After mentioning Kierkegaard's leveling and mathematical equality concepts, this passage is quoted:

The individual no longer belongs to God, to himself, to his beloved, to his art or to his science; he is conscious of belonging in all things to an abstraction to which he is subjected by reflection.

(emphasis mine) What does he mean by 'subjected by reflection'?

  • 3
    Could you mention/link to the book which you are reading, for context? This might raise the chance of getting a good answer!
    – DBK
    Nov 30, 2012 at 0:47
  • done, good idea.
    – LitheOhm
    Nov 30, 2012 at 5:27

4 Answers 4


Warning: Not a Kierkegaard expert.

Here's a commentary of the passage you quoted:

If Kierkegaard is correct, rather than being ourselves, we tend to conform to an image or idea associated with being a certain type of person. That's what Kierkegaard means by belonging to an "abstraction" (an image or idea) created by "reflection" (self conscious thinking). (p. 408)

Please note that "reflection" is a technical term in Kierkegaard's philosophy. I found an online essay disentangling this difficult notion. This might help you understanding the passage further. (I cannot comment on or vouch for the essay's accuracy, however.)

  • +1 thanks for the online essay, even though I disagree with the poster. Kierkegaard doesn't seem so interested in knowledge as he is in action. The commentary is from the same book I am using, too.
    – LitheOhm
    Nov 30, 2012 at 5:25

"subjected by reflection" I think means that the state of belonging in all things to an abstraction is caused by reflection (theoretical thinking). I don't think there's any philosophical import there... just the usual sense of the word "subjected".

On "reflection", I got the sense in Kierkegaard that the concept is simple, but it's hard to discern because we're so embedded in that mode of thinking, rather than "reflection" in itself being a complicated concept.


'Reflection' in Kierkegaard is opposed to 'immediacy'. It's the state in which you form an idea about something and deal with the idea, as opposed to dealing with the thing itself.

For instance, The Present Age starts with:

The present age is one of understanding, of reflection, devoid of passion, an age which flies into enthusiasm for a moment only to decline back into indolence. Not even a suicide does away with himself out of desperation, he considers the act so long and so deliberately, that he kills himself with thinking -- one could barely call it suicide since it is thinking which takes his life. He does not kill himself with deliberation but rather kills himself because of deliberation. Therefore, one can not really prosecute this generation, for its art, its understanding, its virtuosity and good sense lies in reaching a judgment or a decision, not in taking action.

Reflection in Kierkegaard is related to 'abstraction' and 'objectivity'. 'Abstraction' is when something exists as an idea instead of as a real thing, and 'objectivity' is when a person thinks they can deal with something as though it was an idea and not a real thing.


In that passage Kierkegaard means that today the individual subsumes himself under a universal: "an abstraction to which he is subjected by reflection". Kierkegaard refers here to Kant's reflective judgment. In this sense he is saying that we think of ourselves as belonging to abstractions (the state, society, etc.) - We no longer think of ourselves as existing human beings (individuals).

See: Kant, Critique of the power of judgment.

  • Would you have a reference to Kant's reflective judgment? This or some other reference more specific to Kierkegaard would help support your answer and give the reader a place to go for more information. Welcome to Philosophy! Jan 17, 2019 at 7:59
  • «The power of judgment in general is the faculty for thinking of the particular as contained under the universal.a If the universal (the rule, the principle, the law) is given, then the power of judgment, which subsumes the particular under it (even when, as a transcendental power of judgment, it provides the conditions a priori in accordance with which alone anything can be subsumed under that universal), is determining. If, however, only the particular is given, for which the universal is to be found, then the power of judgment is merely reflecting.» Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment Jan 17, 2019 at 10:38

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