Eternity’s Nail of Subjectivity: Subjectivity, Ethics, and God in Kierkegaard and Beauvoir

Student Author(s)

Chikara Saito

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Jack Mulder

Document Type


Event Date



Given the striking similarities between Simone de Beauvoir’s Ethics of Ambiguity and Søren Kierkegaard’s pseudonymously penned Sickness Unto Death, the lack of conversation between the two works is rather surprising. Structural similarities between Sickness and Ethics abound: Kierkegaard and Beauvoir intricately interweave the nature of subjectivity and the claim of ethics in becoming a self throughout these texts. A self is not simply a physical-psychic unity, but a dialectically qualified relation of the conscious corporality of being human for Kierkegaard and Beauvoir. This interdependency between subjectivity and ethics are, furthermore, heightened and clarified through rich practical phenomenologies. Through their dialectics, the nature of true subjectivity is further clarified through the ways one can fail to become a self. In both accounts, one fails to live ethically by refusing to properly relate the paradoxical tension of human existence – being immanent and transcendent, temporal and eternal, material and immaterial. Despite the striking symmetry between Kierkegaard and Beauvoir in terms of their deliberative method, however, critical differences emerge in how they understand the constitution of subjectivity. Where Beauvoir explicates an explicitly and necessarily atheistic system of self and ethics, Kierkegaard maintains that not only ethics—but even the possibility of subjectivity—is dependent upon the work of God. For Beauvoir, then, cultivating the open future of persons constitutes the sole imperative for ethics, while for Kierkegaard ethics is grounded in the divine love command which flows only out of the God-relationship. Upon sketching out the shades of concord between the two, I will argue that the resonance between the two works provide a unique avenue for posing an internal criticism as well as an impossible dilemma for Beauvoir’s schema of becoming a self.


This project was supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Scholars Program in the Arts & Humanities at Hope College.

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