Soren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling
Soeren Aabye Kierkegaard was born on May 5, 1813, in Denmark, Copenhagen. He is a philosopher, theologian, poet, social critic and religious writer who is commonly regarded as to be the founding father of Existentialism. He himself used the terms existential and existentialism in relation to his philosophizing’s, his heartfelt view was that life and existence. The philosophical scene in Denmark and Europe in the mid-19th century was dominated by German philosophy and Hegel’s ideas. Fear and Trembling is written as a sustained response to his ideas. Kierkegaard’s theological work focuses on Christian ethics, and he criticized Church of Denmark because he was frustrated with the hypocrisy of the Danish Church that resulted him being hated by his own country at that time of his death. He was not really known outside of Denmark at that time because he wrote his works in Danish and his work become more appreciated after 19th Century. He was fond of using metaphor, irony and parables in his literary works. Most of his philosophical ideas deals with the issue of individuality and single individual. In this essay Fear and Trembling one of Kierkegaard’s earliest works will be analyzed as a literary work and existential way of thinking.
Kierkegaard had a habit of using pseudonym in his literary works and he used Johannes de Silentio in Fear and Trembling. He used pseudonym to be intentionally distanced from his works and ideas inside of them. He said: “In the pseudonymous works, there is not a single word which is mine. I have no opinion about these works except as a third person, no knowledge of their meaning, except as a reader, not the remotest private relation to them.” (Poole 162). Because of his continuous use of irony, the reader is left to decide what reception should be taken seriously. This indirect and ironic style of writing has made it difficult to be understand what Kierkegaard’s definitive view on things he wrote in his books by readers and scholars. Kierkegaard’s relation to Hegel is complicated, but also one of Kierkegaard’s greatest philosophical contributions is his critique against Hegel. He strongly objected Hegel’s idea that dialectical system could explain the whole of reality. While both Kierkegaard and Hegel were dialectical thinkers, they were different in their understandings of the purpose of dialectical thinking. For Hegel the purpose is to reach synthesis, while for Kierkegaard its only purpose is to open the door to inner subjectivity.
In his book Fear and Trembling Kierkegaard discusses under the pseudonym Johannes de Silentio, a tale from the Bible, Genesis 22:1-18, of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac. Which the one that was about to be sacrificed is Ishmael in Quran while it is Isaac in the Bible. For this commitment Abraham is known as the father of faith and faith is an important aspect for Kierkegaard because he was deeply interested with the idea of faith and ethics. In the “Exordium” is the first section of the book and in “Eulogy on Abraham” is the second section of the book, Johannes suggests just how incomprehensible Abraham’s faith is. Abraham did not question God, did not complain or weep, he did not explain himself to anyone, he just obeyed God’s orders. The Exordium provides us with four alternative paths which Abraham could have considered, all of that may have made Abraham much more understandable but would make him something less than the father of faith. The eulogy claims that there is absolutely no way we can comprehend Abraha and what he did.
Johannes distinguishes between the tragic hero, who expresses the ethical and also the “knight of faith”, who expresses the religious. The tragic hero gives up everything in the motion of infinite resignation, and in so doing expresses the universal. The knight of faith also makes another motion as well, the leap of faith where he gets everything back by virtue of the absurd. While the tragic hero is universally admired and wept for, nobody can understand the knight of faith. Johannes sets up three “problemata” to draw out this distinction. The primary problema starts with the Hegelian assertion that the ethical is the universal, and which it is the telos for everything outside itself. Abraham suspended the obligation of his to the universal to fulfill his responsibility to God. The second problema suggests that, contrary to Kantian ethics there is an absolute duty to God. As a result, he was constantly tempted by the ethical, but held fast. The third problema provides hints regarding the reason why Abraham did not disclose his undertaking to anyone is provided by the third problema. Disclosure is related with the universal and hiddenness with the single individual. Abraham acted as a single individual, isolated from the universal, and as such the actions of his could not be explained as well as disclosed. Johannes concludes by mentioning that faith requires passion, and also passion is not something we can learn. We have to experience it ourselves, otherwise we do not comprehend it at all.
Kierkegaard’s idea “Leap of Faith” is one of the most explored topics in modern philosophy and it is often associated with the emergence of existentialism, is Kierkegaard’s reaction to an issue which is essentially Kantian in structure and origin. His concepts in Fear and Trembling such as “Leap” which become leap of faith and “Knight of Faith” what made him regarded as a founding father of Existentialism and it led scholars to analyze Fear and Trembling in an existentialist approach. The knight of faith is an individual who has put total faith in himself as well as in God and can act independently and freely from the world. Johannes de Silentio believes that Abraham is certainly one such knight of faith, he also argues that the knight of faith is the paradox, is the individual, absolutely nothing but the individual, without pretensions or connections. The knight of faith stands out as the individual who is able to gracefully embrace life. Kierkegaard believed that Abraham was a knight of faith who is able to take the leap, the leap of faith without any hesitance.
Kierkegaard recognized three levels of individual existence, The Aesthetic, The Ethical, and the Religious. In Fear and Trembling, Johannes de Silentio refers to individuals in each stage as the personal self, the civic self, and the religious self. Each of these levels of existence envelops all those below it, an ethical or religious person can still enjoy life aesthetically. Abraham learned how to keep his finite relationship with his family separate from his infinite connection with God. He had to prevail over the fear of having anxiety over losing his son. Each and every individual experience anxiety to another level as well as the fear of anxiety in a unique way.
To conclude, Fear and Trembling is one of the best works of Soren Kierkegaard who is widely recognized as a founding father of existentialism and as a prolific philosopher. He believed that faith and passion is not given at birth and it is learned later on and he discussed his ideas about faith, ethics and religion by writing under the pseudonym Johannes de Silentio. He was against Hegel’s idea that his dialectic system could explain the whole of reality and defended the idea of individuality and individual faith in god by using metaphors and Abraham’s story in bible by using three problema while using an indirect and ironic way of writing his book Fear and Trembling.
Soren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling