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Impossible Ethics: A Response to the Sacrifice of Isaac
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Learn more Check out. Volume 41 , Issue 4 December Pages Related Information. Close Figure Viewer. In Fear and Trembling , the ethical and the religious are not directly opposed either. However, the tension between ethics and religion produces anxiety. Abraham feels anxiety because it is his ethical duty to spare Isaac and his religious duty to sacrifice Isaac. If Abraham had desired to kill Isaac, this would have been both immoral and irreligious. Kierkegaard believes ethics are important to society but that only an individual can approach God, and an individual can only approach God through faith.
If Abraham had not had enough faith, he would have refused to kill his son.
Kierkegaard uses this story to illustrate strong faith. In this way Kierkegaard attempts to draw a distinction between the blind obedience required by the church and the true faith of the individual.
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Kierkegaard would argue that if Abraham had only been willing to kill Isaac because God ordered him to do so, this would have demonstrated obedience, not faith. This sounds like a paradox, or an inherently contradictory situation. However, the seeming paradox highlights the distinction between faith and belief. To believe something is to be assured of it; to have faith requires the possibility that you will be proven wrong.
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However, Abraham cannot be fully assured that his son will be spared. He must have faith that Isaac will not die, even though he believes that he must kill him. Kierkegaard illustrates one of the essential paradoxes, or seeming impossibilities, of ethics. An ethical system consists of rules that are established to promote the welfare of large groups of people. However, sometimes the rules actually harm people, and following a rule may help one person but harm ten. Ethical systems are created to achieve certain ends, but humans lack the ability to see into the future. Therefore, no one can be completely certain of how to reach these desired ends.
Faith in God answers this uncertainty because it removes the burden of prediction. Faith involves the teleological suspension of the ethical, in which faith allows one to believe that an unethical action will actually result in a better end. Humans alone have no access to this kind of information, only God does. The decision to do this produces anxiety because a person can never know if he or she has passed the test until the test is complete.
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