published on June 29, 2017
The Problem of Kierkegaard's Socrates
This essay re-examines Kierkegaard’s view of Socrates. I consider the problem that arises from Kierkegaard’s appeal to Socrates as an exemplar for irony. The problem is that he also appears to think that Socrates cannot be represented as an exemplar for irony. Part of the problem is the paradox of self-reference that immediately arises from trying to represent x as unrepresentable. On the solution I propose, Kierkegaard does not hold that Socrates is in no way representable as an exemplar for irony. Rather, he holds that Socrates cannot be represented as an exemplar for irony in a purely disinterested way. I show how, in The Concept of Irony, Kierkegaard makes use of “limiting cases” of representation in order to bring Socrates into view as one who defies purely disinterested representation. I also show how this approach to Socrates connects up with Kierkegaard’s more general interest in the problem of ethical exemplarity, where the problem is how ethical exemplars can be given as such—that is, in such a way that purely disinterested contemplation is not the appropriate response to them.