D. Anthony Storm's Commentary on Kierkegaard

Second Period: Indirect Communication (1843-46)


  • Either/Or: A Fragment of Life: Part One, Containing A's Papers/Either/Or: A Fragment of Life: Part Two, containing B's Papers, Letters to A
  • Enten-Eller. Et Livs-Fragment: Første del, indeholdende A.'s Papirer/Enten-Eller. Et Livs-Fragment: Anden del, indeholdende B.'s Papirer, Breve til B
  • A (The Young Man), ed. Victor Eremita/B (Judge William), ed. Victor Eremita
  • 1843
  • KW3/4, SKS2/3, SV1/2

Kierkegaard begins here his pseudonymous authorship proper, providing several essays and narratives that may seem prolix, haphazard and rambling. The length of this work shocked the reviewers of the day, leaving many unsure how to approach it. Either/Or was published in two volumes amounting to over 800 pages. Indeed, Kierkegaard's style throughout his philosophical works is highly idiosyncratic.

One purpose of Kierkegaard's writing (among many) was to draw his reader out of his preconceptions and away from the influence of the then very pervasive Hegelian system. This involved some lengthy works and an intricate corpus. Presenting each aspect of the esthetic and ethical stages would help to label them, and set the stage to introduce the religious sphere, a thing that Kierkegaard actually made pains to do, since he published religious discourses even while he published the philosophical works.

Kierkegaard considered Either/Or to have "a plan from the first word to the last". This work, in turn, formed part of a larger plan. Years later he would reflect on his authorship and its purpose.

My contemporaries cannot grasp the design of my writing. Either/Or divided into four parts or six parts and published separately over six years would have been all right. But that each essay in Either/Or is only part of a whole, and then the whole of Either/Or a part of a whole: that, after all, think my bourgeois contemporaries, is enough to drive one daft (Journals, VII 1 A 118).

Kierkegaard's pseudonymity was not an afterthought late in his writing career. Either/Or, which was his second major work, and his first major pseudonymous work, was crafted with several pseudonyms. Kierkegaard took unusual pains to ensure that the public would not know who wrote it. The final draft of the work was done by several hands, so that even employees at the printer's would be deceived.

An authorship that began with Either/Or and advanced step by step seeks here its consummating place of rest at the foot of the altar, where the author, personally most aware of his own imperfection and guilt, certainly does not call himself a witness to the truth but only a singular kind of poet and thinker who, "without authority," has had nothing new to bring but "has wanted to read through once again, if possible in a more inward way, the original text of individual human existence-relationships, the old, familiar text handed down from the fathers" (from the preface to Two Discourses at the Communion on Fridays).

What I have understood as the task of the authorship has been done. It is one idea, this continuity from Either/Or to Anti-Climacus [a pseudonym for later, decidedly Christian works], the idea of religiousness in reflection (Journals, XI 3 B 54).

I began with Either/Or and two upbuilding discourses; now it ends, after the whole upbuilding series—with a little esthetic essay [The Crisis]. It expresses: that it was the upbuilding, the religious, that should advance, and that now the esthetic has been traversed; they are inversely related, or it is something of an inverse confrontation, to show that the writer was not an esthetic author who in the course of time grew older and for that reason became religious (Journals, IX A 227).

In an article entitled "Who is the Author of Either/Or?", published under the pseudonym A. F. one week after Either/Or, Kierkegaard says,

Most people, including the author of this article, think it is not worth the trouble to be concerned about who the author is. They are happy not to know his identity, for then they have only the book to deal with, without being bothered or distracted by his personality (p. 37).

The title Either/Or refers broadly to two things. First, it is intended as an alternative to Hegelian philosophy, which was in currency at the time, which posited the famous triad: a thesis yields an antithesis, which then yields, along with the thesis, a synthesis or unity, which in turn becomes a new thesis. Kierkegaard asserted that this jeopardized belief in propositional truth, specifically the law of contradiction. Secondly, the two parts of the either/or choice are the two stages of the esthetic and the ethical. But Kierkegaard posited three stages (or spheres) of existence: the esthetic, the ethical and the religious. Kierkegaard made the actual either/or a choice between the human esthetic and ethical on the one hand, and the religious on the other hand. The religious sphere is addressed later in Stages on Life's Way, though hinted at the end of part two, called "Ultimatum: The Upbuilding that Lies in the Thought That in Relation to God We Are Always in the Wrong".

The pseudonym Victor Eremita is the editor of the entire work. His name means "victorious hermit", perhaps because Kierkegaard, though a very public man, isolated himself in his room like a hermit into the late hours, writing voluminously for several years at amazing speed. (He was an habitual stroller during the day, and would also visit the theatre and mull about before and after the performance, all so that people might think he was an idler. "I counted on there being several gossips at the theatre..."). On the other hand, since he had used a dedication "To that solitary individual", and had considered himself one, he certainly must have felt isolated in his own philosophical position.

The "author" of the first volume, the "either" half, is called simply A. Of the works on the esthetic sphere is the diary of a seducer, essays on drama and literature, and an essay on Don Giovanni. Eremita speculates that A merely edited, rather than wrote the diary, which is attributed to Johannes the Seducer. He says that it is difficult to determine not only the order of A's works, but which ones are by him or merely edited by him. Some of the works edited by A may also be by The Young Man, who is also the subject of Kierkegaard's Repetition, who signifies the esthetic stage, since he cannot commit to the ethical. Most of the works by A point to a more reflective and somber esthete as opposed to the author of the "Seducer's Diary". The latter "author" is more overtly in the pleasures of the moment, of which one is pleasure at recollecting the period of seduction. Often A is thought to adhere to Epicureanism, which is not a philosophy of wanton pleasure, as is often thought, but of moderated pleasure and retreat into the peace and quiet of the garden.

In Concluding Unscientific Postscript, which was to be Kierkegaard's last work, he comments on Either/Or.

[The book is an] indirect polemic against speculative thought, which is indifferent to existence. That there is no conclusion and no final decision is an indirect expression for truth as inwardness and in this way perhaps a polemic against truth as knowledge (p. 252).

Part One


Now we will look at Either/Or part one in more detail. All of the sections represent some facet of the esthetic temperament. The first work in the "Either" part is entitled Diapsalmata, which I have transliterated from Kierkegaard's Greek title. It means "musical interludes". Kierkegaard demonstrates his taste for recherché writing, as this word is not extant in classical Greek literature, but is found only in the Greek Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, third to second century BC). It is used to translate the Hebrew word Selah, which is of unknown meaning, but appears at the beginning of many psalms, and is thus thought to provide some direction on the genre or metrical scheme. Kierkegaard, aside from his frequent obscure references, is introducing musical, religious, and literary motifs. Here A writes a number of short vignettes, mostly aphoristic in nature. One could describe them as a cross between the Ecclesiastes of the Old Testament and nineteenth century nihilism. The work has the dedication ad se ipsum, Latin for "to himself". We may recall that a later pseudonym of Kierkegaard is William Afham, af ham being Danish for "by himself".

I prefer to talk with children, for one may still dare to hope that they may become rational beings; but those that have become that—Good Lord (p. 19)!

How unreasonable people are! They never use the freedoms they have but demand those they do not have; they have freedom of thought—they demand freedom of speech (p. 19).

Let others complain that the times are evil. I complain that they are wretched, for they are without passion. People's thoughts are as thin and fragile as lace, and they themselves as pitiable as lace-making girls. The thoughts of their hearts are too wretched to be sinful. It is perhaps possible to regard it as sin for a worm to nourish such thoughts, but not for a human being, who is created in the image of God (p. 27).

What philosophers say about actuality is often just as disappointing as it is when one reads on a sign in a secondhand shop: Pressing Done Here. If a person were to bring his clothes to be pressed, he would be duped, for the sign is merely for sale (p. 32).

Social endeavors and the associated beautiful sympathy become more and more widespread. In Leipzig, a committee formed out of sympathy for the sad fate of old horses has decided to eat them (p. 33).

I have never been joyful, and yet it has always seemed as if joy were my constant companion, as if the buoyant jinn of joy danced around me, invisible to others but not to me, whose eyes shone with delight (p. 40).

My misfortune is this: an angel of death always walks at my side, and it is not the doors of the chosen ones that I sprinkle with blood as a sign that he is to pass by—no, it is precisely their doors that he enters—for only recollection's love is happy (p. 41).

The Immediate Erotic Stages

The second section is entitled "The Immediate Erotic Stages, Or The Musical-Erotic". This continues the theme of music, particularly by examining Mozart's Don Giovanni. Kierkegaard returns to this work again, also under the pseudonym A, in a piece entitled "A Cursory Observation Concerning a Detail in Don Giovanni", published in The Fatherland in 1845.

Don Giovanni is such a compelling work for analysis since it exceeds its genre. It is a comedy in that there are manifestly comic scenes, such as the opening aria of Don Giovanni's servant Leporello who sings of the misfortunes of serving his master. The enumeration of Don Giovanni's lovers is also comic exaggeration, perhaps ultimately spoofing the catalogue of ships in the Iliad. The opera is also comic in the classical sense because, unlike a tragedy, it ends well. However, it ends well for everyone but the hero, Don Giovanni, who is really an anti-hero. Kierkegaard's attention to this piece serves at least two functions. It is perhaps the greatest work of a genre that combines words and music. Second, it looks forward to the final work in part one, the "Diary of a Seducer". Johannes and Giovanni are not related by accident. Kierkegaard approaches this work because he considered himself a poet, and poetry is musical. Moreover, it was necessary to find esthetic viewpoints that were mostly devoid of ethics. Ethics is reserved for part two, the "or" part.

The most abstract idea conceivable is the sensuous in its elemental originality. But through which medium can it be presented? Only through music. It cannot be presented in sculpture because it has a qualification of a kind of inwardness; it cannot be painted, for it cannot be caught in definite contours. In its lyricism, it is a force, a wind, impatience, passion, etc., yet in such a way that it exists not in one instant but in a succession of instants, for if it existed in one instant, it could be depicted or painted. That it exists in a succession of instants expresses its epic character, but still it is not epic in the stricter sense, for it has not reached the point of words; it continually moves within immediacy. Consequently, it cannot be presented in poetry, either. The only medium that can present it is music. Music has an element of time in itself but nevertheless does not take place in time except metaphorically. It cannot express the historical within time (p. 56f.).

Language, regarded as medium, is the medium absolutely qualified by spirit, and it is therefore the authentic medium of the idea.... Language addresses itself to the ear. No other medium does this. The ear, in turn, is the most qualified sense.... Apart from language, music is the only medium that is addressed to the ear.... Language has its element in time; all other media have space as their element. Only music also occurs in time. But its occurrence in time is in turn a negation of the feelings dependent upon the senses (p. 67f.).

Kierkegaard's pseudonym next addresses desire and the object of seduction. He maintains that seduction's object is differently presented in Don Giovanni from most other works.

...the object [of seduction] appears in its multiplicity, but since desire seeks its object in this multiplicity, in the more profound sense it still has no object; it is still not qualified as desire. In Don Giovanni, however, desire is absolutely qualified as desire.... In the particular, desire has its absolute object; it desires the particular absolutely.... Don Juan, however, is a downright seducer. His love is sensuous, not psychical, and, according to its concept, sensuous love is not faithful but totally faithless; it loves not one but all—that is, it seduces all. It is indeed only in the moment, but considered in its concept, that moment is the sum of moments, and so we have the seducer (p. 84f., 94).

The Tragic in Ancient Drama

The third section of Part One is "The Tragic in Ancient Drama Reflected in the Tragic in Modern Drama", subtitled "A Venture in Fragmentary Endeavor". Here Kierkegaard seeks to express that peculiar brand of romanticism and mysticism dominant in the nineteenth century. Below this title Kierkegaard writes "Delivered before the Sumparanekromenoi". This Greek word, coined by Kierkegaard, means literally "together alongside those who have died", or more aptly, the "fellowship of the dead". This seems to be an imaginary group or cult who are steeped in dark romanticism. The next two works also share this dedication.

In ancient tragedy, the action itself has an epic element; it is just as much event as action. This, of course, is because the ancient world did not have subjectivity reflected in itself. Even if the individual moved freely, he nevertheless rested in substantial determinants, in the state, the family, in fate. This substantial determinant is the essential fateful factor in Greek tragedy and is its essential characteristic. The hero's downfall, therefore, is not a result solely of his action but is also a suffering, whereas in modern tragedy the hero's downfall is not really suffering but is a deed. Thus, in the modern period situation and character are in fact predominant (p. 143).

The true tragic sorrow, then, requires an element of guilt, the true tragic pain an element of guiltlessness; the true tragic sorrow requires an element of transparency, the true tragic pain an element of opacity (p. 151).


The fourth section is "Silhouettes: Psychological Diversion". It is on sorrow. This work is also "Delivered before the Sumparanekromenoi", and is a speech delivered at their anniversary meeting. It is a celebration of the beginning of the night, which has engulfed the day. It is an eerie piece that Kierkegaard wrote, again, in order to exhibit that peculiar brand of nineteenth century dark romanticism, tinged with mysticism.

If we apply to the relation between sorrow and joy that which has been casually stated but not developed here, it is easy to perceive that joy is far easier to depict artistically than sorrow.... By nature, joy wishes to disclose itself; sorrow wishes to conceal itself, indeed, at times even to deceive. Joy is communicative, sociable, open, wishes to express itself. Sorrow is enclosingly reserved, silent, solitary, and seeks to return to itself (p. 169).

The Unhappiest One

The fifth section is "The Unhappiest One". This work is subtitled "An Inspired Address to the Sumparanekromenoi: Peroration at the Meeting on Fridays". This is a very short piece, similar to the preceding one. It is about the cause of unhappiness, and whether death is its final cause. The occasion for the speech is a supposed meeting of the Sumparanekromenoi, who are, as we said above an imaginary group or cult who are steeped in nineteenth century romanticism and mysticism. The speaker glorifies unhappiness, since all ends in the unhappiness of death. He begins his sermon with a reference to a grave in England that was marked "The Unhappiest One". This grave was opened and no one was found inside. The conclusion: "...the unhappiest one was a person who could not die, who could not slip down into a grave". But then the speaker says that since no one escapes death, this definition will not do.

Next the speaker decides to consider a single person as a representative from different groups of unhappy souls. There is a person who hopes for eternal life. He is unhappy if he lives only for the future, but happy if his hope is actualized in the present. There is a young girl who laments that her lover has been unfaithful to her. She will grieve in the act of recollection, which, as we have said, lies within Kierkegaard's sphere of the esthetic. Job is considered, who lost everything gradually. There is the father of the prodigal son, who lost his dear son. The speaker closes espousing several blessings on his hearers, most of which involve power over others, or more importantly, a promise that others will not have power over them.

All in all, this short piece is not only redolent of dark romanticism, but, to some extent, of Epicureanism. Unhappiness is less likely to occur in the soul of one who cannot be touched by the fear of death or the recollection of unhappy love. The pseudonymous author/editor A espouses not a belief in extreme pleasure, which is a misunderstanding of Epicureanism, nor even of simple or moderated pleasure, which is in line with Epicurean thought, but, what is more important, ataraxia, or the Greek concept of imperturbability, a state of rest where outside forces cannot adversely affect the soul. Epicureanism, for all its benefits is, according to Kierkegaard, decidedly within the esthetic sphere.

The First Love

The sixth section is "The First Love: A Comedy in One Act by Scribe". With "The Tragic in Ancient Drama" (above) Kierkegaard exhibits his great interest in the theatre, as is also seen in his published articles (see below). Like those latter works, Kierkegaard calls this work a review. But it is a review with a twist. He mentions a love he had once, who was his first love. He tells how he went to the play in which were the actors Johanne Heiberg (see The Crisis and A Crisis in the Life of an Actress) and Joachim Phister (see Herr Phister as Captain Scipio). Quite by accident, he says, he saw her up in the balcony. This work is unusual in that it is a story of how a review was written, and at the same time it is about the author's own "First Love".

He says that after some time passed, he found that his beloved was engaged to someone else. She tells him that since she did not ever love him, her new fiancé is actually her first love. At this point the story seems to follow Kierkegaard's own life, since he was engaged to Regine Olsen, and after he left her, she was soon found to be engaged to another. After this interlude, he returns to tell us of his encounter with the performance, and how he finally published his review. He then addresses the plot of Scribe's The First Love in some detail. His conclusion is that it is the only perfect play by Scribe. It improves the more often it is seen.

This work falls under the category of the esthetic in that its focus is on reflection and representation. Actors on a stage act out a work, which can be recalled after the performance, and understood more clearly with each viewing of a performance. Love which has been lost, which one can reflect on (recollect), stays in the realm of the esthetic, since a love relationship that continues is a result of commitment, which is the ethical state which Kierkegaard called repetition (see Repetition). In this work, his lover leaves him, and so there is no repetition, only love's recollecting. Our writer has his own first love to remember and his recollection of the play The First Love.

Rotation of Crops

The seventh section is "Rotation of Crops: A Venture in a Theory of Social Prudence". This shorter work is on boredom. Stylistically it is different from the other works, yet thematically it propounds Epicureanism and Kierkegaard's abiding interest in recollection. Moreover, it is decidedly devoid of the ethical, like the other esthetic works in this volume. In short, the author seeks to provide a solution for the ever-pervasive problem of boredom.

People with experience maintain that proceeding from a basic principle is supposed to be very reasonable; I yield to them and proceed from the basic principle that all people are boring. Or is there anyone boring enough to contradict me in this regard?... How corrupting boredom is, everyone recognizes also with regard to children. As long as children are having a good time, they are always good. This can be said in the strictest sense, for if they at times become unmanageable even while playing, it is really because they are beginning to be bored.... Since boredom advances and boredom is the root of all evil, no wonder, then, that the world goes backwards, that evil spreads. This can be traced back to the very beginning of the world. The gods were bored; therefore they created human beings. Adam was bored because he was alone; therefore Eve was created. Since that moment, boredom entered the world and grew in great quantity in exact proportion to the growth of population.... On the other hand, what was it that delayed the fall of Rome? It was panis [bread] and circenses [games]. What is being done today? Is consideration being given to any means of amusement (p. 285f.)?

At this point in the essay, our author makes a dramatic proposal to end boredom, reminiscent of Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal in its dry humor and hyperbole.

Now and then we hear that someone is a genius and does not pay his debts; why should a nation not do the same, provided there is agreement? Borrow fifteen million; use it not to pay off our debts but for public entertainment.... Everything would be free.... No one would be allowed to own property. An exception should be made only for me.... What would be the result of this great prosperity? All the great would stream to Copenhagen.... Copenhagen would become another Athens.... Here is my second idea: kidnap the emperor...[and] sell him to the Turks (p. 287).

Our author returns to the theme of the nature of boredom and expounds on what the individual can and should do about boredom.

Idleness, we are accustomed to say, is the root of all evil. To prevent this evil, work is recommended.... Idleness as such is by no means a root of evil; on the contrary, it is truly a divine life, if one is not bored.... My deviation from popular opinion is adequately expressed by the phrase "rotation of crops." The method I propose does not consist in changing the soil but, like proper crop rotation, consists in changing the method of cultivation and the kinds of crops. Here at once is the principle of limitation, the sole saving principle in the world. The more a person limits himself, the more resourceful he becomes (p. 289, 291).

Our author recommends asking less from life, randomly approaching life, in an almost dadaistic sense, attending only to accidents instead of main themes. He describes a man so boring that he could only enjoy his company by focussing on the enormous bead of sweat that formed on his nose. He further recommends the use of recollection to enjoy the experiences of life. The recommendation to temper and control one's thoughts and experiences, and the approval of idleness, is Epicurean (see introduction to Either/Or above). In sum, our author recommends taking charge of all of one's experiences and reactions. It reminds one of the popular dictum that he who hopes for nothing will never be disappointed.

The Seducer's Diary

The final section is "The Seducer's Diary". The seducer's diary produced a minor sensation and was read in isolation from the rest of the work. Even in this century it has been published as a unit. This was not Kierkegaard's intent, and disappointed him greatly. The character Johannes appears again in Stages On Life's Way. He states there that woman's highest calling is in being the object of man's seduction. The period of seduction must not be culminated in marriage since that would be a stagnation. The seducer, Johannes continues, like Don Juan, moves from one woman to another. Woman becomes a goal to Johannes, not a victim. The god Eros seeks its quarry and then flees. The Seducer is stuck in the esthetic stage, unable or unwilling to enter the ethical stage. The name Johannes, besides being the same first name as Kierkegaard's best author of his pseudonymous philosophical works, Johannes Climacus, also is a transparent translation of the Italian Giovanni (or the Spanish Juan), who is the seducer par excellence (see "The Immediate Erotic Stages", above).

The editor A tells us that he found the transcript on erotic themes in a bureau drawer. This corresponds to Hilarius Bookbinder's discovery of Stages On Life's Way, also found in a desk. A tells us that he knew the girl, Cordelia, who is the victim of the seducer, but knows not if there were other victims. After Johannes left her he returned to her several of her unopened letters. She in turn handed these over to A, who presents them in our manuscript. A places these first in the text. Then follows Johannes' diary.

April 4: As yet she has not seen me; I am standing at the other end of the counter, far off by myself. There is a mirror on the opposite wall; she is not contemplating it, but the mirror is contemplating her. How faithfully it has caught her image, like a humble slave who shows his devotion by his faithfulness, a slave for whom she certainly has significance but who has no significance for her, who indeed dares to capture her but not to hold her. Unhappy mirror, which assuredly can grasp her image but not her, who indeed dares to capture her but not to hold her; unhappy mirror, which cannot secretly hide her image in itself, hide it from the whole world, but can only disclose it to others as it now does to me. What torture if a human being were fashioned that way (p. 315).

The fifth: You curtsey to me coldly and casually. Do I deserve this, I who helped you out of all that unpleasantness? You have a change of mind, you turn back, thank me for my kindness, offer me your hand—why are you turning pale? Is not my voice the same as before, my attitude the same, my eyes just as calm and quiet? The handclasp? Can a handclasp mean anything? Indeed, much, very much, my little miss. Within a fortnight, I shall explain it all to you; until then you will remain in the contradiction: I am a nice man who came like a knight to the assistance of a young girl, and I can also press your hand in no less than a gentle manner (p. 319).

The sixteenth [of May]: How beautiful it is to be in love; how interesting it is to know that one is in love. This, you see, is the difference. I can become furious at the thought that she disappeared before me the second time, and yet in a certain sense I am glad of it. The image I have of her hovers indefinitely between her actual and her ideal form. I now have this image before me, but precisely because either it is actuality or actuality is indeed the occasion, it has singular magic. I feel no impatience, for she must live here in the city, and at this moment that is enough for me. This possibility is the condition for the proper appearance of her image—everything will be enjoyed in slow drafts. And should I not be calm—I, who can regard myself as a favorite of the gods, I, whose lot was the rare good fortune of falling in love again (p. 334).

July 3: A plain and simple engagement is the best of all means, the most suitable for the purpose. She will perhaps believe her own ears even less when she hears me make a prosaic declaration of love, also ask for her hand, even less than if she listened to my ardent eloquence, imbibed my poisonous intoxicating potion, heard her heart pound at the thought of an elopement. The banefulness of an engagement is always the ethical in it. The ethical is just as boring in scholarship as in life. What a difference! Under the esthetic sky, everything is buoyant, beautiful, transient; when ethics arrives on the scene, everything becomes harsh, angular, infinitely langeweilig [boring]. But in the strictest sense an engagement does not have ethical reality such as marriage has; it has validity only ex consensu gentium [by consensus of the people]. This ambiguity can be very advantageous for me (p. 367).

In Repetition, Kierkegaard writes of a young man, none other than A, who cannot commit ethically to a love relationship. Repetition is the movement of commitment in the ethical sphere. Here, Johannes epitomizes an esthetic sensibility wholly antithetical to ethics. Esthetics is only of the moment, and of the momentary reminiscence of the past. Kierkegaard may have had his own engagement to Regine Olsen in mind. He considered himself unsuitable for her, and feigned being a scoundrel to persuade her to let him go. She did not fall for his charade. However, he was able to irrevocably break off the relationship

Part Two

Part two, the "or" part, was written by B, otherwise known as the judge, or Judge William, who writes on marriage. He is also the "Married Man" of the second (ethical) part of Stages on Life's Way, entitled "Reflections on Marriage". He symbolizes the ethical stage in his advocacy of marriage, which concept, as we have said elsewhere, is a forward-looking commitment known as repetition (see Repetition), contrasted with the backward-looking (esthetic) concept of recollection. B responds to the documents written by A, asserting that the esthete's life is selfish, living only for the moment in dissipation. Stylistically, just as A is given to prolixity, the judge is even more wordy to the point of tedium. W. Lowrie explains that this was necessary, that Kierkegaard needed to unleash, like an expectoration, the great abundance of ideas in his mind.

Often A is thought to adhere to Epicureanism, which is not a philosophy of wanton pleasure, as is often thought, but of moderated pleasure and retreat into the peace and quiet of the garden. B sees A as aggressively selfish, but acknowledges that there is a place for a balanced esthetic—balanced, that is, by ethics. Though B addresses the religious as it relates to marital love, it is not to be equated with Kierkegaard's religious stage. (See below for a brief description). The religious is not strictly dealt with in Either/Or, but Kierkegaard appends a final short discourse to part two called "Ultimatum: The Upbuilding that Lies in the Thought That in Relation to God We Are Always in the Wrong", perhaps to prepare the reader for something more to come.

Chapter One of volume two is entitled "The Esthetic Validity Of Marriage".

My Friend [that is, author A of Either/Or Part One]....There are two things that I must regard as my particular task: to show the esthetic meaning of marriage and to show how the esthetic in it may be retained despite life's numerous hindrances....for I am still within my calling, I who, myself a married man, battle on behalf of marriage.... [My wife] is the only one I have ever loved, the first, and there is one thing for which I pray to God with my whole heart, that he will give me the strength never to want to love any other.... All feelings, even the highest religious ones, can take on a certain indolence if one is always alone with them. In her presence I am simultaneously priest and congregation (p. 8ff.).

In part one of Either/Or, as well as in other philosophical works of Kierkegaard, the category of the esthetic is associated with recollection of love lost. This contrasts with the ethical stage of commitment to the beloved which Kierkegaard calls repetition. Here the judge seeks to cull esthetic value from the ethical state of marriage. Note also that the judge's wife is his first love. This is a reference to "The First Love" in Either/Or book one, which, in fact, the judge later mentions.

Inasmuch as it now appeared as a defect in romantic love that it was not reflective, it might seem proper to have true marital love begin with a kind of doubt. This might seem all the more necessary because we come to it out of a world of reflection. That a marriage is artistically feasible after such doubt, I will by no means deny, but the question whether the nature of the marriage is not already altered thereby, since it envisages a separation between love and marriage. The question is whether it belongs essentially to annihilate the first love by doubting the possibility of realizing it, in order through this annihilation to make marital love possible and actual.... The question remains whether the immediate, the first love, by being caught up into a higher, concentric immediacy, would not be secure against this skepticism so that the married love would not need to plough under the first love's beautiful hopes, but the marital love would itself be the first love with the addition of qualifications that would not detract from it but would ennoble it. It is a difficult problem to pose, and yet it is of utmost importance, lest we have the cleavage in the ethical as in the intellectual between faith and knowledge.... It is now sufficiently clear that reflective love continually consumes itself and that it altogether arbitrarily takes one position and then another; it is clear that it points beyond itself to something higher, but the point is whether this something higher cannot promptly enter into combination with the first love. This something higher is the religious, in which the reflection of the understanding ends.... In the religious, love again finds the infinity that it sought in vain in reflective love (p. 29f.).

Judge William does not seek to blur the distinction between the esthetic and the ethical. In fact, he wants to transform the former by taking it up into the latter. Love poetry and love stories may end with the lovers getting married, but such tales do not dwell on the period of marriage. Rather, they reflect on the period of romantic love before marriage, or on romantic love lost. The judge is critical of this. He also wants to transform both the esthetic and the ethical into a higher love, the religious. It would, however, be careless to take this view as Kierkegaard's own. According to Kierkegaard, there are two types of religiousness, what he calls types A and B, which he later defines in Concluding Unscientific Postscript. D. F. Swenson, as quoted by W. Lowrie, defines these types.

Religion A is characterized by a passive relation to the divine, with the accompanying suffering and sense of guilt. But it is distinguished from religion B, or transcendent religion, in that the tie which binds the individual to the divine is still, in spite of all tension, essentially intact.... The distinctive feature of transcendent religion can be briefly stated. It consists in a transformation or modification of the sense of guilt into the sense of sin, in which all continuity is broken off between the actual self and the ideal self, the temporal self and the eternal. The personality is invalidated, and thus made free from the law of God, because unable to comply with its demands. There is no fundamental point of contact left between the individual and the divine; man has become absolutely different from God (A Short Life of Kierkegaard, p. 173f.).

The religion the judge is addressing here seems to fall short even of religiousness A, though Kierkegaard would not elucidate on this definition for three years. Both types of the religious are ultimately sundered from the other spheres of existence, yet this is not to say that the three stages have no commerce with each other. Rather they are different realms of existence. Kierkegaard does, however, permit the judge to point to something higher, even if he does not understand it clearly, so that it may be addressed later, namely, in the "Ultimatum" at the end of Either/Or and in Stages On Life's Way, where all three stages are presented.

So you see the nature of the task I have set for myself: to show that romantic love can be united with and exist in marriage—indeed, that marriage is its true transfiguration. No shadow at all will thereby be cast on the marriages that rescue themselves from reflection and its shipwreck.... I fight for two things: the enormous task of showing that marriage is the transfiguration of the first love and not its annihilation, is its friend and not its enemy... (p. 31).

The second chapter of Either/Or Part Two is entitled "The Balance Between the Esthetic and the Ethical in the Development of the Personality". The judge begins by accusing A of not being able to make the either/or decision, that he is non-committal. The judge thus reinforces that the ethical stage is one of commitment (repetition), while the esthetic stage is dreamily connected to the past, or even to the moment.

Your choice is an esthetic choice, but an esthetic choice is no choice. On the whole, to choose is an intrinsic and stringent term for the ethical. Wherever in the stricter sense there is a question of an Either/Or, one can always be sure that the ethical has something to do with it. The only absolute Either/Or is the choice between good and evil, but this is also absolutely ethical. The esthetic choice is either altogether immediate, and thus no choice, or it loses itself in a great multiplicity.... Therefore, the ethical choice is in a certain sense much easier, much simpler, but in another sense it is infinitely more difficult. The person who wants to decide his life task ethically does not ordinarily have such a wide range; the act of choosing, however, is much more meaningful to him (p. 166f.).

Whereas Judge William's concern is that the young man make a choice between the esthetical and the ethical—in which the judge includes religion as if it naturally accompanies it—Kierkegaard made the actual either/or a choice between the human esthetic and ethical on the one hand, and the religious (whether type A or B) on the other hand. The judge believes that the aesthetic has its place, but as the servant of the ethical. It would seem that Kierkegaard thought that both the esthetic and the ethical had their place as servants of the religious. In Fear and Trembling, which is concerned with the ethical and the religious stages, the pseudonym Johannes de Silentio says that the ethical is the universal. But since God is the Absolute, one can obey the Absolute while contravening the universal, which is what Abraham was commanded to do when God told him to kill his son Isaac.

In the final short section Judge William writes that he received a sermon from a pastor friend of his that he felt appropriate to share. This pastor was not a man of particular note among pastors, but simply a friend. The judge adds that it possesses "the beauty of the universal". This is a clue from Kierkegaard that we are not yet in the religious stage, but still in the ethical. It is suggestive that the religious will appear in a later work. The sermon is entitled "Ultimatum: The Upbuilding that Lies in the Thought That in Relation to God We Are Always in the Wrong". In this sermon we are told to rest in the universal principle that God is always right. This is still very far from the existential dilemma that Abraham faced in being commanded to sacrifice his son. The comfort derived here, though legitimate as far as it goes, is not yet religiousness A, wherein a strong sense of shame exists, or religiousness B, wherein a transcendental relation to God is posited.

Kierkegaard contemplated adding the following postscript to the second edition of Either/Or (1849).

I hereby retract this book. It was a necessary deception in order, if possible, to deceive men into the religious, which has continually been my task all along. Maieutically it certainly has had its influence. Yet I do not need to retract it, for I have never claimed to be its author (Journals, X 1 A 192).