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Fear and Trembling

Soren Kierkegaard

Problema III - Part 3 and Epilogue

Problema III - Part 2

Problema III - Part 3 and Epilogue, page 2

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Summary

Abraham is not an aesthetic hero, since aesthetics demands that he remain silent in order to save someone. In fact, his silence is not meant to save Isaac, but is rather a way of concealing his intention to kill Isaac. Nor is Abraham a tragic hero, since the ethical would demand disclosure. Since he is neither an aesthetic hero nor a tragic hero, Abraham is either higher than the ethical or he is lost.

Unlike the tragic hero, Abraham cannot speak and cannot be understood. At any moment he can stop it all and speak, but then his ordeal becomes merely a spiritual trial. There is no way he can explain that the ethical itself is his temptation, nor can he explain the movement of faith. Who would understand that he is planning to kill Isaac, but that he has faith that he will get Isaac back by virtue of the absurd?

Genesis attributes only one speech to Abraham on the journey to Mount Moriah. Isaac asks his father why he has no burnt offering, and Abraham simply replies: "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." These words prompt Johannes to launch a discussion of the value of last words. He suggests that a tragic hero whose heroism lies in action does not need last words: it's unnecessary chatter that distracts from his actions. The intellectual tragic hero on the other hand needs last words: these words are the culmination of his life, the words that make him immortal.

Abraham and the intellectual tragic hero share in common their orientation toward the spirit. As the father of faith, Abraham needs to say something. On the other hand, according to the paradox, Abraham cannot speak. If Abraham were to answer Isaac with the truth, that Isaac is to be the sacrifice, he would be giving up everything. If he were to tell Isaac at all he should have done so long before. To say "I don't know" would be a lie, and dishonest. His answer, however, is not a lie, nor is it disclosure. Abraham employs irony, the tool that allows one both to say something and to say nothing. Abraham's answer is not a lie, since, by virtue of the absurd, it is possible that God will provide a lamb, but at the same time, Abraham has made the movement of resignation and he fully intends to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham speaks, but his speech is not understood.

One last time, Johannes reasserts that either Abraham is the father of faith and stands above the ethical in an absolute relation to the absolute that cannot be communicated, or else Abraham is lost.

In the epilogue, Johannes returns once more to the assertion that faith is not enough, that we must go further. He suggests that no generation learns the essentially human from the previous generation: it is something it must learn on its own. He suggests that the essentially human is passion, and that with passion we all must begin primitively: we cannot learn love from the previous generation, pick up where they left off, and go further. The highest passion of all is faith, and with regard to faith we all begin at the same place, and no one can go further than faith.

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