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The Sickness Unto Death: A Christian Psychological Exposition for Upbuilding and Awakening

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30 review for The Sickness Unto Death: A Christian Psychological Exposition for Upbuilding and Awakening

  1. 5 out of 5

    Khashayar Mohammadi

    Kierkegaard is a strange philosopher to discuss. His writing is incredibly dense in ideology while poetically preserving the aesthetic. I bought this book more than two years ago, along with "Fear and Trembling"; yet they have never left my bedside table. One can read this book a dozen times and still find new landscapes in his ideology. It was about time to revisit this book once again. It might sound ridiculous, but I find this book to be the greatest self-help book ever written. It Kierkegaard is a strange philosopher to discuss. His writing is incredibly dense in ideology while poetically preserving the aesthetic. I bought this book more than two years ago, along with "Fear and Trembling"; yet they have never left my bedside table. One can read this book a dozen times and still find new landscapes in his ideology. It was about time to revisit this book once again. It might sound ridiculous, but I find this book to be the greatest self-help book ever written. Its important to recognize "Despair" as a part of the self; its important to recognize "Despair" as the right path to actualization; or in Kierkegaard's vocabulary "Faith". Its normal for us to rebel against our existence and defy any eternal consolation for the sake of individuality; because what are we but self-conscious errors who have risen up against the tyranny of their creator? One of the most eye-opening works of philosophy I have ever read.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Leonard

    For Kierkegaard, “the self is not the relation (which relates to itself) but the relation’s relating to itself.” From the start, he shifts from a Cartesian or essentialist view of the self to an existentialist one. Whereas for Descartes “self” is a common noun, for Kierkegaard, it is a gerund. And the embedded verb, to relate, points to the dynamics of the self. In this case, relating to itself. For Kierkegaard, “the self is not the relation (which relates to itself) but the relation’s relating to itself.” From the start, he shifts from a Cartesian or essentialist view of the self to an existentialist one. Whereas for Descartes “self” is a common noun, for Kierkegaard, it is a gerund. And the embedded verb, to relate, points to the dynamics of the self. In this case, relating to itself. The first despair is that “which is ignorant of being in despair, or the despairing ignorance of having a self and an eternal self.” Similar to the “unexamined life” of Socrates, this is the unexamined self. And for Kierkegaard, this is the most common despair, though the individuals involved aren’t aware of it. In the Christian worldview, “a human being is a synthesis of the infinite and finite,” and therefore the tension between these poles becomes the source of next two types of despair: “wanting in despair to be oneself” and “not wanting in despair to be oneself.” For Kierkegaard, despair is the sickness unto death, one different from an ordinary sickness that leads to physical death. Within the Christian framework, physical death may be a path toward eternal life and a dying person may hope for the life after. But despair, as the sickness unto death, is when one hopes for death as a resolution, but the person cannot die. Hence, the despair. Such despair presupposes life after death. For the atheistic existentialist, such as Sartre or Camus, death is the ultimate end and creates the despair by nullifying hope and achievement and life. Faith, the interacting with the “power which established it,” is for Kierkegaard the only way the self can overcome despair. Kierkegaard contributes to Christianity by reformulating faith as the dynamics between the believer and the “power that established it,” in overcoming the ignorance of a self, and in reintegrating the self with this power so as to resolve the tension between the two. Not longer is faith accepting a set of doctrines and carrying out the rites and rituals of the Church. And he contributes to our understanding of human beings by modeling the self as the relating to itself and others, rather than as static stuffs: bodies, minds, souls and spirits, etc. So the focus shifts from being to becoming.

  3. 4 out of 5

    B. P. Rinehart

    "...What our age needs is education. And so this is what happened: God chose a man who also needed to be educated, and educated him privatissime, so that he might be able to teach others from his own experience." From Kierkegaard's [personal] Journals. 2013 is the bicentennial of Kierkegaard's birth. He probably would have not wanted you to know that, but he has plenty more things to let you know. They call him the "Father of Existentialism". You know you're asking for trouble when trying to write about a m"...What "...What our age needs is education. And so this is what happened: God chose a man who also needed to be educated, and educated him privatissime, so that he might be able to teach others from his own experience." From Kierkegaard's [personal] Journals. 2013 is the bicentennial of Kierkegaard's birth. He probably would have not wanted you to know that, but he has plenty more things to let you know. They call him the "Father of Existentialism". You know you're asking for trouble when trying to write about a man who holds that distinction, but I must make an effort, once again, to try in vain to talk about one of my heroes-period. Philosopher, theologian, man in love, man in despair, man in angst, man in thought, man in anxiety, the man who launched the great "Attack on Christendom" in order to save Christianity...I can obviously go on but he is almost beyond description in a way though I have just described him at considerable length. To get to the book itself, it is a relatively short read in comparison to most of his work and is an implicit response to his earlier masterpiece Concluding Unscientific Postscript to "Philosophical Fragments" written under the pseudonym "Johannes Climacus" while this book is written under the name "Anti-Climacus". I have read excerpts of "Postscripts but not the whole work in its entirety (it is long), but a lot of the main points are brought up and somewhat expounded on from a different angle here. The title of this book is actually 2/3 of the main topic of the book which is that the sickness unto death is despair; that is THE word of this book and main idea. In two parts, he is going to talk about the kinds of despair and than what despair actually is. Throughout that time we will get the standard anti-Hegelianism, mixed with the very in-depth psychological, existential (obviously, he even uses the word), and theological insight that has made his work as new today as it was 50, 100, and 164 years ago. I am constantly amazed at how at his best, he could tell you anything and make it sound ultra-enlightening even if you feel you have heard it before. For such a small book I felt overwhelmed (in a good way) at all the information that I was getting in such little space. The only other book that really did that to me is Notes from Underground, another existential classic. This book also recalled Fear and Trembling to my mind. But where that book gives the existential definition of faith (the "teleological suspension of the ethical), this book gives the existential definition of sin. One common complaint about this book is about some of the lag in part one which infuriated me when part two came around and he easily explains all the tortured points he was making in a page and a half. The good news is that he makes up for it big time in part two when he gets into the topic "Despair is Sin", from there he's on a rampage of everything you ever thought about sin and [Christian] faith... One is amazed at how well executed his criticism of institutional Christianity (which he calls "Christendom") is without seeming in the least apostateical yet he pulls no punches, whether you're pious or a pagan he is going after you and trying his best to make you question what you thought you knew: "But it has to be said, and as bluntly as possible, that so-called Christendom (in which all, in their millions, are Christians as a matter of course, so that there are as many, yes, just as many Christians as there are people) is not only a miserable edition of Christianity, full of misprints that distort the meaning and of thoughtless omissions and emendations, but an abuse of it in having taken Christianity's name in vain... Alas! the fate of this word in Christendom is like an epigram on all that is Christian. The misfortune is not that no one speaks up for Christianity (nor, therefore, that there is not enough priests); but they speak up for for it in such a way that the majority of people end up attaching no meaning to it...Thus the highest and holiest leave no impression at all, but sound like something that has now-God knows why-become a matter of form and habits indefensible-they find it requisite to defend Christianity." Oh and his feelings toward apologetics? "One can see now...how extraordinarily stupid it is to defend Christianity, how little knowledge of humanity it betrays, how it...[makes] Christianity out to be some miserable object that in the end must be rescued by a defence[sic]. It is therefore certain and true that the person who first thought of defending Christianity in Christendom is de facto a Judas No. 2; he too betrays with a kiss, except his treason is that of stupidity. To defend something is always to discredit it. Let a man have a warehouse full of gold, let him be willing to give away a ducat to every one of the poor - but let him also be stupid enough to begin this charitable undertaking of his with a defence in which he offers three good reasons in justification; and it will almost come to the point of people finding it doubtful whether indeed he is doing something good. But now for Christianity. Yes, the person who defends that has never believed in it. If he does believe, then the enthusiasm of faith is not a defence, no, it is the assault and the victory; a believer is a victor." One has to have read or be familiar with "Concluding Unscientific Postscripts" to understand why he is so against Christian apologetics. In that work he comments on the absurdity of the idea that the eternal should come into time and die while taking on the form as the least and lowest of men. He argues here and there that the idea is from an intellectual bases absurd to all hell and back, thus making it indefensible but at the same time making it the supreme act of love and morality and is, at least for him, the solution to despair-but of course I'm simplifying this so my small mind can understand. This is just a taste of the ideas going through this book and I would advise you to read it and experience it for yourself. One more person who deserves some credit in this book is obvious (to those who knows the life of Kierkegaard) was the only love he ever had, his fiancée Regine Olsen. This book, like many of S.K.'s work, is autobiographical to an extent and his relationship to Olsen manages to show-up in quite a bit of his works in one form or another. They were not Dante and Beatrice but she had a devastatingly profound effect on him and she could be called, in a way, the mother of existentialism. This really impresses me and makes me feel that Kierkegaard was probably one of the best psychologist of his own mind outside of Jung. "Let us speak of this in purely human terms. Oh! how pitiable a person who has never felt the loving urge to sacrifice everything for love, who has therefore been unable to do so!"

  4. 4 out of 5

    David Sarkies

    Identity in an industrialised world 14 October 2013 This book seems to simply ramble on with only a vague structure to it. The reason I say a vague structure is because the first part deals with despair and the second part deals with the nature of sin. However within both parts Kierkegaard doesn't seem to actually be moving in any specific direction, nor does he seem to come to any particular conclusion – if I were marking this as an essay, I would probably give it good marks in relatio Identity in an industrialised world 14 October 2013 This book seems to simply ramble on with only a vague structure to it. The reason I say a vague structure is because the first part deals with despair and the second part deals with the nature of sin. However within both parts Kierkegaard doesn't seem to actually be moving in any specific direction, nor does he seem to come to any particular conclusion – if I were marking this as an essay, I would probably give it good marks in relation to content (which I why I gave it such a high rating, because in amongst all of the ramblings, he makes some very insightful statements) but give it an very low mark in regards to structure. However, as I have mentioned, I am more interested in the content than in the structure. Kierkegaard (which, by the way, means graveyard in Danish) is considered to be the father of existentialism. It wasn't that one day he decided to sit down an write a new philosophy, but rather he was writing in response to the changes that he was seeing going on around him and building upon the philosophies of those that came before him. Kierkegaard was also a Christian, and had studied for the priesthood, however we wasn't connected with any specific church. This is not surprising because at the time Denmark had a state church, and with all state churches, if one does not tow the line, one does not get to speak. The situation that Kierkegaard is writing about is the destruction of the self that was coming about with modernisation. As people began to move from the country to the cities, people's individuality, and identity, were beginning to disappear. This was also happening within industrialisation, as the skilled person was being replaced with a multitude of unskilled workers. Where previously a nail would be individually made by a blacksmith who was skilled in making all sorts of items, nails were now made by a team who were required to work on only one part of the nail. As such, the identity of the skilled blacksmith was being replaced by the workers, who in effect had no identity at all. This, as Kierkegaard suggests, is the progenitor of despair. Further, this loss of identity also created a loss of purpose, and when one's purpose is removed, it goes on to add to the despair. Maybe this is why depression is so common in the developed world today because we have effectively lost our identity, and simply find ourselves as being one of the crowd. For instance, as in my case, I like to review and comment on books, but so do hundreds of other people, and as such I find myself competing with hundreds (or even thousands) of other people for readership of my commentaries, and if twenty of them have picked up a large following then I feel, in the end, that I have been left behind, and as such all of my work means nothing – I have lost my purpose, and in the end there is nothing left but despair. So the question that arises is: what is existentialism? It is the idea that we define who we are rather than letting other people define ourselves. This is the essence of despair because if I base my ability to write a commentary by the number of likes that I get then I find that I am letting others define who I am. Instead, if I let define myself as someone who likes to read, and then write about what I have read, and the thoughts and ideas that I have while I have been reading, then it does not matter what other people think, because I have given myself my own definition. It is also the case outside of this particular sphere because if you let people define who you are 'David, I can see that you are this type of person' then we open ourselves up to despair because we give our identity to others to enchain us with their opinion. How would one respond to that? Me, I simply ignore that person, and go and find somebody else to spend time with, somebody who is not going to attempt to define me, but allow me to define myself. I guess that is what Kierkegaard is trying to do (and I don't really think he does it well in my opinion, because this book is very dense, and also hard to follow his argument) and that is to empower us to escape from the cycle of despair and to make us realise that in God's eyes we are actually somebody, and while we may have a meaningless, dead-end job, we can escape that by giving ourselves our own identity and our own definition. Another example from my own life is that in my previous role I let it define me, and because I let it define me, it depressed me. This time I just acknowledge that I do work, and I work for an insurance company, but then try to move away from that to talk about other things so that my job does not define me, but rather I define myself. Look, it isn't easy, and people really don't like it when you empower yourself like that, but as Nietzsche said, that which doesn't kill you, only makes you stronger (and he was also an existentialist philosopher).

  5. 5 out of 5

    Justin Evans

    In which I am again reminded of a friend's experience with a professor in a class on Kierkegaard: the students spent the first five weeks trying to convince the professor that you can probably only understand a quarter of Kierkegaard unless you read him in the context of Hegel; the professor rejects this and stresses instead Kierkegaard's Socraticism; at the end of the fifth week (i.e., less than halfway through the course) the professor admits defeat. If that doesn't sound remarkable, you haven In which I am again reminded of a friend's experience with a professor in a class on Kierkegaard: the students spent the first five weeks trying to convince the professor that you can probably only understand a quarter of Kierkegaard unless you read him in the context of Hegel; the professor rejects this and stresses instead Kierkegaard's Socraticism; at the end of the fifth week (i.e., less than halfway through the course) the professor admits defeat. If that doesn't sound remarkable, you haven't taken many courses with philosophy professors, whom you cannot convince of anything unless they already secretly believe it. The moral of the story is: most of Kierkegaard's writing is incomprehensible unless you've read Hegel. That doesn't mean, as the cliche has it, that he's writing *against* Hegel. This book is a kind of depressing mini-phenomenology of spirit, in which, instead of ascending towards absolute knowledge, human kind simultaneously ascends towards (what Kierkegaard takes to be) absolute knowledge (i.e., God), and descends further into despair for any number of reasons and in any number of ways. For Hegel, there's always one destination--you might stop on the way to the truth, but your journey is always in that direction. For Kierkegaard, as for Marx, there are two destinations--the good (God/communism) and the horrific (despair/barbarism)--which are both in the same direction. For Marx, 'science' (in the Hegelian sense) will get you to communism, while ideology/capitalism etc will get you to barbarism. For Kierkegaard, science will lead you closer to God, by deepening your despair, but it *won't* get you to the good. Kierkegaard has very good criticisms to make of Hegel, but not the way that, say, Russell has criticisms of him. Kierkegaard, like Marx, remains on Hegel's side of the fence. Anyway, SuD is a critique of the various idiocies human kind will perform in order to stay in despair. Unlike 20th century existentialists, to whom he's often compared, Kierkegaard insists that the way we are (both 'eternal' and mortal) does not, in itself, lead to despair--despair is the result of an "imbalance" in ourselves, a stressing of one or the other of these elements at the expense of the other. The human condition is not *intrinsically* one of despair; despair is something we do to ourselves. SuD goes through the many different ways in which we can be unbalanced: pretending we're other than we are, despairing of the way we are, and so on. The 'cure' is to recognize and live with our synthesis, not wish to be entirely eternal (a fantasy) nor believe ourselves to be entirely mortal (which, as a kind of determinism, cuts us off from the possibilities of human existence). The quasi-Hegelian 'portraits' of various people in despair still read like a rogue's gallery of contemporary intellectuals: "Have hope in the possibility of help, especially on the strength of the absurd, that for God everything is possible? No, that he will not. And ask help of any other? No, that for all the world he will not do; if it came to that, he would rather be himself with all the torments of hell than ask for help." (102) Here are your militant atheists, 'scientific' determinists*, literary existentialists, and solipsistic nihilists of all stripes, wallowing in self-satisfaction, "he prefers to rage against everything and be the one whom the whole world, all existence, has wronged, the one for whom it is especially important to ensure that he has his agony on hand, so that no one will take it from him--for then he would not be able to convince others and himself that he is right." (103). The second part, on despair as sin, is a much easier read, and not quite as interesting, although it does include the wonderful thought that "a self is what it has as its standard of measurement," (147). Kierkegaard's attack on 'Christendom' comes up here, and is as right as ever, but you'd have to be pretty convinced of the perfection of institutional Christianity to find it all that affecting, and I, dear reader, am not. In short, there's a great lesson in here for 21st century types who like to harp on about humanity's existential loneliness and how evolution means we're destined to rape and pillage because there's no meaning anymore: if you think only a God can give us meaning, then leap into faith, or come to the somewhat easier realization that actually, we can give ourselves meaning. It's childish to think otherwise. *I've always found it odd that so many people who, quite rightly, hold firm to empiricism, take so seriously the idea of determinism (a reasonable assumption for experimental science, but not therefore a fact) despite the absence of evidence for it. Granted, there can be no evidence for it (despite those idiotic 'experiments' in which people's brains 'decide' something 'before' the people do). But determinism and God have that in common. That won't change anyone's mind on God or determinism, of course, because, as Kierkegaard puts it in a different context, "the despairer thinks that he himself is this evidence" (105).

  6. 4 out of 5

    David Withun

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  7. 4 out of 5

    Robby

    "The Sickness unto Death" is an insightful taxonomy of human self-deception, and a fascinating polemic supporting a Christianity of individuals, rather than groups. Its two parts, "The Sickness unto Death is Despair" and "Despair is Sin," reflect its dual psychological and theological significance. It is, first, a precursor of modern psychoanalysis, exploring the idea of despair as a lack of self-understanding and self-acceptance. Anticipating Freud's 'unconscious mind,' Kierkegaard c "The Sickness unto Death" is an insightful taxonomy of human self-deception, and a fascinating polemic supporting a Christianity of individuals, rather than groups. Its two parts, "The Sickness unto Death is Despair" and "Despair is Sin," reflect its dual psychological and theological significance. It is, first, a precursor of modern psychoanalysis, exploring the idea of despair as a lack of self-understanding and self-acceptance. Anticipating Freud's 'unconscious mind,' Kierkegaard claims that virtually everyone is always in despair, whether they know it or not: "Not being conscious of being in despair, is itself a form of despair.... The physician knows that just as there can be merely imagined illness, so too is there merely imagined health." Much of the book consists of a general overview of the many different forms despair can take, from "the despairing ignorance of having a self and an eternal self" to the demonic "wanting in despair to be oneself -- defiance." Although, as one of Kierkegaard's "algebraic" (i.e., philosophically schematic rather than literary) works, "Sickness" spends little time developing these forms of despair, more fleshed-out examples an be found in his other works, such as "Either/Or." The short allegories Kierkegaard does use to illustrate his ideas, however, are consistently clear and illuminating. For example: "As a father disinherits a son, the self will not acknowledge itself after it has been so weak. Despairingly it is unable to forget that weakness; somehow it hates itself, it will not humble itself in faith under its weakness in order to win itself back. No, in despair it will not, as it were, hear a word about itself, will have nothing to do with itself.... As doubtless often with the father who disinherited the son: the external fact only helped a little; it did not rid him of the son, least of all in his thoughts. As so often it helps little when the lover curses the despised (that is, loved) one, but almost intricates him the more, so it is for the despairing self with itself." Second, and more to Kierkegaard's purpose, "Sickness" is an unorthodoxly orthodox classic of Christian theology. A must-read for anyone interested in the concept of sin, "Sickness" disavows the notion that sin is simply unethical behavior; no, for Kierkegaard "the opposite of sin is not virtue but faith." Sin for Kierkegaard is "before God, or with the conception of God, in despair not wanting to be oneself, or wanting in despair to be oneself." Sin is a heightened form of despair in which God judges each one of us. Using this notion, Kierkegaard attacks established Christendom for being complacent and confident, due to its strength in numbers, of its sinlessness: Christianity "says to each individual: 'Thou shalt believe'.... Not one word more; there is nothing more to add. 'Now I have spoken', says God in heaven, 'we shall talk it over again in eternity. In the meantime you can do what you want, but judgement is at hand.' "A judgement! Indeed, we men have learned, by experience, that when there is a mutiny on a ship or in an army, then the guilty are so numerous that the punishment has to be dropped; and when it is the public, the highly esteemed and cultivated public, or the people, then there is not only no crime, but according to the newspaper, which is as dependable as the Gospels and the Revelation, it is God's will. Why is this so? The reason is that the concept 'judgement' corresponds to the individual: judgment cannot be passed en masse; people can be killed en masse, sprayed en masse, flattered en masse, in short can be treated in many ways just like cattle, but to judge people like cattle is not possible, for one cannot pass judgement on cattle. However many are judged, if there is to be any seriousness or truth in the judgement, then judgement is passed on each individual.... "If only there are enough of us in this, then there is no wrong in it... before this wisdom all people have to this day bowed down -- kings, emperors, and excellencies.... So, God is damned well going to learn to bow down too. It is simply a matter of there being many of us, a decent number, who stick together; if we do that we are made safe against the judgement of eternity. They are indeed safe, if it is only in eternity that they are to become individuals. But they were, and are, constantly individuals before God." Thus, Kierkegaard's aim is to awaken the reader as "spirit" (i.e., as an individual self) before God, not to defend Christianity's doctrines. On the contrary, Kierkegaard's strongest words are directed against apologetics: "how extraordinarily stupid it is to defend Christianity, how little knowledge of humanity it betrays, how it connives if only unconsciously with offence by making Christianity out to be some miserable object that in the end must be rescued by a defence.... Yes, the person who defends that has never believed in it. If he does believe, then the enthusiasm of faith is not a defence, no, it is the assault and the victory; a believer is a victor." To fully understand why Kierkegaard considers Christianity fundamentally (and necessarily) irrational, to the point of causing "offence," it will be helpful to read his other works, such as "Fear and Trembling" or "Concluding Unscientific Postscript," where faith is defined as "an objective uncertainty held fast in... the most passionate inwardness." And nothing, for Kierkegaard, could be less certainly true than Christianity's paradoxes, like the idea that "there is an infinite difference in kind between God and man," yet the two share a "kinship." To try and water down Christianity's offensive aspects, to make faith easier to just blindly slip into, is to destroy faith by removing the necessity for the individual to passionately CHOOSE, for himself, his own life-path, his own self. Although this is one of Kierkegaard's more difficult works, once the basic project is grasped it is quite readable, and is more straightforward than "The Concept of Anxiety," a psychological work which explores very similar ideas to "Sickness." The first paragraph (with its "The self is a relation which relates to itself, or that in the relation which is its relating to itself," etc., etc.) is famously dense and opaque, but is not representative of the rest of the text, which becomes more and more clear and accessible as it delves deeper into the obscurity of sin and despair. "The Sickness unto Death" is an invaluable resource for those interested in existential psychology or religious philosophy. However, it is perhaps not the best place to begin if you haven't read other Kierkegaard works; "Fear and Trembling" is an easier starting point. For both texts, I recommend the Hannay translation, rather than the Hong one.

  8. 4 out of 5

    kaśyap

    This can be called a Phenomenology of Despair. Kierkegaard is frequently considered as anti-Hegel but this book can be considered as a kind of dialectic of the self. Kierkegaard looked at the self the same way as Hegel looked at the world, his universal spirit. Here we see his iterative definition of the self, The self is a relation which relates itself to its own self, or it is that in the relation that the relation relates itself to its own self; the self is not the relation but tha This can be called a Phenomenology of Despair. Kierkegaard is frequently considered as anti-Hegel but this book can be considered as a kind of dialectic of the self. Kierkegaard looked at the self the same way as Hegel looked at the world, his universal spirit. Here we see his iterative definition of the self, The self is a relation which relates itself to its own self, or it is that in the relation that the relation relates itself to its own self; the self is not the relation but that the relation relates itself to its own self. It must in turn relate to the power which established the whole relation. The self is a dynamic process. It is simultaneously becoming and and unbecoming from what one is. and the self as a synthesis, A human being is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity, in short, a synthesis. Despair results from lack of balance between these opposites and takes three forms, Being unconscious in despair of having a self. This is the most common form of despair. Despair of an aesthete. Where someone is lost in something external that they are not aware of their eternal self or that they are in despair. A spiritless existence. From Kierkegaard's point of view, almost everyone is in despair, and most of them are not aware of it. not wanting in despair to be oneself happens if one has finitude and necessity but without infinitude and possibility, i.e. no faith. For God is infinite, for God everything is possible. The opposite is where you have infinitude and possibility without being grounded in temporal and necessity, Where one is carried away by dreams and fantasies without being grounded in something temporal leading to despair and wanting in despair to be oneself. One can contrast this with materialism, where alienation and despair are caused by material circumstances and they can be rid of by changing the society. Even though they never encountered each other’s works, Marx and Kierkegaard were contemporaries and both of their thoughts germinated in the rapidly industrialising society. But for Marx, a materialist, this alienation ultimately took the form of a worker being alienated from his labour and it can only be overcome by changing the society, and for Kierkegaard, the individual self is all that matters despair can only be overcome by the self through faith. Among the western thinkers, existentialists have a lot in common with buddhist and hindu thinkers. The similar emphasis on the self, the importance of self-realisation and in this book there is also some similarity in the understanding of despair. Despair as a sickness of the spirit and the opposite of being in despair is to have faith. Standing openly in front of God. Here we also see the Christian notion of despair as a blessing. Something which we see in Dostoevsky’s works as well. Despair transcends banal experience and it leads to salvation. So despair is also a blessing. To arrive at deliverance one must pass through despair. The second part got too Christian and esoteric for me. It mainly deals with sin. This work is rooted in christianity but still has universal applicability. If you want to understand how your relation is relating itself to itself, you must read this book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    globulon

    Just read this for the second time. The first time was in college for a Kierkegaard class. I liked it then a lot, but one of the problems with college for me was that I often felt overloaded. There was so much to read that it was often difficult to get it all read, and so even the stuff I read was almost never at full attention. I read "Fear and Trembling" before college (or at least my second and successful attempt at college). I really loved it. But on the other hand, I have a diffi Just read this for the second time. The first time was in college for a Kierkegaard class. I liked it then a lot, but one of the problems with college for me was that I often felt overloaded. There was so much to read that it was often difficult to get it all read, and so even the stuff I read was almost never at full attention. I read "Fear and Trembling" before college (or at least my second and successful attempt at college). I really loved it. But on the other hand, I have a difficult relationship with Christianity. It's too close to me to abandon, but too uncomfortable to be satisfying. Probably the most satisfying communal religious experiences I have had have been with the Quakers. Of course, as with any denomination, there are many kinds of Quakers. I mean the quiet ones. The ones who literally meet on Sunday (sometimes other times too) to sit for an hour in silence. Where there is no priest, and anyone can speak if they feel moved by God. Of course, just as there are different denominations there are different congregations and let's just say some of them are more quiet than others. Sometimes I feel very strongly that any Christianity I could really accept would be found more in Christian writers like Kierkegaard than in many of the passages of the Bible. But then again, as K points out, Christ himself said something like blessed are those who are not offended by me. K takes this sense of offense very seriously. Make no mistake, Kierkegaard is disgusted by the idea of "defending" Christianity, or of trying to convince someone of it's truth. Not because he takes it as too obvious for proof, but rather due to the very nature of Christianity itself and faith. If you are the happy pagan, likely you will simply reject the book out of hand as not corresponding to your understanding of reality. I think there are two things in particular that are appealing about K. First, he has an incredibly noble view of human possibility. Secondly, he is a very clear thinker. This read was interesting in many ways, but in one way in particular, because he puts the question directly to a waffler like me. I always want to have it both ways, along the lines of "oh both Christianity and not-Christianity are true." He argues that "no, either you really believe that those happy pagans are healthy, or you believe that they are in despair." Of course you have to be clear about what he tells you he means by this word. He accepts that those happy pagans can be very much happy and healthy. His meaning of despair is not the idea that "oh they look happy but underneath they are really eating their hearts out". The idea is much closer to the idea that they are simply in error. Of course he does mean that despair is a kind of spiritual illness. Just not one that necessarily makes you feel bad. (though of course it can). It means that if you have those feelings of contentment and happiness in this life without agreeing about God and our relationship to him, then you have essentially traded this life for eternity. You are simply oblivious to the most profound dimension of human existence. Here's the idea, there's no argument about it. If you are the pagan you won't find anything here to convince you, except perhaps the attraction of the image he provides. But it is based in a very noble notion of the eternal and the vast depths of the possibility of the human spirit. Here is the idea that we are defined by what measures us, and what measures us is God. Of course it can be confusing, because at times he does speak of despair as a feeling like we commonly understand it to be. Certainly he agrees that they can be related. This is of course another of the very cool things about K, that he can talk about pretty abstract things in terms of personal psycho-spiritual experience. Also, the reverse as well. Certainly for me this read was more personal, more about my own place. And I think this is appropriate, for as Kierkegaard says at the beginning, he does mean this work to be edifying. I take him to mean there personally relevant, not simply meant as some abstract analysis. Certainly I found his views very compelling.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Max

    I have to say an extraordinary piece of philosophy. And the most serious work I came across concerning Christianity. Kierkegaard's words simplified a lot of concepts about despair, and also translated our emotions and our awareness of the self and how complex that is. I don't think that its difficult to read, the matter discussed is deep yes but the way the author had delivered it was elegant. The book is a page-turner no doubt, Soren Kierkegaard is sure a genius and he was not the type of autho I have to say an extraordinary piece of philosophy. And the most serious work I came across concerning Christianity. Kierkegaard's words simplified a lot of concepts about despair, and also translated our emotions and our awareness of the self and how complex that is. I don't think that its difficult to read, the matter discussed is deep yes but the way the author had delivered it was elegant. The book is a page-turner no doubt, Soren Kierkegaard is sure a genius and he was not the type of authors of whom you can sense that they're skeptic or timid toward their own work.

  11. 4 out of 5

    MJD

    If Sartre was a devout Christian and wrote a book about his notions of "bad faith" and "authenticity" in a Christian context, he would have written a book very similar to this one.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Boram Gabrielė

    The following is an essay I wrote about the book for my philosophy class which briefly summarizes its main ideas. The Disrupted “Self” as a Cause of All Despair According to Kierkegaard’s work “The Sickness unto Death” Soren Kierkegaard was a Danish writer who lived in the 19th century. During his lifetime Kierkegaard published numerous works which have come to represent the earliest form of philosophical existentialism. Well before Nietzsche and Sartre, Kierkegaard was less concerned about pr The following is an essay I wrote about the book for my philosophy class which briefly summarizes its main ideas. The Disrupted “Self” as a Cause of All Despair According to Kierkegaard’s work “The Sickness unto Death” Soren Kierkegaard was a Danish writer who lived in the 19th century. During his lifetime Kierkegaard published numerous works which have come to represent the earliest form of philosophical existentialism. Well before Nietzsche and Sartre, Kierkegaard was less concerned about proving or disproving the outside world, but rather focused on the fundamental discomfort every human being experiences when attempting to relate to it. This discomfort which Kierkegaard called “despair” and some other philosophers “anxiety” or “nausea”, became the axis of existentialist thought, which inevitably had to shift its attention inwardly to the human “self”. But what is the “self”? Kierkegaard answered this question in the very first lines of his work “The Sickness unto Death” - “The self is a relation which relates to itself, or that in the relation which is its relating to itself”. The question then arises - how does the “self” give rise to despair? Kierkegaard attributed the humanly condition of despair to the “self”, in other words the source of despair is the “self”. The self is in itself a relation, a synthesis and precisely this synthesis holds the possibility of despair. This is because the synthesis is made of opposites which if imbalanced become despair. The relation which relates to this synthesis is what determines whether this possibility will become actuality or not. According to Kierkegaard, to have this possibility is a merit, it is what proves the divinity of the human self and what separates the man from the beast. However to actually be in despair is a descent rather than an ascent, and in Christianity it is a sin (“sin is: before God, or with God, in despair not wanting to be oneself, or wanting in despair to be oneself”). In despair the relation continuously causes an imbalance in the synthesis, having let go of God and thus blindly attempting to destroy the “self” and replace it with an artificial sense of self. It does so by playing with the opposites which constitute the “self”. In “The Sickness unto Death” Kierkegaard gives two examples of how the despair expresses itself in the context of the self being imbalanced between infinitude and finitude and between possibility and necessity, because after all “no form of despair can be defined directly, but only with reference to its opposite”. In an imbalance, when one opposite dominates the other, it becomes impossible to become a wholesome self. In the case of infinitude and finitude, if the person loses himself in fantasy and imagination (infinitude) he steers too far away from his “self”, but on the other hand if he gives up all of that to be dominated by wordily things only (finitude) he will not be able to be a true “self” either. Hence the balance in the synthesis is vital to the human “self”. So why does the relation struggle to relate to the synthesis and thus disrupts the divine balance and brings about despair? According to Kierkegaard this seemingly irrational destruction of oneself stems from the self not being grounded in God. One way in which the self cannot be grounded in God, is if the self is ignorant of God, i.e. it is impossible to conceive the self as a spirit which is able to despair without the knowledge of God. Despite this, this type of despair is very common and least recognized among people, not surprisingly since the person suffering is himself ignorant of it, hence he claims that he is fine and is likely to be a functioning and accomplished member of society. Not only is such a person blind to his own despair, but he does not want to recognize it, because he is comfortable in such a vegetative state, in Kierkegaard’s words, “the dread in a spiritless person is recognizable precisely in his spiritless sense of security”. He feels secure, because such a despair is also least intense, since the person is numb to it. He does not display any symptoms, yet he is sick all the same, “he feels best, considers himself at his healthiest, can appear to others to be in the pink of condition, just when the illness is at its most critical”. So even though the person mutes the painful awareness of his own despair, as a shuddersome consequence he remains unable to heal from it as long as he remains ignorant. Kierkegaard recognized such a despair among pagans, whose self is not grounded transparently in God and thus remains unaccountable. However a person can also claim to be in despair, so he is (or thinks he is) conscious of his own suffering, and yet does not step out of such a state. Such despair is either “the despair of not wanting to be oneself” or “the despair of wanting in despair to be oneself”. The first one is born from weakness, while the latter one is weakness transformed into defiance, or the feminine despair overtaken by the masculine. If we follow the increasing degree of consciousness one has about the nature of the self, we have to start by examining the despair of weakness first. Despair of the immediate falls under this category. A person despairing over the immediate claims he is in despair, despite being unable to detect it correctly - “he stands there pointing to something that is not despair, explaining that he is in despair, and yet, sure enough, the despair is going on behind him unawares”. Why can’t such a person see the true despair? Because he despairs over worldly things, while the self is eternal (“next to God there is nothing so eternal as a self”), so he is unable to see anything which does not manifest itself externally, an image which is infinitely comical to Kierkegaard. Yet the dissatisfaction eats him from the inside and the only tool he has in combating it, is fantasy. Through his fantasy he wishes to get rid of whatever self he conceives of, and acquire a new self. This illusion that one can slip into a new self, like into a pair of new pants is destroyed by reflection. Once a person recognizes the fact that the self is eternal, the illusion of becoming something else is shattered. This understanding is so devastating, that most people cannot move past it and resort to a certain passivity of just not wanting to be oneself. Thus they get stuck in what Kierkegaard referred to as “immediacy with a little dash of reflection added”. Their consciousness is elevated from that of weakness to that of recognition of its own weakness, however the spirit remains chained, the person cannot accept his true self. The despair of not wanting to be oneself, as we discussed, is despair of worldly things and externalities. However once a person undergoes a shift of focus from the immediate to the eternal, the despair of passivity becomes active. Such a despair “comes not from the outside in the form of passivity in the face of external pressure, but directly from the self”. In other words, this kind of despair becomes conscious of having an eternal self and now wants in despair to be itself. It is hypnotized by its own eternity, however it misuses it by in wanting to be itself, clinging on to it, and not letting go (having faith) and losing itself in eternity in order to win itself. Kierkegaard writes of such despair: “the self wants in despair to rule over himself, or create himself, make this self the self he wants to be, determine what he will have and what he will not have in his concrete self”. Such a controlling self cannot lose itself in eternity, it does not have faith in God, because it does not know what a self, grounded transparently in the power which created it, will look like. It is obsessed with creating a perfect self, the despair is at the height of its fever. It is so intense and relentless that it is almost demonic (according to Kierkegaard demonic despair is the most intense despair because the fallen angel is fully conscious of itself). It derives pleasure of being its own master, however it continuously contradicts itself, by trying to be a self it consequently becomes no self. In his book “The Sickness unto Death” Kierkegaard discussed in detail all the types of despair that plague people. The self being the source of all despair; Kierkegaard pointed to the disrupted relation’s relating to the self to define its intensity. In fact the key message of the human condition of despair is expressed in the title of the book. “The Sickness” refers to despair, and “unto Death” indicates that the only way to escape it, is to die. But this is not “death” in the physical sense, but death in a more theological/Christian understanding. One could say it is the death of the artificial self. Overall the despair is the disrupted self’s struggle to die, but once one acquires faith, he is no longer clinging unto that false sense of security. This is when the self undergoes a transformation, becomes grounded in God and its enlightenment destroys despair.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Brent McCulley

    The most fascinating piece of philosophy I have ever read hitherto, Kierkegaard's "Sickness Unto Death" is the standard work for the existential definition of sin. Kierkegaard writes in two parts, the latter building on the former: that sickness unto death is despair, and despair is sin. This work introduced mesmerizing Kierkegaardean doctrines to me such as the self being the relations relating to itself, which ultimately must find its relating relationship to itself in the Being who The most fascinating piece of philosophy I have ever read hitherto, Kierkegaard's "Sickness Unto Death" is the standard work for the existential definition of sin. Kierkegaard writes in two parts, the latter building on the former: that sickness unto death is despair, and despair is sin. This work introduced mesmerizing Kierkegaardean doctrines to me such as the self being the relations relating to itself, which ultimately must find its relating relationship to itself in the Being who grounded it, namely God, in order to truly know self: this is Kierkegaard's definition of faith which we learned previously (c.f. "Fear and Trembling") must act itself out on the strength of the absurd which must follow an infinite resignation. Kierkegaard discusses setting the self, or the individual, against the absolute, viz., God the eternal being. For Kierkegaard, the individual is not contrasted with other individuals, but only against God, and only as a self, which Kierkegaard defines as a spirit. Divers forms of despair (sin) are discussed, yet they revolve around a twainfold dialectic, either (1) in despair not wanting to be oneself, or (2) wanting in despair to be oneself. The latter is the more masculine form of despair which can work itself out in defiance (the worst of this cases is a denial of God, Christ, forgiveness of sins, etc.) whereas the former is the more feminine firm of despair which works itself out in weakness (thinking Christianity altogether trivial and not worthy of serious consideration, etc.) Kierkegaard describes versions and forms of despair whereof the reserved despairer was the most fascinating to me. This I assumed to be very much autobiographical of Kierkegaard himself. The reserved despairer despairs over his despair which is manifested to self by setting self up against the absolute. Yet, the despairer, longing for forgiveness and solace, once offered a remedy to his despair denies it, for he has grown too accustomed to his despair and in fact is quite comfortable with it. These Kierkegaardean concepts are thoroughly becoming a part of me, and I need more of his thought. Excited to continue the plunge.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kenneth

    Kierkegaard believed that faith is essentially defined through existence, not cognition. For him, faith is, in reality, the most truthful immersion in existence. More precisely, faith is the deepest possible relationship with the divine. Kierkegaard understood life, not as speculative philosophy, but rather, as the progression of stages through which faith becomes more authentic. Most importantly, Kierkegaard believed that life is ultimately a religious quest, constituted by the desire to overco Kierkegaard believed that faith is essentially defined through existence, not cognition. For him, faith is, in reality, the most truthful immersion in existence. More precisely, faith is the deepest possible relationship with the divine. Kierkegaard understood life, not as speculative philosophy, but rather, as the progression of stages through which faith becomes more authentic. Most importantly, Kierkegaard believed that life is ultimately a religious quest, constituted by the desire to overcome the despair of sin. However, in Kierkegaard’s terminology, the despair of sin is not an action per se, but rather, a persistent mode of existence; a sinful presence, if you will. To understand why this is so, first we must understand the meaning of the word despair. The meaning of the word is somewhat lost in translation. The word in Danish is fortvivlelse. In English, the word “despair,” derived from both French and Latin, means quite literally “without hope.” The word fortvivlelse is more closely related, etymologically, with the word “doubt.” Likewise, the root of the word, tvivl, is from the German word zweifel, meaning “doubt.” To clarify, fortvivlelse literally means “intensified doubt.” Whereas in English the word “doubt” is primarily cognitive, fortvivlelse is fundamentally existential. To doubt with the total person, in relation to experience, is an existential act akin to being without the virtue of hope (or faith in the broader sense of the word). However, to doubt with the intellect alone, in relation to statements of truth, is only cognitive. The cognitive act lacks the total “intensity” of Kierkegaard’s meaning. For Kierkegaard, both sin and faith are actualized through an intensification of the awareness of despair, understood in the sense of an existential state. Paradoxically, in order to be cured from despair, the person must first pass through a greater awareness of being in sin. The individual person, seeking salvation, will eventually come to the precipice of absolute choice, between either a real and confident faith, humbly conceived, or become entrenched in sin more fully actualized in what Kierkegaard identifies as the lacunas of weakness (personal doubt) and/or defiance (presumption/pride). The state of being in faith is that in which “the self in being itself and in willing to be itself is transparently grounded in God.” The Sickness unto Death presents Kierkgaard’s understanding of the specifically “religious” despair in relation to the “ethical” and “aesthetic” modes of existence. For instance, in the ethical sphere, fortvivlelse is the result of the failure to choose ethically, that is, in terms of conscience. However, in a more fundamental sense, the presence of fortvivlelse is most essentially the failure to live religiously as a self “before God.” “Religious” despair, when contrasted with “ethical” despair, is the condition of lacking the virtue of faith in relation to the divine. Kierkegaard describes the human condition this way: "A human being is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity, in short, a synthesis . . . The human self is such a derived, established relation, a relation that relates itself to itself and in relating itself to itself relates itself to another . . . The formula that describes the state of the self when despair is completely rooted out is this: in relating itself to itself and in willing to be itself, the self rests transparently in the power that established it." In sum, the human person, being a creature of God, is meant for relation with God. Therefore, when the person tries to ground the self in something other than God, the fusion of disparate elements constituting the self disintegrates. To rest decisively in any created good, either for aesthetic pleasure, or even out of an ethical obligation, is to commit the sin of idolatry. Moreover, in the end, being that all immanent goods are by nature transient, idolatry must necessarily lead to despair, recognized consciously or not. There are three forms of despair that correspond to the three stages of life’s elevation: “despair as immediacy” (aesthetic), “despair as weakness” (ethical) and “despair as defiance” (religious). To begin with: the despair of immediacy. Ignorant immediacy is the first level on the progression toward authentic faith. Moreover, the state of immediacy corresponds to the aesthetic sphere of existence. The ignorant blindness of cultural immediacy is an unreflective despair that is unaware of being despair. In other words, those in immediate despair are those who, drowning in sensate life, do not stop to reflect, and rarely rise to but a momentary consciousness of the true condition of the self. Kierkegaard writes: "The man of immediacy . . . is an accompanying something within the dimensions of temporality and secularity, in immediate connection with ‘the other,’ and has but an illusory appearance of having anything eternal in it. The self is bound up in immediacy with the other in desiring, craving, enjoying, etc., yet passively; in its craving, this self is a dative, like the ‘me’ of a child. Its dialectic is: the pleasant and the unpleasant; its concepts are: good luck, bad luck, fate." The outward appearance of despair is missing. The latent spirit of despair needs only a little unpleasant jarring to come to light. Kierkegaard believed that the default state of the human condition is despair. Therefore, for Kierkegaard, despair is universal. Temporarily, the immediate man sometimes becomes vaguely aware of his condition when tried. However, his ignorance remains invincible. For Kierkegaard, despair is not simply the experience of despair, that is, in the psychological sense; it is also to possess the potential for despair in the first place. Despair is often latent in the human condition, but nonetheless present. In reality, despair is never the result of something outside of the self. Rather, despair is the desire to be rid of the self when something upsets the immediacy of life. In other words, despair is in the basic vanity of worldly idols, not in the idols as such. After a troubling experience, rather than continue a life tranquilized with the trivial, the immediate man may start to live in the ethical categories of “right and wrong”, or even muster a pretense of faith, but only as a defensive reflex against the world. The immediate man: “bereft of imagination, as the philistine-bourgeois always is, whether alehouse keeper or prime minister . . . lives within a certain trivial compendium of experiences as to how things go, what is possible, what usually happens.” The immediate man remains invincibly blind to despair, unless somehow rudely awakened from his slumber by a harsh and inescapable reality (either personal ordeal or social catastrophe). Even then, without God’s illumination, he cannot see his fault. Ultimately, the dawning realization of the awful splendor of God is necessary to begin the progression toward faith. Otherwise, the reality of despair will continue to be, defensively, pushed to the background, where it cannot disturb consciousness. In these cases, the world is narrowed, and therefore limited, to the point where it is manageable for the individual, but presents a fundamentally dishonest vision of reality. There is also a second form of despair, that is, “despair as weakness”. According to Kierkegaard, two kinds of weakness are possible: “despair in weakness” and “despair over weakness”; the latter being the heightened sense in the progression to authentic faith. Essentially, despair “in weakness” is the despair over something earthly, a lost idol, whereas despair “over weakness” is to despair over the human condition as such. In the former case, the person turns inward and despairs, understanding briefly the nature of the sickness in relation to God. However, rather than dig deeper into the self’s reflection of its own interiority, the person often returns to worldly affairs having learned nothing permanent about the self. Kierkegaard describes the move thus: "Little by little, he manages to forget it; in the course of time, he finds it almost ludicrous, especially when he is together with other competent and dynamic men who have a sense and aptitude for life. Charming! He has happily married now for several years, as it says in novels, is a dynamic and enterprising man; at home in his own house the servants call him ‘He Himself.’" He has settled in, so to speak, retaining only a hint of spiritual depth. Putting aside “naïve illusions”, he no longer sees the extraordinary. Challenged with the unknown, he reflexively buries himself in the immediate rush of life. He evades the difficult questions and experiences that trouble him. He continues to cling to the idols of this world, not knowing anything else. By contrast, “despair over weakness” is over nothing in particular. The ultimate vanity of life is seen, but no solution is offered. Theologian Karl Rahner explains: "One goes about his business, he reads, he gets angry, he does his work, he does research, he achieves something, he earns money. And in a final, perhaps unadmitted despair he says to himself that the whole as a whole makes no sense, and that one does well to suppress the question about the meaning of it all and to reject it as an unanswerable and hence meaningless question." “Despair over weakness” often takes the form of what Kierkegaard calls the “ethical cultural man”. The “ethical cultural man” (existing in the ethical sphere) takes responsibility for his moral duties with unassuming conformity. However, he secretly harbors an awareness of profound mystery that he cannot explain. In moments of solitude he reflects on it, although he dares not reflect too deeply for fear of unsettling the “everydayness” of his existence. He fears “standing out” too much from the crowd. Yet, he is unable to forget it. His despair is quiet and reserved, however real. His despair is decidedly not the feeling of psychological despair. Rather, the despair is over despair itself. The person’s despair is rooted in the awareness of an objective condition, not simply a mental pathology. Unlike despair that is in weakness, despair over weakness is not dependent on any relation to earthly goods, or other people. Unavoidably, the condition is lasting in that it persistently haunts his conscious state from an unknown source. "... our man in despair is sufficiently self-inclosed to keep this matter of the self away from anyone who has no business knowing about it – in other words, everyone – while outwardly he looks every bit ‘a real man.’ He is a university graduate, husband, father, even an exceptionally competent officeholder, a respectable father, pleasant company, very gentle to his wife, solicitude personified to his children. And Christian? – Well, yes, he is that, too, but prefers not to talk about it." Kierkegaard names this defense against conscious despair “inclosing reserve” (indesluttehed in Danish). To this end, he continues: “Aside from his natural good nature and sense of duty, what makes him such a kind husband and solicitous father is the confession about his weakness that he has made to himself in his inclosed innermost being.” The person’s dawning sense of the overwhelming mystery of creation, relative to the limitations of the human animal, provides him with the beginnings of the humility that precedes authentic faith. However, he sees not what to do with himself in response to it. He “misses” the virtue of faith and remains in despair over his weakness, that is, in response to the hidden transcendence that he cannot define. The person who despairs over weakness is not weak for inability to face hardship. Rather, the weakness is failure to actualize the higher calling he secretly sees. Being too dependent on others and sunk in the world, he cannot stand truly “before God”. He sits defensively entrenched and alienated from the world he lives in, although he refuses to take action on his inner promptings. He accepts ethical standards and lives with the consequent obligatory commitments. He lives without passion and a real sense of purpose. In sum, for Kierkegaard: "Every human existence that is not conscious of itself as spirit or personally conscious of itself before God as spirit, every human existence that is not transparently grounded in God but vaguely rests in and merges in some abstract universal (state, nation, etc.) or, in darkness over his self regards his capacities merely as productive powers without becoming in the deepest sense consciously aware of their source, regards his self, if he tries to understand it at all, as an inexplicable something – every such existence, whatever it achieves, be it most amazing, whatever it explains, be it the whole of existence, however intensively it enjoys life aesthetically – every such existence is nevertheless despair." Or, in the words of the Book of Ecclesiastes: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanities of vanities! All is vanity” (Eccles: 1:2). Defiance is the breaking point of absolute faith. In despair as defiance, rather than make a final “leap” into the life sustaining faith pursuant on the true Christian calling, the person in conscious despair might try to “break out” out with an act of defiance, taking on great creative undertakings, becoming debauched with a sensual life of dissolution, or committing suicide. In the third form of despair, the person desires in defiance to be the self that he or she wants to be. The spirit of defiance is “willfully ignorant” of dependence on God. The defiant person takes a stand as an autonomous individual. He decides to “go it alone”, the world and God be damned. However, with defiant despair (what Kierkegaard calls “demonic” despair) the fundamental imbalances of the self in relation to the world often become too great. Without the blind immediacy of the unreflective, or the cultural supports of the weak, the instability becomes too intense for most, and the personality begins to slouch toward disintegration. In essence, despair as fortvivlelse is the desire to be rid of the self as an eternal self “before God.” This desire takes many forms. For instance, according to psychoanalyst Ernest Becker, the endless expansiveness of “spiritual" possibility, and the limitation of “human necessity”, create all sorts of characters, with differing degrees of “psychosis” (too much possibility), “neurosis” (too much limitation), or “normalcy” (simple immediacy). Kierkegaard explains that: “The person who gets lost in possibility soars high with the boldness of despair; he for whom everything becomes necessity overstrains himself in life and is crushed in despair; but the philistine-bourgeois mentality spiritlessly triumphs.” What is lacking in all of these types is a passionate and total commitment to the transcendent and absolute beyond. What is needful is the Christian synthesis and “leap of faith.” Without the “leap” or the synthesis, Kierkegaard sees only varying degrees of lived despair. Kierkegaard uses the poetic image of breathing in order to illustrate the prayerful movement of a person of faith. He writes: “Personhood is a synthesis of possibility and necessity. Its continued existence is like breathing (respiration), which is an inhaling and exhaling . . . To pray is also to breathe, and possibility is for the self what oxygen is for breathing.” To hold the breath is to die. The human person must necessarily exhale, and let go of possibility, in order to stay alive spiritually. For God, all things are possible. Sadly, for the human person there is natural limitation. Therefore, the healthy moral imagination breathes the clean air of the Creator’s possibility, yet is rooted in the sacramental reality of creation. Once God arrests the will, God cannot remain a concept, vaguely acknowledged, and in no way central to the person’s experience. For the Christian, God is approached, somehow, in a concrete revelation, in something tangible, but neither as angel nor beast (Pascal). The object of revelation for the Christian is the Incarnation of Christ. Kierkegaard called the Incarnation the “absolute paradox” because it seemingly reconciles the irreconcilable. Human and divine find absolute affirmation in this vital historic event. Furthermore, the authentic virtue of faith is contemporaneous with the living spirit of God. Faith is not a “dead letter.” Faith is the total abandonment of self. Moreover, faith is abandonment for the right reason, not for its own sake. The Christian lets go in faith in fulfillment of God’s calling. The Christian subject exists in humility (resignation) and “passionate inwardness” (faith). The true calling of the individual, who exists “before God,” and in relation to Christ, in this way, is the true calling of the Christian in the modern world.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Enrico Schiavo

    The difficulties of this book are precisely what give rise to what is easy about it. This is poetic, once, here, easy and hard are in a dialectical relation which is the spinal chord of the writing (just kidding). I tried to read this book a couple of times when I was younger and I couldn't make sense out of it, so I put it aside. A few months ago, being in complete despair after breaking up with my girlfriend, I tried to read it once again and this book spoke to me. I devoured it as it helped m The difficulties of this book are precisely what give rise to what is easy about it. This is poetic, once, here, easy and hard are in a dialectical relation which is the spinal chord of the writing (just kidding). I tried to read this book a couple of times when I was younger and I couldn't make sense out of it, so I put it aside. A few months ago, being in complete despair after breaking up with my girlfriend, I tried to read it once again and this book spoke to me. I devoured it as it helped me come to terms with my sorrow. Kierkegaard is indeed a strange philosopher to discuss. He gives rise to completely different forms of interpretation. I find it intriguing that Bertrand Russel doesn't mention him not even a single time in his History of Western Philosophy. What a shame! He's no secondary thinker. Wittgenstein said of Kierkegaard that he was a very deep philosopher. Apparently, he wasn't very well-known in the english-speaking world by the time Russell's book came out. Anyway, it seems to me that he is in "pari passu" with some philosophical tendencies of his time (also in the opposite pole of other tendencies), which manifests itself in Schopenhauer also. Even though this book is seen as a critique of hegelianism, system of which I have nothing more than a mere notion, it's also clear that Kierkegaard's thought (and so is Schopenhauer's) is born out of the irrationalism brought up by Hume's understanding of causality. That no event should be deduced by its alleged cause, just because one always precedes the other, is what Hume suggests. This is a revolutionary idea. From there on, philosophy would either plunge into sheer "madness" (Kierkegaard and Schopenhauer) or into a prudent acceptance of reality as it manifests itself (pragmatism). Hume took away the safe ground laid out by science and left us with an unspeakable void which, to me, explains at least partially Kierkegaard's philosophy. As Dostoevsky famously pointed out: "If God does not exist, then everything is permitted". God here being the natural laws. It's also important to notice that Kierkegaard sometimes gets rather labyrinthical in his writing. This is his own intention and can be viewed as a critique of the rationalism behind figures such as Hegel. It's consonant with Kierkegaard's dismissal of the univocity of concepts, crucial to reason. His project is biblical. Hegel's system seeks to identify the mind of God with the logical structure of the Universe, building a Tower of Babel anew. Kierkegaard's project is to smash it to bits: bursting inwards, he recreates the confusion of languages. It has two major consequences. First, it may be challenging to make sense out of what he's saying. Second, it allows the reader to project his own thoughts into the lines. The book serves as a mirror, so to speak. I must say that no philosopher has ever provoked me that much. I'd never felt so free in my mental wanderings. Other philosophers demand from the reader to extract what the WRITER is trying to say. Kierkegaard, on the other hand, transfer that obligation to the READER. You're free to take whatever you want from his writing. That is coherent with his whole philosophy, which is all about subjectivity: an implosion of Hegel's "scala paradisi". Here we have a somewhat clear picture of what Kierkegaard is pushing forward. He is Tertullian's counterpart. This Church father attained a "sacrificium intellectus" as means to affirmate his faith, as seen in a dogmatic formula often attributed to him: "credo quia absurdum". Despite being capable of fiercely logical argumentation, Tertullian appeals to the absurdity of faith, ungraspable by reason. He does so evoking eloquate and intelligible monologues, turning to christian and pagans, exhorting them to have faith ("anima naturaliter christiana"). Kierkegaard does the same by different means. Serpentuous and obscure, driving inwardly his thought, Kierkegaard declares his faith in pure subjectiveness, in a whole opposite manner of those crystalline-clear apologies of the ancient writer. The sacrifice of the intellect in Tertullian lies in its nakedness: he shouts it out loud. The same motif, in Kierkegaard, lies hidden behind his labyrinthical thinking. Both demand faith through its paradoxical nature. One introverts, the other extraverts, but they aim for the same goal. One of the most beautiful depiction of faith's absurdness comes from Pseudo-Dionysius: "That divine Darkness is the unapproachable light in which God dwells.". Padre Antônio Vieira, in the portuguese speaking world, is similar to those three thinkers. Kierkegaard starts out in obscure terms: "the self is the relation which relates to itself". It's not the relation "per se" but the relation in action. But relation of what? A dialectic one. A relation between a pair of opposites which culminates into something which is neither. It can be read in its classical formula: thesis + antithesis -> synthesis. Man is seen as synthesis of finite and infinite, of contingency and necessity, of temporal and atemporal, and the self is the relation between these opposites, relating to itself. It can't be the relation itself, but only the action (the relation relating to itself). It's necessarily a gerund. That is crucial. First, the relation can't embody the pair of opposites it puts in relation. How could it be at one time finite and infinite? Infinity includes finity, but being it infinite, there would be no dialectic relation with that finiteness. It would be a mere definition. And it can't be finite because the infinite is by definition not limited by the finite. So, the relation is somehow alien to the terms it expresses, otherwise any dialectics would be impossible. Second, Kierkegaard was a devoted christian, so it's his understanding that man must participate in the infinite. But as a corporeal being, he's also finite. If there would be no relation between these two, christianity would fall apart. But the relation doesn't include in itself those antithetic terms and it can't be all empty and devoid of meaning. So, it's necessary that this relation relates to itself as to not be sheer voidness. There would be those two terms floating around, meaning nothing. Life is something and it must be, from a christian perspective, otherwise men wouldn't be able to reach out for God. Life as it's grasped by the spirit is precisely the relation relating to itself. The focus is then thrown unto the individual, not into the object, and his subjectivity, as mentioned earlier. Despair emerges whenever that synthesis is not fulfilled. Kierkegaard refuses to offer a clear-cut definition to what he means by despair. It would be incoherent to his project of criticizing Hegel and his rationalism. Despair is fundamentally a negation of the self, which envolves a pair of opposites. One may despair over the finite, over the infinite, over the necessity, over the contingency, over the temporal, over the atemporal, of oneself. That relation relating to itself is not satisfied adequately in one of its terms. Unable to consumate that synthesis, the self becomes alien to an entity which, on the other hand, it is related to. I call it "predicative cathexization". As the spirit relates itself to both necessity and contingency, it is implied that it relates itself also with the real. The real delimits the spirit, embodying something which is alien to it while being also liable to identification by the self. One can't be reduced to the other, they're different entities, made out of different substances and go as far as to only relate to one another. The self, unable to acquire something which is alien to it, to ampliate itself over the other, to win a predicate objectively characterized, despair over it. A simple example, if one can't get a job one wants, one feels sad for it. Ultimately, such despair would be of a self-without-a-job. It's always about the subject. Finally, we come to faith. I haven't gotten around to reading closely the final chapter of the book, which is on faith. But I understand that faith consists in reaching out to something which is at one time alien and not alien to the spirit. Alien because if it wasn't, it wouldn't require faith. Not alien because if it was, it couldn't be object of faith. Despair is negation of the self, which is a relation between two opposites, relating to itself, and faith is all about aknowledging something which is alien to the spirit. Hence, it follows that faith consumates that synthesis without which we have the emergence of despair. So, faith is the only way through which the spirit can overcome despair. It's about coming to terms with the fact that the self is the relation between two opposites (relating to itself), in order to satisfy the synthesis. In that sense, the self is being and not-being. Not in some sort of heraclitian notion of "becoming", but in an onthological-existential way. As to faith, it is the only antidote to an otherwise condition of human nature: despair as the unfulfillment of the relation relating to itself. What I found interesting about this book is that it seems to antecipate the freudian etiology of neurosis. To see what I mean by that, it is necessary to ampliate the whole notion of the relation relating to itself in a twofold manner. The ego being the relation relating to itself with both the id and the superego simultaneously, having to satisfy the demands of these two spheres. Both the id and the superego are alien to the spirit, but the ego is precisely the spirit in a freudian sense. The dialectic relation ego X id simultaneous to that of ego X superego gives rise to a unified dialectic relation which needs to be satisfied. When it's not, neurosis is given rise to. In kierkegaardian terms, it is the emergence of despair. Then, we have here neurosis and despair being synonyms. Psychoanalysis in treating everything and everybody as "objects" reflects precisely that the center lies in the "subject". To the individual, everything is an object. So, it remains faithful to the subjectivity of the individual in reminding that everything which is not "subject" is "object" and that every individual is necessarily a subject. An0ther parallel between Kierkegaard and psychoanalysis is his hierarchy of lifestyles: aesthetics (pleasure principle - id), ethics (superego) and religious (now, rather distinct from Freud's view). This is both confusing and enlightening in a whole dialectic manner, which is what the book is all about. Sickness unto Death is an alchemical conjunction between poetry and philosophy, which is again dialectic. This is definitely one of my favorite philosophy books.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lucas Freitas

    "By relating itself to its own self and by willing to be itself, the self is grounded transparently in the Power which constituted it." One of those books that your first read is the fourth time around. I am absolutely sure that I did not understand half, nay, a fourth, of what is there, but it's brilliant. Maybe next time I read it I'll disagree, but I definitely will have to read it again. Before then, 5/5.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Cindy

    I’ve never read anything like this. An examination of 1) grace and 2) the construct wherein the self relates to itself, implying despair, implying sin. Many quotations below, as I’ll doubtless forget details quickly. Page numbers are from the 2008 Penguin print. Part one A. That Despair is the Sickness unto Death - The human being is spirit, which is the self, which is a relation that relates to itself. - If the self were self-established, we get questions of one I’ve never read anything like this. An examination of 1) grace and 2) the construct wherein the self relates to itself, implying despair, implying sin. Many quotations below, as I’ll doubtless forget details quickly. Page numbers are from the 2008 Penguin print. Part one A. That Despair is the Sickness unto Death - The human being is spirit, which is the self, which is a relation that relates to itself. - If the self were self-established, we get questions of one form: not wanting to be itself, wanting to be rid of itself. - If the self were established by something else, we also have: wanting in despair to be oneself. ‘[This] is the expression of the relation’s (the self’s) total dependence, the expression of the fact that the self cannot by itself arrive at or remain in equilibrium and rest, but only, in relating to itself, by relating to that which has established the whole relation.’ (p10) - ‘Where then does despair come from? From the relation in which the synthesis relates to itself, from the fact that God, who made man this relation, as it were lets go of it; that is, from the relation’s relating to itself.’ (p13) B. The Generality of this Sickness - ‘[There] is no one and has never been anyone outside Christendom who isn’t in despair; and no one in Christendom who is not a true Christian; and so far as he is not wholly that, then he is still to some extent in despair.’ (p21) C. The Forms of this Sickness - ‘The self is the conscious synthesis of infinitude and finitude, which relates to itself, whose task is to become itself, which can only be done in the relationship to God.. The development must accordingly consist in infinitely coming away from oneself, in an infinitizing of the self, and in infinitely coming back to oneself in the finitization.’ (p31) - ‘The believer possesses the ever-sure antidote to despair: possibility; since for God everything is possible at every moment. This is the health of faith which resolves contradictions. The contradiction here is that in human terms the undoing is certain and that still there is possibility.’ (p44) - ‘For to be aware of his self and of God, a man’s imagination must whirl him up higher than the dank air of the probable, it must tear him out of that and, by making possible what exceeds the quantum satis (measure of sufficiency) of all experience, teach him to hope and fear, or fear and hope.’ (p46) - Here, Kierkegaard assigns problematic, gender-stereotypical feminine v masculine labels to the two types of despair: of not wanting to be oneself (weakness) and of wanting to be oneself (defiance). I am not a fan of this labelling. - ‘But for repentance to emerge, a person must first despair with a vengeance, despair to the full, so that the life of spirit can break through from the ground up.’ (p71) - ‘He thinks he is in despair over something earthly.. [The] fact that he ascribes such great value to the earthly, or even more, ascribes such great value to something earthly, or that he first of all makes of some earthly thing everything earthly and then ascribes such great value to the earthly, is precisely to despair of the eternal.’ (p73) Part two A. Despair is Sin - ‘What one must look to is the fact that the self has the conception of God and nevertheless does not do what God wants, that the self is disobedient. Nor is it just now and then that God is sinned against, since every sin is before God; or rather, what really makes human guilt into sin is that the guilty person was conscious of being before God.’ (p97) - ‘[Sin] is despair (since sin is not the unruliness of flesh and blood in itself, but the spirit’s consent to it).. Faith is: that the self in being itself and in wanting to be itself is grounded transparently in God.’ (p100) - ‘Christianity also assumes that neither paganism nor the natural man know what sin is; yes, it assumes there must be a revelation from God to reveal what sin is. It is not the case, as superficial reflection supposed, that the doctrine of the atonement is what distinguishes paganism and Christianity qualitatively. No, the beginning has to be made far deeper, with sin, with the doctrine of sin, which is also what Christianity does.’ (p110) - ‘If a person does not do what is right the very second he knows it is the right thing to do — then, for a start, the knowledge comes off the boil. Next comes the question of what the will thinks of the knowledge. The will is dialectical and has underneath it the whole of man’s lower nature. If it doesn’t like the knowledge, it doesn’t immediately follow that the will goes and does the opposite of what was grasped in knowing.’ (p115) - ‘In Christian eyes, sin lies in the will, not in the knowing; and this corruption of the will affects the individual’s consciousness.’ (p118) - ‘Christianity proceeds first to set up sin so firmly as an affirmative position that human understanding can never comprehend it; and then the same doctrine undertakes to remove this affirmative position in a way that human understanding can never comprehend.’ (p124) B. The Continuation of Sin - ‘Yet eternity is the essential continuity, and demands this continuity of man, that he be conscious of himself as spirit and have faith.’ (p130) - ‘What has gone basically wrong with Christendom is really Christianity, that by being preached day in and day out, the doctrine of the God-man (safeguarded in the Christian understanding, be it noted, by the paradox and the possibility of offence) is taken in vain, that the difference in kind between God and the man is pantheistically revoked.. Never on earth has any teaching really brought God and man so close to one another as Christianity; nor could any other: only God himself can do that, every human invention remains only a dream, an uncertain conceit.’ (p146) - ‘The category of sin is the category of particularity. Sin cannot at all be thought speculatively; the particular human lies below the level of the concept: one cannot think an individual human being, but only the concept “man.” That is why speculative philosophy promptly alludes to the doctrine of the generation’s superiority over the individual; for one cannot expect speculation to acknowledge the concept’s powerlessness in relation to actuality.’ (p148) - ‘In Christianity God makes himself man (the God-man) — but in the infinite love of his compassionate grace he none the less makes one condition; he cannot do otherwise. Precisely this is Christ’s grief: “he cannot do otherwise.” He can debase himself, take the form of a servant, suffer, die for men, incite all to come up to him, offer up every day of his life and every hour of the day, and offer up his life — but the possibility of offence he cannot take away.. Unfathomable grief of love, that even God cannot — as in another sense neither will he, nor can he will, but even if he wanted to — cannot make it impossible for this work of love to turn into just the opposite for man, be the most utmost misery! For the greatest possible human misery, greater even than sin, is to be offended by Christ and to continue in offence.’ (p158)

  18. 5 out of 5

    Laura Leaney

    I didn't enjoy this book at all. Is it a book? It's more like one long depressing, repetitive sermon that has occasional psychological insights into the human mind of a despairer. The dour Dane definitely made some astute observations about the nature of despair - and I especially like the one on the difference between youths and adults: "The youth despairs over the future as the present in futuro [in the future]; there is something in the future that he is not willing to take upon himself, and I didn't enjoy this book at all. Is it a book? It's more like one long depressing, repetitive sermon that has occasional psychological insights into the human mind of a despairer. The dour Dane definitely made some astute observations about the nature of despair - and I especially like the one on the difference between youths and adults: "The youth despairs over the future as the present in futuro [in the future]; there is something in the future that he is not willing to take upon himself, and therefore he does not will to be himself. The adult despairs over the past as a present in praeterito [in the past] that refuses to recede further into the past, for the despair is not such that he has succeeded in forgetting it completely." This is the kind of thinking that feels right to me - mostly because I'm over a certain age and I know that my youthful despair is very different from my adult despair. Kierkegaard offers up this possible way of seeing it (one based on future in present/ the other based on past in present). Interesting! Nevertheless, my ordinary garden-variety religious skepticism became a stumbling block to Kierkegaardian joy. The bottom line is that I do not believe that Christianity is the only way to save yourself (and your soul) from despair. This is not the book's problem; the fault lies with the reader. Alas!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Andy

    There were passages in "Sickness Unto Death" that were a real struggle for me. Kierkegaard seems to assume that his readers have read a lot of Hegel, and I haven't. But it was worth pushing through, because the psychological depth of Kierkegaard's thinking is startling. At least, I kept having the unsettling feeling that he was describing me and people I know. I plan on reading this one again. However, the introduction in this edition is pretty bad. I couldn't help wondering what Kier There were passages in "Sickness Unto Death" that were a real struggle for me. Kierkegaard seems to assume that his readers have read a lot of Hegel, and I haven't. But it was worth pushing through, because the psychological depth of Kierkegaard's thinking is startling. At least, I kept having the unsettling feeling that he was describing me and people I know. I plan on reading this one again. However, the introduction in this edition is pretty bad. I couldn't help wondering what Kierkegaard would have thought of it. The good professor, who I assume has been reading Kierkegaard for the better part of his life, nevertheless seems baffled and confused by the fact that Kierkegaard is a Christian instead of a secular humanist like he and his friends. He tries to correct for Kierkegaard's deficiencies by basically ripping the heart out of the book and then offering the reader a corpse. Thanks, but no thanks.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jules Dean

    I had taken a picture of an old man on the lookout area of the Pompiduo in Paris. He was facing the city and was hunched forward in a way that showed his age. It was a shot composed mostly of luck and good timing. I instantly thought of Keiregaard and used the photo for a creative project based on this book. When I was leaving the museum, there was a girl trying to speak to me in French. I nodded in a way i had seen my students in Prague do many times before. It was a look I would receive after I had taken a picture of an old man on the lookout area of the Pompiduo in Paris. He was facing the city and was hunched forward in a way that showed his age. It was a shot composed mostly of luck and good timing. I instantly thought of Keiregaard and used the photo for a creative project based on this book. When I was leaving the museum, there was a girl trying to speak to me in French. I nodded in a way i had seen my students in Prague do many times before. It was a look I would receive after getting carried away with details in a story I was telling. My students would nod in way that they believed communicated to me that they understood what i was saying. It took me a few months to figure out that I could say anything in my lessons as long as I said it in as many words and as fast as possible. It was liberating in so many ways. I was thankful she was a quicker learner than I. As I was leaving the museum, she switched to English and told me that my bag was open.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Tanuj Solanki

    Kierkegaard's insistence on God may demote this book for some readers in today's times. Yet, its categorization of despair is a crucial conceptual exercise; and helps, if not in anything else, then in making sense of expressions of despair in literature. A case in point is Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Notes from the Underground, published fifteen years after Kierkegaard's book. The famous Underground man is in despair, and it is a stimulating exercise to attempt a classification of his despair per Kierk Kierkegaard's insistence on God may demote this book for some readers in today's times. Yet, its categorization of despair is a crucial conceptual exercise; and helps, if not in anything else, then in making sense of expressions of despair in literature. A case in point is Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Notes from the Underground, published fifteen years after Kierkegaard's book. The famous Underground man is in despair, and it is a stimulating exercise to attempt a classification of his despair per Kierkegaard's schema. I was lucky to find decent article online, elucidating precisely these concerns of mine

  22. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    The only reason I give it a 4 is that I am not smart enough to give it a 5. To give it 5 stars would be to pretend to fully understand him. I hope to upgrade both my understanding and thus the rating by reading it a few more times. He gives voice to the psychological underpinnings of so much of what is wrong about my own practice of Christianity and participation in "Christendom" yet does so graciously, albeit in philosophical binary code.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jordan Magnuson

    "Faith is: that the self in being itself and in willing to be itself rests transparently in God." The first part of this work ("The Sickness Unto Death is Despair") is one of the most transformative pieces of Christian philosophical writing (or any kind of writing) that I have ever read. Here Kierkegaard explores the tensions that lie at the heart of the human condition--and the heart of Christianity--and in doing so seems to lay bare my own soul. I am convicted, and convinced again t "Faith is: that the self in being itself and in willing to be itself rests transparently in God." The first part of this work ("The Sickness Unto Death is Despair") is one of the most transformative pieces of Christian philosophical writing (or any kind of writing) that I have ever read. Here Kierkegaard explores the tensions that lie at the heart of the human condition--and the heart of Christianity--and in doing so seems to lay bare my own soul. I am convicted, and convinced again to follow after Christ. An "exposition for upbuilding and awakening," indeed. I found the second part, with its strong view of sin, to be harder, and slightly less resonant than the first... but despite my best efforts I am unable to dismiss anything that K writes, offhand. If anyone is going to convince me of something, it will probably be Kierkegaard; as such, I can only read him at my own risk, with a considerable dose of fear and trembling. (As a somewhat curious side-note, I credit this book almost single-handedly--along with a significant stay at a Benedictine abbey--with breaking down most of my last serious reservations about the Roman Catholic faith; if human life revolves around holding paradoxes in tension... well, there you go).

  24. 4 out of 5

    Liam

    I've simplified the book in my own terms below for my own reference. Summary 1.The definition of despair When one has not grounded one's self, or spirit, in God, one will be in despair at willing to be oneself or in despair at not willing to be oneself. This comes in part from being unable to attribute one's birth or abilities to a meaningful origin or function, regardless of how fruitful one's existence may be. Though one is aesthetically stronger when in greater despair, one is ethically weaker an/>1.The/>

  25. 5 out of 5

    Durakan

    I think I spent longer reading the first page of The Sickness Unto Death than I've ever spent on any other page in my life. Most of that time was spent on the fifth sentence: "The self is a relation which relates to itself, or that in the relation which is its relating to itself." Is he talking about perception? Is the self simply self-perception? But wait a second, "the self is a relation which relates to its self". In the English translation at least, isn't this a circular definition, not to mention/>"The I think I spent longer reading the first page of The Sickness Unto Death than I've ever spent on any other page in my life. Most of that time was spent on the fifth sentence: "The self is a relation which relates to itself, or that in the relation which is its relating to itself." Is he talking about perception? Is the self simply self-perception? But wait a second, "the self is a relation which relates to its self". In the English translation at least, isn't this a circular definition, not to mention an infinite regress? It relies on a shared preconception of the 'self', which I'm not sure Kierkegaard and I have. In the end I admitted defeat and proceeded with my initial working assumption that the self is an instrument of perception, and I was never quite convinced that I was reading the book as Kierkegaard would have wanted me to. As a non-Christian, I was also a little put off by the fact that Kierkegaard does not allow for the possibility that the Christian God may not conform to his expectations, if He exists at all, which I must confess made me doubt Kierkegaard's philosophical rigour for a while. He remarks that the concept of God is absurd, but it is this very absurdity that makes faith difficult and ensures the believer is worthy. I assume Kierkegaard did not treat all absurdities in this fashion, and it's not really clear to me why he makes an exception for God. However, I was encouraged to read in the translator's introduction that the book was originally written under a pseudonym, with a character whose absolute confidence in the factuality of his religious views was a deliberate feature of the work and not necessarily shared by Kierkegaard himself. Fundamentally, Kierkegaard believes in a God, and therefore believes that there is an independent, external yardstick by which you can measure a man. I consider it unlikely that there is a God, and am therefore more inclined to the belief that each man is free to measure himself by the criteria he chooses, and this idea that man is in despair if he does not humble himself before an absurdity and espouse a particular set of moral principles seems unjustified. Kierkegaard believes that you can be in despair without knowing it, whereas I would argue that there is nothing more to life than your perception of it, so if you do not perceive yourself to be in despair then you are not in despair. Basically, I didn't agree with very much in this book, but it's interesting to encounter other viewpoints, and Kierkegaard presents his philosophy well. I have respect for the man and his ideas, even if I find myself unable to share in them.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Brenden O'Donnell

    I think Kierkegaard's methodology is easy to relate to: basically, that no book is too rigorous to be a self-help book. Personally, I always try to get something out of books, even philosophy books, that I can use to improve my life. I really appreciate the humility of this approach to writing and meditating on philosophy, though I worry it set me up for too experimental a reading. There's really no way to read this book as anything other than a description of how Christian existentia I think Kierkegaard's methodology is easy to relate to: basically, that no book is too rigorous to be a self-help book. Personally, I always try to get something out of books, even philosophy books, that I can use to improve my life. I really appreciate the humility of this approach to writing and meditating on philosophy, though I worry it set me up for too experimental a reading. There's really no way to read this book as anything other than a description of how Christian existentialism (I guess) can uplift the Christian sufferer through despair. Despair, since it proves the presence of the spirit in a self, can, in the highest of its many gradations, seem like an actualization of Christian faith. But filtering that despair through the lens of sin can reveal the hypocrisy of a good Christian's indulgence of despair. I'm not an expert philosopher by any means, and a lot of these mini chapters were frustrating and tedious. But if I'm reading this much right up until now, it's kind of a macho argument. It presumes a certain amount of pride in the subject, or at least a retainment of concern over sin, which (seems to me) might no longer be in tact after experiencing despair. And it not only presumes that this person still cares about sinning; it also claims that re-describing suffering as sin can push through pain and resolve suffering. There's something almost oppressive about this presumption. It's almost a "bootstraps" argument for the spirit. I still think it's a really valuable book for experimental takes on Christianity. Until sin enters the picture, it's pretty possible to almost read Christianity as less defined by Christ and more as a category of person who believes his or her self to lie at an interstice between the finite and the infinite, who believes in the spirit. The most self-aware of us sees the contradictions and frustrations of possessing a spirit, and therefore are tossed into turmoils: am I possessing it correctly? Why must I be parted from my surroundings? (and the opposite) Why can't I be more connected with my spirit? There's certainly a non-Christian manifestation of these forms of despair, yet perhaps not so intricately laid out without a Christian framework. I think, then, this book's largest contribution to me personally is that it made me reconsider what Christianity can be. It opens up the ways in which it's possible for me to read the concept of Christianity. Being such a brutal atheist, that's kind of a big deal for me.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sooho Lee

    While musing on the story of Lazarus, Kierkegaard is faced with the realization that for Christians there is something far worst to be fear than death: the sickness unto death. In the first half of the book, Kierkegaard, the 'father of existentialism,' delves into the mire of human existence to discover that all are in despair. With absolutely no hesitation, Kierkegaard dreadfully sculpts the desperate situation every individual experiences. After successfully sculpting what looks and feels like While musing on the story of Lazarus, Kierkegaard is faced with the realization that for Christians there is something far worst to be fear than death: the sickness unto death. In the first half of the book, Kierkegaard, the 'father of existentialism,' delves into the mire of human existence to discover that all are in despair. With absolutely no hesitation, Kierkegaard dreadfully sculpts the desperate situation every individual experiences. After successfully sculpting what looks and feels like shattered pieces (mentally and emotionally), Kierkegaard presents in the second half "the possibility of offense in Christianity" as the one genuine hope for individuals: the fact you can be offended by God proves that God is the remedy for your despair--your position of sin. The expansive gulf between man and God can only be crossed with "the leap of faith," only to truly discover that God has already crossed the great divide in Christ. Blessed are those who take no offense at him. Absolutely one of the most frustrating and difficult reads. This is one of Kierkegaard's most dense works and it is my first of his works. Tread carefully--you might not want to finish, but, oh, you very much should. Note: I was very tempted to mark 3 stars for the incomprehensibility of part one, but was forced to 4 stars after the beauty of part two. cf. www.sooholee.wordpress.com

  28. 4 out of 5

    Phoenix

    A wonderful journey in the unknown realms of despair. We are all in despair whether we know it or not. Makes you ponder... “Whether you are man or woman, rich or poor, dependent or free, happy or unhappy; whether you bore in your elevation the splendor of the crown or in humble obscurity only the toil and heat of the day; whether your name will be remembered for as long as the world lasts, and so will have been remembered as long as it lasted, or you are without a name and A wonderful journey in the unknown realms of despair. We are all in despair whether we know it or not. Makes you ponder... “Whether you are man or woman, rich or poor, dependent or free, happy or unhappy; whether you bore in your elevation the splendor of the crown or in humble obscurity only the toil and heat of the day; whether your name will be remembered for as long as the world lasts, and so will have been remembered as long as it lasted, or you are without a name and run namelessly with the numberless multitude; whether the glory that surrounded you surpassed all human description, or the severest and most ignominious human judgment was passed on you -- eternity asks you and every one of these millions of millions, just one thing: whether you have lived in despair or not, whether so in despair that you did not know that you were in despair, or in such a way that you bore this sickness concealed deep inside you as your gnawing secret, under your heart like the fruit of a sinful love, or in such a way that, a terror to others, you raged in despair. If then, if you have lived in despair, then whatever else you won or lost, for you everything is lost, eternity does not acknowledge you, it never knew you, or, still more dreadful, it knows you as you are known, it manacles you to yourself in despair!” Thank you, S. Kierkegaard!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Gastjäle

    3.5 / 5.0 Anti-Climacus is the sterner and more myopic version of his wry and loquacious counterpart. He is not without humour himself, and poor Hegel still continues to receive the wigging of a lifetime, but his approach is much more matter-of-fact and recondite than that of Johannes. Clearly we're dealing with someone high and mighty, and one sets up one's defences duly. The two biggest rubs of Anti-Climacus for me were his abstruse delivery (one could never be quite sure whether he 3.5 / 5.0 Anti-Climacus is the sterner and more myopic version of his wry and loquacious counterpart. He is not without humour himself, and poor Hegel still continues to receive the wigging of a lifetime, but his approach is much more matter-of-fact and recondite than that of Johannes. Clearly we're dealing with someone high and mighty, and one sets up one's defences duly. The two biggest rubs of Anti-Climacus for me were his abstruse delivery (one could never be quite sure whether he was staying true to Kierkegaardian repetition or whether he was varying his points a little for all the strange paraphrases he could muster) and his extremely unyielding views. Since Anti-Climacus is a character by Kierkegaard, one ought to be rather delighted for witnessing such inner conviction, but this time around our narrator was more about edifying and terrorising the reader like a doomsayer from Heaven (indeed, Auntie Clim even presumed to propound what God can and can not do). The delivery issue is not a major deal-breaker, since I'm always willing to blame myself partly. Perhaps my expectations and the different circumstances in which I perused the book clouded my judgment to a certain degree? (I'd still say that I went through the tome in a rather admirable composure of mind, so supposedly I could cast a bit of dirt at Climacus' cassock folds... but only a wee bit.) I do acknowledge that Anti-Climacus does not take many things for granted and that might be the reason for the painstaking and thorough examination of the topic of sin – and indeed, he did cover pretty much all possible ways of "falling away" from God. The biggest problem here was perhaps the classification of different types of despair and the transitions from one to another. One could never be quite sure about the, to use Climacus' own phrases, qualitative differences between them all. Time for the real critical beef. I pointed out earlier that Anti-Climacus does not take many things for granted... well, at least two things are exempt from this description: the notion of self and the delivery of the gospel of Christ. Let's start with the latter, since it was a more minor though still glaring point. If one wanted to paraphrase Anti-Climacus in the devil-reads-the-scriptures fashion, one could say that a person's despair is magnified enormously if one doesn't believe in the message of Christ after someone has communicated it to them. Now, I know Anti-Climacus also talked about some kind of heavenly communication (don't know the proper term since I read the Finnish version), but on what grounds is one supposed to believe such words if they can be communicated by anyone? Especially since Anti-Climacus himself was more than eager to point out that priests et hoc genus omne are not exactly the most trustworthy fellows on the face of the Earth. Sure, the main thing about faith is the paradox and dialecticality, but this one goes strangely contrary to the magnificent point of the subjectivity of faith. Also, it would place all too much weight on historical "evidence" – something that the whole dramatis personae of Kierkegaard are warring against. Secondly, the big rub: the self. Anti-Climacus seems to have picked a rather unfortunate term for his book, since his "self" is not exactly the kind of self one usually talks about (or the approximation thereof). His "self" is set by God, and it is something that should not be turned away from. Very good, one can sort of understand the idea behind it all – but Anti-Climacus' treatment of the whole thing is still very objectionable. First of all, when it comes to "finding oneself", he treats it as something that is easy to verify. Personally speaking, it is probably impossible to verify when one has found oneself. Secondly, the sense of self is not something that can only be set by oneself or by God – there are other, external factors included in the business. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, forcing one to remain with a religious self is diametrically opposite to staying true to oneself. I may be straying on the realm of psychology now, but perhaps that is why the selection of the term was unfortunate in the first place. It is treated all too haphazardly and unjustly. Nevertheless, the book gives a nice little purgatorial experience for the reader. One should be able to accept the vitriol and see whether it is deserved or not. One could see, for instance, why one doesn't believe in such things in the first place – is it fear, indignation, lack of scientific evidence, or the rank confusion of it all? Is it simply one's lack of faith (a far more laudable reason in my opinion)? Is it because one simply does not care an alar adultery about the whole shebang? I feel that my reasons is simply the lack of faith and the fact that focusing on Christianity solely leaves a lot of stones unturned. I'm not saying that one should look at different religions and simply pick what one likes best – it can be done, but I don't think it necessarily has anything to do with faith. I don't think one needs a book or scriptures to have faith in the first place – as long as one stays true to oneself. This is a lesson I've learnt from Kierkegaard, whether he likes it or not. He argues beautifully pro Christianity and contra paganism, I'm not saying that. I simply want to blaze my own poor trail and find similar conviction as he has – to the extent that I might invent a few alter egos to fight with myself!

  30. 4 out of 5

    L

    A self is a self that relates to itself -- says Barnacle Bill the Sailor. No wonder Sweden hated Denmark until recently. The quintessential 'brooding Dane' makes Hamlet seem like Milton Berle. He makes Aristotle and Plato seem relevant in comparison. Not recommended for anyone who has something constructive to do or works with sharp objects.

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