The Sickness Unto Death, Part I.A.

This is the third post in a series on The Sickness Unto Death.  For other posts in the series, see here.


Part I: Despair Is the Sickness unto Death

  • Section A. Despair Is a Sickness of the Spirit, of the Self, and Accordingly Can Take Three Forms: In Despair Not to Be Conscious of Having a Self (Not Despair in the Strict Sense); In Despair Not to Will to Be Oneself; In Despair to Will to Be Oneself

Kierkegaard mentioned in the Preface that this book runs the risk of being too scholarly to be “upbuilding” and the very first section reveals that risk.  The subtitle alone is dizzying, it would fail every basic principle of outlining that I know.  If a student turned in an outline with that subtitle to me, I’d hand it right back to them and tell them to simplify.  Not only is the subtitle dizzying, but the content itself is enough to make you take two Tylenol.  Take, for example, Kierkegaard’s definition of the “self”:

“A human being is spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self. But what is the self? The self is a relation that relates itself to itself or is the relation’s relating itself to itself in the relation; the self is not the relations but is the relation’s relating itself to itself.” (13)

Say what? Some scholars have posited that Kierkegaard is being ironic here, mocking the Hegelian logic fashionable during his time.  But we need not be experts in Hegel nor concern ourselves with the possible “irony” here to understand how Kierkegaard understands the human person.

The basic idea here is that the “self” is not yet fully formed.  That is, we are not yet fully “ourselves”.  Jean-Paul Sartre picked up this theme with his mantra, “Existence precedes essence.”  For Sartre, the fact that we are not fully defined before our creation (in the way an inventor has an idea of an invention prior to making it, hence, in that case, “essence precedes existence), we must define ourselves.  But such a solution is not what Kierkegaard has in mind.  While it is true that we are not fully what we are intended to be, it does not follow that this is no “way to be”.  That is, that there is no definition of what it means to be human.  It is this struggle between willing to be what we want to be instead of what we were created to be that will lead to despair.

Kierkegaard, as is quite typical, does not yet define “despair”.  He is not an analytic philosopher, setting down the definitions of his terms and then arguing from there. Instead, Kierkegaard will use a word and then circle back to it again and again, getting closer to the definition and involving the reader in the struggle to define it.  This has the advantage of pulling the reader in and forcing a participation.  Even when you know this is what Kierkegaard is doing, it does not diminish its effectiveness.  So, when people come to me confused about a part in Kierkegaard, my advice is always, just keep reading – and then reread and reread – you’ll come to it eventually.

What Kierkegaard does offer in this section is an introduction to the tensions persons have within them. A person, says Kierkegaard, is made up of seemingly conflicting parts: (a) the Possible and the Necessary; (b) the Infinite and the Finite. It is in attempting to “live in” one of these extremes more than another that a person will despair.  Doesn’t make sense?  Keep reading.

The main ideas that one needs to come out of this section with is the notion that we are not fully ourselves, that we despair when we try to be something other than what we were created to be, and the solution is in a “resting” in the Creator.

“The formula that describes the state of the self when despair is completely rooted out is this: in relating itself to itself and in willing to be itself, the self rests transparently in the power that established it.” (14)

One cannot help but being reminded of Augustine’s famous description of humanity in the Confessions, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”

Auld Lang Syne and New Year’s Eve

Reposted from last year:


You know that song that everyone sings in movies and on TV at New Years Eve?  If you’re like me, you know the song,  you can recognize the melody but have no idea what the words are! Well, here you go!

“Auld Lang Syne” is the name of the song. The lyrics come from a poem by the Scot, Robert Burns and is in an older Scottish dialect. The phrase “aul lang syne” means literally “old long since” and is idiomatic for “long, long ago”.  Here is an excellent version of the song with a translation following:

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and days of old lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for days of auld lang syne.

We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine ;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since days auld lang syne.

We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
since days of auld lang syne.


And surely you’ll buy your pint cup !
and surely I’ll buy mine !
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
And give me a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.


Ralph Nader Isn’t Happy with President Obama

It seems Ralph Nader isn’t happy with the President.  See here.

Now, I disagree with Nader on a wide range of issues, but his comment that Obama is worse than Bush on foreign policy and civil liberties is dead on.

But let’s not just throw Obama under the bus, Congress is just as bad, as is evidenced by their recent extension of FISA, see here.  Says Rand Paul,

“Thanks to President Obama and the overwhelming majority in both parties, the government can wiretap your phone, snoop through your email, monitor your Facebook, intercept your text messages and spy on you any way they please. No warrant. No judicial restraint. No Bill of Rights. No Constitution.”

The fact that no one seems to care reveals the extent of apathy in this country towards basic liberties.  We do not deserve the freedoms we have if we do nothing to preserve them.



THERE HAS fallen on earth for a token
A god too great for the sky.
He has burst out of all things and broken
The bounds of eternity:
Into time and the terminal land
He has strayed like a thief or a lover,
For the wine of the world brims over,
Its splendour is spilt on the sand.

Who is proud when the heavens are humble,
Who mounts if the mountains fall,
If the fixed stars topple and tumble
And a deluge of love drowns all—
Who rears up his head for a crown,
Who holds up his will for a warrant,
Who strives with the starry torrent,
When all that is good goes down?

For in dread of such falling and failing
The fallen angels fell
Inverted in insolence, scaling
The hanging mountain of hell:
But unmeasured of plummet and rod
Too deep for their sight to scan,
Outrushing the fall of man
Is the height of the fall of God.

Glory to God in the Lowest
The spout of the stars in spate-
Where thunderbolt thinks to be slowest
And the lightning fears to be late:
As men dive for sunken gem
Pursuing, we hunt and hound it,
The fallen star has found it
In the cavern of Bethlehem.

~G.K. Chesterton

Thank You, Piers Morgan

I’m always looking for fresh illustrations of logical fallacies for my Logic classes.  I sometimes get the impression from students that the fallacies we talk about are so obvious that they only occur in logic books.  “How could anyone be so foolish as to argue this way?”  So, in order to show them that people make fallacious arguments all the time, I try and show them contemporary examples of fallacies at work. (The so-called “Internet Atheists” have furnished me with a nice long list; see here).  But now, thanks to Piers Morgan, I have a wonderful example of Argumentum Ad Hominem.  I’ll now be showing this clip to my Logic classes for the next few years until a better example comes along: