'Despair' in Kierkegaard's Either/Or

The category of despair plays a central role in Kierkegaard's pseudonymous corpus, but its meaning is controversial. This paper offers an interpretation of its use in Either/Or (in particular, in the claim the aesthetic life is despair and the ethical life freedom from despair). After examining and rejecting two recent alternatives, I argue that despair is the conscious or unconscious assumption of a passive or fatalistic attitude toward one's existence, which attitude is informed by a misconstrual of the nature of human agency.