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Kierkegaard and Nietzsche are often treated together as early existentialists. This is rather odd, as Kierkegaard was self-consciously seeking to be an orthodox Christian, and Nietzsche was self-consciously seeking to destroy Christianity.

Nevertheless, after reading only a little bit of Nietzsche I have seen some parallels to Kierkegaard already. (Citations below from The Portable Nietzsche). For example:

Your self itself wants to die and turns away from life. —Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part I, "On the Despisers of the Body", 147

This bears similarity to Kierkegaard's idea of "in despair not wanting to be oneself" (Anti-Climacus in The Sickness Unto Death). Also:

The actor has spirit but little conscience of the spirit. —Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part I, "On the Flies of the Market Place", 164

Once again, Kierkegaard speaks much of spirit and consciousness of spirit/self.

Wikipedia claims that Nietzsche said he would read Kierkegaard. Do we know whether he actually did? If not, can their commonalities be traced back to some other philosopher they both read? For example, perhaps "consciousness of spirit" is terminology from Hegel?

  • 3
    On the topic of odd influences, Nietzsche stated that he was strongly influenced by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, a Russian author about 20 years older than he. Nietzsche declared that Dostoyevksy's Notes From Underground (often called the first existentialist novel - coincidence?) "cried truth from the blood"... Dostoyevsky was a devout Orthodox Christian. So there is potentially this pattern of the great Anti-Christ taking influence from Christians.
    – commando
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 20:29
  • @commando Good point; such an odd influence. There was a section (The Pale Criminal) in Thus Spoke Zarathustra that seemed to be a direct reference to Crime and Punishment...
    – Kazark
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 21:11
  • It's funny you say that N wanted to destroy Christianity, because Kierkegaard too wanted to destroy Christianity..... for K religion was something incommunicable and completely subjective, not part of a religious community.....I think N and K have a lot in common.
    – user20196
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 2:42
  • I have read quite a bit of Nietzsche over the years but I just picked up Kierkegaard for the first time and within the first two paragraphs of Fear and Trembling I was struck by the similarity of style K shares with N. Thanks for the informative comments about these two philosophers... I am glad to see others have noticed this and to learn some possible explanations for it. Commented Feb 5, 2020 at 1:01

2 Answers 2


There's no evidence that Nietzsche read Kierkegaard; the latter had not been translated into German. However, there is strong evidence that Nietzsche knew of Kierkegaard through the secondary literature; furthermore, Georges Brandes was a clear link between the two of them.

As you have noticed, there are certainly a lot of parallels between their thought, but also in terms of their influences. Both responded critically to Hegel, and particularly to Hegel's reading of Socrates; in this regard, Sarah Kofman has a fascinating book which compares the readings of Socrates found in Hegel, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche as they each weigh the source material on Socrates found in Plato, Xenophon and Aristophanes.

Furthermore, although you rightly point out their differing standpoints with regard to Christian doctrine, both were highly critical of the Christendom of their day.

  • 1
    A minor comment on an excellent answer: Socrates never wrote anything. He is mentioned in many dialogues of Plato, where Plato uses him to promote opinions and attitudes which deeply influenced human thinking. But there is no guarantee these opinions where Socrates' or Plato's. During his mature years, Plato seizes to mention Socrates and openly states his mature opinions, which are differentiated from earlier ones.
    – p.a.
    Commented Aug 14, 2012 at 12:08
  • @p.a.: I agree; that's what I was getting at regarding the source material found in Plato, Xenophon and Aristophanes, who are the only three near-contemporaries of Socrates to write about him and his ideas. Too many people (according to Kierkegaard, Hegel, and Nietzsche, among others) too easily equate "Socrates" with the Platonic representation of Socrates. Commented Aug 14, 2012 at 12:21
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    Nietzsche even mentions the name 'Kierkegaard' in a letter to Brandes (19.2.1888): nietzschesource.org/#eKGWB/BVN-1888,997
    – jeroenk
    Commented Oct 19, 2018 at 10:15

Kierkegaard's main direct philosophical influence was Schelling, and Nietzsche's main direct philosophical influence was Schopenhauer, who were both post-Kantian philosophers who moved in an "irrationalist" direction (and thus independently came up with many similar ideas). But Kierkegaard and Nietzsche were also both expected, at one point in their lives, to become conventional Lutheran ministers, and their works involve both familiarity with the basic themes of Lutheranism. That will explain many of the terminological similarities that seem striking nowadays, wrt to "despair", for example: this isn't existentialism, it's Lutheranism.

Incidentally Nietzsche was semi-nomadic for much of the later part of his career and he travelled with his books so you can actually go into his library-index and see what he thought was important enough to keep with him.

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