chapter  25
12 Pages

Agency, Identity, and Alienation in the Sickness Unto Death

WithJustin F. White

In The Sickness unto Death, Kierkegaard describes selfhood as an achievement, specifically claiming that the self’s task ‘is to become itself’ (SUD, 29/SKS 11, 143). But how can one become who or what one already is, and what sort of achievement is it? This chapter draws on the work of Christine Korsgaard, another philosopher who sees selfhood as an achievement, using her notion of practical identity to explore Kierkegaard’s accounts of the structure of the self and of selfhood as achievement. Kierkegaard’s treatment of selfhood—as aspirational and, if undertaken well, appropriately grounded in one’s facticity (i.e. the concrete facts of one’s situation)—suggests how consciously endorsed identities can guide (or fail to guide) our agency. Having a practical identity involves striving to inhabit adopted roles by aligning our actions with relevant normative demands, but also sometimes embracing and consciously adopting identities already tacitly guiding our engagement with the world. This framework also suggests several ways we can be alienated from desires, actions, or, more generally, our selves.