Københavns Universitet
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Kierkegaard Project Seminar: Aaron J. Goldman


Seminar — Aaron J. Goldman: Two Promises of Work and Bread: On Fear and Trembling’s Articulation of the Ethical


Date & Time:

Room 6B-01-62, Faculty of Theology, Karen Blixens Plads 16, Copenhagen 2300

Hosted by:
Søren Kierkegaard Research Centre


Aaron J. Goldman: Two Promises of Work and Bread: On Fear and Trembling’s Articulation of the Ethical

Kierkegaard-de Silentio’s depiction of faith in Fear and Trembling‘s (1843) Problemata hinges on a distinction between the figures of Abraham and the tragic hero. “The difference between the tragic hero and Abraham is very obvious,” he writes. “The tragic hero is still within the ethical…. Abraham’s situation is different” (KW 6, 59 / SKS 4, 152). Yet it is still not very obvious what de Silentio means by the term “ethical,” and how precisely it relates to Abraham’s faith. In this paper, I interrogate de Silentio’s deployment of the term “ethical” [Ethiske] with a focus on the tragic heroes he invokes: Jephthah, Lucius Junius Brutus, and most importantly, Agamemnon. After drawing attention to the role of the sacred promise in each of these tragic hero’s stories, I argue that what unites the three – but which distinguishes each from the figure of Abraham – is the hero’s subjective orientation, in the context of fulfilling a promise, to the imperfection of creation with respect to the possibility of actualizing the highest good. Put differently, Abraham’s covenantal faith is marked by a metaphysical commitment that de Silentio’s tragic heroes do not share— a commitment that virtue and the good life are not irreconcilable, or, to follow de Silentio’s allusion to Proverbs 12 and 2 Thessalonians 3, that only the one who works gets the bread. I conclude suggesting that Kierkegaard-de Silentio’s account of faith is thus only contrary to ethics in the narrow sense of the tragic hero’s metaethical and metaphysical commitments, and moreover, that Fear and Trembling’s vision of faith is commensurable with Kierkegaard’s later articulations of Christian life, specifically 1847’s Works of Love and Purity of Heart.