His own own experience, rather than any theoretical requirements, convinced Kierkegaard that man’s real predicament is to be placed between a thoroughly esthetic way of living and a thoroughly religious one. No permanent footing can be maintained on a purely ethical basis, and in this respect Kierkegaard stands opposed to all efforts to make morality self-sufficient. Ethical principles are intrinsically ordained to the religious outlook, and a secular morality is either unaware of its religious significance our only esthetic discourse about being moral. The genuine alternatives are still the world and the cloister, the esthetic and the religious kinds of existing. Recollecting his own battle at playing the Romantic genius and also the tremendous upheaval involved in his return to Faith, Kierkegaard was inclined to state the contrast is being between “perdition and salvation”–between which there can be no compromise for reconciliation.
James Collins, The Mind of Kierkegaard (London: Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd., 1954) 46-47.
An easy illustration of this can be found when one tries to establish even the most “self-evident” forms of ethics: Why is murder wrong? If you say, Because killing is wrong? The next step is “Why?” Because you killed a person. “Why is it wrong to kill a person?” Where does one stop searching for an answer to the “why”? Wherever one stops implies a religious position (to use Kierkegaard’s term) or an ethical (I simply find this distasteful).
The implicit esthetic morality of many people is apparent in the tremendous transformation taking place in ethics (particularly sexual ethics) in the West — and the speed in which it has happened. It seems that a great deal of public ethics was merely a matter of taste. Indeed, the “religious” positions of many people seem to be little more than taste and convenience.