Attunements to the Good Life: Religious Joy and the Critique of Eudaemonism in the Writings of Søren Kierkegaard

Date of Award

December 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




John D. Caputo


Bildung, Ethics, Eudaimonism, Happiness, Humor, Joy

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities


Kierkegaard has often been accused of anti-eudaemonism, but the meaning of this claim is too often allowed to remain ambiguous. By interpreting Kierkegaard's texts with attention to philological details, rhetorical effect, and their relationship to modern writers such as Spinoza, Kant, Lessing, Shaftesbury, Schopenhauer, and Martensen, I analyze Kierkegaard's critique of eudaemonism and explicate his joyous alternative. Specifically, I argue that Kierkegaard does not critique eudaemonism primarily as a structural egoism inherent in certain ethical systems, but more broadly as a closure of the self to the goodness of that which lies beyond its grasp. Kierkegaard's understanding of eudaemonism is thus counter-intuitive. While eudaemonism is often thought of as a kind of worldliness, in Kierkegaard's texts eudaemonism is portrayed as not worldly enough. After surveying the various forms of the self's eudaemonistic enclosure, I turn to the role of the comic in cultivating religious joy. I then analyze texts Kierkegaard published from 1847 through 1849, where, in place of eudaemonism, he proffers a religious joy that can joyfully embrace the tragic. I interpret these texts through the lens of Kierkegaard's relation to the tradition of cultivation (Bildung) and his notes on Spinoza's Ethics.


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