Kierkegaard’s Sickness Unto Death

Pivotal definitions in the progression of Kierkegaard’s Sickness Unto Death.


“The self is the conscious synthesis of infinitude and finitude that relates itself to itself, whose task is to become itself, which can be done only through the relationship to God… the progress of becoming must be an infinite moving away from itself in the infinitizing of the self, and an infinite coming back to itself in the finitizing process. But if the self does not become itself, it is in despair, whether it knows that or not” (30).

“Despair is the misrelation in the relation of a synthesis that relates itself to itself” (15).

“…anyone who really knows [hu]mankind might say that there is not one single living human being who does not despair a little, who does not secretly harbor an unrest, an inner strife, a disharmony, an anxiety about an unknown something… some possibility in existence or… himself…” (22).

Types of Despair

Defined by Consciousness:
“The ever increasing intensity of despair depends upon the degree of consciousness or is proportionate to its increase: the greater the degree of consciousness, the more intensive the despair” (42)

This is “the despair that is ignorant of being despair, or the despairing ignorance of having a self and an eternal self” (42)

“If a man is presumably happy, imagines himself to be happy, although considered in the light of truth he is unhappy, he is usually far from wanting to be wrenched out of his error…On the contrary… he regards [such an attempt as an assault bordering on murder in the sense that, as it is said, it murders his happiness… he is too sensate to have to courage to venture out and to endure being spirit” (43).

“He turns away completely from the inward way along which he should have advanced in order to truly become a self. He appropriates…[the] capacities, talents, etc he may have; all these he appropriates but in an outward-bound direction, toward life, as they say, toward the real, the active life” (55-56).

He may “become more clearly conscious of his despair, that he despairs of the eternal that he despairs over himself, over being so weak that he attributes such great significance to the earthly, which now becomes for him the despairing sign that he has lost the eternal and himself” (61).

“And this is the self that a person in despair wills to be, severing the self from any relation to a power that has established it, or severing it from the idea that there is such a power…instead, the self in despair is satisfied with paying attention to itself, which is supposed to bestow infinite interest and significance upon his enterprises…” (68-69).

“Rather than to seek help, he prefers, if necessary, to be himself with all the agonies of hell” (71).

“In so far as the self in its despairing striving to be itself works itself into the very opposite, it really becomes no self…” (69).

The Remedy?

Despair as a state of perpetuated continuity:
“If a person is truly not to be in despair, he must at every moment destroy the possibility” (15), for “[our despair] does not continue as a matter of course; if the misrelation continues, it is not attributable to the misrelation but to the relation that relates itself to itself” (16). vs “the essential continuity of the eternal through being before God in faith” (105)

“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)

Inwardness: resting transparently in the power that established you.
“If there is, then, something eternal in a man, it must be able to exist and to be grasped within every change…” (36-37).

The Unspeakable in Nature:
“And the sea, like a wise man, is sufficient unto itself. Whether it lies like a child and amuses itself with its soft ripples as a child that plays with its mouth, or at noon lies like a drowsy thinker in carefree enjoyment and allows its gaze to wander over all, or in the night ponders deeply over its own being; whether in order to see what is going on, it cunningly conceals itself as though it no longer existed, or whether it rages in its own passion: the sea has a deep ground, it knows well enough what it knows. That which has a deep ground always knows this; but there is no sharing of this knowledge.” (48-49)

The Unspeakable in Man:
“For when [the passions] dwell in a man — when was it without the deceptive excuse of ignorance? And when a man remained ignorant of them, was it not precisely because he at the same time remained ignorant of the fact that there is an all-knowing One.” (51-52)

6 thoughts on “Kierkegaard’s Sickness Unto Death

  1. I must say that this is the most succinct analysis on Kierkegaard’s S.U.D. – in particular the self – that I have ever encountered, nicely done.


  2. Hey this is nice: What version did you use? When I first read the work, Kierkegaard’s insight into the despair of defiance blew me back. Maybe he had had difficulties with the despairs along the continuum that gave him such insight as to describe them. I really like the part where he uses the metaphor of an artist’s mistake on a page and the mistake defies any correction.


    1. i’ll have to look up which version it was, gimme a little. i might not even have it any longer (borrowed many a book in my day)… could have been a princeton copy? solid color on top and black on the bottom. hong&hong?

      it is a stunning work, isn’t it? definitely insightful into the undercurrents in our hearts and souls.

      btw, have you ever read ‘purity of heart is to will one thing’? it’s also by kierkegaard, and is like the flip side or the answer to what is set out in this book in a lot of ways. i highly recommend it to… well, most anyone i meet if i can slide it into conversation at all… 😉


  3. I’m glad you posted this ‘review’ of highlights of SK’s important book.

    Was it the two cocktails I had earlier with my 80-year old father? I don’t know, but tonight I’m hearing Kierkegaard better than before.

    Thanks again for tagging it, so it would scroll up in my search.


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