Giving the 'dear self' its due : Kierkegaard, Frankfurt and self-love
In her highly critical account of Harry Frankfurt's account of self-love (in this volume), Sylvia Walsh presents Kierkegaard’s Christian view as a corrective to Frankfurt’s naturalistic account. Walsh criticises Frankfurt for lacking a concept of self-denial, and this notion is central to the view of self-love she finds in Kierkegaard. In this paper, I argue that while Frankfurt’s account of self-love certainly warrants criticism, it does bring to light some key points that can be brought to bear on how we may best understand Kierkegaard’s view of proper self-love. First, we can see from Frankfurt’s account how love – not just of oneself, but also of others - entails commitment, and that such commitment requires an appropriate relation to oneself. Further, Frankfurt shows clearly how self-love necessarily points outside the self and how love can involve self-interest without being based upon it in a ‘merely selfish’ way. For Frankfurt, love involves caring about the good of the person or thing loved for their own sake. So in self-love, I care about the good of myself for my own sake. This reminder – phrased in more Christian terminology, that I am a ‘neighbour’ too – gives an important standard against which accounts of Kierkegaardian self-love should be measured. It is, I argue, a problem for accounts which would have us put too much emphasis on self-denial. There is, on these matters, a more moderate – more loving? - Kierkegaard, and his voice should be heard. While it is true that Kierkegaard describes self-denial as ‘Christianity’s essential form’, there are other things he says which qualify this. In the final section, I’ll point out the relevance for oneself of his focus on trust and hope, and his insistence on the importance of accepting that one’s sins are forgiven, and the self-forgiveness consequent upon this.