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Fr. 586

December 22, 2014

The argumentative structure of The Sickness unto Death remains somewhat unresolved in light of recent revelations. Despite Kierkegaard’s critique of his contemporaries rather than Hegel himself, Kierkegaard clearly makes a conscious effort within his dyadic argumentative structure to both distance himself from Hegel and Hegelianism, while simultaneously attempting to employ elements of their dialectical structure and make it his own. Kierkegaard’s dyads comprise large sections of the work; rarely ever do any triadic structures enter his discussion. The C’s and 3’s of Hegel’s work are noticeably absent given the profusion of A-B and 1-2 patterns. Why should Kierkegaard take such pains to appropriate the dialectic model without retaining its full triadic form?

In answer, Kierkegaard earlier posits that “the self is the conscious synthesis” (29) of opposites within the individual. While Hegel’s term “synthesis” usually acts as a stand-in for “reconciliation,” the usage of “synthesis” here denotes a continual accretion of consciousness and unending activity geared towards the overcoming of despair. Kierkegaard’s “synthesis” does not reconcile the relationship in the manner of Hegel’s triad. Whereas Hegel’s “synthesis” creates a stable state in which the individual is permanently reconciled to the community, Kierkegaard’s “synthesis” forgoes stability and opts instead for a dynamic existence brimming with continuous challenge. There is no material now available for reappropriation at the individual’s leisure, nothing which they can draw upon in order to guide their interactions with the social world. Kierkegaard’s “synthesis” denotes a transient state, in which the individual is reconciled to themselves, resting transparently in the power which produced it. This “synthesis” is the goal towards which the individual works, continually struggling and striving. It can be achieved but never maintained. Overcoming despair, for Kierkegaard, does not revolve about developing character, habits, ethics, or dispositions. It centers, instead, on the active and continual consciousness of the individual concerning the processes that their self engages in daily. Reconciliation can never be maintained; it is the state to which one constantly aspires. It is continually sought, driving the subject through endless strivings. Simply put, the laurels on which one might rest are never fully actualized.

In summation, The Sickness unto Death treatment of Hegel and Hegelianism proves one of the most difficult to unravel within all of Kierkegaard’s corpus. Hegel, never mentioned by name, provides Kierkegaard with the logical models by which to address the issue systematically. At the same time, Kierkegaard structures his critique of the crowd more with Martensen and the Danish Hegelians in mind than Hegel. Kierkegaard seems to be less contrasting his individual before God with that of Hegel’s individual as social member, than with the speculative subversion of the doctrine of the Godman for political ends. Therefore, he does not address or critique Hegel directly. He does, however, treat the intellectual legacy of Hegel within the Danish Hegelians. Thus, the careful reader can surmise that Kierkegaard’s treatment of Hegel here takes an indirect form, as Hegel’s methodology and attention to the community help to shape the works of his intellectual inheritors. Finally, Kierkegaard employs the dialectical model developed by Hegel to serve as the foundation of his account of despair, only to subvert the model in the end for his own purposes of illustrating the ephemeral nature of any state of reconciliation.

In the end, the complexities of Kierkegaard’s relationship with Hegel, a man whose ideas he first drew upon volubly, then attacked with bitter criticism, and finally let drop without the mention of a name, illustrate the myriad and perplex nature of the world which engendered the drafting of The Sickness unto Death. Kierkegaard’s work avails itself of Hegel’s methodological innovations, attacks those adjoined themselves to his legacy, and attempts to make Hegel’s methodology his own. This interaction clearly calls for further investigation and, likely, even further revision.

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