Stages on Life's Way

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Stages on Life's Way (April 30, 1845) is a pseudonymous book by Søren Kierkegaard published under the name of Hilarius Bookbinder. The day before (April 29, 1845) Kierkegaard published his book Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions under his own name. The three discourses are On the Occasion of a Confession, On the Occasion of a Wedding, and At a Graveside. The first part of Stages is In Vino Veritas, the second Reflections on Marriage , and the third Guilty Not-Guilty. It would seem the two books should be read together. Howard Hong thought it should be read with both Either/Or and Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions. The book was translated in 1940 by Walter Lowrie and again in 1988 by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. These quotes are from the Hong translation.

His three divisions is well summed up in his Concluding Word.

  • Such works are mirrors: when an ape looks in, no apostle can look out. (p. 8)



  • What a splendid occupation to prepare a secret for oneself, how seductive to enjoy it, and yet at times how precarious to have enjoyed it, how easy for it to miscarry for one. In other words, if someone believes that a secret is transferable as a matter of course, that it belongs to the bearer, he is mistaken, for the [riddle] “Out of the eater comes something to eat” is valid here; but if anyone thinks that the only difficulty entailed in enjoying it is not to betray it, he is also mistaken, for one also takes on the responsibility of not forgetting it. Yet it is even more disgusting to recollect incompletely and to turn one’s soul into a transit warehouse for damaged goods.
    • p. 9
  • When memory is refreshed again and again, it enriches the soul with a mass of details that distract recollection.
    • p. 14

In Vino Veritas[edit]

  • When I now think of this, it seems almost absurd to me that five such people planned a banquet. Most likely nothing would have come of it had not Constantin Constantius been along.
  • p. 22-23
  • How rich is language in the service of desire in comparison with language when it describes actuality.
    • p. 29-30
  • if love is ludicrous, it is just as ludicrous whether I find a princess or a servant girl
    • p. 36
  • What a strange invention is marriage! Is it something pagan or something Christian, or something sacred or something secular, or something civil or a little of everything?
    • p. 63
  • I shall speak in praise of woman. Just as the person who is supposed to talk about the divine must be inspired by the divine in order to be able to talk worthily and therefore is taught what he is to say by the divine himself, so it is also with speaking about woman. Woman, even less than the god, is a whim from a man’s brain, a daydream, something one hits upon all by oneself and argues about pro et contra. No, only from her herself does one learn to talk about her.
    • p. 73
  • He jumped in through the window, and just as he was jumping out, the others, who had been looking at him, were standing nearby. Triumphantly holding some papers in his hands, he shouted, “A manuscript by His Honor the Judge. If I have published his others, it is no more than my duty to publish this also.” Who am I? I am not worth asking about, for I am the least of all, and people make me very bashful by asking this question. I am pure being and thus almost less than nothing. I am the pure being and thus almost less than nothing.
    • p. 85-86

Some Reflections on Marriage in Answer to Objections, by A Married Man[edit]

  • My dear reader, if you do not have the time and opportunity to take a dozen years of your life to travel around the world to see everything a world traveler is acquainted with, if you do not have the capability and qualifications from years of practice in a foreign language to penetrate to the differences in national characteristics as these become apparent to the research scholar, if you are not bent upon discovering a new astronomical system that will displace both the Copernican and the Ptolemaic-then marry; and if you have time for the first, the capability for the second, the idea for the last, then marry also.
    • p. 89
  • Only the divine justice of marriage is able continually to give like for like.
    • p. 93
  • A positive resolution has only one risk-not to be true to itself; a negative resolution always has a double danger: not to be true to itself, which resembles the danger in the positive resolution with the one difference that all this faithfulness is without reward, is a faded glory and as barren as a bachelor’s life; and then the second risk-whether all this faithfulness whereby one is true to oneself in one’s negative resolution is not a deviation that for all its faithfulness is eventually rewarded with repentance.
    • p. 109
  • In that little book [On the Nobility and Excellence of the Female Sex, and the Superiority of the Same over the Male Sex, by Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, 1486–1535] it is adduced as proof that in Hebrew woman is called Eve (life), man is called Adam (earth) – ergo. Something like this is excellent as a jest in an exchange of words in which everything is absolutely decided and signed and sealed with both the notary public’s seal and God’s. So it is also when the author cites in another demonstration that when a woman falls into the water she floats on top whereas a man, if he falls into the water, sinks-ergo. This demonstration lends itself to other uses, which helps explain the fact that so many witches were burned in the Middle Ages. It is a few years since I read that little book, but it was highly amusing to me. The most comical things in the natural sciences and philology appear in the most naïve way.
    • Stages on Life’s Way, Hong, p. 126-127
  • Is an author less rich in ideas because ordinary observation finds nothing, while the reader who has made him his sole study nevertheless discovers an ever-greater wealth? Is it a perfection in human works of art that they look best at a distance? Is it an imperfection in the meadow flower, as in all the works of God, that under microscopic scrutiny it becomes lovelier and lovelier, more and more exquisite, more and more delicate?
    • Stages on Life’s Way, Hong, p. 141
  • Nowadays woman is continually characterized in the highest terms, in the most flattering phrases, up to, indeed, far beyond the fantastic. Everything that is great in life is ascribed to her; on this point poetry and gallantry agree.
    • p. 146
  • A resolution must be added to falling in love. But a resolution presupposes reflection, but reflection is immediacy’s angel of death. So it stands, and if it was right that reflection should attack falling in love, then there will never be a marriage. But that is precisely what it should not do-indeed, what is more, even prior to and simultaneously with this process, which through reflection comes to a resolution, there is the negative resolution that fends off any reflection of this nature as a spiritual temptation. While reflection’s destroying angel of death ordinarily goes about calling for death to the immediate, there is still one immediacy it allows to stand-the immediacy of falling in love, which is a wonder.
    • p. 157
  • The religious abstraction desires to belong to God alone.
    • p. 173
  • Importunity toward God is a kind of impertinent camaraderie, even if he himself does not understand it that way. He can even be truly humble, but in the very same way, humanly speaking, a subordinate can have the most loyal enthusiasm for his king and be far superior to those who are neither hot nor cold but are numbers and cattle, but yet when he seeks an audience with the king he can wish to be permitted to enter through a door different from the one assigned to all subjects. To me it seems that there must be something terrible about his being turned away and hearing those words: The other way, then we shall see what can be done.
    • p. 174-175

“Guilty?”/”Not Guilty?” A story of Suffering An Imaginary Psychological Construction[edit]

  • What gives the lake an even more inclosed look is that the quagmire is thickly overgrown with reeds; indeed, there is nothing like it in Denmark, at least so says my friend the naturalist. Only in one place has a little waterway been opened up; here, there is a flat-bottomed boat, in which we two, he on behalf of science and I on behalf of friendship and curiosity, poled ourselves out. With effort we brought the boat out, for the channel has hardly a foot of water.
    • p. 187-188
  • The naturalist sat totally absorbed in his work, asking just once if I had found anything, a question that did not seem to expect a reply since he quite appropriately did not regard my fishing as being on behalf of science. Well, I had not found what he was searching for, either, but something totally different. And so each of us sat in his end of the boat, each one occupied with his find, he for the sake of science, and I for the sake of friendship and curiosity.
    • p. 189
  • My father was married, and he was the most depressed person I’ve known.
    • p. 197
  • January 9 Morning: Why do I feel happier in the distance of possibility?
    • p. 205
  • January 15 Morning: A year ago today. Is this how it is to be engaged? I knew what it is to be in love, that I knew-but this new thing, to be convinced that the object of love is secured, that she is mine, mine forever. Is this the way it is to be a mother? wailed Rachel when the twins’ struggle began in her womb, and many a person presumably has said this to himself when he obtained what he craved: Is this the way it is? And is it not as if there were two natures struggling within me: have I become ten years older or have I become ten years younger?
    • p. 215-216
  • Spiritually I shall always be able to be something for her. We shall then, both of us, grow older; there indeed comes a time when youth does not crave in the same way, and then in a distinctive sense our love will have the years ahead of it. Or is, then, the most enviable love that whose most beautiful was when the lovers could sweep out onto the floor in a waltz? She is reserved, quiet, entirely calm; when someone is present, she is as cheerful as ever.
    • p. 226
  • For what is it to have spirit but to have will, and what is it to have will but to have it beyond all measure, since the person who does not have it beyond all measure but only to a certain degree does not have it at all.
    • p. 248
  • With a sword hanging over my head, in peril of my life, I discover the religious crisis with a primitivity such as if I had not known of them before, with such a primitivity that if they had not been I would have to discover them.
    • p. 257
  • It is comic that a mentally disordered man picks up any piece of granite and carries it around because he thinks it is money, and in the same way it is comic that Don Juan has 1,003 mistresses, for the number simply indicates that they have no value. Therefore, one should stay within one’s means in the use of the word “love.”
    • p. 293
  • May 4. Morning: A year ago today. It has happened. In two days I have already managed to introduce that terrible word into the course of conversation. There is an enormous difference when a warship and a nutshell put out to sea, and the difference is externally visible. It is different with words. The same word can indicate an even greater difference, and yet the word is the same. The word has not come up between us in a pathos-filled way, but it comes up again and again, mixed in among various things in order to clarify the mood.
    • p. 322
  • Lessing was indeed wrong in saying that the swiftest thing of all, swifter than the sound and light, is the transition from good to evil, for even swifter is das Zugleich, the all-at-once. Indeed, transition itself is a time, that that which is all-at-once is swifter than any transition. Transition is still a qualification of time, but the speed with which that which once was and never is forgotten is present, although it was indeed present: that speed is the swiftest of all, for it is so swift that its being absent is, of course, but an illusion.
    • p. 386
  • Here the diary ends for the time being. It deals with nothing, yet not in the sense of Louis XVI’s diary, the alternating contents of which are supposed to have been: on one day, went hunting; the second day, rein [nothing]; the third day, went hunting. It contains nothing, but if, as Cicero says, the easiest letters deal with nothing, then sometimes it is the hardest life that deals with nothing.
    • p. 397

Letter to the Reader[edit]

  • It is a contradiction to be willing to sacrifice one’s life for a finite goal, and in the eyes of poetry such behavior is comic, akin to dancing oneself to death or wanting to walk with spurs when one is bowlegged and falls down on them and is killed-rather than quit wearing spurs. Oh, what an enticing task for a comic poet, but without passion, no poet, no comic poet either.
    • p. 410
  • Does it help one to believe in what is great by knowing it is historical?
    • p. 438
  • To Repent of Nothing Is the Highest Wisdom-the Forgiveness of Sin. Hand in hand with such negative principles as: Admire nothing, expect nothing, etc. is the negative principle: Repent of nothing or, to use other words that perhaps are not as ethically disturbing: Regret nothing. The real secret of this wisdom is that an esthetic principle has been embellished and given the appearance of an ethical principle. Understood esthetically from an ethical position this is entirely true, for the free spirit essentially ought not to esteem the whole range of the esthetic so highly that he regrets something. For example, if someone has become poor, then it is correct to say: To regret nothing is the highest wisdom-that is, act by virtue of the ethical. Then the principle means: continually to cut down the bridge of the past behind one in order continually to be able to act at the moment.
    • p. 474
Concluding Word
  • Sophists can be grouped in three classes. (1) Those who from the esthetic reach an immediate relation to the religious. Here religion becomes poetry, history; the sophist himself is enthusiastic about the religious, but poetically enthusiastic; in his enthusiasm he will to make any sacrifice, even lose his life for it, but does not for that reason become a religious person. At the peak of his prestige, he becomes confused and let himself be confused with a prophet and an apostle. (2) Those who from the immediate ethical enter into an immediate relation to the religious. For them religion becomes positive doctrine of obligation, instead of repentance, being the supreme task of the ethical expressly negative. The sophist remains untested in infinite reflection, a paragon of the positive epitomizaton. Here is the sphere of his enthusiasm, and without guile he has joy in aspiring others to the same. (3) Those who place the metaphysical in an immediate relation to the religious. Here religion becomes history, which is finished; the sophist is finished with religion and at most becomes an inventor of the system.
    • p. 486

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