Philosophical Healing: Life Lessons from Kierkegaard by Robert Ferguson

In my last post  I mentioned a lovely new ‘Life Lessons From Great Thinkers’ series from The School of Life, consisting of a selection of books that outline the teachings of various philosophers and consider how we can apply these to our own lives.

While I somehow stopped myself from buying Life Lessons From Kierkegaard by Robert Ferguson on my recent visit to the Waterstones in Liverpool, I soon gave in and bought it on my Kindle. I keep telling myself that it’s only a little book, and £3.99 is a much more reasonable price than £6.99 for the paperback, but the truth of the matter is that I really want the book on my shelves…. This could easily get dangerous and I’ll not only end up buying the paperback copy of the Kierkegaard, but also the rest of the series.

Life Lessons by The School of Life
The series features ‘Life Lessons” from Bergson, Byron, Freud, Hobbes, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.
Image from The School of Life.

But anyway, I really love the concept of applying philosophy to your own life: most blog readers will know how much I go on and on about Marcus Aurelius’s teachings on anxiety and Michel de Montaigne’s meditations on low self-esteem. Kierkegaard, however, I knew much less about. I’d read The Seducer’s Diary, and found it really quite odd yet compelling, but I’d never explored Kierkegaard’s philosophy itself much.

Life Lessons From Kierkegaard aims to be an accessible introduction to the philosopher as well as a guide to how his teachings apply to modern life, and I certainly found myself learning more about Søren himself. He was the youngest of seven children, and before he reached the age of twenty-two all but he and one older brother had died, leaving a certain expectation in his mind that he too wouldn’t last long.

Søren’s father Michael was from the lowest peasant class, but at the age of twenty-one he was released from service and ended up making a fortune from importing textiles; a fortune that would later allow for Søren’s comfortable life as a thinker and writer. Robert Ferguson introduces us to so many more stories about the philosopher’s early life and its influence of his later work, but this would require a separate post!

The ‘life lessons’ of Kierkegaard discussed in Ferguson’s text are as followed:

  • How to Wake Up
  • How to See through Things
  • How to Avoid Living in the Past
  • Why We Should Cultivate Dissatisfaction
  • On Not Thinking Too Much
  • When to Say Nothing
  • How to Deal with Despair
  • How to Think about Death
  • Choosing to Choose

There’s a wonderful selection of themes covered really, and it’s a really interesting philosophical approach to self-help (although does classifying it as ‘self-help’ ruin the concept here slightly?) Some of my favourite quotes are as follow:

“[One of Kierkegaard’s main teachings is] to the effect that life can only be understood backwards but must be lived forwards. I still think of it every time I sit facing the wrong way on a train.” Ferguson

“[Kierkegaard] suggests that there are very good reasons why we don’t want to open our eyes, not the least of which is how frightening and disorientating it might be to wake up one day to the true confusion and despair from which sleep has shielded us.” Ferguson

One does not enjoy the immediate object of one’s pleasure but something else, another element which one has arbitrarily introduced. One sees the middle of a play, one reads the third part of a book. In this fashion one derives a quite different enjoyment than that which the author has so kindly intended for us.” Kierkegaard, Either/Or

Ours is essentially a common-sense, reflective age, passionless, briefly flaring up in moments of enthusiasm and then wisely reverting to indolence.” Kierkegaard, Two Ages: A Literary Review, 1846


Robert Ferguson’s writing could have been polished a little more in this book, and at times it got quite confusing and complex (even for a discussion of Kierkegaard), but it was worth reading. All in all, I’m really enjoying this series by The School of Life so far and I’d love to read more.

The next “Life Lesson” I’m planning to read and review? Almost certainly that of Nietzsche or Byron.

Lucy
It's good to meet you! I started Tolstoy Therapy back in 2012 to share my healing journey through anxiety and PTSD with books. I also climb mountains, go on solo adventures, and write over at livewildly.co.