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PHIL 375 - Lecture: Kierkegaard (Sickness Unto Death)

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McGill University
PHIL 375
Susan Judith Hoffmann

Sickness Unto Death Despair: that of being conscious of being despair, and is conscious of the nature of the self as being eternal, then either one, does not will to be a self, or two, in despair wills to be a self. Denial is a tool to bear the pain of spiritual tension that a human being is (tension between finite and infinite, necessity and possibility, reality and ideality). The extent to which we are in denial varies enormously. Two forms of despair: 1) Not willing to be oneself (of weakness; of womanliness) 2) At willing to be oneself, but failing (of manliness) 1 is despair over the immediate, over the quantitative, despair over external pressure. At this stage, the dialectic of despair is the agreeable and the disagreable. The concepts include fate, fortune, and misfortune. At this stage, a person is like a child whose self is all the world, and who doesn't take responsibility for things happening to the self when its pleasures are disrupted -- a low notion of the self. What plunges this being into despair is something that happens to it, something that happens from the outside. Again: not over herself, but over something that happens to her. This is not a reflected self, but an immediate self. If something happens to him, he thinks he's in despair, but he's actually very far from being in despair, because he doesn't even understand what despair is. If external circumstances improve, then he thinks himself out of despair. He may imitate how others live, follow some kind of understanding of life, make motions toward eternity – but he never was a self, and he can never become a self, even if he may be a Christian. He has an identity, but it may be a false identity. This weakness is not having the strength necessary to be what one is. Failure to will oneself out of this immediate, low fashion. This kind of immediacy is a person who is so weak, so far from being able to recognize himself, that he is like a peasant who went to the city, bought really nice clothes, and then got drunk, then didn't recognize himself. This kind of despair is comical, because this man will talk about overcoming despair, he thinks he has overcome despair, but that is when he is truly beginning to come to be in despair. Pure immediacy can be disrupted or broken not by having something external happen to oneself, but one's capacity for reflection, for activity. This person could recognize a degree of despair, but this person could also knowingly, more consciously, deliberately, continue to live in this state, this “basement of being.” Because this person is at least a little conscious of the eternal, of his soul, he visits once in a while the possibility of authenticity, of his true self – but eventually he goes away, finding it uncomfortable. With time he rationalizes it, and hopes it will go away on its own. These men have not learned to fear; they have not learned what must means, to have to will one thing, to be compelled. They can't bear the task of really becoming subjective, really looking inward. Most of us never advance beyond this immediacy with quantitative reflection. Kierkegaard makes fun of these people; they think that despair is something which one can outgrow, and that wisdom and faith will grow somehow. Kierkegaard distinguishes between earthly despair -- “the determinate of totality” -- and despair over some early thing, the particular. The self transforms the particular object of despair into an earthly totality. It is not possible to be deprived of the earthly totality because it is a category of thought, and it is not substantiated in the earthly. So the self increases infinitely the loss. Then the self despairs over the loss of the earth in its totality, and then the self recognizes the essential distinction between the despair over a particular earthly thing, and despair over earthly totality, and mov
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