The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813–1855) lived nearly his entire life in Copenhagen. Kierkegaard was devoutly religious. He was shaken when he discovered, at age 22, that his father had not only cursed God but also seduced his mother prior to marriage. Subsequently, Kierkegaard’s writings focused primarily on religious faith and the meaning of Christianity. Eventually, he concluded that religious faith was irrational and attainable only via a subjective experiential “leap of faith.” For Kierkegaard, virtuous traits such as responsibility, honesty, and commitment are subjective choices often in response to a subjective religious conversion. Kierkegaard did not describe himself as an existentialist, but his work is a precursor to the existential philosophical movement, which formally began some 70 years following his death.
The title of this book comes from Paul: ‘You must work out your own salvation in fear and trembling.’ (Philippians 2:12). Kierkegaard selects Abraham as his paradigm of faith. This is an interesting choice, since Abraham was not a Christian, having lived thousands of years before the emergence of the Christian faith.
Existentialism is known as an “individualistic” philosophy. Each existentialist will treat this subject in his own way. But their underlying theme is that the pull in modern society is away from individualism and towards conformity. The most extended analysis of the project of becoming an individual appears in two places, Kierkegaard’s Either/ Or and his stage on Life’s Way. Both are examples of his method of oblique communication. Each tells a tale, actually several tales, by pseudonymous authors in order to enable us to see and test the respective morals of these stories in our own lives. Together, their narrative arguments provide a rather complete description of the three spheres of existence that Kierkegaard formulates in order to trace the process of becoming an individual. Though we shall have to modify and nuance this process once it has been laid out, the spheres or stages are three (the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious). Each stage has its own model as befits a morality tale: Don Juan, among others, for the aesthetic, Socrates, again among others, for the ethical, and Abraham for the religious sphere.
In order to understand Soren Kierkegaard’s famous concept of ‘leap of faith, we need to first explain what he means in the general notion of ‘leap’ and its place in Kierkegaard’s existential philosophy. Kierkegaard offered the term ‘leap’ to replace the Hegelian notion of mediation between two opposing elements. Kierkegaard’s concept of leap points to a state in which a person is faced with a choice that cannot be justified rationally and he, therefore, has to leap into it. The leap of faith is, therefore, a leap into a faith that is allowed by it, stemming from a Paradoxical contradiction between the ethical and the religious.
Kierkegaard’s classic and most important example of such a leap is Abraham’s Leap of faith. In Fear and Trembling Kierkegaard suggests that the ethical is incommensurable with the religious, killing your own child cannot be mediated with obeying God. This is why Abraham had to perform a leap of faith when he obeyed God but still maintained faith that Isaac would live. In front of this action, there is no place to analyze the book and the relation between ethics and religion, in spite of this fact, the act of Ibrahim considers as an adventure.
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The adventure of Ibrahim is an experience, it is also the simple spiritual life which the spiritual life is a decision and march. The leap of faith is the expression of this action of spirituality and relation to God. The experience of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son is to destroy all ethics and build a new system depends on the experience of life and the experience with God, which we called spiritual life.