Aesthetic Life in Either/Or the Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

It only remains to see how this goal may be reached -- and Kierkagaard's book on aesthetics ends with the love letter from Climacus to Cordelia, in which we learn the true approximation of life and the simple path to the aesthetic goal (a path which Don Giovanni misses): "love is everything" (p. 407).

Kierkagaard states, "For one who loves everything ceases to have intrinsic meaning and has meaning only through the interpretation love gives to it" (p. 407). Cordelia is the object of Climacus' romantic love -- but this constitutive norm may also be applied to spiritual or religious love. At any rate, it is the latter that is only briefly touched upon in Either/Or -- and yet it is this that makes either the aesthetic life or the ethical life insufficient in and of themselves. In fact, even though the two ways must necessarily be coupled together, it is the religious love, which Kiergagaard intimates, that truly contains the object-goal to happiness. Religious love is immortal and lasts into eternity; earthly and aesthetic and/or ethical love is mortal and dies with the last breath. If Solon said, "call no man happy till he is dead," his reason was because then he would know whether he had lived sufficiently well to merit Heaven or insufficiently and merited Hell (like Don Giovanni).

This line of thinking can also help explain the rather unhappy sentiment embodied by the following statement: "Marry, and you will regret it. Do not marry, and you will also regret it. Marry or do not marry, you will regret it either way" (p. 38). How can one's aesthetics or one's ethics possibly lead one to happiness when the summation, here, is that either/or will leave you unfulfilled and full of regret? What then may one conclude about the aesthetic life? It is insufficient because it cannot answer for the entire mystery of man. If man were merely a consumer, or an animal, or a biological machine; i.e. devoid of spirit, it may hold true that the aesthetical life view held the key to happiness (as long as it was exercised with restraint). However, if we take into consideration this spiritual element, we are left with a number of questions and concerns, which Kierkagaard attempts to take up in his later works. But as he implies at the end of Either/Or, when one views ones actions in the light of God, they cannot help but appear as vanity.

Finding the "Right Desire"

"Only when there is desire is there an object," says Kierkagaard. "The desire and the object are twins" (p. 80). Finding the correct object to desire is the essence of Aristotle's "right desire," and education, prayer, and reflection offer the best avenues to establishing "right desire." Indeed, the institutionalization of religion appears to be the crux at the heart of the matter -- for if God did indeed become Incarnate and establish for men an object (union with Him in Heaven) for which to strive, then it must follow that He left on earth some means for them to attain this goal -- and thus Kierkagaard turns to the Church, which comes with any number of ready-made prayers just waiting to be learned and recited: "Since each prayer is not especially long, does not demand any time, I am able to run through my rosary much faster, yet not in the sense of my not reflecting on my prayer; on the contrary I do a lot of reflecting" (p. 578). Here we see in this subtle admission the fullness of the aesthetic life view coupled with the fullness of the ethical life view -- together incorporated into the religious life view (and the promises of happiness which it contains): we see opportunity for reflection and intellectual activity, conversation (which is what prayer is), and rigor (of the ethical variety -- found in the recitation of the rosary).

If part of the aesthetical pleasure in life lies in the pursuit of attaining -- and is largely ended upon the attainment, Heaven becomes the ultimate aesthetic pursuit, and religion provides the means of attainment. Actual attainment cannot be had in this life, thus life becomes one long train ride in which the aesthete may enjoy himself in his car so long as he does not derail from the track laid out by his God to Heaven. Likewise, his ethical training may incline him all the more to embrace the religious life -- if we concur with Kierkagaard in this respect, we find that our world has suddenly opened up to us. We are no longer limited by the fences of ethics or by the finite qualities of pleasure: we have now a world that is above our own. We may strive as Plato's philosopher to leave the cave of shadows and climb up the mountain of truth in search of greater union with the divine.

Here, within the religious parameters, Kierkagaard's Judge may be reconciled with Kierkagaard's A or his Climacus. The aesthete and the man of ethics can embrace for they are united under one roof: here one may sing with Beethoven the "Ode to Joy," which Schiller penned as he gazed up at the same Heaven, for here one may finally place his hope and his heaven in a principle of transcendence -- something that is above. The aesthete may take pleasure in what is here below, but expecting to find fulfillment in that pleasure will mislead him to Hell, just as it does Don Giovanni. Likewise, the man of ethics may make judgments concerning the correctness of behavior, but even he has no hope of fulfillment unless it is found in a higher sphere. The higher sphere is where the promise lies.


In conclusion, the aesthetic (and ethical) life depends upon maintaining the "right desire" -- and as desire is synonymous with its object (as Kierkagaard states), the object must be of sufficient worth that it can provide that which it promises -- in other words, fulfillment of desire. Now as there is a difference between earthly (or finite) desire and spiritual (or infinite) desire, one must be sure to acknowledge the fact that infinite desire must take an infinite object -- Heaven -- or else, as Mozart shows, he will find himself somewhere he does not wish to be. Thus, Kierkagaard's aesthete is limited in his desire for happiness, unless he takes into account the infinite.

Reference List

Kierkagaard, S. (1987).…

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