Follow the proceedings from the 43rd meeting of the Philosophical Foundations of Law and Finance seminar:
1. For those who still fear and tremble before the factual uniqueness of death, and don't believe philosophy will offer them any consolation, then Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling is for you.
2. Kierkegaard is the genuine heir not only of Socratic irony but also of Aristotelian rhetoric and metaphysic.
3. The premise to (attempting to) understanding Kierkegaard is understanding ‘irony’. K.’s irony is the most legitimate heir of Socrates’ irony. It is a pretension of ignorance which shows the interlocutor that she does not really know what she thought she knew. Thus, it reveals an openness, the imperfection of the received wisdom.
4. His contribution to philosophical theology like the fixed solitary interiority of Descartes is to protect (which of course, needs no protection at all!) a protonic core, called faith, which is completely uncoupled to any (rational) system of thought.
5. We started by reading the preface of ‘Fear and Tremble’. K. writes under pseudonyms and ironically criticises himself as a writer who has not understood the ‘System’, the convention…
6. We then approached the Prelude, where K. narrates the sacrifice of Isaac. From Fear and Tremble, Prelude, I: "And God tempted Abraham and said unto him, Take Isaac, Mine only son, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt offering upon the mountain which I will show thee."
It was early in the morning, Abraham arose betimes, he had the asses saddled, left his tent, and Isaac with him, but Sarah looked out of the window after them until they had passed down the valley and she could see them no more. They rode in silence for three days. On the morning of the fourth day Abraham said never a word, but he lifted up his eyes and saw Mount Moriah afar off. He left the young men behind and went on alone with Isaac beside him up to the mountain. But Abraham said to himself, "I will not conceal from Isaac whither this course leads him." He stood still, he laid his hand upon the head of Isaac in benediction, and Isaac bowed to receive the blessing. And Abraham’s face was fatherliness, his look was mild, his speech encouraging. But Isaac was unable to understand him, his soul could not be exalted; he embraced Abraham’s knees, he fell at his feet imploringly, he begged for his young life, for the fair hope of his future, he called to mind the joy in Abraham’s house, he called to mind the sorrow and loneliness. Then Abraham lifted up the boy, he walked with him by his side, and his talk was full of comfort and exhortation. But Isaac could not understand him. He climbed Mount Moriah, but Isaac understood him not. Then for an instant he turned away from him, and when Isaac again saw Abraham’s face it was changed, his glance was wild, his form was horror. He seized Isaac by the throat, threw him to the ground, and said, "Stupid boy, dost thou then suppose that I am thy father? I am an idolater. Dost thou suppose that this is God’s bidding? No, it is my desire." Then Isaac trembled and cried out in his terror, "O God in heaven, have compassion upon me. God of Abraham, have compassion upon me. If I have no father upon earth, be Thou my father!" But Abraham in a low voice said to himself, "O Lord in heaven, I thank Thee. After all it is better for him to believe that I am a monster, rather than that he should lose faith in Thee."
When the child must be weaned, the mother blackens her breast, it would indeed be a shame that the breast should look delicious when the child must not have it. So the child believes that the breast has changed, but the mother is the same, her glance is as loving and tender as ever. Happy the person who had no need of more dreadful expedients for weaning the child!
7. K. gives us a pathetic account of the story, whereby Isaac pleads for his life whereas Abraham, hardened, silences his child. The close reading leaves us puzzled. What is faith? Why obeying God is he orders to do the most horrible thing one can imagine? Indeed why would you be religious? Competing arguments were presented by the atheists/ agnostics amongst us. Namely, that the community, the church brainwash man to go against his humanity, imposing control and neuroses. Or, that one embraces religion out of implicit calculation giving some liberty but getting something in return. Would you embrace a manifestly contemptible religion? Death and killing are the most heinous deeds man can do. Why indeed do they continuously occur? Is that a betrayal of humanity? Passion or deliberation, can any motive explain death? Thought rapidly runs to war – and other types of terrorism.
8. But K. presents four different readings of the tale!
9. When Kierkegaard was a boy, his father would force him to walk round and round the frontroom of the house imagining what it would be like to be outside.
10. This is his essential technique.
11. K. de-couples you with acts of the imagination that put you in situations which carry no home-spun truth, no simple conclusions, bringing you back against whatever apriori you might have espoused but leading you to a state of aporia (wonderment). A million intepretations of what Abraham and Issac are about, but none of them satisfy any system. This is the irony of faith. There is no cogito, no ergo, and certainly, no sum.
12. K. is captivating, his contorted mind a blast of lucidity. We shall read more from ‘Fear and Tremble’ next Friday.
13. Of course… honour to our group of brave philosophers! The participation of Daniela, Fiona, Cameron, Chiara, Omar, Francisco, Giuseppe, Marco, Giordano and Laura was absolutely passionate.
See you next Friday!
Joe and Laura
Painting: 'The Binding Of Isaac (The Akedah)' 2002 by Alan Falk