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Sickness Unto Death

Soren Kierkegaard

Part I.C.a.

Part I.B.

Part I.C.b.

Summary

Part I.C. categorizes the forms of despair. Despair may be analyzed abstractly by looking at the elements of the concept of despair. However, whether or not the individual is conscious of despair is the principle distinction between forms of despair.

Part I.C.a. is an abstract analysis of despair. (By contrast, Part I.C.b. will analyze despair in terms of consciousness.) Part I.C.a. is subdivided into two sections, (a) and (b), which are in turn each subdivided into subsections alpha and beta.

The beginning of section (a) notes that human beings are a synthesis of the infinite (spirit) and the finite (body). The human "self" overcomes despair by "becoming itself," which means establishing the appropriate form of the synthesis of infinite and finite. This is possible only through God.

Section (a), subsection alpha describes the condition of despair in which the individual focuses on the infinite and neglects the finite. This form of despair occurs when the individual becomes absorbed in fantasies. Subsection beta describes the condition of despair in which the individual focuses on the finite and neglects the infinite. A person suffering this form of despair becomes overly absorbed in practical earthly matters, such as business and social life.

Section (b) recasts the finite/infinite distinction in terms of possibility and necessity. Subsection alpha describes how people may enter despair by becoming absorbed in reflection on fantastical possibilities and neglecting reality's constraints. Conversely, subsection beta describes a form of despair in which people become weighed down by concerns and fail to imagine other possibilities.

A belief that "for God all things are possible" may enable people to avoid despair and hopelessness even when crushed by the most awful circumstances. Fatalism, by contrast, presumes that events in the world are predetermined as a result of physical forces and cause-effect relationships. Similarly, "philistine" or "bourgeois" people concern themselves exclusively with petty matters and accept turns of events in the world without emotion or resistance. Fatalism and philistinism cannot protect individuals from despair as faith can.

Commentary

The main value of this section is the clarification that it gives to Kierkegaard's notion of despair. In Part I.A., Kierkegaard suggested that despair is a sort of imbalance in the body/spirit relationship. This section provides concrete examples of what he means by imbalance. People who live in worlds of fantasy neglect the real world around them. Overly practical people miss out on spirituality. For Kierkegaard, these people are in despair because they are missing out on some aspect of human experience and are therefore failing to be human beings in the fullest sense.

Section (b), subsection beta offers some important insight into why Kierkegaard thinks we can become full human beings only through faith in God. He suggests that only faith in God--the belief that "for God all things are possible"--can rescue people from the psychological burdens of disastrous life events. If someone's worst nightmare came true, and escape seemed impossible, Kierkegaard argues, faith would enable that person to continue to believe in a better future, since God can make anything possible. For instance, if a loved one dies, faith could enable you to believe that you will see that person again.

Recall how Kierkegaard defined the absence of despair in Part I.A. He wrote that despair is eradicated when the self "rests transparently in the power that established it." Presumably, that power is God. The discussion in this section can help us understand why Kierkegaard sees God as the solution to despair, at least in the case of despair arising from a negative turn of events in our lives. According to Kierkegaard's ideas, God--a spiritual power who established the material world--provides a bridge between our minds and the world, between imagined possibilities and material facts. He helps us preserve a sense of hope amid hopeless circumstances.

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