Our Existential Predicament:
Loneliness, Depression, Anxiety & Death

by James Park

Outline for Chapter 7:

Existential Splitting:

Søren Kierkegaard's Sickness Unto Death

Lacking Wholeness of Self


    A. Infinitude-Finitude.

        1. The Infinitude of Fantastic Feeling.
        2. The Infinitude of Fantastic Knowing.
        3. The Infinitude of Fantastic Willing.
        4. Living a Normal Life Even While Infinitized.
        5. Excess of Finitude—Never Rising to Become a Self.

    B. Possibility-Necessity.



My Personal Experience of Wholeness

Chapter 7

Existential Splitting:

Søren Kierkegaard's Sickness Unto Death

      Why are we at odds with ourselves?
Why do we seem to want to go in so many different directions at once?
Why do we feel splintered and split, prevented from attaining wholeness?

     It is customary to blame this disintegration of selfhood,
this absence of wholeness and balance in modern life,
on the contradictory forces and influences of society.
But these external fragmenting forces and tendencies would have no effect
were we not internally weak and vulnerable.

     Many people seem to be whole and integrated,
but how many of these are mere imitation persons?
Putting on the show of being a real person is quite simple.
Culture provides all the costumes and masks necessary,
the basic structure of the plot, and even many of the lines of dialog.
Søren Kierkegaard described such an imitation person in 1849:

         As it says in novels,
         he has now been happily married for several years,
         a forceful and enterprising man, father, and citizen,
         even perhaps an important man.
         At home in his house his servants refer to him as ‘himself'.
         In the city he is one of the worthies.
         In his conduct he is a respecter of persons,
         or of personal appearances, and he is to all appearances a person.
         In Christendom he is a Christian (in exactly the same sense
         that in paganism he would be a pagan and in Holland a Hollander),
         one of the cultured Christians.
         The question of immortality has frequently engaged him,
         and on more than one occasion he has asked the priest
         if there is such a thing,
         whether one would really recognize oneself again;
         which for him must be a particularly pressing matter
         seeing that he has no self.

         [Søren Kierkegaard The Sickness Unto Death
         translated by Alastair Hannay (London, UK: Penguin, 1989) p. 87]

 L a c k i n g   W h o l e n e s s   o f   S e l f

     This phenomenon of ‘having no self' even tho one appears to be a person
will be our theme rather than the diverse social forces pulling us apart.
This chapter will treat our internal weakness or existential splitting,
which makes the disintegrating forces of society so effective.


     Søren Kierkegaard is our best guide for understanding this Predicament.
His book The Sickness Unto Death describes our Existential Dilemma
—our splitting; imbalance; fragmentation; lopsidedness; disintegrity;
lack of unity and wholeness; and misrelationship with ourselves.
Sometimes our “sickness unto death” is the utter lack of a self.
We are so disintegrated internally that we have no real selves at all.
Life is like struggling to gain control of a dream:
Absurd things keep happening to us one after another,
but we lack the ability to prevent these events
or to make our lives change course.

     If we do not already feel our inward splitting,
it may seem unreasonable for Kierkegaard to claim (as he does)
that all normal human beings are
—at the very bottom of their existence—
fragmented, split, lopsided, disintegrated.
To surface appearances, this does not immediately seem true;
looking around we see lots of people who are ostensibly integrated;
they seem to be happy with their lives;
they are contented with the things they do under the sun.
So, claiming that everyone is in a state of inner disintegration
must be either a gross exaggeration or a plain mistake.
How can Kierkegaard defend his perception of universal fragmentation?

     It might be shown that we are all inwardly fragmented or lopsided
if one of the characteristics of this fragmentation of the self
were the inability to notice such a sickness of the human spirit.
Because the self itself does all internal noticing,
a diseased self might not be able to notice its own disintegration!
This is precisely Kierkegaard's argument.
A hopelessly splintered and fragmented self
can never become focused or self-conscious enough to take note of itself,
to be able to diagnose its own sickness, lopsidedness, or even absence!
Only after some unity and wholeness has begun to emerge in our selves
are we able to comment on our previous state of fragmentation.

     In other words, the most common form of fragmentation of being
is precisely the condition of not being able to notice our lack of self.
This dis-ease of the human spirit is not like having a fever:
Discovering a temperature does not imply that we have been sick all along;
but when our inward condition of lopsidedness-of-being is finally disclosed,
we realize that we have been off-balance, off-center, all of our lives.

     So the problem preliminary to a full discussion of existential splitting
is how does an ununified self become aware of its own internal disrelationship?
How do we become aware of our Existential Predicament
when our internal spirits are clouded and befogged by fragmentation?
How do we become enough self to notice our inward lack of self?


    Kierkegaard replies that sometimes our Existential Malaise can be felt
even in the midst of dreaming innocence.
We all begin, says he, in the “esthetic stage”—the life of pure immediacy.
We find ourselves in a world we already know how to use and enjoy.
We naturally pursue comfort and pleasure.
But somewhere in the depths of this happy-go-luck life
dwells despair, anxiety, existential splitting—our Existential Predicament.
And at special moments in our simple, unreflective, everyday lives,
our repressed despair may bite thru the crust from inside.

   If you would like to read more of this treatment

of Kierkegaard's vision of the self as split,
the complete chapter—13 pages in all—
will be found in Our Existential Predicament.

Return to the EXISTENTIALISM page.

Go to the beginning of this website
James Leonard Park—Free Library