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Living in the Light of Religious Ideals

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)245-255
Number of pages11
JournalRoyal Institute Of Philosophy Supplement
PublishedJul 2011

Bibliographical note

A version of this essay was first published under the title ‘Ideals and Idealism’ in John Cornwell and Michael McGhee (eds.), Philosophers and God (London: Continuum, 2009) [Google Scholar] and is re-printed here by kind permission of Continuum.

King's Authors


As a ‘poet of the religious’, Søren Kierkegaard sets before his reader a constellation of spiritual ideals, exquisitely painted with words and images that evoke their luminous beauty. Among these poetic icons are ideals of purity of heart; love of the neighbour; radiant self-transparency; truthfulness to oneself, to another person, or to God. Such ideals are what the ‘restless heart’ desires, and in invoking them Kierkegaard refuses to compromise on their purity – while insisting also that they are impossible to attain. It is the human condition which makes them impossible, and he is willing to describe this in dogmatic terms as original sin – sin being the refusal and loss of God, and thus also the loss of a self that has its ontological ground in its relationship to God – but he is more concerned to explore it in psychological terms. The human condition is for Kierkegaard characterised not merely by ignorance, but by wilful self-deception.

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