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Fear and Trembling

Soren Kierkegaard

Problema III - Part 1

Problema II

Problema III - Part 1, page 2

page 1 of 2

The third problema asks "Was it ethically defensible for Abraham to conceal his undertaking from Sarah, from Eliezer, and from Isaac?" Johannes opens by defining the ethical as universal, and infers from this point that it is disclosed. By contrast, the single individual is hidden. Unlike Greek tragedy, which is blind, and thus unaware of its hiddenness, modern drama has become reflective and sees itself. Hiddenness is no longer a result of the hero's ignorance, but is rather the hero's free act.

Johannes relates a number of stories in order to bring out this distinction between the disclosed, which he associates with the ethical, and the hidden, which he associates with the aesthetic and the religious. The first story tells of a man and woman who are in love, but the woman is being married off to another man, so they keep their love a secret. This hiddenness is a free act, making them responsible to aesthetics, which demands this hiddenness, but also rewards it by coincidentally working things out for them. Ethics, on the other hand, has no room for coincidence. It demands disclosure and is offended that they should take responsibility for a secret.

Johannes next refers to Euripides' Iphigenia at Aulis, which tells how Agamemnon had to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia. On the one hand, aesthetics demands his silence since it would be unseemly for him to seek comfort in sharing his sorrow, but on the other hand, it demands disclosure so that he may endure the spiritual trial of seeing his daughter weep at the news. Aesthetics provides an outlet in having an old servant tell Iphigenia that she is to be sacrificed. Ethics, on the other hand, demands disclosure because, as a tragic hero, Agamemnon is wedded to the universal and keeps nothing hidden.

The tragic hero and the ethical are thoroughly human. Johannes recalls the story of Amor and Psyche, where Amor impregnated Psyche, and Psyche was told that if she kept her pregnancy a secret her child would be divine, but if she disclosed it her child would be human. Disclosure and the tragic hero are both human phenomena. Hiddenness is the realm of the demonic and the divine.

Aristotle's Poetics tells the story of a bridegroom who consults the Oracle at Delphi, and is told that he will suffer a calamity that originates in his marriage. According to Johannes, the man has three options. First, he could remain silent and marry the girl, but then he would be implicating her in his own disaster by making her partially responsible for the disaster. Second, he could remain silent and not marry the girl, a choice that aesthetics would sanction, but which would be an offense to the girl and to the reality of her love. Third, he could speak up, a choice that ethics would sanction, as he would value disclosure over trying to conceal his fate out of concern for the girl.

We can go no further than the tragic hero found in the third option since the prophecy is not a private matter between the bridegroom and the god: if he speaks, he will be understood. If he remains silent, it is only because he wants to have an absolute relation to the universal as a single individual. Had the prophecy been a private affair, he couldn't speak because he wouldn't be understood. As a result, the knight of faith finds inner peace, but the aesthetic hero is constantly disturbed by the demands of the ethical.

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