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Florine Cleary Assignment 2 Question 2 2. Compare the story of God's request to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac with the story of Agamemnon and Iphigeneia. In Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard claims that Agamemnon, by contrast with Abraham, “stays within the ethical,” by which he means that Agamemnon did something terrible to avoid something he thought of as worse, whereas Abraham intended to do something terrible just because he believed God told him to, thus giving up on the ethical. In this
  Florine ClearyAssignment 2Question 22. Compare the story of God's request to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac with the storyof Agamemnon and Iphigeneia. In  Fear and Trembling  , Kierkegaard claims thatAgamemnon, by contrast with Abraham, “stays within the ethical,” by which he meansthat Agamemnon did something terrible to avoid something he thought of as worse,whereas Abraham intended to do something terrible just because he believed God toldhim to, thus giving up on the ethical. In this way, Kierkegaard argues, the tragic hero likeAgamemnon, very much unlike Abraham, “gives up what is certain for what is still morecertain.” What does Kierkegaard have in mind here, and is he right? Does this exonerateAgamemnon – for Kierkegaard? For you? Does this exonerate Abraham – for Kierkegaard? For you?In Fear and Trembling the story of God’s final test 1 or tempting 2 of Abraham andthat of Abraham’s dilemma are used as an example of the Knight of Faith and of thetragic hero (in some ways the Knight of Resignation) respectively. The situations the twomen come to are not the same nor are many aspects of the two stories 3 ,however they aresimilar enough and well suited enough to illustrate what for Kierkegaard is the profundityof faith and difference in the heights which man can achieve 4 .Both men either have tomake a sacrifice of their innocent and beloved child or be faced with what comes fromignoring the will of a god. Both do all that is necessary and resolve themselves to the 1 Tanakh Gen. 22 2 KJV Gen. 22 3 Now for more dissimilarities. Abraham receives the order through direct commune with God, whileAgamemnon finds out his task by the interpretation of an omen by Chalcis. Abraham is the darling of Godwhile Agamemnon has reason to fear Artemis’ ill-favor as well as that of the furies and while he is fightingdefending in a way what Zeus holds dear he through his father’s treatment of Thyestes might expect toincur the same wrath for the same inhospitality. 4 “No! no one shall be forgotten who was great in this world; but everyone was great in his own way, andeveryone in proportion to the greatness of what he loved  . For he who loved himself became great inhimself, and he who loved others became great through his devotion, but he who loved God became greater than all…. everyone became great in proportion to his expectancy . One became great through expecting the possible, another by expecting the eternal; but he who expected the impossible became greater than all…. but everyone was great in proportion to the magnitude of what he  strove with …he who strove with Godwas greater than all…there was he who conquered everything by his own strength, and he who conqueredGod by his powerlessness…but greater than all was the one who believed in God.” [F and T p50]  sacrifice. An angel of God stays Abraham’s hand while Agamemnon is allowed to followthrough on what he has resolved to do 5 .Agamemnon is given a choice while Abraham is given a test. That Agamemnon isgiven a choice between two (ethical) evils one of which may easily be taken as thegreater (desertion, behavior unbefitting his station and command, the ruin not only of thealliance but of his people as well as the resulting wrath of Zeus (the king of the gods) for not defending the rights of hospitality) and one as the lesser (transgressing the human andmoral prohibitions against human sacrifice and his duty as a father), 6 for Kierkegaardallows him to operate solely within the realm of the ethical – the universal. Abrahamhowever must go beyond the ethical (and commit an evil – the sacrifice of Isaac) tomaintain his relationship with the absolute (God).Abraham must make the act of infinite resignation 7 and then he must make themovement of faith. He must relinquish his claim on Isaac as well as that it is he who must be the one to sacrifice Isaac (while not loving Isaac any less or harboring anythingapproaching resentment for what he is called to do for “the unblemished condition of theone offered does not detract from, but rather commends, the act” 8 and in a way Abrahamis sacrificing himself as well). He acts with resignation but also has faith “on the strength 5 Euripides in his account has Artemis replace Iphigeneia with a deer at the crucial moment 6 Even the chorus as they bemoan and blame Agamemnon for his lack of feeling does not find that hechoose wrongly. 7 “Infinite resignation is the last stage before faith, so that anyone who has not made this movement doesnot have faith; for only in infinite resignation does my eternal validity become transparent to me, and onlythen can there be talk of grasping existence on the strength of faith.” [ P75 F and T] 8 [Tanakh Gen commentary 22.3]  of the absurd” that God will not really take Isaac from him and so does receive him back rejoicing. 9  Kierkegaard is by no means excusing Agamemnon to condemn Abraham.Agamemnon is given two ethically bad choices – each which would bring him to violatesome aspect of his duty to the universal (as the telos of ethics lies within itself, therelationship is to the Universal- to which one should subjugate oneself) 10 .He has nochoice which is not ethical (even ethically bad choices are never the less ethical) and theonly means of judging which is the right one lies within which would lead him to better serve his duty to the Universal – which would cause less harm and has its telos higher inthe higher expression of the ethical 11 . He chouses correctly, so far as Kierkegaard can tell,and therefore leads an ethical life 12 .By making the necessary movement of resignation(of his claims as man and father that would forbid him from sacrificing Iphigeneia) hemakes the less harmful, less ethically wrong, action and becomes the tragic hero. We may pity and praise him – furthermore we may understand him – both in his plight and hischoice. 9 “all along he had faith, he believed that God would not demand Isaac of him, while still he was willing tooffer him if that was indeed what was demanded. He believed on the strength of the absurd, for there could be no question of human calculation, and it was indeed absurd that God who demanded this of him shouldin the next instant withdraw the demand.” [p65 F and T] 10 “seen as an immediate, no more than sensate and psychic, being, the single individual is the particular that has its telos in the universal, and the individual’s ethical task is always to express himself in this, toabrogate his particularity so as to become the universal.” [p83 F and T] 11 “ The tragic hero enters into no private relationship with God, but the ethical is the divine and thereforethe paradox in the divine can be mediated in the universal.” [p89 F and T] 12 What Apollo says in Aeschylus’  Eumenides “ he made good bargains, for the most part”(Eum. 631-2)would support this.  Abraham we cannot understand for his plight is paradox 13 – his actions paradoxical (Kierkegaard goes so far as to say we may not understand much less pityhim). Abraham oversteps the Universal, goes beyond the ethical, that he may serve theAbsolute 14 .All ethical actions find their purpose and end, their  telos , in the Universal –  but God is higher – God is the telos beyond the ethical. This is why Abraham must act onthe “strength of the absurd” for it is “beyond all human calculation” beyond our ethicaland human understanding that he may exist as he is 15 .He fully, infinitely, resigns himself,to – not only lose Isaac but also do away with Isaac himself according to God’s will andat the same time that this Will will give him Isaac anew. He must give up eternally – infinitely what is most precious, most beloved – must do this gladly 16  - and all the while have faith that God will not take Isaac, and all the promise that lies within him, away.This second movement is not “is not the same as the improbable, the unexpected, theunforeseen” 17   it is absurd  – it is impossible in the finite (ethical and Universal) world that 13 “Abraham represents faith, and that faith finds its proper expression in him whose life is not only themost paradoxical conceivable, but so paradoxical that it simply cannot be thought. He acts on the strengthof the absurd; for it is precisely the absurd that as the single individual he is higher than the universal.”[ p85 F and T] “How he got into it is just as inexplicable as how he stayed in it.” [p95 F and T] 14 “Faith is just this paradox, that the single individual as the particular is higher than the universal, is justified before the latter, not as subordinate but superior, though in such a way, be it noted, that it is thesingle individual who, who having been subordinate to the universal as the particular, now by means of theuniversal becomes that individual who, as the particular, stands in an absolute relation to the absolute. This position cannot be mediated, for all mediation occurs precisely by virtue of the universal; it is and remainsin all eternity a paradox, inaccessible to thought. and yet faith is this paradox.” [p85 F and T] 15 “ Then how did Abraham exist? He had faith. That is the paradox that keeps him at the extremity andwhich he cannot make clear to anyone else, for the paradox is that he puts himself as the single individualin a absolute relation to the absolute. Is he justified? His justification is, once again, the paradox; for if he isthe paradox it is not by virtue of being anything universal, but of being the particular.” [ p90 F and T] 16 In the manner which “hineni” implies (“The term indicates readiness, alertness, attentiveness, receptivity,and responsiveness to instructions” [Tanakh commentary on the Akedah Gen. 22.1]). 17 “ The absurd…is not the same as the improbable, the unexpected, the unforeseen. The moment the knight(of faith) resigned he was convinced of the impossibility, humanly speaking; that was a conclusion of theunderstanding, and he had energy enough to think it. In an infinite sense, however, it was possible, throughrenouncing it [as a finite possibility]; but then accepting that [possibility] is at the same time to have givenit up, yet for the understanding there is no absurdity in possessing it, for it is only in the finite world thatunderstanding rules and there it was and remains an impossibility. On this the knight of faith is just as clear:all that can save him is the absurd; and this he grasps by faith. Accordingly he admits the impossibility andat the same time believes the absurd; for were he to suppose that he had faith without recognizing theimpossibility with all the passion of his soul and heart, he would be deceiving himself, and his testimony
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