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Chapter 6 - The “Teleological Suspension of the Ethical” and Abraham’s Sacrifice of Isaac

from Part II - Morality, Prudence, and Religion

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 January 2022

Roe Fremstedal
Affiliation:
Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim
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Summary

Chapter 6 argues that it is Kierkegaard, rather than Kant, who denies that religion is anything beyond or above ethics. It thus criticizes the widespread view that Kierkegaard reacted against Kant’s (alleged) reduction of religion to ethics by introducing the “teleological suspension of the ethical.” First, Kierkegaard rules out secular ethics by identifying the good and the divine. Second, he moralizes religion by interpreting natural religion in terms of non-Christian ethics and Christianity in terms of Christian ethics. For Kierkegaard, the first two are necessary yet insufficient, so that Christian ethics may only partially replace non-Christian ethics. As a result, there is no suspension of ethics in general, only a suspension of one variant of it by another variant. Even in the case of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, Kierkegaard’s position is far more defensible than normally assumed, since he maintains that it would have been “an error on [Abraham’s] part,” if he were to murder Isaac (SKS 24, 375, NB24:89 / KJN 8, 379). Finally, he denies that anyone could possibly imitate Abraham’s sacrifice by killing someone.

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Chapter
Information
Kierkegaard on Self, Ethics, and Religion
Purity or Despair
, pp. 105 - 120
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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