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Comparing Søren Kierkegaard and Feng Youlan on the Search for the True Self


RICHARD C. K. LEE, Assistant Professor, Department of Religion and Philosophy, Hong Kong Baptist University. Specialties: existentialism, philosophy of religion, Kierkegaardian studies. E-mail:


This article attempts to compare the theories of life between Søren Kierkegaard and Feng Youlan. It will focus specifically on the identity of the self in Kierkegaard's “stages of life” and Feng's “realms of life” (rensheng jingjie 人生境界). Whereas Kierkegaard subscribes doctrinally to the Christian understanding of the self and claims that the highest stage of life is achievable only for the God-centered self, Feng draws his insights from the Confucian, Daoist, and Buddhist traditions, which, by imposing human values onto the universe, runs the danger of rendering the self the very center of the “great whole” (daquan 大全). Moving beyond a descriptive comparison, I will argue that the Kierkegaardian stage theory includes a critique of Feng's realm doctrine, the latter appearing to be overly idealistic, missing the dark side of the human essence so succinctly pointed out by former and, consequently, falls short of offering a more realistic description of the self.