The Binding of Abraham: Levinas’s Moment in Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling

Sophia 56 (1):81-98 (2017)
Most readings of Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling take its account of the Abraham and Isaac story to imply fairly obviously that duty towards God is absolutely distinct from, and therefore capable of superseding, duty towards neighbor or son. This paper will argue, however, that the Akedah, or ‘binding’ of Isaac, as Kierkegaard’s pseudonym, Johannes de Silentio, depicts it, binds Abraham to Isaac in a revitalized neighbor relation that is not at all subordinate, in any simple way, to Abraham’s God-relation. The two relations are defined by an intimate mutual tension, a dynamic of passionate inwardness that responds to the immediate demands of the neighbor as fully as the ethics that Levinas notoriously accuses Kierkegaard of having ignored. It is also the dynamic of time consciousness, which for Levinas is fundamentally ethical. I show that Kierkegaardian faith can be viewed as the dynamic of time-consciousness transformed by passionate inwardness into one’s God-relation—that is, converted into a certain religious mode of life. The ethics corresponding to this—an ethics of neighbor love superseding the ‘social morality’ that Silentio, following Hegel, calls the ‘ethical’—would then be the same dynamic of time-consciousness transformed by passionate inwardness into one’s neighbor-relation. The key to the argument is seeing the need to substitute for the spatial dichotomy ‘interior/exterior,’ which results in so much trouble when comparing Levinas and Kierkegaard, the temporal contraries ‘giving up’ and ‘getting back.’
Keywords Kierkegaard  Levinas  Abraham  Isaac  Fear and Trembling  Ethics  Time-consciousness  Love of neighbor
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DOI 10.1007/s11841-015-0496-7
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References found in this work BETA

Levinas and Kierkegaard in Dialogue.Merold Westphal - 2008 - Indiana University Press.
Collected Philosophical Papers.Emmanuel Lévinas - 1987 - Duquesne University Press.
The Sickness Unto Death.Søen Kierkegaard & Walter Lowrie - 1941 - Princeton University Press.

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