In Hegelian philosophy, an undistorted, rational view of the truth. Philosophy
is the ultimate expression of the "Absolute Mind," and so is superior both to
art (the aesthetic) and to faith (the religious).
That which cannot be rationally explained or justified in any way, and which
transcends all human and intelligible possibility. The term appears in Fear
to describe the movement of faith Abraham makes to regain
Isaac. There is no reason at all that Isaac should be returned to Abraham, and
yet, by virtue of the absurd, it happens.
The lowest of Kierkegaard's three "stages on life's way": the aesthetic, the
ethical, and the religious. The aesthetic is primarily concerned with
individual experience, and individual sensory experience in particular. An
aesthetic experience could range from animalistic lusts to a deep appreciation
of music, but it always relates the single individual to something else.
Because it works on the level of the individual, the aesthetic values privacy
One translation (the other option is "dread") of the Danish word angest.
Kierkegaard uses it to denote the peculiar kind of fear that is directed at no
particular object, except perhaps at our own freedom. We feel anxiety when we
are made aware of our freedom to choose our own fate, and to define ourselves
with our choices. For instance, Abraham feels anxiety because he knows that he
could retreat into the ethical at any moment. In not doing so, he defines
himself as a religious, rather than as an ethical, hero.
In Hegelian philosophy, the process by which a thesis and an opposing antithesis
resolve themselves into a synthesis. The classic example is the thesis of being
and the antithesis of nothingness resolving into the synthesis of becoming.
According to Hegel, all thought and all
history move forward according to the dialectic, slowly progressing toward a
better and better state.
The movement required of the knight of faith. The first movement is the
movement of infinite resignation, which the knight of faith shares with the
tragic hero. In this movement, the knight of faith gives up everything that
he holds dear and reconciles himself with this loss. The second movement, the
movement of faith which takes place only by virtue of the absurd, is the
movement according to which the knight of faith then regains everything he gave
up in the movement of infinite resignation. These two movements combined make
up the double movement of faith.
A term that would have greater import in Kierkegaard's later philosophy,
eternal consciousness is essentially an awareness of one's selfhood. This
term is often used in connection with Platonic recollection.
The second of Kierkegaard's three "stages on life's way": the aesthetic, the
ethical, and the religious. The ethical is the expression of the
universal, where all actions are done publicly and for the common good. One
acts for the betterment of others rather than for oneself. Hegel considered the
ethical to be the highest form of life, and Johannes agrees that it is the
highest that can be understood. Fear and Trembling,
in a nutshell,
argues that there is the third category of the religious, and that the religious
is higher than the ethical.
That which is required in order to make the leap into the absurd, which is
required for the religious. Faith is spoken of dismissively by Hegel, who
suggests that it is a lower, irrational form of thought that must be moved
beyond. Johannes asserts that faith is in fact higher, and that it cannot be
understood by simple reflection: faith demands passion.
Knight of Faith
The person that exemplifies the religious way of life. The knight of faith
is not at all distinguished in appearance, since he exists, like the
aesthetic hero, as a single individual and delights in the finitude of
this world. Still, the knight of faith has undergone the double movement of
infinite resignation and the leap of faith into the absurd by which the
knight regains everything he has lost. He can delight in the finitude of this
world as someone who has learned to appreciate it through loss.
Leap of Faith
Johannes occasionally speaks of the "leap of faith." The idea is that because
the religious is absurd and cannot be understood, it cannot be approached
rationally. There is no way we can think matters through and convince ourselves
that it is the right step to make. Instead, we must put our faith in God and
make the leap. The use of "leap" suggests that Kierkegaard believes that faith
in God is a matter of personal choice that each person must make or not make.
This goes against earlier rationalist philosophers such as
Descartes, who thought they could
prove the existence of God by means of reason.
The process according to which the dialectic functions: two opposing
positions are mediated into a synthesis. According to
Hegel, then, all movement takes place
according to mediation: what progress we perceive is really a process of
Because mediation takes places on the level of ideas, it takes place on the
level of the universal. Thus, mediation is firmly bound up in the ethical
and the universal, and it cannot help to make sense of the religious or of
The experience of being tested by God. Because of the constant anxiety, the
constant possibility of retreating into the ethical, the experience becomes
an ordeal that must be borne patiently.
The paradox in Fear and Trembling
deals essentially with the
contradiction inherent in the religious. The religious states that the
single individual is higher than the universal, that the finite is
higher than the infinite, that one must make the leap of faith by virtue of the
absurd. On the ethical level, on the level that we can all understand and talk
about, Abraham is a murderer who almost kills his only beloved son. The paradox
then lies in explaining why it is that this murderer should be praised as the
father of faith. Abraham's faith cannot be explained or understood, it must
simply be accepted as the only solution to the paradox.
Used in opposition to reflection, which is characterized by Johannes as the
dominant mood of his day. Reflection is the disinterested intellectualization
of matters, while passion throws itself in wholeheartedly. In particular,
Johannes emphasizes the importance of passion to faith.
Hegel approached faith from the perspective
of reflection, and so failed to understand it. To make sense of faith one has
to work toward it. The fruits of reflection can be learned from someone else,
but one must experience passion oneself in order to learn it.
According to Plato, the soul is immortal, and in previous lives it learnt about
the unchanging, eternal Forms that are the ultimate reality. In this life, we
are distracted by our senses and forget about the Forms. Learning about them,
then, is a matter of recollecting what he have learned in past lives. All
learning, according to Plato, is recollection, and so is the process by which we
bring ourselves closer to the Good. Plato's recollection is contrasted with
Hegel's mediation and Kierkegaard's repetition as one way that change
can be accounted for.
The highest of Kierkegaard's three "stages on life's way": the aesthetic,
the ethical, and the religious. The religious finds the single
individual in an absolute relation to the absolute. That is, the single
individual exists in a private relationship with God, that is, above the ethical
and the universal. The knight of faith that represents the religious
cannot be understood, but exists in total isolation and finitude.
The process by which the knight of faith can give up what he most values
only to regain it, by virtue of the absurd. By getting back what one has
given up, one learns to appreciate it as though for the first time. In
experiencing repetition, the knight of faith comes to learn that everything that
exists exists only by the grace of God. Kierkegaard wrote a book entitled
which was published on the same day as Fear and
In it, repetition is contrasted with and prized over
Platonic recollection and Hegelian mediation.
Infinite resignation is the experience of giving up what one holds dearest and
reconciling oneself with the pain of that loss. The movement of infinite
resignation is exemplified by the tragic hero, like Agamemnon, who must
resign himself to the loss of his daughter, Iphigenia. The knight of faith also
experiences infinite resignation, but moves beyond this point to regain
what he has lost, by virtue of the absurd.
A term used in opposition to the universal. The single individual finds
either in the aesthetic, living for himself, or in the religious, living
for God. To express himself in the ethical, the single individual must
annul his individuality and become a part of the universal.
Unlike a test, a spiritual trial is the situation when the single individual
overstretches his limits. Had Abraham tried to explain himself, he would not
have been able to explain that he was being tested, but only that he was
experiencing a spiritual trial. By speaking, he would be descending to the
universal, where his sacrifice of Isaac is seen only as murder. By
speaking, therefore, he would have failed, and his test would become spiritual
The name given to Hegel's body of thought.
Hegel organized his thought into one coherent "system" that was meant to
comprehend all of philosophy. Hegel represents the height of "system-thinking."
In our times, this kind of philosophizing has been largely rejected as
overstepping the limits of human reason.
Problema I asks "Is there a teleological suspension of the ethical?"
"Teleology" derives from the Greek telos
meaning end, or goal. Ethics is
often considered teleological because it has some end purpose in mind. For
instance, for Hegel, all ethical actions
are done with the end goal of uniting with the universal. The question
being asked in the first problema is whether there is some higher end or goal in
favor of which we might suspend our ethical duties. Hegel would say no,
Kierkegaard, Johannes, and Abraham would say yes.
The word "temptation" is used in two different ways in Fear and
Earlier in the book, it is used synonymously with "test,"
denoting the ordeal God puts Abraham through. As the book progresses, it begins
to be used to denote the draw of a lower stage of life upon a higher. Abraham
is thus tempted by the ethical: he knows that he could choose at any moment
to take the ethical rather than the religious path.
In short, what God does to Abraham. A test is something God imposes upon people
to test their faith. God demands a suspension of one's ethical assumptions and
asks that his subjects act in complete faith and obedience to his guidance.
The ethical counterpart to the religious knight of faith. The tragic
hero gives himself over completely to the universal, and is willing to make
the movement of infinite resignation, giving up what he values most, for the
sake of the universal. Unlike the knight of faith, the tragic hero can be
understood and wept for.
The mind's ability to comprehend something. According to
Hegel, understanding is dictated by
mediation. The significance of understanding in Fear and Trembling
is Johannes' constant assertion that Abraham cannot be understood.
Understanding deals with language and with the universal, and the knight
of faith is above all of these. As a result, we cannot make sense of his
behavior, we can just be
awed by it.
Often used in contrast with the single individual, the universal is the
realization of the ethical. The universal is, essentially, that which we
all share in common. This is most obvious used in reference to ethics: there
are certain moral principles that we all share in common, that we should all
abide by. According to Hegel, the
individual should strive to become a part of the universal as much as possible.