Faith and the suspension of the ethical in fear and trembling

Inquiry 46 (1):3 – 28 (2003)
This paper concerns Kierkegaard's notion of a teleological suspension of the ethical, which is presented by his pseudonym Johannes de Silentio in Fear and Trembling in connection with the biblical narrative of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac. Against prevailing readings, I argue that Abraham's suspension of the ethical (as de Silentio interprets it) does not consist in his violating the ethical in order to satisfy a higher normative requirement (such as the duty to obey God). Rather, it consists in his preparedness to violate an overriding ethical norm, even where he does not believe that there is some competing requirement that such a violation will satisfy - indeed, even where he believes that he has no reason to commit the violation and conclusive reason not to. Abraham's faith, as expressed in the teleological suspension, consists not in his willingness to obey God or his recognition that God's authority overrides that of the ethical; it consists in his trustful confidence that what seems certain - that he will have committed a monstrous wrong - will not obtain, a confidence that is best understood as a practical orientation toward the world rather than a propositional attitude such as a belief (e.g., a belief that God will intervene). I argue that this way of interpreting the teleological suspension makes the sections in which that phenomenon is discussed cohere better with the text's earlier sections than standard readings, and shows Kierkegaard's conception of faith to be more radical and more interesting than is commonly supposed.
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Michelle Kosch (2008). What Abraham Couldn't Say. Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 82 (1):59-78.
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