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Fear and Trembling (1843)

by Søren Kierkegaard

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4,183372,898 (3.83)143
Written from the perspective of an unbeliever, Fear and Trembling explores the paradox of faith, the nature of Christianity and the complexity of human emotion. Kierkegaard examines the biblical story of Abraham, instructed to sacrifice his son Isaac, and forces us to consider Abraham's state of mind. What drove Abraham, and what made him carry out such an absurd and extreme request from God? Kierkegaard argues that Abraham's agreement to sacrifice Isaac, and his suspension of reason, elevated him to the highest level of faith. He explores more comprehensible alternatives, but in each one Abraham fails the test of faith, thus showing that true faith cannot be explained, understood, or made rational. His thesis is a compelling counterpoint to Hegel, who maintained that reason was the highest form of thought, and proved a significant source of inspiration to later existentialist philosophers such as Camus and Sartre.… (more)
  1. 00
    Iphigenia in Aulis by Euripides (andejons)
    andejons: Kierkegaard uses Agamemnons sacrifice as a contrast to Abraham's, for good reason. Reading Euripide's original treatment is interesting background.
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Soren Kierkegaard (S.K.) was the youngest of seven children. He was born 5 years before Karl Marx, on the same date, 5/5 (May 5). His brother, Peter, was eight years older and a Danish theologian who publicly criticized Soren's writings a few times. The following details might help explain why S.K. wrote what he wrote and lived how he lived. He had an older brother, also named Soren, who died (1819), a sister, Maren, who died (1822), a sister, Nicoline, who died (1832), a brother, Niels, who died (1833), and a sister, Petrea, who died the same year his mom died (1834). He started studying at the University of Copenhagen in 1830 and published his first book review one month after his dad died in 1838. He then wrote feverishly for 17 more years until his death in 1855. (This review is for everyone, but not everyone will like reading the book, Fear and Trembling: A New Translation.)

Hegel annulled the individual and (like Meta Facebook) treats the human organism "team" as a bell-curve for behavioral analysis of trends. Even so, as S.K. knew, it is the individual who has to live (and die), who has mental activity, who sometimes has variant thoughts--Shall I dwell on this thought of which I am afraid, or shall I not? Freud himself cowered (and fainted) from some of his thoughts (about visiting Rome, about Egypt, and while at the Acropolis)--while trying to establish equal footing with his parents and while trying to maintain dominance over the students in his field. Society would like to keep people's thoughts Privatissium (concealed), but S.K. contends that greatness depends upon being able to convert one's thoughts into outward actions, against the recommendations of Hegel.

"Trembling" is not an everyday word. S.K. uses it in his title even though few people are able to associate it anymore with the idea from Philippians. Tolstoy concluded that the theology of the Russian Orthodox church was a mix of nonsense, and thanks to the Christological pantheistic righteousness of the Pauline epistles, and the efforts of schools like the Union Atheism Seminary, "[i]t is easy to explain the whole of existence, faith included, without having a notion of what faith is..." In fact, people who do not want the truth to be told often go to church so they can rest in the cliché (which they believe to be false)--"what [the pastor] said, that is the truth." A pragmatist believes in whatever works to get a particular outcome, yet "his soul is puffed up, it is not upright in him; ... [for] the righteous shall live by his faith (Habakkuk 2:4 ASV). Philippians 2:12 says it this way--"work out your own salvation with fear and trembling..."

Words can be false or true or pragmatic. (Pragmatic words are a mixture of false and true.) S.K. starts his Problemata pages with a proverb that indicates that the one who works gets the bread while his observation (of life) is that the ones who do the least work have the most bread available. S.K. draws attention to the jarring divergence between his classroom theological studies and life in the land of the living; the weariness borne from the distinction between categorial imperative ethics and reality. Aesthetics and ethics are different critters--the modern Hollywood "happily ever after" endings being a good case in point. Aesthetics are only pragmatic, empty words.

Family boundaries are indistinct, shifting, and shifty. S.K. began his voluminous writing years shortly after splitting his father's inheritance with his brother Peter, and this was fresh in his mind as he wrote this book about Jewish money, about Jewish family ties, and about Abraham (the originator of the Jewish faith). Slithering money corporation cartel family gangs are those which establish secret living trusts (i.e. "frauds"), in the name of stewardship, to create pragmatic slavery "for the ones you love." In a sense, death (or "life") insurance is a form of sex insurance--"procreate and we'll pay you (someday)." "Friendly liars" is an oxymoron as perhaps also "false explanations in a family" is not a family.

Exposed as he is, the man who behaves in opposition to universal, or cultural, norms must build a tower as his support system. Descartes was an honest thinker who did this while S.K. also describes the hypothetical knight (or dame) of faith who bends the universal, who translates himself into the new universal, and who lets himself be read by everyone, uncovered and exposed.

Possibility #1, possibility #2, possibility #3, and possibility #4 are the interpretations that occurred to S.K. (as Johannes de Silentio) as he tried to explain and understand the meaning of the reading assignments of Isaac, Sarah, and Abraham on which this book is based. He grapples with the ideas of preferred beneficiaries, concealment, self-preservation, idolatry, fatherhood, child weaning, unspoken words, and, of course, faith. As Marty alluded to in his confession, Bio Marty Vita: Life Life Life, God is not the Creator of Nature; in this life, God is the possibility.

Step to it and grow up. Wean the child. Leave childish things behind, for faith is a childhood illness. However, S.K. ascertains that it is not. I can relate to his ideas, because when I had immersed myself in "the entirety of love," not lacking "the courage to attempt and to venture everything," after surveying my "situation in life..." when I was younger I headed to NYC in a wave of faith. Is "the courage of faith... the only humble courage"? As S.K. describes in the Epilogue, a disciple of Heraclitus went further than his teacher by saying that one cannot walk into the same river even once--lol. As we all know, to go further and farther and to do more, one must necessarily venture a single, frightful first step.

Dying on Earth, for many people today, as well as in the past, is like an army of martyrs sacrificing to the doctrine of the world whose lives are crushed with groans and sobs (per Tolstoy, My Religion). This is one way to live (and die), but S.K. writes that "the hero always dies before he dies..." or, as Paulo Freire indicated to J. Kozol (The Night Is Dark and I Am Far from Home), "A young man is going to have to die in certain ways in order to become the kind of man he needs to be." There is a sort of human longevity that comes from joining or forming a corporation, there is a sort of family longevity, and there is also a form of longevity that comes from melting into a principle--by faith, as S.K. has described. None of these are infinite longevity, however. Therefore, perhaps you should read this book. It might make you mad; you might find it ridiculous; but it might just push you up to a higher level of living before you one day succumb to your eventual dying.

Twenty years ago, I read some excerpts of Fear and Trembling from the W. Lowrie translation. It used words like else, stupid, Thee, abyss, and particular, while this B.H. Kirmmse translation replaced these words with "strange," "foolish," "you," "gulf," and "single individual." If you like Fear and Trembling, other works to consider reading are Leo Tolstoy (biography) by E.J. Simmons and The Philosophical Works of Descartes by G.R.T. Ross and E.S. Haldane. #HofferAward #didyougetajahbyet ( )
  mmarty164 | May 14, 2024 |
A hyper-intellectualized study of Abraham. ( )
  trrpatton | Mar 20, 2024 |
Trippy mental acrobatics. Even though it was exceptionally difficult to understand i still enjoyed it. To find meaning in the absurd, to base faith on the absurd, to go beyond reason - that is rather clever! I have lots of questions to Soren but i don't think it's important to answer them. Learning to think like him is value enough. ( )
  rubyman | Feb 21, 2024 |
I had a feeling reading this like the one I had reading Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace. A lot of words are thrown around in this book like faith, hero, aesthetics, ethics; words that we may feel like we understand but besides having their own subjective definition for different people, have undergone seismic redefinition throughout history. Kierkegaard uses these words in a way that surely had real resonance for himself and all the readers who have found something worthwhile in his thought. I, however, don’t think I am as sensitive to the emotional echo these words and the concepts built around them, and I actually wonder how anyone reading this book in the 21st century and beyond could feel the feelings that Kierkegaard is describing so intensely. I’m reminded of going to a museum and seeing a tool taken from an ancient civilization. Maybe I can make out what seems to be a handle, or a cutting edge, or a design reminiscent of a person or an animal. It’s clear that it was made by a human being, and something about imagining it in my hands feels intuitive, like a dim memory thru a fog of amnesia. But in reality, I am totally ignorant of the way the tool is used - and in fact, I have absolutely no use for it. A lot of these feelings are certainly due to my ignorance - I intend to read a little more about Kierkegaard and his thought to try and understand him better. But I also feel like the issues that this book is concerned with are a kind of missing link, a primordial step towards a wrangling with the modern condition that for me, I’ve found more relatable versions of in later authors.
1 vote hdeanfreemanjr | Jan 29, 2024 |
ahh!! aagggG!!!! ahahhh!!!!!! ( )
  yacobbb | Jul 5, 2023 |
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» Add other authors (115 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kierkegaard, Sørenprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Evan, C. StephenEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hannay, AlastairTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kierkegaard, Niels ChristianCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mežaraupe, IngaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rée, JonathanIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schereubel, PaulIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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What Tarquin the Proud said in his garden with the poppy blooms was understood by the son but not by the messenger. -- Hamann
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Written from the perspective of an unbeliever, Fear and Trembling explores the paradox of faith, the nature of Christianity and the complexity of human emotion. Kierkegaard examines the biblical story of Abraham, instructed to sacrifice his son Isaac, and forces us to consider Abraham's state of mind. What drove Abraham, and what made him carry out such an absurd and extreme request from God? Kierkegaard argues that Abraham's agreement to sacrifice Isaac, and his suspension of reason, elevated him to the highest level of faith. He explores more comprehensible alternatives, but in each one Abraham fails the test of faith, thus showing that true faith cannot be explained, understood, or made rational. His thesis is a compelling counterpoint to Hegel, who maintained that reason was the highest form of thought, and proved a significant source of inspiration to later existentialist philosophers such as Camus and Sartre.

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