3

I have hardship to understand who the knight of faith is after reading an exerpt from Fear and Trembling:

"The tragic hero assures himself that the ethical obligation is totally present in him by transforming it into a wish. Agamemnon, for example, can say: To me the proof that I am not violating my fatherly duty is that my duty is my one and only wish. Consequently we have wish and duty face to face with each other. Happy is the life in which they coincide, in which my wish is my duty and the reverse, and for most men the task in life is simply to adhere to their duty and to transform it by their enthusiasm into their wish. The tragic hero gives up his wish in order to fulfill his duty. For the knight of faith, wish and duty are also identical, but he is required to give up both. If he wants to relinquish by giving up his wish, he finds no rest, for it is indeed his duty. If he wants to adhere to the duty and to his wish, he does not become the knight of faith, for the absolute duty specifically demanded that he should give it up. The tragic hero found a higher expression of duty but not an absolute duty.

I understand somebody who gives up his desires in order to realize his duty like Agamemnon, but I don't understand the difference Kierkegaard makes with Abraham. Indeed, according to the Wikipedia's article, Abraham became a knight of faith because he was willing to do what God asked of him, that is to say by actually lifting the knife with the intention of carrying out his mission. In short, he acted. Here the intention was more important than the result. He had faith and had to go no further to please God. So was Abraham different from Agamemnon only because the last one said a few words before: saying it was his duty as a father to follow his duty as his only desire ?

I do not see the scope of the text either. To what extent is it important that we still look at it as an important text? It looks like masochism.

Can you explain it as if I was a high-school student ?

5

The passage is a bit difficult to follow and if memory serves there's quite a bit of literature out there trying to figure out exactly what the distinction between a knight of faith and knight of infinite resignation is.

For de Silentio (who also claims to not understand faith), the crucial distinction is that the knight of infinite resignation gets to be a hero in a way that is comprehensible to his culture even if he has to give something up. In other words, while he does sacrifice and demonstrate his superiority over the inveterate, he gets something back in return -- the status of hero before the people.

In other words, he does the hard fulfillment of the values the culture espouses.

So the basic claim is that while Agamemnon loses his daughter in order to enable the Helenes to fight, this is a comprehensible trade where he's getting something for his people. Thus, he serves as a hero to them in that he resigns the personal to gain the social. He is a knight of infinite resignation because he's willing to give up everything, but he has no faith that he will get anything back.

In an American context, for instance, Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird espouses an ideal of defending justice even though his immediate environment does not want the defendant to get a fair trial. So, he suffers, but he suffers because he's a just man (defending the idea that everyone deserves a good defense) living in an unjust world.

In contrast, on de Silentio's reading, Abraham sacrifices Isaac (or is willing to sacrifice him) out of radical obedience to God, and this obedience to God is not compatible with the social -- it is antithetical to it. A major part of FT is trying to "pump up the price of faith" (FT 121) by pointing out how Danes would have responded to an Abraham-like figure if not inured by familiarity with what happens in the story. He is also a knight of infinite resignation because he's willing to give up everything, but he is a knight of faith because he believes God will give it back to him.

Not everyone accepts the difference, but that is at least as I read it the difference de Silentio has in mind: would your choice be comprehensible to people in your culture as an act of excellence or is it something they would never accept?

--

Contra Jon Stewart, this is a major area where Kierkegaard (at least through a pseudonym) is objecting to a key piece of Hegel's theory of religion: for Hegel, religion is good to the extent that it espouses what reason demands within a culture. This is Hegel's objection to faith. For Kierkegaard, faith is counter-cultural: it asks the individual to do something the culture cannot and will not understand.

Resources

  • John J. Davenport Revista Portuguesa de Filosofia T. 64, Fasc. 2/4, Horizontes Existenciários da Filosofia / Søren Kierkegaard and Philosophy Today (Apr. - Dec., 2008), pp. 879-908

  • C. Stephen Evans, Kierkegaard on Faith and the Self: Collected Essays (Waco, Tex: Baylor University Press, 2006)

  • International Kierkegaard Commentary: Fear and Trembling and Repetition edited by Robert Perkins

  • Kierkegaard: Fear and Trembling (Cambridge University Press, 2006) Edited by C. Stephen Evans, Sylvia Walsh https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511809712

  • Andrew Komasinski, "Faith, Recognition, and Community: Abraham and “Faith-In” in Hegel and Kierkegaard" in American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly Volume 92, Issue 3, Pages 445-464 DOI: https://10.5840/acpq2018510153

  • Philip Quinn, "AGAMEMNON AND ABRAHAM: THE TRAGIC DILEMMA OF KIERKEGAARD'S KNIGHT OF FAITH" in Literature and Theology, Volume 4, Issue 2, July 1990, Pages 181–193, https://doi.org/10.1093/litthe/4.2.181

  • Merold Westphal, Kierkegaard's Concept of Faith (Eerdmans, 2014) 284pp., $35.00 (pbk), ISBN 9780802868060.

Scholars who Disagree

  • Theodor W. Adorno, Kierkegaard: Construction of the Aesthetic, trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor, Theory and History of Literature 61 (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1989)
  • Thank you for this very insightful answer. I have two questions then. The first one : is the knight of infinite resignation including the knight of faith without being equal to it ? Or would this scheme be specific to societies where giving up everything but believing God will give it back would be a thing comprehensible regarding the culture of the society ? – IggyPass May 4 at 9:33
  • The second, linked to the first: if people willing to give up everything, but believing God will give it back to them can be considered as knights of faith whereas the knight of infinite resignation gets to be a hero in a way that is comprehensible to his culture therefore, are suiciding jihadists, killing innocents, knights or faith or resignation? Maybe their killings and suicide are comprehensible to their culture? I don't know enough of Quran but from what I heard it seems they are at least knight of faith, believing God will give them life, wives (houris) back to them in paradise? – IggyPass May 4 at 9:36
  • I don't quite understand s the knight of infinite resignation including the knight of faith without being equal to it ? If the question is: are all knights of faith also knights of infinite resignation, then I think that's the majority opinion (which I share). On the second part of your first question, I'm not actually sure whether being a knight of faith requires the belief that Abraham (on de Silentio's read) has about getting it all back. My sense is that a knight of faith could be one even if they get nothing back. But in a sense they would still have everything because of faith... – virmaior May 4 at 10:44
  • For your second question, I think that's one of the main questions people have about FT when they understand its structure, and it's also a question that reflects back on anyone who wants to be like Abraham in Christianity. / C.Stephen Evans has quite a few essays on this topic and argues in some interesting ways that God wouldn't command people to do that in this era, but I'm not fully sure you can pin de Silentio to that view. – virmaior May 4 at 10:46
  • At the same time, again, it's important to realize that (1) de Silentio's FT is not Kgd's entire view, (2) de Silentio's mission is to make his readers re-think bourgeois Christendom that takes Abraham for granted (doesn't think about how crazy what he did was) and (3) de Silentio doesn't have to be right per se. – virmaior May 4 at 10:47
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The knight of faith exists in a pure state of relationship with God, in which he is absolutely obedient to God AND he believes that whatever God wills is the best possible thing. It is important that faith, as understood here, is not mere belief in God, or even obedience on its own, but rather trust in God, which Kierkegaard sees as much more difficult.

The knight of faith is able to participate fully in ordinary life because he does not, as does the knight of infinite resignation, experience his relationship with God as sacrificial but rather as fulfilling. He has gone beyond duty or obligation, his obedience is neither reasoned nor conditioned, but immediate.

Kierkegaard presents the knight of faith as a paradoxical ideal, one which he freely admits he does not understand. In (and only in) the context of the connection to God, the knight of faith is not bound by law or morals, or customs, traditions or expectations. Agamemnon acts according to a moral standard comprehensible and justifiable to human beings. He is absolutely obedient to it, even to the point of self-sacrifice, which he experience as gain, because of his love of duty. But Abraham acts according to a standard that is not and cannot be made comprehensible to human beings, and although he is willing to sacrifice all, he does not actually have to sacrifice anything (because service to God is gain, not sacrifice).

  • This is an excellent answer to a great question, but may I ask if by "immediate" you really mean something akin to intuitive (which is how I see it)? Also, did Kierkegaard actually use the term "immediate" when describing the Knight of Faith? – Bread May 4 at 15:38
  • One important aspect of the knoght of faith is Humility. Kierkegaard notes that anyone who identifies themselves as 'Christ-like' is guilty of extraordinary hubris and clearly does not understand the scriptures and what Christianity should involve. CS – Charles M Saunders May 4 at 23:31
  • @CharlesMSaunders That's interesting, I'd love to see a reference for it. – Bread May 5 at 0:26
  • @Bread- Sorry, close as I could get for you is that it is somewhere in 'Fear and Trembling' within the 'Infinite Resignation'. What he was more or less saying was that the typical self-described 'Christian' does not understand the self-sacrifice which must be undergone to make that claim and to call oneself a 'Christian' involves much more than most people recognize. Regards, CMS. – Charles M Saunders May 5 at 14:34

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