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An encyclopedia of philosophy articles written by professional philosophers.

He suggests that we have a tendency to lose ourselves — and this loss, together with the suffering it brings, is what he means by despair. In The Sickness Unto Death, this account of despair is offered as an interpretation of the Christian doctrine of original sin. In this text, Kierkegaard suggests that despair, like sin, is a condition that is shared by everyone, whether or not they are aware of it:.

Jordan Peterson: Existentialism - Authenticity

Because the deep existential suffering of despair signals awareness of one's spiritual nature and relationship to God, Kierkegaard regards this kind of suffering as something positive, however difficult it is to live with. It is a sign of spiritual maturity.

Themes, Arguments, and Ideas

However, he also suggests that our tendency to lose ourselves is bound up with a tendency to avoid suffering, to ignore our spiritual being and instead let ourselves be consumed by "the world". But, in Kierkegaard's view, this strategy of avoidance is doomed to fail, because we are spiritual beings, and our very evasiveness only confirms this fact.

From the SparkNotes Blog

This account of human existence leads to an emphasis on the virtue of courage in Kierkegaard's works. Courage means confronting what one fears, instead of fleeing from it.

A courageous person is prepared to suffer when she knows that this is required of her. For Kierkegaard, the "requirement" of suffering arises simply from being fully human.

From the SparkNotes Blog

In Fear and Trembling , for example, he praises the courage of Abraham, who did not attempt to avoid the suffering involved in taking the decision to kill his son. Instead, Abraham did what was necessary in order to honour his relationship to God. Does Kierkegaard's insistence on suffering amount to masochism, and perhaps an unhealthy inclination to martyrdom? In Fear and Trembling , for example, he praises the courage of Abraham, who did not attempt to avoid the suffering involved in taking the decision to kill his son.

Søren Kierkegaard - New World Encyclopedia

Instead, Abraham did what was necessary in order to honour his relationship to God. Does Kierkegaard's insistence on suffering amount to masochism, and perhaps an unhealthy inclination to martyrdom? In response to this question, we should note that in his philosophy, the opposite of suffering is not joy, but rather cowardice and evasiveness.


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Since suffering is simply unavoidable, it is a matter of responding to it in the right way. In fact, Kierkegaard suggests that by courageously confronting suffering, a person can find great joy in life.

Søren Kierkegaard, “God's Existence Cannot Be Proved”

Many people regard suffering as an obstacle to religious belief, and even as an argument against the existence of God. They ask how we can believe that a loving, all-powerful God created a world like this one, so full of suffering. This presents theologians with the task of reconciling belief in God with the fact that life is so often unsatisfactory. For Kierkegaard, however, the problems posed by suffering are existential rather than intellectual: he is concerned less with the objective fact of God's existence or non-existence than with the individual's subjective relationship to a God whose existence is always an uncertainty, never a fact.

Kierkegaard points out that one way of maintaining religious belief in the face of suffering is to give up hope of happiness within this life, deferring such hope to an afterlife — and he acknowledges that it is possible, but not easy, to relate to God in this way. However, he argues that the Christian's highest and most difficult task is to endure suffering while continuing to believe that she is loved by God — that God cares about the smallest details of her life — and to regard this painful, difficult life as a gift from a loving God.


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  • Even in the midst of suffering, the person who relates to God in this way feels blessed. In this text, Kierkegaard suggests that despair, like sin, is a condition that is shared by everyone, whether or not they are aware of it: "Anyone who really knows mankind might say that there is not one single living human being who does not despair a little, who does not secretly harbour an unrest, an inner strife, a disharmony, an anxiety about an unknown something or a something he dare not even try to know, an anxiety about some possibility in existence or an anxiety about himself.

    Kierkegaard is not a philosopher and did not want a philosopher.

    He did not write system and refused, opposed by Hegel, to build up a philosophical system, where truths are coordinated and united into a totality. Hegelian cons will bring together the knowledge and the various spiritual manifestations within a closed, Kierkegaard reminds us that the existence, the mode of being of the individual subject, is precisely the opposite of the System. This is not at Universal History of Ideas and abstract system should seek the truth of beings. In this quest, the individual must be the center reference point and foundation.

    The path of faith is hard, ripped, a thousand miles an easy and safe. Y plays an essential role of anxiety, that is to say the frenzy of the free individual faced with opportunities and conflicting choices. As a summary, it is capable, and it is all the more man than his anguish is deep.