THE CONCEPT OF DESPAIR IN KIERKEGAARD: A CRITICAL EVALUATION.
- Background of the Study
In the olden days, people lived fairly simple, predictable lives. They planted their crops or worked at the trade they had been taught that they in turn would teach their children. The average person could not read `or write and knew little of the world outside the immediate community. During that epoch of human existence, everyone had a place in the society, i.e., the rich, the poor; even the servant and slave were duly accommodated. That was the way they thought it would always be! If they had questions, they could ask the priest or the shaman or the witch doctor, who knew what, was necessary about life, death and the answers to the ultimate questions of life. Notwithstanding, the above view regarding the important role played by religion, a few have always thought more deeply and asked probing questions of life, such as: Why is it this way? How does the world work? What is the meaning of creation? Why do we suffer? What is life itself?
The reason why the above questions arise from within man is because what set us apart all other species on earth is the awesome power of our minds. However, the early scientist-philosophers of the Western world were bound by a deep respect for tradition, especially sacred tradition. They went about their work in the spirit of investigating their creator’s handiwork. Their humble efforts could only supplement, and certainly never challenge the majestic revealed truths of the bible, as interpreted by the authorities of the church. Suddenly, however, a lacuna or gulf gradually developed between science and religion in the western world. Scientist then began to move out of what they considered as shadows to mount the center stage. At this period, several blows were dealt to religion and so, the influence of religion not only several slowly, but decisively, decreased. Technology began to change the way we lived. More significantly, it changed the way we thought about ourselves and this led to a mechanistic view of the world where man is considered as a mere machine that works reciprocally with what his brain dictated to him. Some contemporary philosophers at this epoch mostly of the existentialist school think that existence precedes essence, and this they can follow the mechanistic view of the modern philosophy. But some philosophers like Soren Kierkegaard were not dismayed by the efforts of the scientists to make man a machine.
However, we could ask, what is Existentialism? Existentialism is a term that was derived from the word ‘’existence,’’ which focuses on the uniqueness of each individual as distinguished from abstract universal human qualities. Existentialism in the broader sense is a 19th and 20th century movement that is centered upon the analysis of existence and of the way humans find themselves existing in the world. The notion is that humans exist first and then each individual spends a lifetime changing their essence or nature. In a simpler language, existentialism is a branch of philosophy concerned with finding the self and the meaning of life throughout life as they make choices based on their experiences, beliefs and outlook. Personal choices become unique without the necessity of an objective form of truth.
As a movement, its ideas emerged at a time in society when there was a deep sense of despair has been articulated by existentialist philosophers well into the 1970’s and continues on to this day as a popular moral belief system and lifestyle. As a father of existentialism, Kierkegaard assails Hegelian rationalism and systematic philosophy by their central tenets. For Kierkegaard, the rationalist is mistaken in thinking that reality is the universal or the absolute. Man’s essence is not contained in thinking but in the existential conditions of his emotional life, in his anxiety and despair. Most emphatically, in The Sickness Unto Death, Kierkegaard argues that the human self is the ‘’relation relating itself to itself in the relation.’’ Kierkegaard opines that humanity is the tension between ‘’the finite and the infinite,’’ and ‘’the possible and the necessary,’’ and is identifiable with the dialectical balancing act between these opposing features, the relation.
Kierkegaard was born in Denmark on 5th may 1813 and he died on 11th November 1855. From his infancy, he received a thoroughgoing religious training from his father, Michael, who was of the view that he and his family were cursed by God. This melancholic outlook was to some extent inherited by Kierkegaard should be s great theologian. He later went to study theology at Copenhagen University. But there he became more interested in philosophy, literature, and history than the Hegelian system of thought was of little or no benefit to living man, he totally rejected it. For this reason, he left Copenhagen University and joined the University of Berlin. Kierkegaard argued that belief in God is a free act of faith and not a solution to a theoretical problem. Later on, he met Regina Olsen in the University and they became engaged, only to break off the engagement about a year later, he enjoyed in full the social life of the University. At a point in time, he became fade-up both with his father and his father’s religion. He was not pleased with the kind of strict life he was brought up in. contrary to the teaching of Hegel, Kierkegaard strongly emphasized the separation of philosophy and Christianity because, according to him, the two had never nor will ever be compatible with each other. But medieval theologians like Aquinas, Anselm, Albert and Bonaventure were able to marry philosophy with Christianity. Kierkegaard’s father was a member of the Lutheran church, a church which was obedient to Hegelian teaching – placing faith and reason at the same level. It was on account of this that Kierkegaard lost faith in religion. But loss of faith was followed suit by moral decadence. At a stage, when Kierkegaard lost the meaning of life, he had a temptation, but eventually underwent a moral conversion. Still after the death of his father in 1838, Kierkegaard received a religious conversion. He drew all his teaching on the modes of life which he himself lived as represented in his teaching on the aesthetic, ethical and religious life respectively.
As a Danish philosopher, Kierkegaard wrote many books and pamphlets amongst which are Either/Or, Fear and Trembling, Four Upbulding Discourses in 1843; The Sickness Unto Death in 1843, Stages on Life’s Way, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Christian Discourses, The Point of View in 1849, and many others. The people of Kierkegaard’s time showed little or no interest in his work. They read them with contempt and the press used them as an object of ridicule.
- Statement of the Problem
According to Kierkegaard, despair is The Sickness Unto Death. It is misrelating, a lack of awareness of being a set or spirit, not a feeling but an attitude, a posture towards ourselves.
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 as faith, which he described as ‘’relating itself to itself, and in the power that established it.’’
The philosophers who wrote on the concept of despair can be grouped into three divisions:
- The authors that agree with Kierkegaard’s view.
- The authors that disagree with Kierkegaard’s view.
- The authors that partially disagree with his view.
- Objective of the Study
The labour we have set for ourselves in this project is to provide an acceptable solution to the problem of despair confronting the groups mentioned in our statement of the problem. Meanwhile, our thesis is that depression does not actually involve all manners of despair. Although we notice some miss-relations in despair as Kierkegaard holds. The above view help us to strike a balance and thereby mediate between the three groups.
- Significance of the Study
Our research work has a two-fold significance. First, it’s believed that when the project is fully developed, theologians (Christians) and philosophers would be adequately informed of the significance of despair founded in faith as the guarantor of our hope, and that hope is founded in God who is the creator of man and the living things.
Secondly, this research work will equally help to put an end to the problems philosophers, theologians and psychologists have concerning the concept of despair because they have the inherent right to investigate this delicate concept.
- Scope of the Study
Our focus in this project is mainly on the Danish philosopher, Kierkegaard, and some other Eastern existentialist philosophers like Marthin Heidegger, Friedrich Nietzsche who focuses on the question of being. Karl Jaspers, Edmund Husserl and so forth. The works of these philosophers or commentaries on their works by non-western philosophers will be used so that we will do a realistic work.
In this research work we will make use of the Modern Language Association (MLA) style of documentation to document our citations. As a philosophical research, our method will be critical, analytical and evaluative. The work will use data from the following sources: internet, report, article, text books, and journals.
- Definition of Terms
In this section, some key terms that feature in the existential analysis of despair will be defied or explained. For instance, in his article entitled “Definitions: What are Their Purposes?,” Peter N. Chukwu asks: What is definition and what purposes does it serve in Logic or any other discipline for that matter?…According to Plato, for example,
Definitions were used to explicate the meaning of such
external essences or forms as justice, virtue, reality. (Philosophy
and Logic, 237).
Despair: According to Kierkegaard, despair is a symptom of man in the wrong. It’s an attempt to live in such a way as to suggest that one is not actually living, it is really an attempt to achieve a state of living (Michael Ukah cited in flash in page, 109).
The above view of Chukwu seems to be saying that definitions are at the foundation of the philosophical enterprise.
Faith: The Western dictionary defines faith as belief without evidence.
Destiny: According to Blackburn dictionary, destiny is the doctrine that what will be or that human action has no influence on events.
Hope: The oxford dictionary defines hope as to want something to happen and think that it is possible.
Truth: According to Webster’s dictionary, truth is the state or character of being true in relation to being, knowledge or speech.
Abyss: it is a very deep wide space or hole that seems to have no bottom.
Metaphysics: Oxford Learner’s dictionary defines metaphysics as the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of existence, truth and knowledge.
Essence: According to Oxford philosophy, essence is the basic or primary element in the being of a things nature or that without which it could not be what it is.
Existence: The Webster’s dictionary defines existence as being; the state or fact of being, or consciousness; a belief or an endless existence, real or idle existence.
Spirit: According to Webster’s dictionary, spirit is the principle of life and energy in man and animals at one time regarded as being composed of an especially refined substance, such as breath or earn air, separable from the body, mysterious in nature, and ascribable to a divine origin.
Self: This means one’s own being, personality and nature.
Life: The Oxford learner’s dictionary explains life as ability to breath, grow, reproduce etc. which people animals and plants have before they die and which objects do not have.