Aquinas's Commentary On The Metaphysics

#113- Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death

Are we all in despair, whether we know it or not?

Scott and Karl discuss S¢ren Kierkegaard’s cheerful little book, The Sickness Unto Death. Published in 1849, Kierkegaard outlines his theory of the self in relation to his categories of despair, wherein despair is a “disease” of the self.

For Kierkegaard, an individual is in despair if he does not align himself with God or God’s plan for the self. In this way, he loses his self, which Kierkegaard defines as the “relation’s relating itself to itself in the relation.”

“Even talk of the self is philosophical baggage of the Christian theological doctrine of the Trinity,” Karl says, “They don’t think about the self very much before that.”

Tune in as the duo takes their first dive into continental philosophy on the podcast. Brought to you by


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  1. Niels Just Rasmussen

    “Sickness unto Death” was probably not the best books to start with of Kierkegaard as it is one of his last published book (1849) that builds in his previous works. The litterate bourgeoisie in Copenhagen back then was perhaps a couple of thousand people which all knew each other and being interrelated to each other. Kierkegaard “bestsellers” sold a bit over 200 copies [most of philosophical works probably at most 50-100 copies], so he probably knew most of the readers personally. Basically nobody would randomly pick up a books of his, without having read and loved the previous ones. That is a problem today for people that wants to start reading him.
    Also you really have the disadvantage of not being able to read it in Danish. The word used by Kierkegaard is “fortvivlelse” that in normal modern Danish usage could be translated into English to something like despair, sadness, unhappiness, hopelessness, desperation etc; but etymologically means being in a “State of Doubt”. [“Tvivl” = Doubt]. It’s perhaps not a coincidence that “Anti-Climacus” claims you are in a “state of doubt”, when you don’t have faith [= when you correctly balance the infinite and the finite].

    It is important to know that the “author” to Sickness unto Death is “Anti-Climacus” – a response to other pseudonymous works of “Johannes Climacus”, both pseudonyms of Kierkegaard. [Johannes Climacus was also a real 7th century monk].
    You did eventually inform the listeners on that very important fact; but forgot to mention that Kierkegaard actually stated that NONE of his pseudonymous works are his own opinions. [Whether that is believable or not is another discussion].

    One could look at it as a kind of literary role playing. Like a “game master” he introduces you to opinions of his pseudonyms and sometimes to his own opinions [where he didn’t use a pseudonym]. Basically he saw it as his goal being a Danish Socrates, like a gadfly stinging people. His point is probably to first upset/unsettle you and hopefully set thoughts in motion that could move you away from the “herd”-thinking of the beginning modernity with journalism & politics. Being a Christian is not just knowing the path from reading the bible, but living it as a “self”. His Christianity is extremely individualistic. Better to have 1 true Christian walking the path, than 10.000 gathered in herd-sermons singing hallelujah and feeling good about themselves.

    You are totally right in that Kierkegaard is very Lutheran in that the focus is totally on Faith alone (Luthers “sola fide”). One could argue technically that Kierkegaards Christianity no longer is a religion [having no “cultus” or customs] but pure faith. Where there is a crowd there is untruth and you would never develop a self belonging to the herd. A congregation in a church is a crowd after all.

    But I could be wrong. He is not easy to read even in Danish; but he is in my opinion not trying to be deliberately obscure. His philosophy was just very alien back then and still is to most people today. His style is probably for a slow reading and following contemplation which was more common back then. He is not someone you speed-read.

    1. Scott Hambrick

      I could tell the translation of into the word “despair” was a problem. Thanks for this sir.

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