AND TREMBLING/ PROBLEM I : Is there such a thing as a teleological
suspension of the ethical?
For an important background for this summary, see our article on Kierkegaard: The Aesthetic, Ethical and Religious.
In the third chapter of "Fear and Trembling" Kierkegaard asks if there can reason for the momentary suspension of ethical duty. Kierkegaard essentially presents Hegel's view that "the ethical as such is the universal" (Fear and Trembling, p.104). The ethical regards and includes everyone, everywhere, anytime, and has no purpose external to itself. Anything private is, Kierkegaard argues following Hegel, unethical. Satisfying a personal purpose stands in contrast with the ethical one.
But faith, says Kierkegaard, is a solitary action which elevates the individual above the ethical (unlike sin which goes beneath the ethical). According to Kierkegaard "faith is this paradox, that the particular is higher than the universal–yet in such a way, be it observed, that the movement repeats itself, and that consequently the individual, after having been in the universal, now as the particular isolates himself as higher than the universal." (Fear and Trembling, p.105). The individual that transcends the ethical has not rejected it but rather accepted it and elevates over it from within it in order to be "superior to the universal, for the fact that the individual as the particular stands in an absolute relation to the absolute" (p.106). This Paradox cannot be reconciled, the position cannot be mediated, thought has not access to it and all that is left is faith.
Agamemnon, Brutus and Jephthah who had to sacrifice their own children did so within the realm of the ethical and do not suspend it. Abraham, on the other hand, transcends the ethical and breaks through it in order to meet a higher purpose (telos). This transcendence does not bring the ethical down, it is maintained but still exceeded for it is no longer a purpose to itself but rather something which is dependent on the higher religious sphere. Abraham's actions do not bear any ethical relations to the general and common, they are solitary actions aimed only at God's will.
Coming in contradiction with the ethical was Abraham's test. Holding up your duty towards God in face of all other considerations and interests. Abraham for Kierkegaard is not tragic, he awesome, he should not be related to with tears but with religious horror.
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