasure, specifically the pleasure of experiencing beauty.

Ethical Stage

In the Ethical Stage, a person has risen above her aesthetically focused mode of operation, and has begun to follow the rules and laws of her society. Inclinations give way to obligations. We feel responsibilities toward others — both particular others and others in general. We have kids, pets, jobs and coworkers, neighbors, mature friends.

“Religious” Stage

For Kierkegaard, the highest stage of life that humans can hope to be is what he calls the “Religious” Stage. Now, Kierkegaard was a Christian — that’s no secret. But the “religious” stage does not essentially involve any particular deity or belief system. It’s not about that. Rather, it’s about progressing past the previous two stages in life — and onto something profound and pulsating.


The Question For You

So which stage do you find yourself in? What motivates you? Is there a purpose in view — one that isn’t about personal gain or just meeting obligations? Where does your leap happen? Are you willing to take it?

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