Skip over navigation

Sickness Unto Death

Soren Kierkegaard


Part II.B.

Study Questions

Dialectics  -  The process of developing ideas through dialogue and comparison. The term "dialectics" was first used to refer to Plato's philosophical works, which are written as dialogues between Socrates and other Ancient Greek citizens. In Hegel's philosophy, this term acquired a new, modern meaning. Hegel argued that concepts and ideas do not exist in isolation. Rather, they are developed in dynamic (or "dialectical") relationships with opposite concepts. To pick a simple example, Hegel might suggest that "white" is an impossible concept unless you have a concept of "black." Consequently, changes in the concept of "white" necessarily bring about changes in the concept of "black." For instance, if "white" comes to stand for purity and clarity, then "black" might come to stand for evil and confusion. In his works, Hegel often tried to analyze the dialectical process that developed our ideas over the course of history. Kierkegaard uses this term to describe relationships between some ideas in The Sickness Unto Death. The book also offers several examples of a dialectical development of concepts (see the commentary section of the Introduction).
Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich  -  An influential nineteenth-century German philosopher. Hegel was born in 1770 and died in 1831. His major works include the Philosophy of Right and the Phenomenology of Spirit. Hegel believed that people's ideas are developed from the society in which they live. He also believed that modern society's ideas about democracy, human rights, and constitutional government were the culmination of a long historical process. His goal was to develop a systematic account of that process and the ideas it had created. Kierkegaard mentions Hegel by name in some works and has often been interpreted as a critic of Hegel's philosophy.
Pseudonym  -  Literally, a "false name" under which an author publishes a work--a pen name. Kierkegaard published many of his major works under pseudonyms. His pseudonyms are often more than just pen names. He often gives them distinct personalities that color the works they narrate. Some critics have interpreted this use of pseudonyms as an effort to build distance between Kierkegaard and the reader, so that the reader has more freedom to consider the merits of the argument without being distracted or influenced by the reputation of the author. It would not have been difficult, however, for Kierkegaard's original readers to guess who the author was. The Sickness Unto Death is narrated by the pseudonym Anti-Climacus. By comparison with other pseudonyms, Anti-Climacus' style is relatively calm and precise. His name may suggest that he is intended as a sort of alter ego for "Climacus," a more rambunctious and emotional pseudonym who narrates several other works by Kierkegaard. In any case, the original publication of The Sickness Unto Death listed Kierkegaard's real name as the "editor" of the book. This probably indicates that Kierkegaard felt comfortable taking responsibility for the ideas in the book. Most people writing about this book ignore the pseudonym and attribute the book's statements directly to Kierkegaard.
Science  -  Kierkegaard works with a definition of this term that is broader than our modern usage. In philosophical circles in Kierkegaard's time, "science" could be used to refer to any disciplined field of study, not just to biology, physics, or the other fields we call science today. (Philosophy, for instance, could be referred to as a "science.") Generally, when Kierkegaard refers to "science," "scholarship," or "speculative" or "systematic" thinking, he is referring to efforts to use some disciplined methodology to understand the world of objects and facts.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us