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Title:On despair in Kierkegaard's thought
Author(s):Rokosz, Steven
Director of Research:Sussman, David
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Sussman, David
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Weinberg, Shelley; Newton, Alexandra; Bojanowski, Jochen
Department / Program:Philosophy
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Abstract:Philosophers and religious believers have commonly held that suffering is a basic feature of human existence, while responding to this problem in different ways. Philosophers have often tried to mitigate suffering in their own lives through the pursuit of knowledge, virtue, and autonomy, but with penetrating insight, Kierkegaard argues that this offers no real escape from their affliction. Rather than depend on one's own efforts or understanding to resolve suffering, one ought to turn to Christianity with faith that one will attain salvation by receiving God's grace. In this study, I examine Kierkegaard's philosophical attempt to understand human suffering by analyzing his notion of despair, with the aim of determining why he thinks it should motivate the adoption of a religious way of life. He believes that a phenomenological investigation of human existence reveals that despair is central to our condition. In his view, it arises through the tension of being a free person situated in an impersonal world that operates coercively under principles of necessity, and thereby signifies our paradoxical nature as embodied spirits. Despair intensifies as our spiritual capacities of thought, imagination, and volition become realized over the course of our development. As freedom becomes realized, and we become more conscious of ourselves, we are likely to resist subordination to external forces beyond our control. Because freedom and the world that absorbs us are at odds, and both constitute us as human beings, despair is best understood as a state of disintegration in the person. Kierkegaard believes that to eliminate despair, the conflicting elements of our nature need to be harmonized so that integrity is achieved, but this is a paradoxical feat that cannot be accomplished without divine assistance. However, I challenge his claim that personal integrity requires religious faith, and argue that a person should be able to attain it on his own through an ethical way of life, which balances firmly held ideals and rational principles with concrete living. I also call into doubt his claim that despair is universal to humankind, and argue that he cannot consistently maintain that it is a state that the person brings upon himself through a misuse of will. His premises entail the disturbing conclusion that God brings it upon us in the process of creating us from nothing.
Issue Date:2019-11-20
Rights Information:Copyright 2019 Steven Rokosz
Date Available in IDEALS:2020-03-02
Date Deposited:2019-12

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