Depression or Despair

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The Argument of Depression versus Despair

The opinion blog “Kierkegaard on the Couch” by Gordon Marino is a short blog under the opinion section in the New York Times series “Happy Days The Pursuit of What Matters in Troubled Times.” The series is filled with blogs of helpful tips and essays to guide people through these troubled times as they look into the many aspects of their lives to define who they are outside of the jobs they hold and the money they make. This blog argues that Soren Kierkegaard’s belief that we should distinguish between depression and despair is not obsolete and should be applied today. The argument was effective because of the amount and arrangement of evidence as well as the understanding of the audience.

The weakest point of the article would be in the author’s assertion. The weakness comes not in the assertion itself, but in its placement in the blog. It is cut in two; the first part being stated in the last sentence of the first paragraph, the second comes in at the end of the second paragraph. The assertion, when found, suggests that Soren Kierkegaard ideas of depression and despair should be removed from “the museum of antiquated ideas” and applied to our own mental health concepts today. Depression is a general feeling while despair “is marked by a desire to get rid of the self, an unwillingness to become who you fundamentally are.” The author believes a distinction between the two could improve our mental health issues.

The reason he has for this assertion is the belief that Kierkegaard is on to something in his idea that depression is a troubled mind, while despair runs much deeper - to the depths of the spirit. The reason we do not distinguish between the two is because it is hard to believe someone could be “of troubled mind and healthy spirit.” In other words it is hard to believe someone can be sad even though they wouldn‘t want to be anybody else; nor can we believe that someone who is seemly happy and has accomplished everything they ever wanted in life could still wish they were someone else. In a short paragraph he leaves the reader asking all the right questions. We no longer wonder what the difference is between depression and despair, but wish to know what the difference between emotional and spiritual health is: what makes lack of emotional health depression and lack of spiritual health despair?

A strong point of this argument is the evidence. Arranged in the form of a philosophical argument, he connects one point to the next starting by explaining to the reader why depression is emotional and despair is spiritual. The next paragraph explains despair is the loss of self, and since despair is spiritual, loss of self means loss of spirit. Applying this to the known information means depression, a problem with our emotional health, is an unprompted sadness - while despair, a problem with our spiritual health, is a loss of self. Here he shows us a passage from Kierkegaard’s writing the same concept. He moves us forward with the knowledge that one can achieve all their dreams, yet still be in despair because they have denied themselves the spirit of who they truly are. Marino even shows us a passage from Kierkegaard’s personal writings about how depression can be unavoidable and unwarranted, a concept we accept today in our understanding of chemical imbalances in the brain. When completely broken down, the idea is not new to us: The man who has everything is not always happy, and the happiest person can sometimes suddenly become sad. He has come to fully separate the two concepts using modern thought to explain the differences and backing it up with the writings of Kierkegaard, which we now see are not as obsolete as we might have thought.

Of course we do have to take into account the warrants of the argument. Many are assumed: depression is harmful, and depression or despair is something we tend to try to remove from our life. These are universal and accepted by many people. However, another warrant comes into play; one he addresses after having laid out the evidence. It is the question as to whether one should distinguish between emotional and spiritual health, or even if one believes there is a spiritual health. This warrant has little backing. In this he is vague and suggests what Kierkegaard might have to say about it. It is not fully explained and simply written off as an understanding of ourselves. He only pulls the word “spiritual” out of equation and uses just the idea of a loss of self and urges one to take note as to if it is a more burdensome depression or if one has given up, thinking little of him or herself and desiring something different.

Marino ends his argument the same choppy way in which he had split his thesis. He gives the conclusion to the depression/despair half of his assertion in saying “The spirit is one thing, the psyche another: The blues one thing, despair another.” Continuing he attempts to back up his stated warrant which also doubles as a conclusion to the second half of his assertion. While lacking as a backing to his warrant, it does work well as a conclusion.

It is perhaps the focus on who his audience is that gives this piece its edge. He understands a New York Times’ blog, written in a series about finding happiness in today’s economic struggle, is read by mostly middle class, educated individuals. He further narrows his focus to those who are recently feeling a bit down, and those who have suddenly been struggling to hold it together now that the economy is threatening their lifestyle and habits. Instead of making a clear cut thesis he opts for a direct line of evidence. In the end, while his split thesis and unsupported backing do not help the argument, they also do little harm and his evidence, supported in his philosophy-style construction, and concentration of audience makes this a winning argument.

Works Cited

Marino, Gordon. “Kierkegaard on the Couch.” The New York Times. October 28, 2009.

More about this author: Wendy Brumback

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