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Fear and Trembling (1843)

by Søren Kierkegaard

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3,603302,838 (3.81)139
In this rich and resonant work, Soren Kierkegaard reflects poetically and philosophically on the biblical story of God's command to Abraham, that he sacrifice his son Isaac as a test of faith. Was Abraham's proposed action morally and religiously justified or murder? Is there an absolute duty to God? Was Abraham justified in remaining silent? In pondering these questions, Kierkegaard presents faith as a paradox that cannot be understood by reason and conventional morality, and he challenges the universalist ethics and immanental philosophy of modern German idealism, especially as represented by Kant and Hegel. This volume, first published in 2006, presents the first new English translation for twenty years, by Sylvia Walsh, together with an introduction by C. Stephen Evans which examines the ethical and religious issues raised by the text.… (more)
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    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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Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
Kierkegaard is often called the first existential philosopher. In this short review of this book, I will show why he is called this, and also why I disagree.

Fear and trembling is a book on the Biblical story of Abraham who sets out to sacrifice his son Isaac. God has spoken to Abraham to do this: this horrible command, even sinful command is what Abraham describes as an ordeal . With three questions about the story, Kierkegaard gives us an elaborate reading on what is happening here - and why Abraham's choice deserves respect rather than ridicule. His general thesis is: either there is a paradox, that the single individual as the single individual stands in an absolute relation to the absolute, or Abraham is lost.

What can we make of these words? Kierkegaard speaks long and lively, borrowing from imagery in literature and myths. The picture that he sketches, as I understand it, is the following. Religion has often been grasped as the need for the individual to go up in the universal. Tragic heroes have sacrificed themselves for others, died because they saw a good greater than themselves which it was worth dying for. Faith was the sacrificing of your individuality in order to be open for God. What Abraham does goes beyond this universality. His actions can even be considered sinful, for he goes against a fundamental bidding of God to respect your children. Moreover, he cannot explain his actions in universal terms. Whom could he have spoken to, to lessen his grieve, his torment? No one can understand his actions, but himself - and even he cannot grasp entirely what the task before him must mean. It is only in the absurd that one can find meaning in the sacrificing of Isaac. What Abraham does, is moving beyond what faith is in the universal, into the individual struggle, which can only ever be justified by virtue of the absurd. In metaphysical terms, he moves beyond what can be made sense of, and suffers precisely because he knows that we he is about to do can never make sense. Kierkegaard's reading is a unique one, warning us for the superficial justification through the universal, opening a world of faith which lies in ourselves.

This is why he is often been read as an existential philosopher. There is nothing universal that can help us when it comes to questions of faith. No words can soothe us, no other can guide us or show us the way. The most fundamental struggle of the human being takes place within the absurd. This is related to later existential thought, because it shows that in the end, all that the human being has to hold on to is his own bare existence. Questions asked here can only be solved in bitter loneliness, and no answer can ever make sense. I am grateful that Kierkegaard has opened to us this way of believing, but I think that he in fact was not entirely an existentialist yet.

My trouble with this work, is very similar to the qualms I have about Dostojevski's books. Pretending to be a work of deep doubt about faith, it is in its core still religious propaganda. Just like Alyosha cannot find any reason to believe Dmitri's stories, through the virtue of the absurd, he is still right in believing his brother. Though Abraham cannot find any reason to comply with God's strange wish, he is justified in doing so, by virtue of the absurd. What Kierkegaard promotes is a defense of religion beyond everything that can be said about it; still trusting in the truth of its absurdity. This is not existential in my reading, because it means relying on something unknown, rather than just on our own existence. Whereas Nietzsche and Heidegger underscore the importance of the mere individual struggle, cut loose from the everyday and the force of religion, Kierkegaard suggest that this struggle still takes place within Christian faith. This I cannot except. Hoping on the absurd to save you is a denial of your own power to save yourself. For me, the virtue lies in the endless senseless struggle - which is just as big a paradox as Kierkegaard's, and not in the deus ex machina.

I would like to end this review with the note that this is the first work of Kierkegaard I've studied, along with some secondary literature on Fear and Trembling . That is, don't be discouraged by my words to read Kierkegaard yourself. This sensitive Dane has a lot of wisdom and clever psychology to offer, reading him is definitely worth the while. ( )
  Boreque | Feb 7, 2022 |
Definitely a must-read. Kïerkegaard's ability to see things from all possible points of view is refreshing, and more importantly, it doesn't feel like a whining, pretentious doctrine. I can see myself getting a copy of this, if possible. ( )
  georgeybataille | Jun 1, 2021 |
A deep dive into the implications of the story of Abraham and the Akedah.

The author wrote the treatise anonymously and as a philosophical tractate challenging the optimistic premises of Hegelianism. The author is also very likely projecting based upon his own recent experience of having cut off his engagement to his beloved.

He grapples with the ethical and moral conundrum at the heart of the story of the akedah: Abraham is a man of great faith and proved willing to do a horrifying thing in the name of that faith. The author explores multiple options of how that story might have gone down. He explores the ethical challenges involved and the kind of faith Abraham expressed. He lamented the glib way the story was often told and preached upon in the churches of the time. He explored the comparison and contrast of the knight of despair and the knight of faith. He told additional stories which exemplify longing and virtue.

And the work really doesn't have an ending. And it really doesn't come to much of a conclusion. Which is probably the point.

I've been exposed to enough Kierkegaard to have expected the deep dive, but I am clearly not familiar enough with the early 19th century continental philosophical milieu to appreciate the nuances of what he's trying to do here. I know Kierkegaard can make really profound and compelling spiritual applications of Biblical narratives, so the vagaries here must be on account of the more philosophical bent of the material and not a little unwillingness to go too far on a controversial matter. Make of it what you will. ( )
  deusvitae | May 29, 2021 |
Just when I think I might understand what he is saying...nope, no I don't.
  Pascale1812 | Apr 16, 2020 |
Kierkegaard certainly seems to consider some rather grave questions, but provides some less than satisfying answers because of his insistence that one need go no further than faith. Towards the beginning of this work, he laments that his contemporaries are trying to go beyond faith, questioning its value, yet he never lays out a case for why faith is a virtuous thing. That faith is something desirable is taken as fact. It calls to mind Descartes' Meditations, where he finds himself limited to only knowing his cogito for certain via pure reason, and suddenly stops that line of inquiry and says, "Well, good thing we've got god, so here's all the other stuff we can know." It's disappointing to see such insight only to have these philosophers pull their punches when it matters most.

On the topic of Kierkegaard's problems, Problema I is the most relevant if one doesn't already have the faith Kierkegaard defends and tries to trace out in the later portions of the book. "Is there a teleological suspension of the ethical?" In the more colloquial form, "Can the ends justify the means?" Kierkegaard quite rightly answers no, as you cannot know the outcome at the very beginning of whatever you undertake. At the very least, this would only allow one to be retroactively supra-ethical, once the desired and necessary end was achieved. In the moment of the action itself and all times leading up to that ultimate achievement, it would seem to me that one must remain unethical. The same could be said forever if your act failed to achieve its aim.

Where I disagree with Kierkegaard on this matter is that he sees a paradox and I see a hierarchy. By the mundane obtaining a perfect relation with the divine, the particular with the absolute in an absolute fashion, Kierkegaard finds a paradox. I think it would be more accurate to describe an ethical hierarchy, with some elements of such overriding importance that they can permit the ethical to be momentarily superseded. Kierkegaard provides no criteria for judging when one has come such a juncture, seeming to say that the individual will know for themselves, overcome by the passion of faith. I can't agree with him in his assertion that the passions provide the truest knowledge of all, when so often they cloud our mind from being able to perceive the obvious.

Curiously, ironically even, the individual who lacks Kierkegaard's faith in the absurd must also have another variety of absurd faith if he hopes to be ethically vindicated, faith in his fellow man and in chance. Should the individual believe they have come to a point where the ethical must be suspended to achieve the supra-ethical, they must believe that their fellow man and chance will allow their aim to be achieved exactly as they had conceived it. Additionally, it would take an immense confidence in the validity of one's assessment of the situation.

While perhaps disappointing in some regards, Kierkegaard is certainly thought provoking. I look forward to coming back to him in the future after I've furthered my understanding of the many others he references, and seen other points of view still. ( )
  hraegsvelmir | Oct 12, 2019 |
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» Add other authors (115 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kierkegaard, SørenAuthorprimary 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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In this rich and resonant work, Soren Kierkegaard reflects poetically and philosophically on the biblical story of God's command to Abraham, that he sacrifice his son Isaac as a test of faith. Was Abraham's proposed action morally and religiously justified or murder? Is there an absolute duty to God? Was Abraham justified in remaining silent? In pondering these questions, Kierkegaard presents faith as a paradox that cannot be understood by reason and conventional morality, and he challenges the universalist ethics and immanental philosophy of modern German idealism, especially as represented by Kant and Hegel. This volume, first published in 2006, presents the first new English translation for twenty years, by Sylvia Walsh, together with an introduction by C. Stephen Evans which examines the ethical and religious issues raised by the text.

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140444491, 0141023937

 

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