He is remembered for his philosophy, which was influential in the development of 20th century existentialism. Alastair Hannay is Professor of Philosophy at the. 1 Homing in on Fear and Trembling. 6. Alastair Hannay. 2 Fear and Trembling’s “ Attunement” as midrash. Jacob Howland. 3 Johannes de silentio’s dilemma. The perfect books for the true book lover, Penguin’s Great Ideas series features twelve more groundbreaking works by some of history’s most prodigious.

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The Continuum Reader’s Guides aim to give “clear and accessible introductions to classic works of philosophy. Commentaries and introductions are not the same. Introductions give you the lay of the land, guides commentaries are detailed maps that assist progress through the landscape. Like following a scenic route with a map and historical vade mecumreading Fear and Trembling with a guide book in hand will seem out of place to many. Clare Carlisle’s book is full of useful information and fruitful reflection, but it would be a shame to offer it to someone who has yet to read Fear and Trembling.

For others it has much to offer and chew over.

Carlisle’s commentary, forming the second of the book’s three chapters “Reading the Text”is nearly hxnnay times longer than the other two combined. Readers who prefer “a shorter overall discussion” are invited to skip this chapter, allastair directly from “Overview of Themes and Context” to “Reception and Influence”.

Since the outside chapters are, to this reviewer’s mind, more open to critical comment than the extended commentary, the main focus here is on these, with only the following brief account of the second chapter.

This central chapter starts on a theme begun in the opening chapter’s aoastair section “Critique of the Modern Age — And of Modern Philosophy” by providing a role for Fear and Trembling in a wider nineteenth-century context of Marx, Darwin, and Nietzsche.

Carlisle notes how the preface and epilogue, neither of which mentions the biblical account that is Fear and Trembling ‘s raw material, frame and situate the issues raised. Once properly understood, the Preface “provides the key to reading the text” p. It talks of spiritual decline and it is this trend that the book’s “interpretation of the [biblical] story” attempts to “arrest and reverse” p. In Fear and Tremblingas indeed “in many of Kierkegaard’s texts,” the question of the value of faith is “connected to a critique of modern philosophy, and especially of Hegel’s ideas” p.

The virtues of this long chapter, and the effort that has gone into it, will be evident to anyone embarking on it. It gives greater though in this reviewer’s opinion still not enough emphasis on the Hegelian background than we expect among Anglophone commentators on the European side of the Atlantic.

References that Kierkegaard could leave to his readers to decipher are identified, themes doubt, faith, autonomy are brought to the table, and Descartes’s methodological doubt briefly explained for the tremblinf and ushered into a Hegelian context.

Reading “Reading the Text” leaves one with Carlisle’s own reading, but there is a remedial sprinkling of different takes on isolated aladtair due to a small selection of commentators.

References to others with a stronger background in German Idealism might have helped.

However, Carlisle has acknowledged p. In the closing chapter she remarks on an openness in Kierkegaard’s text that makes it “rather elusive” p. Does she find this frustrating, or is it a convenient means of paragraph-prevention? The first chapter downloads many themes, rather more than its integrity requires or can stand. We know that the real-life story of Kierkegaard’s broken engagement underlies the sacrifice theme in Fear and Tremblingbut does the reader have to be apprised of this in order to appreciate that the book is not just about the relationship to God?

Further, might it not be a kind of mis alsstair to introduce topics “Spheres of Existence: Tgembling, Ethical, and Religious” that are introduced as such to Kierkegaard’s readers only trfmbling With “Religion and Ethics: Faith and Reason” we are on firmer ground, or closer to home. Ahd here too there is a tendency to over-read; the ethics that is to prove inadequate in Abraham’s defence is introduced in terms of “rational, universal laws.


The text itself guides us to Hegel rather than Kant, as Carlisle faithfully notes in the central chapter when adverting to Johannes de silentio’s references to Alasair Philosophy of Right in the three “problemata” alasstair. But some Kant is helpful, and Carlisle navigates us between the Scylla and Charybdis of Luther’s rash appreciation of Abraham for the blindness of his faith and Kant’s rationalist dismissal of him for failing to recognize that God could not have been the source of the command to kill Isaac.

The focal dilemma remains unresolved: Tackling the pseudonym’s own professed inability to take the step to faith, Carlisle finds support in the text for a distinction between a “theoretical or conceptual” and a alastaor or existential” reading of the “paradox” of Abraham’s faith. Ffar allows the content of faith to escape absurdity, at least if “murderer” can be kept out, while the practical paradox may be successfully negotiated by someone without Johannes de silentio’s limitations.

Support for this comes from a journal entry from seven years later in which Kierkegaard affirms that, to the believer, hanjay faith itself nor its content is absurd p. The impression we receive is of a Johannes de silentio constructed to carry out a special mission. Fear and Trembling is designed to face those who cannot but see Abrahamian faith as paradoxical with the realization that they are not believers, thus putting them in a better position to properly “take up the task” p.

In “Telling Stories — and Who is Johannes de silentio? Like the messenger in the book’s “enigmatic epigraph,” unaware that he is conveying instructions to put the leaders of Gabii to death and who can only report that Tarquin cut off the heads of the tallest poppies p.

We have thus one way of deciphering the hajnay own hidden message. Another way has Abraham as messenger, conveying, by his trust in God, another yannay of God-relationship which he only anticipates, but of which he can have no idea p. To acquire a “sense of the variety of interpretative directions that have been taken by scholars,” travelers through the long middle chapter are asked, when turning to “Reception and Influence,” to “take a step back” from the text p.

The “most famous intellectual heirs,” not being “as a rule” among Kierkegaard’s “most attentive readers,” are swiftly passed over. Attention is directed instead upon “a [very] small selection of the very large … body of secondary literature … available in English. Themes come under four headings. In the first, “Faith, Ethics, and Johannes de silentio’s Dilemma,” ethics is now understood in generally Hegelian terms, though with Kantian implications. These terms allow andd to coincide with the “ethical sphere,” corresponding to something like the climate of opinion in Kierkegaard’s time.

But this coincidence of faith and civic virtue is historically contingent, as witnessed hannzy Christianity’s origins. So they can in principle come apart in the future p. Fear and Trembling ‘s feat, by “hold[ing] apart the religious and ethical spheres” in the way presented by Johannes de silentio’s dilemma, is to reveal “the kind of inward decision” bannay by faith but which a “supposedly Christian culture of [Kierkegaard’s] time” conveniently passed over.

Carlisle is careful to point out that the inward requirement doesn’t mean that religion is to be “individualistic or otherworldly”; indeed the “central” problem of Fear and Tremling is how “the relationship to God should be lived out in the world, through relationships with other people” p.


The next section “In Defence of the Ethical” has Johannes de silentio deliberately overstating the options facing Uannay insistent admirer. They are presented as: The remaining sections are attempts to find a more moderate account of the options still within a framework of “dilemma.

Following critical reference to Levinas, Derrida, C. Stephen Evans, and Stephen Mulhall, all tending in various degrees tre,bling defuse the dilemma, faith is presented here as tremnling an “infinite dimension” p. More than simply allowing that something of one’s humanity survives significant failure to be moral in the Sittlichkeit way, this telos can call for actual contraventions of Sittlichkeit.


But murder, or sacrifice of a son by any other word? To counter Johannes’s overstatement, we can follow his own advice when telling us that it is by faith, not by murder, that “one acquires a resemblance to Abraham” p.

Fear and Trembling – Wikipedia

A further redeeming feature in Abraham that can “provide a criterion of ethical value … common to both religious and non-religious perspectives” is trust p. Lee, Sharon Krishek, John J. Davenport who focus on Abraham’s trust rather than his obedience. With the first two of these in mind, she warns against “adopting a purely intellectualist approach,” as for instance when raising the question of whether Abraham was justified in trusting himself as able to identify God as the giver of the an p.

As for Krishek, although pointing to love as a component in religious faith, and putting us in mind of the fact that “fear of loss” can be as significant an obstacle as self-interest to fulfilling ethical demands p. As against Kant, the framework from within which the question of what the ethical and the religious have in common remains perforce firmly alzstair p. Bringing the religious down to earth, Carlisle concludes by proposing a naturalistic understanding of restoration in the case of irreparable loss.

The past cannot be returned, but we can return to it — and find forgiveness. Thus, still from within a religious framework, the past can be transformed from being a “source of guilt and resentment” into an “opportunity to develop wisdom and compassion” p. In a final section, a certain kind of courage is added to Abraham’s repertoire.

Fear and Trembling

A merely human courage is enough for renouncing “the whole of temporality in order to win eternity,” but “it takes a paradoxical and humble courage then to grasp the whole of reality on the strength of the absurd. George Pattison has pointed to a counterbalance in the Upbuilding Discourses to the outwardly aggressive aspect of Abraham’s faith. It adds to suffering an element of patience. She concludes her Guide by asking p.

She refrains from saying that an affirmative answer would cancel Johannes de silentio’s dilemma, or whether canceling it would make Johannes himself redundant. There is food here for further thought. We should however note Kierkegaard’s insistence that Christianity alone justifies the elevation of the particular over the universal.

And in promoting his favored “category of the single individual,” he says that the ” particulaire ” becomes “true” only in a God-relationship. Does Carlisle believe that facing the God-Man square on may be a purely human possibility? While Carlisle’s commentary-plus gives excellent support to readings of Fear and Trembling that favor some alleviation of what many see as its excesses, a closer look at the Hegel connection from p.

Caprice is one thing and murder another, but for Hegel still capricious. In signing off he had speculated on the fate of someone who “puts himself outside the universal,” [5] even hinting at the possibility of a “more noble sense” of being “out of the common.

The role of the Old Testament God is to produce a personification of pure particularity with only God as support — and, talking of “heroes” among them Johannes himselfwhy not also offer the accolade to this God? Is he not also a sacrificial victim of sorts, the real murderer, at any rate a literary device? Read in something like this light, the murder charge becomes as essential to the polemic as Abraham’s faith.

Penguin Books,p. A Fragment of Lifeabridged, tr.