In The Sickness unto death , Kierkegaard says in a sybilline way that the self is

(1) a relation that relates itself to itself

(2) a synthesis of finite and infinite.

Should I understand that " finite" and " infinite" are the terms of the "primary" relation, and that this primary relation also relates to itself?

I think the "infinite" refers here to eternity, to God. But what is this " finite" that relates to infinite? ( It cannot be the self itself, since this " finite" is part of the self , as a term of the relation).

What does this " self relating" amount to? Is it aa kind of reflexion? What would the Self lack of in case this self -relating did not occur?

Why is not the self simply an entity relating to itself? Why is it, so to say, a relation at the secund power?

I know that Kierkegaard is an anti-hegelian. However this " definition" of Self sounds hegelian. One can suspect a kind of subversion of hegelian thought using hegelian means against Hegel himself. What is at stake ( possibly) in hegelian terms in Kierkegaards definition?

Finally, is there any reference focusing on Kierkegaard's ontology in which I could find an explanation of this definition of selfhood?

Here is SEP's quotation :

The individual is thereby subject to an enormous burden of responsibility, for upon h/er existential choices hangs h/er eternal salvation or damnation. Anxiety or dread (Angest) is the presentiment of this terrible responsibility when the individual stands at the threshold of momentous existential choice. Anxiety is a two-sided emotion: on one side is the dread burden of choosing for eternity; on the other side is the exhilaration of freedom in choosing oneself. Choice occurs in the instant (Øieblikket), which is the point at which time and eternity intersect—for the individual creates through temporal choice a self which will be judged for eternity.>

But the choice of faith is not made once and for all. It is essential that faith be constantly renewed by means of repeated avowals of faith. One’s very selfhood depends upon this repetition, for according to Anti-Climacus, the self “is a relation which relates itself to itself” (The Sickness Unto Death). But unless this self acknowledges a “power which constituted it,” it falls into a despair which undoes its selfhood. Therefore, in order to maintain itself as a relation which relates itself to itself, the self must constantly renew its faith in “the power which posited it.” There is no mediation between the individual self and God by priest or by logical system (contra Catholicism and Hegelianism respectively). There is only the individual’s own repetition of faith. This repetition of faith is the way the self relates itself to itself and to the power which constituted it, i.e., the repetition of faith is the self.>

  • You have to keep breathing, but each individual breath could be your last.
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 5, 2022 at 13:40

1 Answer 1


The key to this lies in the first line: "Man is a Spirit but what is Spirit?" He goes on to say that spirit is a tension. Contemporary science claims that humans are no different than any other animals. This is the empiricist/behaviorist fallacy which still haunts us today. This Kierkegaardian 'tension' pushes and pulls at us attempting to tear apart our face-value world and to inhabit it with spirits which we cannot control or understand. Many people cannot sleep or drink or take drugs to escape this 'existential' fear. The title of Kierkegaard's piece is 'The Sickness unto Death". He described it as the 'inescapable' and gut wrenching fear which faces each and every human being at the intimation that each of us is more than an animal; we are spirits of some sort. There is some form of comfort in taking the world at face value and believing, more or less, that the earth stands still and the Sun and the Moon move across the sky. Disturbing this illusion upsets a person's psychological balance and makes them afraid of what else follows from this. The 'Existentialism' which followed from this with Camus and Sartre is merely a shadow of what Kierkegaard was actually addressing. Spinoza framed this tension between the infinite and the finite differently, but not dissimilarly. He explained that the presence within the human body of a 'mind' which can clearly and in some measure adequately understand the infinite, indicates that there is some component within the mind which operates 'under an aspect of eternity'. Meanwhile many if not most people remain totally locked and hypnotized by Descartes foolish irreconcilable 'dualism'. But that is not under discussion here. CMS

  • "When you look into an abyss, the abyss looks back into you." Try it some time.
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 5, 2022 at 13:46

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