Fear And Trembling Summary

Søren Kierkegaard

Fear And Trembling

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Fear And Trembling Summary

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Fear and Trembling is a philosophical tract by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, first published in 1843 under the pseudonym Johannes de Silento (John of the Silence). The title is taken from a line from Philippians 2:12. A work of Christian philosophy, Fear and Trembling focuses on the incident in the Bible where Abraham was ordered to sacrifice his son Isaac, and examines Abraham’s anxiety, fear, and philosophical crisis when he had to decide whether to take up the knife and fulfill God’s orders, or ignore them and prioritize his relationship with his family. The tract is seen as partly autobiographical, in that it reflects Kierkegaard’s relationship with Regine Olsen, his lover, whom he left to commit himself to his study of God. Considered one of the major works of existentialism, Fear and Trembling explores themes including the nature of faith, the love of man versus the love of God, and the fear that accompanies belief in God. Divided into three parts, Fear and Trembling was praised for its in-depth look at the theological underpinnings of Christianity, and for its humanization of the story of Abraham and Isaac. It is still studied widely by theologians today.

Fear and Trembling begins with a preface and an Exordium that introduces the reader to the story of Abraham and Isaac. This is followed by a Eulogy, where Kierkegaard explores how Abraham became the father of faith, despite being a humble man who didn’t expect to become anything great. It looks at what was within Abraham’s character that allowed him to be used by God for greatness, and says that his willingness to struggle with God was what made him stand out. This leads into the three Problemata, or problems, that Kierkegaard explores, looking at how a man willing to sacrifice his own son can be revered as the father of faith. The first problem is the question, is there a teleological suspension of the ethical? Kierkegaard asks what is the ethical, exactly, and cites the work of Georg Hegel, which states that it is the right of the subjective will that it should regard as good what it recognizes as authoritative. Abraham was in the difficult situation of having to choose between the ethical requirements of his surroundings and what he regarded as his absolute duty to God. Kierkegaard disagrees with Hegel’s assessment, believing that Abraham’s absolute duty to God overrode his personal beliefs in right and wrong and what was assumed as such in the world at large.

In the second problem, Kierkegaard explores the concept of absolute duty to God, and contrasts his beliefs with that of Hegel and Descartes. He states that the act of resignation does not require faith, because what one gets from it is their eternal consciousness. He describes the process of surrendering to God as a purely philosophical movement that takes great discipline and that he struggles to make when it is demanded of him. He describes the process as starving himself into submission until he fully embraces God’s will and his eternal consciousness becomes one with his love for God. That, he says, is the highest state of being. The paradox, he states, is that while the act of resignation doesn’t require faith, to develop one’s eternal consciousness beyond the most basic level does. As Kierkegaard believes that resignation to God’s will is the highest form of being, he makes the case that Abraham was right to follow his absolute duty to God above all else. He believes that all Christianity is rooted in paradox, and one must either accept it fully or reject it fully as a result.

The final problem Kierkegaard explores is that of Abraham’s decision to conceal his plans to sacrifice Isaac from his wife Sarah, his trusted servant Eliezer, and of course from his son Isaac himself. Kierkegaard states that Abraham was engaged in a process known as reflective grief, where he experienced not only grief over the upcoming loss of his son but also the complex joy of gaining his new association with an unknown power. This lends itself to quiet, inward reflection. Kierkegaard states that the task that God appointed Abraham was so horrific that no one who did not have his unique connection to God could possibly understand why he was about to do it. Thus, he became a knight of faith through his willingness to heed God’s words and sacrifice his son, but there was no way to explain it to anyone else. Abraham was suffering, but Kierkegaard argues he was actually acting nobly by bearing that burden alone. As is well known, though, that sacrifice – Abraham bearing his burden alone in the name of his faith – was the sacrifice God truly wanted, and Isaac was ultimately spared.

Søren Aabye Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher, theologian, poet, social critic, and religious scholar considered by many to be the father of existentialist philosophy. Known for his use of metaphor, irony, and parables, he wrote in-depth works on organized religion, Christian philosophy, and ethics. He is also considered to be one of the fathers of modern psychology. He wrote many of his early works under pseudonyms, which allowed him to express opinions from different perspectives and engage with his alter egos in complex dialogue. He is best known for his Upbuilding Discourses series, of which Fear and Trembling is a part, and which focuses heavily on the questions surrounding man’s relationship to God. Widely influential on both 19th century and modern-day philosophy, he remains widely read. A statue of him today stands in front of the Royal Library in Copenhagen, Denmark.