Let’s check out life can only be understood backwards meaning explained in simple English you can understand, so you can live forwards to the fullest.
The quote is:
Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards
Before I proceed forward, let it be understood that actually there is no such particular quote.
This Søren Kierkegaard’s most widely quoted line is actually a paraphrased quotation.
In other words, it has being rewritten.
To be more exact, it has been shortened.
Where did Kierkegaard say life can only be understood backwards?
This succinct paraphrase in English is found in one of the eleven volumes of Kierkegaard’s Journals and Notebooks.
It is found in his journals from 1836 to 1846, containing Kierkegaard’s reflections on philosophy, theology, literature and his own personal life.
The full quotation in Danish language is:
Det er ganske sandt, hvad Philosophien siger, at Livet maa forstaaes baglaends. Men derover glemmer man den anden Saetning, at det maa leves forlaends. Hvilken Saetning, jo meer den gjennemtaenkes, netop ender med, at Livet i Timeligheden aldrig ret bliver forstaaeligt, netop fordi jeg intet Øieblik kan faae fuldelig Ro til at indtage Stillingen: baglaends.
(Af Søren Kierkegaards Efterladte Papier 1833-1855: Med Indledende Notiser, ved H.P. Barfod, C.A. Reitzels Forlag,1869, 1843, P. 441) source
(Another source of the quote in Danish is found here.)
The shortened version “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards” in Danish language is:
“Livet skal forstaas baglaens, men leves forlaens.”
The full quotation in English translation is:
“It is quite true what philosophy says, that life must be understood backwards. But then one forgets the other principle, that it must be lived forward. Which principle, the more one thinks it through, ends exactly with temporal life never being able to be properly understood, precisely because I can at no instant find complete rest to adopt the position: backward.”
(Kierkegaard’s Journals and Notebooks, Volume 2, Journals EE-KK, Princeton University Press, 2015, Journal JJ:167. 1843, P. 179) source
Life Can Only Be Understood Backwards Meaning
Now, let’s get back to explore life can only be understood backwards meaning in detail.
The first part of the quote simply means, the only way one can fully know what one’s life is by retrospection.
Retrospection means to look back or review his or her life past events, experiences or situations.
In other words, to figure out your life, the sole mean is by reviewing it.
We can only truly understand our life by reflecting on things we’ve already done.
As Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard stated clearly we can only understand.
By contemplating on our past, we can know how it has got to where we are today.
How we got to where we are today depends entirely on the past, that which has been lived.
We often hear people say “we can learn from our past“.
Nevertheless, all our decisions are made for the future, where we never knows exactly how they will transpire.
The best we can do is we take what we’ve learned from our experiences and use it as a guide to make new decisions in the future.
Incidentally, I don’t see why youth is wasted on the young.
Youth is a passing phase which all the youngsters have to go through.
Whatever they do with it, is called life experience or life lessons.
When they grow older, they look back and then only they will understand, exactly as what Kierkegaard said.
The second part of the quote is life must be lived forward.
Don’t keep harping on bygones.
Our life goes on, whatever it is.
We have to move on, regardless of whatever our past was or what our present situation is .
The part which says: …”the more one thinks it through, ends exactly with the thought that temporal life can never properly be understood precisely because I can at no instant find complete rest in which to adopt a position: backwards“.
What he meant, is if we think deeply it through, we can never really understand life fully.
According to Kierkegaard, at no moment he could find the position “backwards“.
To him, “every moment, as well as the sum of the moments, is a process (a passing by), no moment is a present, and accordingly there is in time neither present, nor past, nor future“.
(The Essential Kierkegaard By Søren Kierkegaard, Princeton University Press, 2013, The Concept Of anxiety, P. 149) source
Life is an ongoing present thing.
“While we are reasoning concerning life, life is gone…” – David Hume
(Essays, Moral, Political, And Literary By David Hume, In Two Volumes, Vol. I, London: Longmans, Green, And Co., 1889, Part I, XVIII The Sceptic, P. 231) source
(The quote is also found here.)
Rightly, we should not live with regrets, as they are redundant.
You can mull over them or marred by this negative emotion.
It just like what they say about worrying; is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.
In conclusion, you can deliberate over your past to get a better idea of what your life has been until now, and then to live on, you still have to move forward each day into the unknown.
This is my interpretation of life can only be understood backwards meaning.
My view is it doesn’t matter you look backwards or forwards.
The most important thing in your life is what matters to you right now.
Anyway here are some related life quotations which you like to ponder over:
“We cannot solve life’s problems except by solving them.“ – M. Scott Peck
(The Road Less Traveled, 25th Anniversary Edition: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, And Spiritual Growth By M. Scott Peck, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002, Discipline, Responsibility, P. 32) source
“Life is but thought…” – Samuel Taylor Coleridge
(The Complete Poetical Works Of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Edited By Ernest Hartley Coleridge, In Two Volumes, Vol. I: Poems, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1912, Youth And Age, P. 440) source
“Life is a crucible. We are thrown into it and tried.” – Edwin Hubbell Chapin
(Living Words By Edwin Hubbell Chapin, Boston: A Tompkins, 1861, P. 26) source
(The quote is also found here.)
“For life in general, there is but one decree: youth is a blunder, manhood a struggle, old age a regret.” – Benjamin Disraeli
(Wit And Wisdom Of Benjamin Disraeli, Earl Of Beaconsfield; Collected From His Writings And Speeches, London: Longmans, Green, And Co., 1883, Youth, P. 380) source
(The quote is also found here.)