A Note on Secondary Sources
In addition to the close readings and conversations that will
take place in our class, one of the purposes of this seminar is to introduce
you to a much larger scholarly conversation about Kierkegaard. This conversation
is extremely diverse. As in class discussions, comments in this scholarly discussion
range from the very bad (boring, disorganized, pointless, etc.) to the very
good (interesting, clear, insightful). The approaches to Kierkegaard range from
Continental, poststructuralist, deconstructive approaches (such as Derrida and
Mark Taylor) to extremely fine-grained analysis.
For each reading, I have selected some of the most important and valuable secondary literature on each reading. This is on reserve in the library. The articles are organized by primary texts. Thus, for example, there is a folder that contains all of the articles on Sickness unto Death. There are also several good books. I have listed references to those books on the syllabus. In addition, for most classes I have highlighted two or three secondary sources that I think will be particularly helpful and/or interesting for this class. These are listed on the syllabus.
This secondary reading is optional. I recommend at least looking at what material is available for each class, since you are likely to find some pieces that will shed light on particular problems areas for you. When you are writing your seminar paper and final paper, I particularly recommend looking at the secondary literature.
How to use secondary literature properly
This material puts you in touch with a largely philosophical community, discussing the same material that you are discussing. Reading this material is particularly helpful for three purposes:
(a) Correcting basic mistakes. You might develop an interpretation of a text that is inconsistent with certain obvious and well-known passages, passages that you just missed (it happens; these are long books!). Secondary sources will draw your attention to those passages. You might also make a philosophical argument that seems reasonable at first, but against which there are definitive objections. You might have an objection against something in the text, but the text might answer that objection elsewhere. The secondary literature will help you avoid those mistakes.
(b) Highlighting key issues. Often a text seems so clear, or so confusing, that it is hard to know what are the most important philosophical issues in interpreting it. Secondary sources will not necessary draw you to the issues that are most important, but they will draw your attention to problems that have interested enough people to be discussed in the wider philosophical community. These problems will usually have at least some intrinsic philosophical interest, and they might be problems that weren't initially obvious.
(c) Raising objections and showing the uniqueness of your view. Often the meaning of a text, or the solution to a problem, seems so obvious that defending it is not even worthwhile. One sees the need to defend one's own interpretation (or solution) only when one finds that others do not share it. Secondary literature can draw attention to different interpretations and positions, along with arguments defending those interpretations and positions. This provides interlocutors against whom you can defend your own views.
Secondary literature can be dangerous, however. If the secondary literature distracts you from engaging with the primary texts, you are misusing it. Benefiting from secondary literature depends on one important discipline: READ THE TEXT FOR YOURSELF FIRST. Only after you read the text carefully, think about it, and develop your own interpretations and critiques, should you turn to the secondary literature. If the text seems totally overwhelming, such that you just need some help orienting yourself, you should still read the text first, then go to secondary literature, then return to the text. Without this discipline, you may end up just adopting another person's philosophical stance without thinking for yourself.