Dialectical Problems Relating to Faith

To further show what a prodigious paradox faith is, Johannes poses three dialectical problems or questions implicit in the story of Abraham: (1) 'Is there a teleological suspension of the ethical?' (2) 'Is there an absolute duty to God?' (3) 'Was it ethically defensible of Abraham to conceal his undertaking' from his family? (FT 46, 59, 71) The main backdrop for the discussion of these problems is Hegel's view of the ethical in The Philosophy of Right.8 According to Hegel, the ethical life (Sittlichkeit) consists in the fulfilling of one's duties to oneself and others through conformity with the objective laws and customs of a rational social order or state. This view of the ethical is set over against a purely personal morality (Moralitdt) emphasizing the subject's own subjective, particular will and conviction in determining and willing the good, which Hegel regards as abstract and arbitrary.9 Although Hegel does not discuss Abraham in this text, Johannes seeks to draw out the implications of Hegel's view of the ethical with respect to Abraham, whose act of faith, as Johannes sees it, cannot be explained or justified in terms of Sittlichkeit or Moralitdt.

Each of the problems posed by Johannes begins with an equation of the ethical with the universal, which means that it applies to everyone and remains in force at every moment.10 Understood in a Hegelian fashion as being immanently complete in itself, the ethical is the telos for everything outside itself, including the single individual, whose ethical task is constantly to annul his or her particularity in order to be fulfilled in the universal. Whenever one asserts oneself over against the universal after having entered into it, then, one is guilty of moral evil or sin and can only be brought back into the fold of the ethical by 'repentantly surrendering [oneself] as the particular to the universal' (FT 46-7, 54). But if that is so, Johannes contends, then Hegel was wrong in not speaking out (as Kant did) against Abraham being lauded as the father of faith, since his proposed action was not for the sake of the universal, as in the case of several classical tragic heroes whom Johannes cites as performing personal sacrifices in service to the state, but was a purely private undertaking for which he ought potentially to have been charged with murder (47, 50-2).

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