Loving the Neighbour

In line with the second commandment of the Bible, Kierkegaard defines Christian love (Kjerlighed) as love for the neighbour. But who is our neighbour and what does it mean to love the neighbour as oneself? Kierkegaard begins to unpack the meaning of this commandment by pointing out that the term 'neighbour'(Mxste) is derived from the word 'nearest' (Nxrmeste), suggesting that the neighbour is the person who is or ought to be nearest to us—just as near as we are to ourselves (WL 21). Philosophically, the concept of neighbour corresponds to 'the other',26 which in Kierkegaard's view includes all people but need be only one person in order to fulfil the commandment, for 'if there is one other person whom you in the Christian sense love as yourself or in whom you love the neighbour, then you love all people' (21). Christianly understood, loving the neighbour involves a 'redoubling' or duplication of oneself in the other in such a way as to test and do away with selfishness in one's self-love (21). In commanding love of the neighbour as oneself, Christianity presupposes that we love ourselves; thus it does not oppose self-love per se but seeks only to purge it of selfishness in order to teach us to love ourselves in the right way. This is done, Kierkegaard contends, not by loving another person 'more than oneself', which in his estimation is only a poetic intoxication and projection of oneself in an 'other I' or 'other self', but by duplicating oneself in the other in such a way as to transform self-love into love for the other regarded as an 'other you' who is independent and distinct from oneself (18-19, 53). In the latter mode of redoubling, which is the Christian mode, what one selfishly would have desired only for oneself is now desired for the other, and instead of making demands upon the other, all the demands are placed upon oneself. Loving oneself in the right way thus corresponds perfectly to loving the neighbour; indeed, for Kierkegaard they are fundamentally 'one and the same thing' (22).

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