Although Kierkegaard's writing covers a wide range of topics and interests, he is most known for his intensely personal, though highly theoretical retrieval of the problems of human freedom, self-determination and religious faith. His treatment of such topics was unique for the 19th Century, at least until the advent of Nietzsche's thought which comes much later toward the end of the century. In reaction to the prevailing Hegelian climate, Kierkegaard confronts an idealism that he believed had lost touch with the reality of the human condition, a reality fraught with unanswerable questions, impossible decisions, confusing emotions and dreadful uncertainties. Kierkegaard forces us to entertain the possibility that, perhaps the onto-metaphysical foundations of the world are without reason, that God and his plan for the world make no objective sense at all, that perhaps the world is in reality, absurd...
If the world is absurd, what do we, as self-determining agents, do about it?
Not surprisingly, Kierkegaard's personal confrontation with such questions brings his writings passionately into the religious realm, but unlike the Hegelian Idealism of his time, based upon personal experience, Kierkegaard's philosophical approach abandons traditional, academic, disembodied attempts to give so-called objective, logical proofs for the existence of God, or rational justifications for the way the world is. Rather, Kierkegaard attempts to develop a type of living faith that commits to and embraces the actuality of an ultimate unknowing.
What is striking about Kierkegaard's work is its autobiographical nature. As many of the titles suggest, the driving force behind Kierkegaard's philosophical investigations was his own, personal confrontations with the human predicament.
Between 1834 and 1835, Søren writes in his notebook:
"What I really need is to come to terms with myself about what I am to do, not about what I am to know, except insomuch as knowledge must precede every act. It is a matter of understanding my destiny, of seeing what the Divinity actually wants me to do; what counts is to find a truth, which is true for me, to find that idea for which I will live and die."
Such an impassioned response to basic metaphysical questions (Why?) becomes the groundwork for an entire tradition of philosophy called Existentialism, a tradition as romantic as it is desparate.