From my perspective Kierkegaard and Nietzsche both tried to answer the same question to found out what is morality and ethic.

Why is Nietzsche so popular today, and Kierkegaard is almost forgotten? I can find Nietzsche's book at the next corner, while Kierkegaard's book is rear literature.


2 Answers 2


Since question 1 has adequate answers elsewhere, I'll focus on question 2.

'Popular success' is difficult to analyze: it's a social phenomenon that doesn't correlate well with any overt aesthetic or intellectual values. 'Popular success' is as much a matter of zeitgeist (ironic nod to Hegel) as anything else. People like things that appeal to their current sensibilities. In philosophy in particular, people are drawn to ideas that echo what they are already feeling: ideas that put into words what people have already been struggling with.

With that in mind, there are two factors that probably contributed to Nietzsche's comparatively large footprint:

  • Nietzsche was writing in German; Kierkegaard in Danish. Germany has always been recognized for a premier academic standing, so German is a natural second-language choice for anyone studying philosophy. Further, translations are laborious and expensive, particularly in the 19th century. Publishers would not undertake them unless they had good reason to believe a work will 'resonate' with a larger, trans-lingual audience. Kierkegaard started at a disadvantage.
  • Even though Kierkegaard and Nietzsche are similar in outlook and tone, Kierkegaard was fundamentally religious where Nietzsche was fundamentally anti-religious. The late 19th, early 20th century — the fin de siècle era of Darwin, Freud, and Marx — was the beginning of the intellectual push against the social and political dominance of religious ideation. Revolution was in the air, not reform, and I expect Kierkegaard would have been seen as somewhat regressive, at least outside of Denmark. Neitzsche captured that inchoate sense of social unrest better than Kierkegaard did.
  • Thanks, I reworked my question to focus on the second part Commented Jan 21, 2020 at 8:26

“to found out what is morality and ethic.”

This is absolutely key. I am glad you discovered this early on. These important philosophers waited to late in their careers, when they fully grasped the approaching horror, to turn to morality and ethic, so to speak.

Sartre (interview with Benny Levy) Gyorgy Lukacs (from Lask through N.Hartmann) Hilary Putnam (book, The Fact Value Dichotomy)

Most relevant for you may be the philosopher Alasdair Chalmers MacIntyre https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alasdair_MacIntyre MacIntyre’s position is, more or less, that like it or not we start from Nietzsche today.

One question may be, is the Nietzsche who is popular actually a good representation of Nietzsche and his work and thought, considered as a whole? Probably not. The public is really in no way up to date on Nietzsche scholarship. Neither am I, but I know this.

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