Kierkegaard Fear and Trembling Term Paper

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Kierkegaard "Fear and Trembling"


Before we actually move on to Kierkegaard's book and debate about his claim in this book, a brief about Kierkegaard's work would be appropriate that could help us in understanding it better. Known as the "father of existentialism," Kierkegaard's works have been profound, intellectually sound and highly artistic. His works have not been just focused on one or more subjects rather his idea cover and transcend many subjects like philosophy, theology, psychology, ethics etc. He himself studied philosophy and theology. His work concentrated on rejuvenating and revitalizing the Christian faith. He worked on concepts and ideas with biblical references having relevance to the current times. That is why in his writings we see a lot of influence of religion and religious events. Kierkegaard studied and lived most of his life in Copenhagen and created his exceptional work in the local lingo rather than international language. So, it took some time before his work got translated and people recognized his genius.

"Fear and Trembling"

Kierkegaard's masterpiece "Fear and Trembling" starts with a preface followed by exordium in which he explained Abraham's story of climbing up the mountains to sacrifice his son in four different ways. A eulogy of Abraham is also given and then comes the main part of his work called Problemata." that is divided into four sections, a Preliminary Expectoration and Problema I-III. 'Is there a Teleological Suspension of the Ethical?', 'Is there an Absolute Duty to God?', and 'Was it Ethically Defensible for Abraham to Conceal His Undertaking from Sarah, from Eliezer, and from Isaac?' (Dr. Storm, 1996).

Claim: Teleological Suspension of the Ethical

In his "Fear & Trembling" Kierkegaard made a claim of teleological suspension of the ethics. According to this claim social norms or ethics become unimportant in comparison to higher goal of devotion to God. In order to explain this concept he used the story of Abraham's sacrifice of his son. God Tested Abraham's faith when he asked him to bring his only son Isaac on the top of the mountain and sacrifice him in His name. Kierkegaard also explained in the story that Isaac asked Abraham about his journey to the mountain. Abraham chose to keep silent because he himself understood this phenomenon. This command was not fathomable to Abraham but for the sake of his faith and complete loyalty to God he agreed to obey his command. His agreement to sacrifice his only son cannot be simply explained by a common person in term of rationale as it goes beyond conventional rationality and enters into a realm of faith and devotion. So, Kierkegaard explained the story of Abraham from different angles in his book to explain this concept of teleological suspension.

Personal Link

Using the concept of 'Teleological Suspension of the Ethical' Kierkegaard tried to justify his broken engagement with Regine Olsen. Kierkegaard tried to draw parallels of his own love life with that of Abraham's love for his son. In Abraham's case, Isaac was going to be sacrificed but Abraham paradoxically hoped that Isaac would return back. Similarly, Kierkegaard thought that he is divorcing himself from the love of Regine but he hoped that she would return back. The complexities in the relationship with his fiancee made him decide against pursuing the relationship any further. The breaking up of engagement and resignation of her love was a difficult step for him so he took help from the story of Abraham to cope with this situation in the finite. The personal justification of Kierkegaard's act is only a small link in the whole story. Though he tried to justify his own act explaining the whole story of Abraham but Abraham's story is far more authentic and trustworthy to consider and accept this concept of teleological suspension of the ethical.

Absurd vs. Rationale

The narration of the story of Abraham has given way to a debate of Absurd vs. Rationale. According to Kierkegaard the action of Abraham was an act of faith and can be termed absurd as it goes out of the ambit of rationality. He also considered Abraham as a Knight of faith "The knight of faith is someone who is able to remain fully committed to an absurd action with faith that, as Kierkegaard says, through the absurd the object which was resigned will be granted back through the infinite" (Mohrfeld & Liebendorfer, 2005). Infinite is something that is not within the boundaries of rationale and the phenomenon is unexplainable because when one accepts the repercussions of an action and acts in defiance of probable consequences then an absurd occurs because of resignation to faith. As discussed earlier that Kierkegaard also saw his own resignation of love of her fiancee in the same way. He considered his engagement in the finite seeking a return of her love in the finite that is again an absurd concept. This seeking of an object in the infinite was a concept that Kierkegaard tried to explore using the story of Abraham and then using his own story to validate his point. He considered it as an experience though difficult to experience but worth it. Both Abraham's and Kierkegaard's actions can not be defined in temporal or rational terms. Both stories can be explained as a concept of absurd rather than the rationale. Therefore, it is not easy to resign as Abraham's case he resigned to faith. Resignation only occurs by the acceptance of absurd that in normal case is not an easy thing to do. If we look at Abraham's act from the rational point-of-view then we would conclude Abraham as a murderer but a lofty, ideological or absurd concept explains his act in terms of infinite. He becomes a person whom everyone reveres for his deep commitment and loyalty to God's commands. Kierkegaard further explains the concepts of temptation and language of silence. For example, if Abraham had not had a loyalty and faith to God and his commands he would have seen the whole scenario in temporal or finite way. He could have been lured by temptation to speak with Isaac and explain to him this lofty act in temporal terms. He chose to speak the language of silence to steer clear of all temptations and to do as God asked him to do. "Now Abraham is able to say the most beautiful things any language can express about how he loves Isaac. But it is not this he has at his heart to say, it is the profounder thought that he would sacrifice him because it is a trial" (Kierkegaard 1954: 122).

Ethics First

Kierkegaard considers ethics very important. An individual cannot rise above universe or ethics. Acceptance of universe or basic ethics becomes very important. His concept of teleological suspension of ethics does not even negate the concept of basic ethics.

"The ethical as such is the universal, and as the universal it applies to everyone, which may be expressed from another point-of-view by saying that it applies every instant" (Kierkegaard 1954: 64). In order to reach the position of teleological suspension a person must first accept ethics. Ethical and Universal apply to everyone and everyone should strive to attain the universal or ethical. A person comes in the state of sin when individual is placed above the universal. Such a situation of putting individual over and above universal can happen in the case of faith.

Context of Faith

According to this concept ethics cannot be seen in absolute terms rather ethics become a situational factor also. As in the case of Abraham, killing an innocent and that too his son could be considered highly unethical, immoral and illegal but the devotion to God changed the meaning of ethics here and the whole issue of ethics became situational. So he prescribes to people a devotional way…

Sources Used in Document:


Mohrfeld, J. & Liebendorfer, D. (2005). Wittgenstein, Kierkegaard and the Unspeakable. Journal of Undergraduate Research. MSU-Mankato. Volume 5.

Dr. Storm, A. (1996). Commentary on Fear & Trembling. Retrieved on October 31, 2005 from:

Kierkegaard. S. (1954). Fear and Trembling with The Sickness Unto Death.

Trans. Walter Lowrie. New York: Doubleday and Company Inc.

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