An Analysis of Soren Kierkegaard's Concept of Faith in Fear and Trembling

In Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling Kierkegaard argues that an unethical action can be admired by society. In order for this action to be held in such high esteem, the action must be done by an act of faith. However, Kierkegaard’s definition of faith varies from our normal definition of faith. In addition, Kierkegaard discusses a concept of faith in which he calls the “Knight of Faith”, which is an exemplar of the highest level of faith that one can hold.

However, this Knight of Faith experiences some problems during modern times as hecould be considered an extremist or perhaps insanet However, the concept of a Knight of Faith is still important as it shows what the human being is capable of. Defining Kierkegaard’s concept of faith is a tough matter as it is not our traditional definition of faith It is something more, something that takes a truly special person to attain. For Kierkegaard, most of us are located in this state called the aesthetic, or sometimes referred to as the “lower immediacy”,a state in which a single person lives out his or her simple life Arguably the aesthetic can be faithful individuals, but not in the way Kierkegaard defines faith.

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Kierkegaard defines faith as a paradox of life, in which one is willing to suspend the teleological ethical in order for their faith to exist. This may sound complicated, but Kierkegaard describes it using the Sacrifice of Isaac in the Old Testament. Abraham is the epitome of Kierkegaard‘s faith.

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Kierkegaard describes him as a “Knight of Faith” in which we admire as he suspended ethical life However, he did so by using faith. By faithfully following God’s word without hesitation, even knowing that he would lose his one and only son Isaac, Abraham’s faith supersedes any act of “faith” that we can speak of today. Kierkegaard describes this by stating, “But Abraham had faith, and had faith for this life…but Abraham’s faith was not a faith of that kind, if there is such, for a faith that has some inkling of its object at the very edge of the field of vision but remains separated from it by a yawning abyss in which despair plays its pranks”.

According to this logic, Kierkegaard delves deep inside Abraham’s heart and shows us the self-resolving interplay between the ethical decision of saving his son and the faithful decision of sacrificing him. But because Abraham is a Knight of Faith, the ethical decision can be suppressed and he can live by his faith. Throughout the Attunement, Kierkegaard portrays several situations in which Abraham acting ethically rather than acting on faith. Upon acting on the ethical rather than faith, Kierkegaard describes Abraham as, “Abraham became old, he could not forget that God had demanded this of him Isaac throve as before; but Abraham‘s eye was darkened, he saw joy no more”. However, we know this to be untrue, as Abraham has faith and suspended the ethical and followed God’s word without hesitation Because of this, we can argue that Abraham is a true Knight of Faith, Because the Knight of Faith puts his faith in himself and in God, rather than in society or the environment, he is theoretically causally unmotivated by contextual concernsi To be motivated by contextual concerns is to formulate one’s actions in accordance with the aesthetic or the ethical, that is, to act based on what one knows of one’s own environment, rather to act according to what is revealed by one’s faith, In theory, all of our actions are the product of our interactions with the environment, but Kierkegaard holds that the Knight of Faith acts in “absurd faith” which is to act motivated by faith in God without reference to the environment. For example, Abraham’s actions are “absurd” in reference to his environment,but yet,motivated by his faith, he acts in a way that violates his understanding of his “mundane” ethical context, Were he only motivated by his rational understanding of the ethical he would never even consider sacrificing his son; however, his act of “absurd faith” gives him the agency to violate his understanding of his context.

But on what grounds should we actually admire Abraham? He was a murderer (well an attempted murdererat least). What makes it “right” to follow faith rather than the ethics of life? To be a Knight of Faith is to identify the Good with God, and therefore to allow one‘s own ethical understanding to be superseded by one‘s faith in God. Therefore, the Knight of Faith represents not a “rejection” of the ethical, but the idea that the ethical can be found outside of one’s own intuitions. Because of this paradox caused by faith and the suspension of the ethical we encounter many problems, But initially, by suspending his own understanding of the ethical, the Knight of Faith identifies the highest ethical value being from God. Therefore, to act as a Knight of Faith is not to “reject” ethics entirely but to acknowledge that one‘s own personal ethical understanding, derived from reason, is incomplete. Arguably, this logic may be rejected by some as they don’t believe in God, but still, the ability for Abraham to suspend the ethical and to put an immeasurable amount of faith into one action is remarkable This is arguably the reason that he is held up as a model of faithful behavior Following the argument on why faith is remarkable, what exactly makes the Knight of Faith admirable? Looking back at the Sacrifice of lsaac, we can argue that Abraham, in a sense, “kept his cool”. There were many times when Abraham could have changed his actions, he could have told his wife Sarah about what God had told him, he could have turned around on his three day journey to Mount Moriah, or he could have even just decided to kill Isaac in a demonic fit of rage that Kierkegaard depicts, “Foolish boy, do you believe I am your father? I am an idolater. Do you believe this is God’s command? No, it is my own desire,”. However, by following God’s exact orders he moved into the ranks of a Knight of Faith, Kierkegaard describes the Knight of Faith thoroughly throughout Fear and Trembling, but the Knight of Faith has its importance in today’s society toot.

The Knight of Faith has freedoms that others lack as others because he is unbound from his own limited ethical understanding and is therefore acts more freely than one who is in the aesthetic or ethical stage (as those in the ethical or aesthetic stages are bound by their own limited rational understanding). According to Kierkegaard, all that is good comes from God, so acting in accordance to his commands is the right decision; even if one has to suspend the ethical as othersperceive it. This poses a question of how we would react today if God asked us to sacrifice our child But consider this thought experimentt Imagine a man sacrifices his son in the name of God. The man is arrested and tried for murderi He pleads guilty become he knows he killed his child, even though he doesn’t perceive it as “wrong“t How would we react? This is where the flaws emerge from Kierkegaard’s idea of the Knight of Faith. In modern day societywe encounter this paradox between the law of the land and the law of God It is difficult to say which one an individual would follow, On one hand, if we had the same level of faith that Abraham committed, we would surely follow God’s word, but society would probably dismiss our faith as “insanity”, We see evidence of the Knight of Faith’s agency in that he is capable of acting against these overwhelming societal norms. In conclusion, Kierkegaard’s Knight of Faith doesn’t only have faith, but a unique type of faith and the ability to suspend the ethical and perform actions based on faith alone. This is quite a commendable quality to have, but it seems that in today’s society that an unethical action produced by faith would not be taken seriously However, being a Knight of Faith is still a great characteristic to have as it allows one to break the chains of societal norms and act in accordance to faith Overall, reaching the level of the Knight of Faith is no mere task, but reaching it provides great benefits as the ethical perceived by God is greater than the ethical perceived by man.

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An Analysis of Soren Kierkegaard's Concept of Faith in Fear and Trembling. (2022, Jul 20). Retrieved from

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