D. Anthony Storm's Commentary on Kierkegaard

Second Period: Indirect Communication (1843-46)

Stages On Life's Way

  • Stages On Life's Way: Studies by Various Persons, compiled, forwarded to the press, and published by Hilarius Bookbinder
  • Stadier paa Livets Vei. Studier af Forskjellige. Sammenbragte, befordrede til Trykken og udgivet af Hilarius Bogbinder
  • William Afham, A Married Man, Frater Taciturnus, ed. Hilarius Bookbinder
  • 1845
  • KW11, SKS6, SV6


This work is a sequel to Kierkegaard's Either/Or published two years earlier. There, the esthetic and the ethical stages were presented, but Kierkegaard refrained from treating the religious sphere, except to hint at it in the addendum. Here he returns to the first two stages, and then moves on extensively to the religious stage, which covers roughly two-thirds of the book. Briefly put, Stages On Life's Way deals consecutively with each of the three stages, or "existence spheres" of life, as Kierkegaard called them, consisting of the esthetic, the ethical and the religious. While he favored the term "stages" earlier in his writings, we are not to conceive of them necessarily as periods of life that one proceeds through in sequence, but rather, as paradigms of existence. In fact, the term existence spheres occurs more frequently than the term stages. In addition, many individuals might not traverse a certain stage, for example, the religious, nor can the religious be separated from the ethical (see A Primer on Kierkegaardian Motifs for more on this and other key concepts). In his journals Kierkegaard notes the difference between Stages On Life's Way and its predecessor.

In Either/Or the esthetic component was something present battling with the ethical, and the ethical was the choice by which one emerged from it. For this reason there were only two components, and the Judge [the "author" of the second part of both works] was unconditionally the winner, even though the book ended with a sermon and with the observation that only the truth that builds up is truth for me (inwardness—the point of departure for my upbuilding discourses).

In the Stages there are three components and the situation is different.

1. The esthetic-sensuous is thrust into the background as something past (therefore "a recollection"), for after all it cannot become utterly nothing....

2. The ethical component is polemical; the judge is not giving a friendly lecture but is grappling in existence, because he cannot end here, even though with pathos he can triumph again over every esthetic stage but not measure up to the esthetes in wittiness.

3. The religious comes into existence in a demonic approximation (Quidam of the imaginary construction [see Quidam's diary below]) with humor as its presupposition and its incognito (Frater Taciturnus) (Journals, VI A 41).

The Pseudonyms

Hilarius Bookbinder is the editor-compiler-discoverer of this work. Hilarius is from the Latin Hilarus meaning joyful or merry. This joyful bookbinder introduces himself, acknowledging the strangeness of a mere bookbinder becoming a publisher. Though it is difficult to understand Kierkegaard's genius here, it would seem that he is trying to blur the definition of authorship. What is a bookbinder doing publishing? Indeed, what is Kierkegaard doing publishing? Let us not forget also that Kierkegaard, true to the name Hilarius, is seeking to have fun as well. The pseudo-editor Hilarius Bookbinder claims that this work, which is comprised of three sections, corresponding to Kierkegaard's three stages, was written by different authors. These separate entities were left in a bureau, forgotten until their fortuitous discovery years later. Bookbinder claims to have discovered them only after realizing that he had inadvertently failed to return them to their rightful owner. He adds that it may be strange for a bookbinder to publish, but that his sense of duty overrides any reticence he might have.

William Afham is the author of the first of the three parts of the Stages, entitled In Vino Veritas (literally, "In wine, truth"). "Af ham" is Danish for "by himself". Since this work is the companion piece to Either/Or, it may seem surprising that we encounter a new pseudonym. However, since the religious stage is presented for the first time, the new pseudonym may be justified. Just as in The Sickness Unto Death Kierkegaard was to write on "despair of willing not to be oneself", here, as in most of the works up to 1846, he is not willing to reveal himself.

The "Married Man", also known as Judge William, is the author of the second portion of the Stages, entitled "Reflections on Marriage". He was also the author of the second (ethical) portion, or part two (the "Or" part), of Either/Or, otherwise known as author B. 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.

Frater Taciturnus is the author of the third section (the religious stage) in the Stages. Frater Taciturnus is Latin for the "brother who remains silent". Again, Kierkegaard plays with the theme of writing without attributing the work to his own name. Moreover, his work "Guilty?/Not Guilty?" contains "Quidam's Diary". Quidam is Latin for "someone". Taciturnus claims that he retrieved this diary from the bottom of a lake while he was relaxing with a naturalist, who was doing research. Thus, Taciturnus' find of the book, wrapped in a watertight container, is similar to Bookbinder's find, which is again similar to Eremita's find of the documents comprising Either/Or. Note, further, that a naturalist and, if you will, a supernaturalist, are together on the lake, each with their finds. It is as if Kierkegaard gives us a new either/or, a choice between the findings of the rational scientist and the artifacts of the religious heart.

In sum, the Stages is compiled by a bookbinder who has never published before; the work is by Afham (that is, "by himself"); the next stage is by "A Married Man" (Kierkegaard had broken off his engagement and thus could not adhere to the repetition of the ethical stage—keeping himself in the esthetic stage); finally, the last stage is written by someone who "remains silent" and quotes from "Someone".

Part One: In Vino Veritas

William Afham introduces the banquet with a discourse on memory versus recollection reminding us of Plato's Philebus, called In Vino Veritas: A Recollection. This is also no doubt an allusion to the effort of Aristodemus and of Apollodorus in Plato's Symposium to recall the particulars of Plato's banquet. But, like Aristodemus, Afham attends in apparent silence. Before reporting the specifics of the affair he muses on the idea of recollection. He states that it differs from memory.

Remembering is only a vanishing condition. Through memory, the experience presents itself to receive the consecration of recollection.... The old person loses memory...yet the old person has something poetic about him.... Recollection is ideality, but as such it is strenuous and conscientious in a way completely different from indiscriminate memory (p. 9f).

Kierkegaard and Plato alike see recollection as something inward and spiritual, as opposed to memory. In Plato, one possesses the knowledge of something from a former incarnation, which one does not yet "know" in this lifetime until one is properly stimulated by sensory data to recollect the buried information.

The banquet, the first of the three parts, is yet again a symposium of speech makers created by Kierkegaard, some who had penned prior works of his. Each of the other portions of the Stages is in turn penned by a different "author". The invitees to the banquet are Johannes the seducer, popularized in Either/Or, Victor Eremita, "editor" of Either/Or, Constantin Constantius, the pseudonymous author of Repetition, and the Young Man, who is the apparent author of several of the essays in the first (esthetic) part of Either/Or and appears in Repetition. Lastly, Afham introduces the Fashion Designer. Thus four of the five guests who deliver speeches are pseudonymous authors already used in Kierkegaard's published works. Eremita is the author who, like Bookbinder, collected the anonymous works discovered by him. Kierkegaard's discourse is indirect because he does not tell us any of these things. The reader is to supply them. As with Plato's use of indirect communication, the effect is pronounced. We can trace a path from Kierkegaard, through the unknown author, through H. Bookbinder, through Afham and finally through the (pseudonymous) speakers.

The description of the Kierkegaardian banquet begins with the guests and the host arranging its particulars. After months of deliberation they agree to meet away from the city in a country setting where servants would attend them and women would be excluded (p. 21). There is no occasion for this banquet corresponding to Agathon's victory in the Symposium. However, women are excluded from both. They agree to meet in a home that will be redecorated so that it is uniquely prepared for the banquet. In addition, a demolition crew will stand by to undo all of the preparations so that no trace of the banquet will remain. Perhaps we are to think that only recollection will provide the knowledge of what occurred since no artifacts will survive.

In this banquet (heterosexual) erotic love becomes the theme. Before making their eulogies, the guests agree that all the speeches are to be made in vino. That is, no one will speak before feeling the effects of the wine, nor, on the other hand, allow himself to become fully intoxicated. Johannes, declaring that he is unsure of this plan, boasts that he becomes more sober the more he imbibes. This corresponds to Socrates' astonishing endurance mentioned in the Symposium, where he is apparently unable to become drunk. Just as the guests at Plato's Symposium decide to drink, not to get drunk, but according to their pleasure, so Kierkegaard's speakers drink with some moderation. In the former banquet the god perhaps is thought to inspire the speakers as they speak of him. In the latter case, wine itself is the means and inspiration to praise not a god, but a concept.

The first speaker is the Young Man. Far from praising erotic love, he denounces it as irrational and appealing to uncontrollable forces within man that are destructive. In a word, he sees eros as a comic and mocking force. After citing examples of the comic, he states that to a third party eros is always ridiculous. Apparently the Young Man cannot submit to eros because he is his own third party. The next speaker, Constantin Constantius, speaks of woman as a jest. Seducers are fools for making such a fuss about the pursuit. To him, eros has overreached himself. This is consistent with Constantius' Repetition where commitment to the future relationship is more important than poetical recollection of the past. The third speaker, Victor Eremita, Latin for the victorious hermit, thanks God that he was born a man and not a woman. He sees woman as a mediation. She awakens gallantry or eros or even the Infinite in man. But as a middle term she does not ascend to the dignity of man, though meriting some honor. This has some correlation to Socrates' speech inasmuch as the idea of the middle term is introduced. Considering the great effort that Kierkegaard exercised to combat Hegelianism, we are tempted to think that he sympathizes little with Eremita; but this is immaterial. The Fashion Designer speaks next. He reduces all of woman's desires and goals to a passion for adornment. Whether a woman is pleasing a suitor or worshipping in church, she is most concerned with the god of fashion and the designer is her high priest. Lastly, Johannes the seducer speaks. He is appalled by all the twaddle he has had to endure from the other speakers. He states 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. He is the dialectical opposite of Constantius. 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. Like the young man in Repetition, the Seducer is stuck in the esthetic stage, unable or unwilling to enter the ethical stage.

Part Two: Reflections On Marriage

The second section (the ethical), by Judge William, is entitled "Some Reflections On Marriage In Answer To Objections". This work is on marriage, which, as we said above, is tied to the ethical, which requires the repetition of commitment to the ethical. The judge praises marriage unabashedly, as if it is the highest state of human affairs: "Therefore, praised be marriage, praised be everyone who speaks in its honor." The objections he is addressing are apparently from the young man, the author-editor of Either/Or Part One.

In paganism there was a god for erotic love and none for marriage; in Christianity there is, if I may say so, a god for marriage and none for erotic love. Marriage is, namely, a higher expression for erotic love.... Marriage I regard, then, as the telos [goal] of individual life; it is the highest telos in such a way that anyone who evades it crosses out the whole of earthly life in one single stroke and retains only eternity and spiritual interests.... A person's total ideality lies first and last in resolution. Any other ideality is a trifle.... The state does not need to penalize bachelors; life itself punishes the person who deserves to be punished.... To be a married man is the most beautiful and meaningful task; the person who did not become married is an unfortunate whose life did not permit him that or who never fell in love, or he is a suspicious character whom we eventually ought to take into custody. Marriage is the fulness of time. He who did not become a married man is always regarded as unhappy by others or he is that also to himself.... All falling in love is a wonder.... The young man then dissolves love into loving the lovable—after all, he must choose. Poor fellow, that is an impossibility.... In paganism, therefore, love was attributed to Eros. Since the resolution of marriage adds the ethical, that somewhat arch assignation to a deity thereby becomes in marriage a purely religious expression for one's receiving the beloved from the hand of God... (p. 100ff.).

The judge sees marriage as the necessary and sole fulfillment of erotic love, and hence, bachelorhood is an aberrant choice—a choice Kierkegaard himself made. However, it is clear that the judge praises marriage to an inordinate degree, and makes a quasi-religion of it. Earlier he spoke of the ethical state of marriage being caught in the religious, but here he seems to identify the two. Part of his reasoning is based on the paradigm of Adam and Eve. If the first, that is, ideal, couple were pronounced husband and wife by God himself, then marriage must be the highest union for mortals, and is in fact a religious union. Not surprisingly, in this same manner, the judge also extols the virtues of motherhood.

One must not, however, disregard all that the judge says, simply because he takes this untenable position. When he talks of resolution and commitment he is close to Kierkegaard's own view. For Kierkegaard held that men of his day were more reflective than passionate. However, the nature of the ethical state is that of commitment, and it is the judge's identification of the ethical, or more accurately, one part of the ethical, namely marriage, with the religious which must be considered erroneous.

The resolution is a religious view of life constructed upon ethical presuppositions, a view of life that is supposed to pave the way, so to speak, for falling in love and to secure it against an external and internal danger (p. 162).

Toward the end of his discourse, Judge William seems to catch himself and concede that the ethical (exemplified by marriage) is not to be confused with the religious.

Yet, from the essentially religious point of view, it cannot be denied that it makes no difference whether or not a person has been married. Here the religious opens the infinite abyss of the abstraction.... The religious abstraction desires to belong to God alone. For this love it is willing to refuse, renounce, sacrifice everything (these are the nuances); from this love it will not allow itself to be disturbed, diverted, captured by anything else (p. 172f.).

However, he returns soon to an intolerable confounding of the ethical and the religious.

If it is doubtful whether falling in love is from God, if falling in love does not even need to presuppose a religious view, marriage is unconditionally of religious origin. Thus the person who breaks it not only makes himself and those whom he loves totally miserable, but he places life in contradiction with itself, he places God in contradiction with himself (p. 178).

The judge has taken a defensible view, that marriage is from God, and has extracted the conclusion that marriage is so much a part of the universal (the ethical) that God (the absolute) will look upon a bachelor with indignation and disapproval, that his plan will be frustrated.

Part Three: "Guilty?"/"Not guilty?"

The third part, the religious stage, forms roughly two-thirds of the work. It's full title is "Guilty?"/"Not guilty?" A Story of Suffering, An Imaginary Psychological Construction. It is about a young man who was in love but needed to break his engagement, as Kierkegaard in fact did. It is in some ways reminiscent of "The Diary of a Seducer" in Either/Or, but exhibits quite a different esthetic. Thus this section is about passionate commitment to the beloved in the ethical, expressed in erotic love, and commitment to God in the religious stage.

January 20. Morning. I cannot keep my soul in the immediacy of falling in love. I am well aware that she is lovely, in my eyes indescribably so, but I do not feel like throwing the passion of my soul in that direction. Alas, loveliness is ephemeral; it is a shame to grasp it at once.... So I have chosen the religious. This is closest to me; my faith is in it (p. 221f.).

February 2. Midnight. This collision between sagacity and purely ethical-religious obligations, abstractly understood, is difficult enough.... Inclosing reserve, silence (the teleological suspension of the duty to speak the truth), is strictly formal qualification and therefore can just as well be the form for good as for evil (p. 230).

The "teleological suspension" is a term used by Kierkegaard in Fear and Trembling when he posits the temporary setting aside (suspension) of the law (the Universal ethical duty) to obey the Absolute (God) who made the law. For Quidam, uttering the truth, which is ethically the right thing to do, must be suspended for a higher purpose.

March 20. Midnight. There is no time at all to think about myself, and yet my inner life is such that it can provide enough to think about. I am really no religious individuality; I am just a regular and perfectly constructed possibility of such a person. With a sword hanging over my head, in peril of my life, I discover the religious crises with a primitivity [a condition where one is not influenced by others] such as if I had not known of them before, with such a primitivity that if they had not been discovered I would have to discover them.... As possibility I am all right, but when at the turning point I want to appreciate the religious prototypes, I encounter a philosophical doubt that I would not express as such to one single person. What it depends upon is the element of appropriation. Predisposed as I am, at the turning point of the religious crisis I reach for the paradigm, but look, I cannot understand the paradigm at all, even though I venerate it with a childlike piety that does not want to abandon it.... As soon as I disdain duty, God becomes exclusive, for only in duty am I in humble harmony with his sublimity, and therefore his majesty is not exclusiveness. Therefore it is not God who makes himself exclusive, which he never does (this is paganism), but it is I who make him exclusive, and this is punishment (p. 257f.).

April 28. Morning. If God himself were what is called a man, someone outside oneself with whom one could speak and to whom one could say: Now let's hear what you have to say, and then you will soon see what I can think of—well, then we could manage all right. But he is the strongest of all, the only strong one, because he simply does not speak that way with a person. The person with whom he wants to be briefly involved he takes hold of in such a way that he speaks to him through the person himself. Their conversation is not a pro and contra exterior to each other, but when God speaks he uses the person to whom he is speaking, he speaks to the person through the person himself.... This is why one cannot utilize the dialectical with him, for God uses the very dialectical power of the person involved precisely against the person himself (p. 315f.).

May 19. Midnight. In my opinion, no one, with the exception of such authorized individualities as the apostles, whose dialectical position I do not grasp, has been more earnest than the person who clothed his thoughts in the form of jest, and no one has more sympathetically loved his fellow beings, and no one has so deeply admired the divine. So let the history books tell of kings who introduced Christianity—I am of the opinion that a king can introduce an improved breed of sheep and railroads etc., but Christianity and spirit, ethically understood, not even an emperor should go to the trouble of introducing—that is, essentially understood (p. 345).

May 27. Midnight. Governance has made me captive. The idea of my existence was proud; now I am crushed. I do know that. I can conceal it from others, but I have lost the very substance of my existence, the secure place of resort behind my deceptive appearance, lost what I shall never regain, precisely what I myself must prevent from regaining, for my pride still remains but has had to referre pedem [give ground] and now has the task, among other things, of never forgetting myself. Only religiously can I become intelligible to myself before God; in relation to people, misunderstanding is the foreign language I speak. I wanted to have the power to be able to express myself in the universal any time I wished; now I cannot do it.... My idea was to structure my life ethically in my innermost being and to conceal this inwardness in the form of deception. Now I am forced even further back into myself; my life is religiously structured and is so far back in inwardness that I have difficulty in making my way to actuality. To whom, indeed, would it occur to want to be self-important in relation to God, but my relationship is of such a nature that it is as if God had chosen me, not I God. Not even the appearance of the negative expression of being something—that it is I who come to him—is left to me. If I am unwilling to resign myself to bearing the pain of necessity, I am annihilated and have nowhere to be but among men in misunderstanding. If I endure the pain of necessity, then the transformation occurs (p. 351f.).

June 14. Midnight. ... in my solitude these ideas are precious to me even though they terrify me; they have great significance for me and teach me—instead of wanting to congratulate myself on matchless discoveries in the sphere of the religious and to make mankind blissful with them—to discover, as it were, to my own abasement, the most simple things and to be infinitely satisfied with them. —Furthermore, implicit in the concept of fear of God is the idea that one is to fear him; and if it is dangerous for a person's soul to make God into a despot, then it is also dangerous for his piety to speculate God into a subordinate servant, and if it is troubling to a person's soul if God were enclosed in eternal silence, then it is also dangerous to revise God's accounts speculatively or to parade prophetically into world history (p. 378f.).

Part three closes with a letter from Frater Taciturnus. He informs us that the diary we have been reading is an "imaginary construction", and he proceeds to describe its purpose. This includes a description of the existence-spheres. He refers to the man and woman of this love affair respectively as Quidam and Qaedam (Latin for "someone" in both masculine and feminine forms).

Now to my imaginary construction. I have placed together two heterogeneous individualities, one male and one female. Him I have kept in the power of spirit in the direction of the religious; her I have kept in esthetic categories. As soon as I posit a point of unity there can be plenty of misunderstanding. The misunderstanding, then, is not due to some third factor, as if they understood each other and were separated by some alien power—no, ironically enough, everything favors their misunderstanding. There is nothing to keep them from having each other and talking together, but right there the misunderstanding begins.... He poetizes her now, but by virtue of a religious ideality that comes after actuality. Just as a lover by virtue of an ideality that comes prior to actuality see beauties in the beloved that are not there, so he with the purposeful passion of repentance sees terrors that do not exist. —Here, at one and the same time, are the good and exceptional in him, but also the demonic—that he cannot find rest and come to rest in the ultimate religious resolution but is constantly kept in a state of suspension (p. 420, 426).

The state of suspension is that of inability (or unwillingness) to commit oneself to something or someone. Kierkegaard's main criticism of his time was that people lacked the willingness to exercise passion in their commitment. They preferred reflection, mere intellectual (or pseudo-intellectual) involvement, which is ultimately self-referential, since it refuses to engage wholeheartedly with the object of inquiry, especially with God. Taciturnus tells us that Quidam seeks to express the religious, but in esthetic terms, and is therefore incapable of attaining the erotic or the religious; he is suspended.

Frater Taciturnus reminds the reader more than once that he is not, despite his name, religious. The reader must remember that throughout this entire work Kierkegaard approaches the religious stage in an esthetic manner, since the entire work is still operating under the pseudonymous authorship. Many of Quidam's journal entries begin with the words "A year ago today". Thus, his entries are recollections. Recollection is distinctly a feature of the esthetic stage. It is a backwards looking action. Commitment to the beloved is an example of forward-looking repetition (the ethical). Kierkegaard is concerned with the forward-looking passionate commitment to the ideal (God). This is the religious stage.

From the heading of this section, the reader will easily perceive that it is not my intention to remain in the esthetic but that I want to go on to the religious. What the tragic hero is in the esthetic, the religious prototype...is for the religious consciousness. The poet here is speaker. Here one turns again to the historical. The prototype is presented, and then the speaker declares that it is positively certain, for it is historical, and the believing congregation believes everything, even that the speaker knows what he himself is saying. In order to grasp the ideality, I must be able to dissolve the historical in the ideality or do...what God is said to do for one who is dying: shine upon it (p. 439).

Kierkegaard returns to a theme which he elucidated in The Philosophical Fragments and would later return to in the Concluding Unscientific Postscript, namely, the incorrectness of grounding the religious in the historical. The historical does not save. One does not prove the resurrection, for example, by referring to history. It cannot be done. The object of religion, God, must be approached subjectively. Quidam is not yet in the religious. He is passionate, and that is good. But he is not yet passionate for the religious. He approaches religion as a tragic poet, not as an impassioned believer. His sufferings are in the esthetic, despite his religious inclinations. Kierkegaard wants to idealize the religious stage to such a degree that he devises a pseudonym to write about a man, Quidam, who is not yet religious, and yet the pseudonym Frater Taciturnus, who by his own admission is not religious, emphasizes the great distance from the esthetic to the religious.

For a finite being, and that, after all, is what human beings are as long as they live in temporality..., the negative infinity is higher, and the positive is a dubious reassurance. Spiritual existence, especially the religious, is not easy; the believer continually lies out on the deep, has 70,000 fathoms of water beneath him. However, long he lies out there, this still does not mean that he will gradually end up lying and relaxing on shore.... The religious man begins in another quarter; he wants to teach the listener not to fear fate, nor to lose time in pity for the person who falls before fate. All this has become less important to him, which is why he, unlike the estheticist, sees all people, great and small, as equally exposed to the blows of fate.... "It is indeed egotism," declares the poet, "if you cannot forget the blow of fate that has struck you when you see the tragic hero; it is egotism when, by seeing the hero become a tailor, you go home anxious"—"But to dwell on one's own personal guilt," says the religious person, "to be apprehensive about one's own guilt is not egotism, for precisely thereby one is in a relationship with God!" For a religious person, fear and compassion are something different and are purified not by turning outward but by turning inward. The esthetic healing consists in this, that the individual, by staring himself into the esthetic dizziness, disappears from himself, like an atom, like a speck of dust.... The religious healing, conversely, consists in transforming the world and centuries and generations and millions of contemporaries to something vanishing, transforming jubilation and acclamation and esthetic hero worship into a disturbing diversion, the idea of being finished into a phantasmagoric hallucination—so that all that remains is only the individual himself—this particular individual placed in his relationship with God under the qualification: guilty/not guilty (p. 444, 462f.).

Each section of Stages On Life's Way represents one of the stages. This third part is by far the longest of the three, which of itself emphasizes the importance of the religious. Kierkegaard closes with a description of the three stages of life, or, as he prefers to call them—notwithstanding the title of the book—the existence spheres.

There are three existence spheres: the esthetic, the ethical, the religious. The metaphysical is abstraction, and there is no human who exists metaphysically. The metaphysical, the ontological, is, but it does not exist, for when it exists it does so in the esthetic, in the ethical, in the religious, and when it is, it is the abstraction from a prius [prior thing] to the esthetic, the ethical, the religious. The ethical sphere is only a transition sphere, and therefore its highest expression is repentance as a negative action. The esthetic sphere is the sphere of immediacy, the ethical the sphere of requirement (and this requirement is so infinite that the individual always goes bankrupt), the religious the sphere of fulfillment, but, please note, not a fulfillment such as when one fills an alms box or a sack of gold, for repentance has specifically created a boundless space, and as a consequence the religious contradiction: simultaneously to be out on 70,000 fathoms of water and yet be joyful. Just as the ethical sphere is a passageway—which one nevertheless does not pass through once and for all—just as repentance is its expression, so repentance is the most dialectical (p. 476f.).

"The metaphysical is abstraction, and there is no human who exists metaphysically." Kierkegaard was not concerned with the hypothetical, or mere speculation. There is no real existence for a person outside of one of the existence spheres. This is how he can say that the metaphysical is, but does not exist. The esthetic sphere cannot bring about fulfillment because it is concerned with the immediate, that is, it is not a telos, nor does it lead to one. The ethical is a transition; it does lead somewhere, but its demands are impossible to fulfill. The religious is the fulfillment, but difficult fulfillment—to rest joyful in the paradox.

Kierkegaard confessed more than once that Stages On Life's Way is a very difficult work. His less dialectical and more overtly and strictly religious writing is found in the early Upbuilding Discourses, and in the later godly discourses, such as For Self-Examination and Judge For Yourself! All were published under his own name.