Beyond the Despairing Self: Kierkegaard and Human Fallibility at Work

By Oyvind Kvalnes.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The purpose of this paper is to apply Soren Kierkegaard’s concept of despair in an analysis of human fallibility in professional practices. The Danish existentialist defined the self as a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, the temporal and the eternal. A person in despair is one who denies or tries to flee the paradoxes of being in such a state. Kierkegaard viewed despair not as a feeling, but rather as an attitude or posture a person can take on towards him-or herself. Despair can consist in not wanting to be oneself, a being with specific limitations and shortcomings. The current study attempts to use this understanding of despair in an analysis of how people relate to their own fallibility at work. Cases from health care and aviation will be used to illustrate how despair can be an obstacle for constructive dialogue about mishaps and mistakes. Practitioners should seek to find the Golden Mean between despair (giving fallibility to much weight) and indifference (taking fallibility too lightly), a position characterized by mindfulness.

Keywords: Despair, Kierkegaard, Fallibility, Mindfulness

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp.53-60. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 695.601KB).

Dr. Oyvind Kvalnes

Associate Professor, Department of Leadership and Organizational Behaviour, BI Norwegian Business School, Oslo, Norway

My main research interests are ethics and leadership in organizations. I have a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Oslo, where I defended the thesis “Living with Moral Luck” in 1998. For ten years I was a philosophical consultant in private and public organizations, before returning to academia in 2009. I have published three books where I apply philosophical concepts to challenges in the workplace. The latest was a book discussing human fallibility in professional settings, based on interviews and conversations with practitioners like surgeons, airline pilots, finance executives, teachers and others. Current research projects are on ethics in project management, loophole ethics in insurance and accounting, and ethical climate studies in organizations.


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