Love's authority: Kierkegaard and the question of autonomy

Andrew James Henscheid, Fordham University


Are the moral ideals of love and autonomy compatible? Beginning with an analysis of Kant and the German romantics, I develop a twofold historical typology of autonomy, including “rational” autonomy and “aesthetic” autonomy. As an arrogation of authority to the self, autonomy is characterized as an I-I moral psychological relation (of self to itself) that, by inadequate reception of what is irreducible to the self, threatens to discount external value claims which could otherwise be significant to practical agency. I then trace the presence of these two autonomies in Kierkegaard’s Either/Or, finding the writings of the Judge and the Aesthete as emblematic of the autonomies in question. Since the pictures of agency that emerge in these writings involve self-interpretations that do not fully agree with the picture of loving agency in Works of Love, I develop an alternative, “middle” model of agency that avoids these autonomies as well as their traditional alternative in this literature, a heteronomy explained by appeal to divine command theory. The middle model of agency is predicated on Kierkegaard’s triadic conception of the love-relation, which is treated as both the site and source of the existential command to love. By unpacking Kierkegaard’s idea that love is a form of sociality – and one which constitutes a dynamic bond from which moral obligation actively emerges – I aim to show how love, despite its irreducibility to autonomy, is a legitimate source of moral authority.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Henscheid, Andrew James, "Love's authority: Kierkegaard and the question of autonomy" (2011). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3474132.