In Fear and Trembling work Kierkegaard uses the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac to discuss the paradox of faith, and the nature of ethics.  Kierkegaard’s primary argument throughout the text is that Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac required either an impossible faith, thus the paradox that such faith in God could only be provided by God, or Abraham was nothing more than a base murderer, eager to slay his only son so that he might be praised as a hero.  Kierkegaard uses this example to discuss the difference between deep ethics and aesthetic ethics, and the difference between the man of faith and the tragic hero.

Overall:  10/10

Let me first say that this is not an easy text to read.  Kierkegaard discusses difficult ideas, and at times uses equally difficult language to do so.  So, this book is not for everyone.  However, this book is an excellent examination of what Kierkegaard calls ‘the paradox of faith’.  Throughout the text he emphasizes the impossibility of this paradox, and the loneliness felt by those who achieve it.  He is consistently clear in the important connection between this paradox and the very nature of ethics, and the difficulty in seeing those who have achieved the paradox of faith as ethical.

Author:  10/10

Soren Kierkegaard was a 19th century Danish philosopher and theologian.  Kierkegaard’s writings have inspired a great deal of work throughout the past hundred words, and his is sometimes considered the first of the Existentialists.  Kierkegaard was critical of many of the important 18th century philosophers, such as Hegel and Schelling.  While he wrote works that were theological, philosophical, and psychological, Kierkegaard sometimes combined the three disciplines.  This is the case in  Fear and Trembling.

Intended Audience: Ethical Philosophers

From the contents of this work Kierkegaard’s primary audience was obviously ethical philosophers.  While Kierkegaard’s example is biblical, and he speaks much of faith, his content is primarily focused on the philosophical concept of the paradox, and its impact on ethical thinking.  This inevitably leads to the difficulty inherent in the text.

Treatment of Subject: Philosophical – 10/10

Fear and Trembling is primarily a philosophical text, and should be read as such.  While this text deals with the intersection of the philosophy of ethics and faith, it is primarily a text of philosophy, not a theological or religious text.  Thus, while Kierkegaard’s ideas can be beneficial to Christians, they are primarily intended for the study of ethics.

Writing: 8/10

Kierkegaard’s writing is generally excellent.  However, as mentioned before, it is difficult.  Fear and Trembling is not an easy book to read, and it may take some effort to make it through some of his paragraphs.  However, while this is difficult, challenging reading, it is very worthwhile.

Conclusion:

This book is not for everyone.  However, it is an excellent treatise on the intersection of faith and ethics, and the basic nature of faith itself.  It also deals very well with the difference between deep ethics and aesthetic ethics, and the importance and results of each.

6 thoughts on “A Review of Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard

  1. I have one major problem with his paradox of faith idea. There are PLENTY of people who have shown equally severe and unrelenting faith in plenty of other things, other gods, other people, even ideas and philosophies. Its even going on today when politicians cling to political theories that have clearly failed us over the past several decades, yet somehow they hope that doing it again, after so many other tries, things will somehow turn out better.

    Ok, that example may not be quite as extreme as sacrificing your own son, but there are other people who have done exactly that, and actually gone through with it, as an act of faith. And not all of them were homicidal maniacs.

    1. Kierkegaard’s point was not that it takes true faith to sacrifice someone, nor that anyone who tries is a homicidal maniac. In fact he compares Abraham with Agamemnon, and points out that Agamemnon is a tragic hero, but not a man of true faith precisely because he sacrifices Iphigenia for ‘the greater good’, thus an aesthetic display of ethics, while Abraham was a man of true faith because his sacrifice of Isaac bears absolutely no merit outside of the fact that God commanded it.

      In Kierkegaard’s mind, what sets Abraham, and others, apart is the fact that they display a faith for which we should hate them – i.e. if God had not commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, then there was no reason for him to do so, and so those around him could only see him as a base murderer or a man of absolute faith.

  2. I see that as a slim distinction. Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac because he believed doing God’s would result in a better outcome than refusing it. All these other people who make sacrifices go through the same reasoning, but their faith is in something else: their commander, their nation, their own gods, their family, their philosophies and ideologies. They have faith that the sacrifices necessary to obey these things will result in a better outcome than refusing to make them. The internal logic is the same, whatever our external perspective of the event may be.

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