Søren Kierkegaard's Self-Affirming Moral Philosophy and its Relationship to Charles Taylor's Notions of Relativism and Authenticity
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This essay seeks to deny Alasdair MacIntyre’s charge that Kierkegaard’s ethical theory, as laid out in Either/Or, lies at the heart of contemporary moral problems similar to what Charles Taylor himself sees plaguing western liberal society in the form of “soft relativism” and “authenticity.” Through examining concepts of “radical choice” and “narrative,” this essay will uncover a sufficiently rational basis for Kierkegaard’s notion of an existential self-affirming moral identity. In order to defend Kierkegaard’s post-Romantic self-affirming moral theory against MacIntyre’s criticisms, a historical-philosophical context that allows for the emergence of Kierkegaard’s thought will be established. This essay will also address MacIntyre’s criticisms of the ethical theory in Either/Or, and through a defense attempt to establish a rational and justifiable basis for that same theory rooted in what will be termed the “narrative of choice.” Establishing a rational and justifiable basis for Kierkegaard’s ethical theory serves two purposes. First, it denies the charge made by MacIntyre that the ethical theory setout by Kierkegaard in Either/Or is the outcome of the Enlightenment’s failure to provide a rational basis for public moral discourse. Second, it prevents Kierkegaard’s theory from being seen as the forefather of the sort of soft relativism and authenticity that Taylor claims haunts contemporary western liberal moral identity. It will be the conclusion of this essay that in cultivating a reliable narrative of committed ethical choices, as is advocated in the latter portions of Either/Or, the moral agent insulates her self-affirming moral identity from both soft relativism and authenticity. While the rejection of transcendent values and the defining of relationships exclusively in terms of personal self-fulfillment may be a feature of contemporary western liberal society, it is not a feature or outcome of the moral philosophy found in the pages of Kierkegaard’s first major aesthetic work, Either/Or.