The Sickness Unto Death

by Sören Kierkegaard

Sören Kierkegaard is one of the towering Christian existential thinkers of the mid-nineteenth century. While his literary style was experimental, his writings call for Christian morality; a defense of faith and religion. Among his many books are Training in Christianity, Sickness Unto Death, and Fear and Trembling.

Published by Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1941. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


(ENTIRE BOOK) A classic written by one of the nineteenth century’s greatest theologians. Christian must think dauntlessly about everything both earthly and worldly, including death and its relation to living an authentic life.


  • Preface

    Despair is the sickness, not the cure. In Christian terminology death is the expression for the greatest spiritual sickness, and the cure is simply to die, to “die from” despair.

  • Introduction

    Only the Christian knows what is meant by the sickness unto death. As a Christian he acquires a courage which the natural man does not know. This courage he acquires by learning to fear the still more dreadful.

  • Chapter 1: That Despair is the Sickness Unto Death

    The three forms of despair: not being conscious of having a self, not willing to be oneself, but also despair at willing to be oneself. Despair is “sickness unto death.”

  • Chapter 2: The Universality of This Sickness (Despair)

    A man’s life is wasted when he lives on, so deceived by the joys of life or by its sorrows, that he never becomes decisively conscious of himself as spirit, as self, that is, he never is aware in the deepest sense that there is a God.

  • Chapter 3 The Forms of This Sickness, i.e. of Despair

    In every instant a self exists and is in the process of becoming. The self does not actually “exist,” but is only that which it is to become. In so far as the self does not become itself, it is not its own self, and not to be one’s own self is despair.

  • Chapter 1: Despair is Sin

    Sin means to be in despair at not willing to be oneself, or to be in despair at willing to be oneself. The lives of most men, being determined by a dialectic of indifference, are so remote from the good (that is, faith) that they are almost too spiritless to be called sinners, almost too spiritless to be called despairers.

  • Chapter 2: Continuation of Sin

    A definition of faith: “By relating itself to its own self and by willing to be itself, the self is grounded transparently in the Power which constituted it.” This means we must not despair over despairing about our sins, nor must we abandon faith and instead substitute indifference.