The Philosopher Who Rebelled on Matters of the Soul

In his trial before the citizens of Athens, Socrates famously compared himself to a gadfly — a pest, sent by god, perhaps, to “awaken and persuade and reproach” his fellow Athenians so that they did not “spend the rest of [their] lives asleep.” If he was a gadfly, then piety, justice and intellectual orthodoxy were his nectar. Into these moral and ethical issues he would bite, until he sucked dry their illogic and laid bare the uncertainty at their base.

More than 21 centuries later, Socrates — or, at least, the Socratic method of laying bare — would come alive again, this time in the form of a brooding Dane, the self-described Socrates of Christendom, Soren Kierkegaard. Clare Carlisle, in her sparkling, penetrative new biography, “Philosopher of the Heart: The Restless Life of Soren Kierkegaard,” explains how Kierkegaard ran against the philosophical grain of his time.

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