(Princeton University, USA, and University of Copenhagen, Denmark)
"Was Rasmus Nielsen really a windbag (as Kierkegaard said)?"
Rasmus Nielsen was arguably the most distinguished and influential philosopher in Denmark in the period between 1850 and 1880. Nielsen was, for a short period of time, Kierkegaard’s closest confidant and designated successor, and he exercised significant influence on many important Danish thinkers, including Harald Høffding, Georg Brandes, and Christian Bohr. However, despite his extensive body work, none of Nielsen’s writings have been translated into other languages, and even in the Danish literature, he is often dismissed as unoriginal or outdated. In this lecture I will reconsider the reasons why Nielsen has been judged harshly, and I will suggest that Nielsen did in fact have some ideas of enduring value. I will look, in particular, at Nielsen’s ideas about logic, objective knowledge, the relationship between subject and object, the relationship between faith (Tro) and reason (Viden), and the relationship of philosophy to the empirical sciences. I will argue that Nielsen is, in an important sense, a forerunner of early analytic philosophers (especially Ludwig Wittgenstein), leading to some speculation about how Kierkegaard’s influence might have moved Nielsen and Wittgenstein toward adopting similar stances.