Monday, March 2, 2009

Faithful Kierkegaard problem 1

I heard we didn't cover problem one in our last class and I've been sick (although, it's almost gone, I think! Hurrah!), so I'm posting on problem one here. The first key aspect for Kierkegaard (from here on referred to as "the Big K") is that the particular individual is over and above the universal. By universal, I think the Big K is referring to the ethical. While it may seem that the ethical would be above the individual, the individual does have freedom to act in a particular fashion that suits their own needs and desires. So, the universal as subordinate to the individual is in her power to pursue her own interests. What happens when the individual submits to the universal is a relinquishment of their power to act in ways akin to their own desires and they become part of the universal.

The second important piece to me was the consequence as justification for the action when suspending the ethical. The Big K uses several examples of tragic heroes to elaborate on the difference between Abraham and the tragic heroes. Essentially, the tragic hero does some seeming unethical action, suspending the ethical, and then later this action becomes justified by the consequences, such as saving the state, preserving the culture, etc. The action then becomes admired by all because they could see the sacrifice that the hero made in order to bring about a greater good. Thus, we can shed tears for the hero who makes the smaller sacrifice in order to serve the greater whole.

With Abraham, there is no greater whole to be served, and further, no greater good to come from his sacrifice. Abraham is thusly considered to be a murder by all of those that might hear of the event. However, Abraham's actions are unethical in view of humanity because his intent was to sacrifice his son with no apparent service to society as a consequence. What the Big K does is show that Abraham does suspend the ethical for a higher purpose, only which God can know, and only which Abraham can believe as a test of his faith (if he can even believe that). Ultimately, Abraham has to take the action that God asks of him with only his belief that God has a plan for which he knows nothing of.

The difference between the tragic hero and Abraham is that the hero gets some kind of insight as to what their sacrifice will lead to. They are justified in doing the ethical because they are made aware that the consequence will serve the greater good. Abraham doesn't have this sense and must act only in accordance to God's will that his son be sacrificed. Further, Abraham can't be reassured that any good consequence will come of this sacrifice and therefore can't be the tragic hero somewhere down the road. He has to rely on himself (by believing) and on God (through his belief) to do something for which he is fully aware of the unethical nature of the action. To do this in this light is to suspend the ethical and have only faith.

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