The Sickness Unto Death

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The Sickness Unto Death (Danish Sygdommen til Døden) is a book written by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard in 1849 under the pseudonym Anti-Climacus.

Preface & Introduction

  • "This sickness is not unto death" (John 11:4), and yet Lazarus died; for when the disciples misunderstood the words which Christ adjoined later, "Lazarus our friend is asleep, but I go to wake him out of his sleep" (11:11), He said plainly, "Lazarus is dead" (11:14).

A, Chapter I

  • Man is spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self. But what is the self? The self is a relation which relates itself to its own self...
  • Is despair an excellence or a defect? Regarded in a purely dialectical way it is both. ... If only the abstract idea of despair is considered, without any thought of someone in despair, it must be regarded as a surpassing excellence. The possibility of this sickness is man's superiority over the animal, and this superiority distinguishes him in quite another way than does his erect walk, for it indicates infinite erectness or sublimity, that he is spirit.
  • A despairing man is in despair over something. So it seems for an instant, but only for an instant; that same instant the true despair manifests itself, or despair manifests itself in its true character. For in the fact that he despaired of something, he really despaired of himself, and now would be rid of himself.
  • Thus when the ambitious man whose slogan was "Either Caesar or nothing", and he does not become Caesar, he is in despairs over it. But this signifies something else, namely, that precisely because he did not become Caesar he now cannot bear to be himself. Consequently he is not in despair over the fact that he did not become Caesar, but he is in despair over himself for the fact that he did not become Caesar.

A, Chapter II

  • Just as the physician might say that there lives perhaps not one single man who is in perfect health, so one might say perhaps that there lives not one single man who after all is not to some extent in despair, in whose inmost parts there does not dwell a disquietude, a perturbation, a discord, an anxious dread of an unknown something, or of a something he does not even dare to make acquaintance with, dread of a possibility of life, or dread of himself, so that, after all, as physicians speak of a man going about with a disease in him, this man is going about and carrying a sickness of the spirit, which only rarely and in glimpses, by and with a dread which to him is inexplicable, gives evidence of its presence within.
  • This view will doubtless seem to many a paradox, an exaggeration, and a gloomy and depressing view at that. Yet it is nothing of the sort. It is not gloomy; on the contrary, it seeks to throw light upon a subject which ordinarily is left in obscurity. It is not depressing; on the contrary it is uplifting, since it views every man in the aspect of the highest demand made upon him, that he be spirit.
  • Eternity asks you and every individual in these millions and millions only one thing: whether you have lived in despair or not, whether you have despaired in such a way that you did not realize that you were in despair, or in such a way that you covertly carried this sickness inside of you as your gnawing secret... or in such a way that you, a terror to others, raged in despair.
  • Ah, so much is said about human want and misery -- I seek to understand it, I have also had some acquaintance with it at close range; so much is said about wasted lives...

A, Chapter III

  • The greatest danger, that of losing one's own self, may pass off as quietly as if it were nothing; every other loss, that of an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife etc., is sure to be noticed.
  • The determinist, the fatalist, is in despair and as one in despair has lost his self, because for him everything has become necessity.... The self of the determinist cannot breathe, for it is impossible to breathe necessity exclusively, because that would utterly suffocate a person's self.
  • For example, if a man is presumably 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 becomes indignant, he regards anyone who does so as his worst enemy... Why? Because he is completely dominated by the sensate and the sensate-psychical, because he lives in sensate categories, the pleasant and the unpleasant, waves goodbye to spirit, truth, etc., because he is too sensate to have the courage to venture out and to endure being spirit.
  • With the help of this infinite form, the self in despair wants to be master of itself or to create itself, to make his self into the self he wants to be, to determine what he will have or not have in his concrete self.
  • Once he would gladly have given everything to be rid of this agony, but he was kept in waiting; now it is too late, now he would rather rage against everything and be the wronged victim of the whole world and of all life, and it is of particular significance to him to make sure that he has his torment on hand and that no one takes it away from him... What demonic madness -- the thought that most infuriates him is that eternity could get the notion to deprive him of his misery.

B, Chapter I

  • Sin is this: before God, or with the conception of God, to be in despair at not willing to be oneself, or in despair at willing to be oneself.
  • It was a very just thought to which the older dogmatic frequently recurred, whereas a later dogmatic so often censored it for lack of understanding and a proper sense of its meaning -- it was a very just thought, although sometimes a wrong application was made of it: the thought that what makes sin so frightful is that it is before God. From this the theologians proved the eternity of hell-punishment. Subsequently they became shrewder and said, "Sin is sin; sin is not greater because it is against God or before God." Strange! For even the jurists talk about "qualified" crimes and extenuating circumstances, even the jurists make distinction with regard to a crime, inquiring, for example, whether it is committed against a public functionary or a private person, they prescribe a different punishment for the murder of a father and an ordinary murder.
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