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Sickness Unto Death

Part I.C.b.

Summary Part I.C.b.

As with Part I.C.a., it may be most useful to focus on the examples Part I.C.b. gives of what Kierkegaard means by "despair." In this section, we learn that people automatically suffer despair when they are unaware of despair. We learn that despair becomes more intense when people are more aware of it. We are given examples of people falling into despair over negative events in their lives, of people living in despair because they lack the strength to lead spiritual lives, and lastly of demons and stoics who live in despair because they refuse to be dependent on anything, even God. We are told that these examples of despair form a hierarchy running from the least conscious (and therefore most innocent) to the most conscious and most intense.

Again as in Part I.C.a., the general point of all these examples is that despair involves a failure to be a human being in the fullest sense. People who focus too much on earthly concerns neglect their spiritual side. Defiant people exaggerate their capacity to control their destiny. All of the people Kierkegaard describes in this section have neglected some aspect of themselves.

Several passages Part I.C.b. merit particular attention. Take note of the second paragraph of section (a), which comments on thinkers who study "world history" and erect complex philosophical "systems." Kierkegaard is often assumed to be talking about Hegel here, but his comments can be understood as a concise statement of his disagreements with those who practice "science" and "scholarly" writing. Such people go about their lives investigating the material world or studying history. They may have great insights, but they neglect the fact that knowledge about the world is irrelevant to personal salvation. Kierkegaard disapproves of this approach to life because he sees personal salvation as the fundamental task of all human beings.

Also noteworthy are Kierkegaard's sarcastic comments about organized religion. In subsection alpha of section (b) he pokes fun at people who are Christian in the same sense that someone from Holland is Dutch. He also comments approvingly on people who don't go to church because they think pastors don't know much. Kierkegaard is famous for arguing that being a Christian involves an intense personal commitment. In this and other works, he frequently makes fun of people who adopt a more casual approach to religion--thinking, for instance, that attending church once a week is enough to make them Christian.

Lastly, note that Kierkegaard writes repeatedly of "dialectical" relationships between forms of despair. Also see the commentary to the Preface for explanation of this term.

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