Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), like Immanuel Kant before him, believed that ethical knowledge was universally distributed. Bob Dylan sang “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”, and Kierkegaard might have said you don’t need an ethics expert to know right from wrong. He held that when it came to ethics, there was no object of knowledge – for instance, no set of rules or standards – to be transmitted. But just because the ethics expert can’t provide anyone with some new morsel of moral knowledge they don’t already know, it doesn’t follow that there’s nothing a writer can do to help a reader lead a more upright life. From Kierkegaard’s perspective, it becomes a matter of drawing something out of a person rather than putting something in, or as he expressed it in one journal entry, when it comes to the ethical, “… one has to pound it out of him” – as the corporal sees the soldier in the farm-boy and says, “I will have to pound the soldier out of him.”
The belief that when it came to matters moral there was nothing specific to communicate spurred Kierkegaard, often writing under pseudonyms, to develop his ‘method of indirect communication’, the aim of which was in part to prod people into a more vibrant and authentic relationship with the moral and religious ideals they already had.