January 24, 2012 6 Comments
In The Sickness Unto Death, Soren Kierkegaard works within the scope of an Augustinian tripartite view of man, arguing that man’s existential dilemma is one of despair. Augustine is relevant, since he also underwent his own existential crisis in the famed “tolle lege” incident, in which his world of licentious pleasures came tumbling down as he realized the finitude and emptiness of his own being. Ever since, the West has been in a dialectical battle with itself, as philosophy works out this same tension present within each man
A man confronts himself, as Kierkegaard says, the essential self is the transcendence of the self as related to itself. This self is spirit, and it’s important to notice the correction Kierkegaard thinks he is rendering to Hegel. For Hegel., the universal is the real, and the ideal alone is real. Where Kant erected a boundary between the individual mind and the noumenal realm, Hegel sought to tear down that divide by making the ideal and the ideal alone, real. This rationalist project is rejected by Kierkegaard, and turned on its head.
The actual universal confronted by man is death, and man’s confrontation with death demonstrates to the individual his own finitude. Finitude and the infinite eternality of death or the next life, is thus a dialectical struggle for man. In The Sickness, the self is spirit, and appears to be modelled after the Augustinian conception of the trinitarian analogue of man’s being, which is based on the relational definition of the divine persons. In that Augustinian and Thomistic scheme, Person is relation, but for Kierkegaard, the true self is that which transcends the dialectic of self in relation to itself, which is held captive by the determination of despair, occasioned by an outside force being allowed to determine the self.
This will clearly lay the ground for Sartre’s distinction between being in itself and being for itself, where the individual is condemned to be free, and must not hide behind various collectivist masks and facade identities, exteriorly determined. Despair is the means by which one reaches this conversion, if you will. Part of the difficulty here is the desire for man to escape from a philosophy in which he is determined, and his own being is conceived of as inherently evil. This notion derives from Manichaeanism, and characterizes the belief system of the younger Augustine, prior to his conversion to Catholicism. Read more of this post