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. It is about Kierkegaard's concept of despair, which he equates with the Christian concept of sin.

Anti-climacus introduces the book with a reference to Gospel of John 11.4: "This sickness is not unto death." This quotation comes from the story of Lazarus, in which Jesus raises a man from the dead. However, the question that Anti-climacus raises, would not this statement still be true even if Jesus had not raised Lazurus from the dead? While the human conception of death is the end, the Christian conception of death is merely another stop along the way of the eternal life. In this way, for the Christian, death is nothing to fear. The true "Sickness unto Death," which does not describe physical but spiritual death, is something to fear according to Anti-climacus.

This sickness unto death is marked by the concept of despair. According to 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." Kierkegaard defines humanity as the tension between the "finite and infinite", and the "possible and the necessary", and is identifiable with the dialectical balancing act between these opposing features, the relation. While humans are inherently reflective and self-conscious beings, to become a true self one must not only be conscious of the self but also be conscious of being created by a higher being, God. When one either denies this Self or the Self's creator, one is in despair.

There are three kinds of despair presented in the book: being unconscious in Despair of having a Self, not wanting in Despair to be Oneself, and wanting in Despair to be Oneself. The first of these is described as "inauthentic despair," because this despair is born out of ignorance. The second type of despair is refusing to accept the Self outside of immediacy; only defining the self by immediate, finite terms. The third type is awareness of the Self but refusal to accept the possibility of a creator. To not be in despair is to have reconciled the finite with the infinite, to exist in awareness of one's own self and of God. Specifically, Kierkegaard defines the opposite of despair as faith, which he describes by the following: "In relating itself to itself, and in willing to be itself, the self rests transparently in the power that established it."

The Sickness Unto Death has strong Existentialist themes. For example, the concept of the finite and infinite parts of the human self translate to the concepts of 'facticity' and 'transcendence' in Sartre's Being and Nothingness. Kierkegaard's thesis is, of course, in other ways profoundly different from Sartre, most obviously because of Kierkegaard's belief that only religious faith can save the soul from Despair. This particular brand of Existentialism is often called Christian Existentialism.

Some have suggested that the opening of the book is an elaborate Hegelian joke; however, some scholars, such as Gregor Malantschuk, have suggested otherwise (Armed Neutrality and An Open Letter, Simon and Schuster, 1969, pp. 65-6 and n. 7 on pp. 165-6).

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Sickness unto Death" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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