Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Summary:Problem III / Fear and Trembling by Kierkegaard - part 1

FEAR AND TREMBLING / PROBLEM III: Was Abraham ethically defensible in keeping silent about his purpose before Sarah, before Eleazar, before Isaac?

For an important background for this summary, see our article on Kierkegaard: The Aesthetic, Ethical and Religious.

The third problem Kierkegaard notes in regards to Abraham's story has to do with the relationship between the individual and others. Like in problem I and Problem II Kierkegaard starts from Hegel's view that the ethical is universal, that is common to all. As universal, the ethical is "revealed" while the individual is hidden. While the body is manifest, the inner soul is concealed. This puts the ethical and the personal (the aesthetic) at odds. In order to become ethical the individual has so deny himself. 

Kierkegaard holds that if "If there is not a concealment which has its ground in the fact that the individual as the individual is higher than the universal, then Abraham's conduct is indefensible" (Fear and Trembling, p. 129). But if we can find such a case we are once again faced with the inner\outer paradox. faith resembles the aesthetic in being personal, but while the aesthetic lies beneath the ethical, for Kierkegaard faith in above it.

Kierkegaard introduced the category of "the interesting". Being interesting and leading an interesting life does not come from following a set path, it comes from the exact opposite: doing, be definition, extraordinary things that come at a high personal price (Kierkegaard gives the example of Socrates). The interesting therefore lies in the liminal space between the aesthetic and the ethical.

In order to explain this Kierkegaard looks to Aristotle's Poetics where he talks about discovery as part of the definition of myth. For there to be discovery, Kierkegaard argues, there must be something which is thus far unknown. If the discovery is relaxation of the plot, the unknown is its source of the tension. "Greek tragedy is blind", says Kierkegaard, it conceals in order the reveal. The Greek hero acts out of not knowing his fate, while modern drama in Kierkegaard's eyes " has emancipated itself dramatically, sees with its eyes, scrutinizes itself, resolves fate in its dramatic consciousness" in order to for the "hero's free act for which he is responsible" (Fear and Trembling, p. 132). What Kierkegaard is after is trying to understand the relations between concealment, the aesthetic and the paradox of faith - see part 2 of the summary.