Fear and Trembling

An essay about faith told through a deep analysis of the story of Abraham and his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac.

Kierkegaard’s three stages…

aesthetic = sensory experiences and pleasures (the individual)

ethical = the universal (i.e. moral requirements of the community)

religious = matters of faith (individual transcending the universal) … “it just is.”

faith begins precisely at the point thinking leaves off.

Intro: “Faith, then, is a paradox: it cannot be thought, and as we have seen, it is a paradox that is confronted only by a “knight of faith” who is “referred solely to himself” (vs. the tragic hero)

Feels in response to Hegel… “the struggle”

For the one who struggled with the world became great by conquering the world, and the one who struggled with himself became great by conquering himself, but the one who struggled with God was greater than all.

Thus, then, my intention in telling the story of Abraham is to extract from it, in the form of problems, the dialectical element it contains, so that we might see what an enormous paradox faith is, a paradox that is capable of turning a murder into a holy act that is well-pleasing to God, a paradox that restores Isaac to Abraham, which no thinking can master, because faith begins precisely at the point where thinking leaves off.

Three Problems:

Is there a theological suspension of the ethical?

Yes, as he was a murderer and thus the suspension.

Faith is precisely this paradox: that the single individual, as the single individual, is higher than the universal, is justified over against the universal, not subordinate, but superior, though, note well, such that it is the single individual who having, as the single individual, been subordinate to the universal until now, through the universal, becomes the single individual and, as the single individual, is superior to it; that the single individual, as the single individual, stands in absolute relation to the absolute. This position cannot be mediated, for all meditation takes place precisely by virtue of the universal: it is and remains for all eternity a paradox, inaccessible to thought. And yet faith is this paradox, or else at every point, or else faith has never existed precisely because it has always existed, or else Abraham is lost.

Is there an absolute duty to god?

Faith, on the contrary, is this paradox: that inwardness is higher than outwardness, or to recall an expression mentioned previously, that the odd numbers is higher than the even number.

A tragic hero sacrifices himself (the individual for the universal). Compared to a knight of faith who renounces the universal in order to become the individual.

Was it ethically defensible to not tell Sarah?

Interesting idea of concealment being sin—in a perfectly transparent society does everyone act ethically? or do they act to the societal norms? and is this by definition ethical? it doesn’t seem to be as these things can shift—think about gay marriage or sexual orientation—they were “wrong” societally until they weren’t—the societal ethical shifts.

Thus, aesthetics requires concealment and rewards it; ethics required disclosure and punished concealment.


It must be learned again and again—it doesn’t build on the last or change.

But the highest passion in a person if faith, and here no generation begins at any point other than where the preceding generation began. … As long as the generation concerns itself solely with its task, which is what is the highest, it cannot become weary, for the task is always sufficient for a human lifetime.


In response and builds on…

Hegel. Also, criticism of the superficiality of his time—they talk of faith but they don’t understand what it really means.

Leads to and influences…

Camus (idea of the absurd and the need to wrestle with the absurd).

Nietzche (idea that the individual transcends the universal)