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Fear and Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard

Fear and Trembling (1843)

by Søren Kierkegaard

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Great Ideas II (36)

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3,189242,688 (3.83)97
In Fear and TremblingKierkegaard, writing under the pseudonym Johannes de silentio, expounds his personal view of religion through a discussion of the scene in Genesis in which Abraham prepares to sacrifice his son at God's command. Believing Abraham's unreserved obedience to be the essential leap of faith needed to make a full commitment to his religion, Kierkegaard himself made great sacrifices in order to dedicate his life entirely to his philosophy and to God. The conviction shown in this religious polemic - that a man can have an exceptional mission in life - informed all Kierkegaard's later writings, and was also hugely influential for both Protestant theology and the existentialist movement.Alastair Hannay's introduction elucidates Kierkegaard's philosophy and the ways in which it conflicted with more accepted contemporary views. This edition also includes detailed notes to complement this groundbreaking analysis of religion, and new chronology.… (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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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 |
“If there were no eternal consciousness in a man, if at the bottom of everything there were only a wild ferment, a power that twisting in dark passions produced everything great or inconsequential; if an unfathomable, insatiable emptiness lay hid beneath everything, what would life be but despair?” - Søren Kierkegaard ( )
  ReneePaule | Jan 23, 2018 |
I can't even tell you how long this book has been tormenting me. Years. I've made at least two serious attempts to read it in the past, working my poor little gray cells to the smoking point before throwing it aside with a shower of epithets. My last attempt was a few months ago, and I made it to about two-thirds of the way through. Then, planning my New Year's Eve reading marathon, I knew if I could make it to the end of this book, it would cancel out any criticisms I might level at myself for loading the stack with short books and graphic novels, because one of the books would have been &^$(*%# Kierkegaard.

Then, I don't know how much of it was just that Problema III was easier reading (which it was), and how much was just the hard work I'd previously put in to understanding the terms, ideals, and categories he'd been referencing all along in the earlier sections, but once I was a few pages in, I didn't think of my escape hatch once. (I'd given myself permission to bail if I wasn't finished with the book by 2:00 p.m.)

Don't get me wrong, it was still challenging reading. I still found myself wandering over to the computer to look up terms he used and stories he referenced. I definitely felt the lack of serious philosophical reading before this - I totally skipped the prerequisites. And I know I lost a lot for those lacks. That doesn't mean that I couldn't recognize that this book is amazing. Or that I didn't appreciate it even as I was grinding my teeth. Even though I didn't squeeze all of the wisdom out of this little book, it was definitely worth the work. ( )
  greeniezona | Dec 6, 2017 |
Søren’s pseudonymous author Johannes de Silentio here is trying to come to grips with faith.
Johannes de Silentio himself doesn't seem to understand faith. He is filled with awe and admiration for Abraham but cannot understand him.

Is Abraham a tragic hero? Or is he just a murderer? Or is he a knight of faith?

Abraham here is a knight of faith because he is not just resigned to the fact that he needs to sacrifice his son but he believes that he will not lose Isaac on the strength of absurd. He has made a movement of faith here. This movement of faith is absolutely relating oneself to the absolute. Faith here presupposes resignation. Resignation is overcome by taking the leap of faith. So faith comes after reason and not before. It begins exactly where reason ends.
There’s an interesting part at the end where he mentions the only words that Abraham spoke. When Isaac asks Abraham where the lamb for the burnt offering is, Abraham replies " My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering"
If Abraham wasn't a knight of faith, he would have answered in a bitter and different way like "I do not know" as he was only filled with resignation.

Why should we try to understand Abraham? Why can't we just call him a murderer and move on? Trying to understand Abraham will help other anguished and isolated souls. De Silentio gives us other examples of these anxious souls, the knights of resignation. Most of them involving romantic love.

Translator somewhere mentions that at some point while writing this book, Søren wrote in his diary that if he had enough faith, he would have stayed with Regine.
So it seems here that Søren himself was a knight of resignation, his movement of infinite resignation being the break-up of his engagement with Regine and he was trying to make the movement of faith.
What an intense and passionate man.

This was an amazing read. ( )
  kasyapa | Oct 9, 2017 |
Poor Kierkegaard. His sense of both religion & self are so sincere and serious, how could he not suffer? He's trying to make sense of one of the most ethically confounding Biblical stories, talking aesthetics and ethics and faith when my sense is, like, man. Give it up. I don't know how to acquit Abraham's twisted near-sacrifice and don't think it's worth starting.

But this matters so much to K., and it's why I couldn't understand this book back when I bought it. Like [b:Thus Spoke Zarathustra|51893|Thus Spoke Zarathustra|Friedrich Nietzsche|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1349449118s/51893.jpg|196327], I took this from my bookshelf and found it marked partway through with a late slip from high school. I specifically remember reading this in the park behind the goose museum in Montmagny, where I worked when I was sixteen. And I had this idea that Existentialism necessitated atheism (I was channelling both, ergo), so it baffled me that this writer was going on and on so about Abraham and faith and so I just moved on to one of the other dozen or so books I brought with me for that quick summer.

And though I've got a better comprehension of K.'s philosophical background, I still felt like he was so entrapped in this imposed framework and sure, the philosophy might be sound within it, but I don't buy into the tenets of his reality.

This is such a small sample of Kierkegaard who was ridiculously prolific and wrote under numerous pen names and at great length. When I was reading Rebecca Solnit's [b:Wanderlust: A History of Walking|78287|Wanderlust A History of Walking|Rebecca Solnit|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1170933176s/78287.jpg|1419449] she mentioned that he was an avid walker, but also mentioned that he was mocked and caricatured in The Corsair, a Danish publication. She doesn't spend a lot of time on him, but the passing mention pulled me into reading a bunch of biographical snippets, reading about the drama that went down with The Corsair, and getting a better sense of Kierkegaard. What I appreciate about him is what I note above--that he's absolutely sincere in his religious sensibility. He was apparently really generous, really charitable, and in more than a monetary sense, though he was certainly that too. It wasn't lip service, it wasn't for show, and in fact others found him untraditional and unusual in the way the he lived/practised religion, and that's something I can always appreciate. It probably didn't merit saying this in the review. But it lends validation to the anxieties present in this work. ( )
1 vote likecymbeline | Apr 1, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (42 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Søren Kierkegaardprimary authorall editionscalculated
Evan, C. StephenEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hannay, AlastairTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mežaraupe, IngaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rée, JonathanIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schereubel, PaulIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140444491, 0141023937

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