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Teleological Suspension Of The Ethical Essay

1516 words - 7 pages

A clear understanding of what Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) meant by the `suspension of the ethical' can be achieved upon careful study of his wider philosophies on stages or aspects of an individual's life. In this short text I will examine these philosophies, exploring what Kierkegaard meant by each one. I'll then put into context these stages of life by looking at them in relation to that which Kierkegaard's text `Fear and Trembling' (in which he introduces the concept of a teleological suspension of the ethical) is based on: that being the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac. Finally, I'll examine the problems of his theory and explore some of the presumptions and pre-requisites ...view middle of the document...

The implication in the aesthetic is that only the external provides value. However, Kierkegaard's suggestion is that this level of being lacks anything outside of itself. Its value, he submits, is void of meaning and direction and those who inhabit this existence simply pass from one meaningless gratification of the senses to the next with no real purpose.

There is, according to Kierkegaard, a progression of sorts to a higher stage of life. A transition to a level being in which the particular is subsumed, that is transported and incorporated by, the next in the level of existence, the ethical. At this stage, an individual is living in accordance with what he describes as the `universal good' and in this the ethical is senseless. What I mean by that is that the ethical requires the abdication of the individual in accordance with the universal good. Yet the ethical cannot exist without the individual to give it form. The individual turns inward and considers the aim of life in respect to himself. In one sense it empowers the aesthetic with value and meaning, thus the gratification of the senses can become the appreciation of beauty. However, Kierkegaard regards the religious stage of life not only to be the highest, but also imperative in giving the ethical meaning and direction. By `religious life' Kierkegaard is referring to the encountering and acceptance of his, the Christian, God. It isn't clear if the `religious' is confined only to his God, or whether differing personal beliefs have a place within Kierkegaard's definition of this level of being. The `religious' makes sense of the ethical, according to Kierkegaard. Apparently inferring that doing good for the sake of good is meaningless and closer to an egoistic sense of aesthetic gratification then meaningful existence, Kierkegaard looks to the religious to give life direction and telos, that is purpose.

For the benefit of `Fear and Trembling', Abraham is this `religious' man. In the biblical story, Abraham is required by God to premeditate the sacrifice of his son as a sign of his faith to God. This presents Kierkegaard with a problem, as although the `religious' life is a distinct and separate level of being from the `ethical', the transition is a subsumption. That is, the religious provides the ethical with an additional depth rather then a complete reversal of values. It appears that there is a contradiction here, as in what is universally good (that being, in this case, not killing your own child) is abandoned by the very religion or God that provides it with meaning and purpose.

To provide for this contradiction, Kierkegaard identifies the telos of God. In this situation, God requires a sign from Abraham that he is faithful to him. That is God's purpose in asking this of Abraham. The ethical, far from being removed from Kierkegaard's equation, is merely suspended so that the purpose; the end result; the telos of God, can...

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