Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard

Fear and Trembling by Soren KierkegaardKierkegaard (1813-1855), unlike the philosophers of his time, based everything on subject experience: there’s no point concerning ourselves with objective truths: thee we have to choose to either accept or reject anyway – rendering them pointless: it still comes back to us to choose. It is that choice, that individual subjective moment, that is at the heart of Kierkegaard’s philosophy, and which makes him the starting point for the existentialist philosophical movement of the 20th Century.

“Kierkegaard wanted to understand the anxiety that must have been present in Abraham when “God tested [him] and said to him, take Isaac, your only son, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him as a burnt offering on the mountain that I shall show you.” Abraham had a choice to complete the task or to refuse to comply to God’s orders. He resigned himself to the three-and-a-half-day journey and to the loss of his son. “He said nothing to Sarah, nothing to Eliezer. Who, after all, could understand him, for did not the nature of temptation extract from him a pledge of silence? He split the firewood, he bound Isaac, he lit the fire, he drew the knife.” Because he kept everything to himself and chose not to reveal his feelings he “isolated himself as higher than the universal.”


Critics have universally praised the book as one of the lynchpins of the existentialist movement…

“Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche were two of the first philosophers considered fundamental to the existentialist movement, though neither used the term “existentialism” and it is unclear whether they would have supported the existentialism of the 20th century. They focused on subjective human experience rather than the objective truths of mathematics and science, which they believed were too detached or observational to truly get at the human experience. …they were interested in people’s quiet struggle with the apparent meaninglessness of life and the use of diversion to escape from boredom. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche considered the role of making free choices, particularly regarding fundamental values and beliefs, and how such choices change the nature and identity of the chooser. Kierkegaard’s knight of faith and Nietzsche’s Übermensch are representative of people who exhibit Freedom, in that they define the nature of their own existence. Nietzsche’s idealized individual invents his own values and creates the very terms they excel under. By contrast, Kierkegaard, opposed to the level of abstraction in Hegel, and not nearly as hostile (actually welcoming) to Christianity as Nietzsche, argues that the objective certainty of religious truths (specifically Christian) is not only impossible, but even founded on logical paradoxes. Yet he continues to imply that a leap of faith is a possible means for an individual to reach a higher stage of existence that transcends and contains both an aesthetic and ethical value of life.”

“In 1949 Helmut Kuhn wrote of the dread of the choice to follow God. “The decisive act through which everything is won or lost is called choice, a conception formulated by Kierkegaard and faithfully upheld by the majority of Existentialists. Choice, as the term is generally understood, is the act of giving preference to one among several possibilities or of deciding in favor of one or two alternatives. And since every choice has, at least potentially, a moral significance, the primary alternative, which underlies all other alternatives, will be that of good and evil. Choice, according to this common-sense view, lies between good and evil. Kierkegaard and his modern followers entertain an altogether different idea of choice. In the first place, the act under consideration, they insist, is not to be confused with those insignificant decisions with which in every minute of our waking existence we carry on our lives. Each one of these “little choices will reveal itself under analysis as the choice of a means towards a predetermined end. They give effect to a prior determination which underlies and guides them. Not with that merely executive activity are we chiefly concerned as moralists and philosophers. We must rather focus on those cardinal acts on which our whole existence hinges the moments which place us at the parting of roads, and as we then choose, our choice, the dread Either /Or, will either save or ruin us. It is this Great Choice which, as the organizing principle, animates the little choices of our daily lives.”


A very interesting read if you are to understand where Camus is coming from with his notions of the absurd and individual choice: Camus is pretty much Kierkegaard in a world without god: it’s all down to the individual creating a meaningful existence through choosing in a meaningless world.



Mr A



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