In Fear and Trembling, Soren Kierkegaard under the pseudonym of Johannes de Silentio, attempts to express the concept of faith. Kierkegaard believes that far too often we use faith as a starting point when in fact it is the greatest movement one can make. Essentially, we cannot have faith without going through various prerequisite movements and that, "faith begins precisely where thinking leaves off." Presumably this proposition establishes faith as a purely subjective matter that cannot be reasoned to.
In the following paper, I am not interested in what faith is or is not, but will examine the journey required to get to faith. I will examine what constitutes a Knight of Infinite Resignation, a Knight of Faith, and why the former is necessary for the latter. Once this chain is established, I will show how any reader exposed to Kierkegaard's narrative cannot become a Knight of Infinite Resignation never mind a Knight of Faith. I will continue to examine objections, and why the objections are useless. This investigation will prove that Kierkegaard's system is inestimable when examining the issue of 'faith'. Consequently, if Kierkegaard's is correct about faith , about which he does an excellent job of conceptualizing, then by being exposed to his thought, I am condemned to a life of meaningless existence.
Kierkegaard examines `the greatest movement one can make' by considering the story of Abraham and Isaac. He is perplexed at how Abraham could `raise the knife' on his own son; that he was willing to sacrifice Isaac [because of his faith in God], and at the same time had faith God would not require him see this act to fruition.
All along he had faith, he believed that God would not demand Isaac of him, while still he was willing to offer him if that was indeed what was demanded. He believed on the strength of the absurd, for there could be no question of human calculation, and it was indeed absurd that God who demanded this of him should in the next instant withdraw the demand. (Kierkegaard, pg.64)
It is clear the enormous complexities that faith presents in the story of Abraham, so Kierkegaard investigates how one comes to have the faith that Abraham exhibits.
One does not begin with faith but in fact comes to faith via infinite resignation. This is where the Knight of Infinite Resignation enters. To clearly portray the movements of this knight a new analogy is introduced involving a young lad who is in love with a princess. "The content of his whole life lies in this love, and yet the relationship is one that cannot possibly be brought to fruition, be translated from ideality into reality"(Kierkegaard, pg.71). The young lad does not renounce his love for the princess; he renounces it as a finite possibility. This love is the `content of his whole lifežs reality' and cannot be realized in a finite sense. His love is only possible in a spiritual sense. "Everything is possible spiritually speaking, but in the finite world there is much that is not possible. This impossibility the knight nevertheless makes possible by his expressing it spiritually, but he expresses it spiritually by renouncing it"(Kierkegaard, pg.73). By renouncing, the lad steps out of finitude and enters into the eternal consciousness (infiniteness). Once he makes the movement, in his pain he is reconciled with existence. It's only when the lad steps out of finitude into the infinite, that in his pain [as result of his self-alienation from finitude] he is reconciled with existence; it is precisely because he steps out of the boundaries of his existence that he realizes his existence is a part of finitude. If he cannot find a way back to finitude he will eternally experience incommensurability with finitude; metaphorically, he will appear to all of finitude to be a fish out of water. This is where the Knight of Faith enters.
The Knight of Faith is so much greater than the Knight of Infinite Resignation because he has made the step back to finitude. There is not the slightest crack in his finitude to let the light of the infinite shine through (68). He has made the double movement [from finitude to infinitude back to finitude] so perfectly, there is no sign of his greatness; he looks like a `tax gatherer', a `commoner' (68). He has made this second movement "on the strength of the absurd" (70), and now takes so much pleasure in the finite because he now exists with God's love.
The moment the knight resigned he was convinced of the impossibility, humanly speaking; that was a conclusion of the understanding, and he had energy enough to think it. In an infinite sense, however, it was possible, through renouncing it [as a finite possibility]; but then accepting that [possibility] is at the same time to have given it up, yet for the understanding there is no absurdity in possessing it, for it is only in the finite world that understanding rules and there it was and remains an impossibility. On this the knight of faith is just as clear: all that can save him is the absurd; and this he grasps by faith. Accordingly he admits the impossibility and at the same time believes the absurd...(Kierkegaard, pg.75-6)
Now let's apply the analogy of the young lad and the princess to this difficult passage. The young lad resigns his love for the princess. Let us remember, this love is the content of his life, the young lad let's this love, "...twine itself in countless coils around every ligament of his consciousness..."(Kierkegaard, pg.71). He is this love, and is now convinced of the impossibility of his love for the princess being realized (in a finite sense). However, considered in an infinite sense, it is possible for his love to be realized by renouncing his love, and the following explains why this is. To accept the possibility that his love is possible (in an infinite sense) is at the same time to give up his love (in a finite sense). For the finite, to accept the possibility of an impossibility is absurd, yet for God (who is infinite) there is no absurdity in possessing this love. It is only in the finite world that the young lad's love remains an impossibility, and due to his resignation (making the first movement), the lad is now in the domain of the infinite. It is on the strength of this absurdity [(to possess his love is at the same time to have given it up) and (absurd to us but not to God)] that the lad is now in an absolute relationship with the absolute. Essentially, the lad has faith that for God nothing is absurd; for God, there is no absurdity in possessing something that at the same time has been given up. All that can save the young lad is the absurd, and he grasps this by faith. Thus, it is only because of his faith in the `strength of the absurd' that the lad can enter back into finitude completely (get the princess back in a finite sense). Without faith the lad cannot fully leave the infinite behind; without God becoming part of himself (absolute relationship with the absolute), the lad cannot resume his role in finitude.
Now that the Knight of Infinite Resignation and the Knight of Faith have been defined, for the purposes of my argument I would like to establish why the former is necessary for the latter. To explain this necessity let us look at what Kierkegaard calls the: "teleological suspension of the ethical" (83).
The `teleological suspension of the ethical' is the individual's suspension of the universal/ethical as its telos [end] in favor of something higher (we'll call this God's law). This requires an explanation. There is: the individual; the particular; the universal; and now god's law, in Kierkegaard's adaptation of Hegel's `System'. In most cases, the individual is a particular instance of the universal/ethical and all the individual's actions have their telos in the universal/ethical. In the case of the Knight of Infinite Resignation, the knight suspends the universal/ethical as its telos in favor of God's law. Suspending the universal/ethical is to renounce it, or accept the impossibility of the desired or required situation within the domain of finitude. Thus, the `teleological suspension of the ethical' is to accept the possibility of the impossibility [of renouncing something as a finite possibility]. As explained earlier, to accept the possibility of something while at the same to have given that something up is absurd; but not to God. It takes a Knight of Faith to believe that for God, nothing is absurd. Due to the Knight of Infinite Resignation's original suspension of the ethical/universal the Knight of Faith can take back his particularity on `the strength of the absurd'.
After struggling with Kierkegaard's thoughts, I now lay back in my chair with a cold towel over my eyes, and celebrate my understanding. My thoughts wander a little and I begin thinking I too have a love for a princess and begin repeating the movements of the young lad in the story. I systematize all that is required for this job, and proceed to make the first movement. Suddenly I realize something: I'm annihilated, I get this horrible feeling like I have just been gutted and thrown back into the lake, all of this struggling has been in vain; for I now cannot make the first movement. I shut my eyes, my brain squeezes with all its might, but I cannot renounce. I cannot accept the possibility of the impossibility of my love for the princess in a finite sense. I try with all that I am, but I cannot teleologically suspend the ethical; I see an inkling of the possibility of faith on the strength of the absurd. I'm not agreeing I'll be able to make the infinite movement when I get there, but the possibility of making the movement remains, and this eliminates the impossibility that is necessary to enter into Kierkegaard's paradox of faith. Thus, I discover there is a paradox within the paradox. Kierkegaard's narrative has made it impossible for me to accept the possibility of the impossible. Hence, I cannot make the first movement and cannot become a Knight of Infinite Resignation.
Of course Kierkegaard is no fool, but a brilliant, rational philosopher. He would first object by saying: `you're missing the whole point, you are thinking about this in narrative form, you must renounce the narrative form, and this will allow you to move on'. In other words, I am renouncing my love for the princess, whereas I should be renouncing the possibility of this love in a finite sense. He would present this first objection to test me, to see if I am worthy of his philosophy.
I respect Kierkegaard's brilliance, and proceed to occupy the position that is presented in his objection. I begin to renounce the narrative form. I sit down, erase all thoughts, breath deeply, and proceed to renounce the narrative. As hard as I try, I falter because I cannot `concentrate my whole lifežs content and the meaning of reality in a single wish' (72). Kierkegaard asks me to renounce everything I know [in a universal sense], but I cannot. Somewhere way back in the abyss, condemned to the furthest region of my thoughts is the possibility that I will get it all back due to faith in the strength of the absurd. I beat my thoughts into submission but they will not completely surrender. I realize I cannot will myself to not see a telos, this telos being faith. I cannot absolutely teleologically suspend the ethical. Thus, I cannot make the first movement, and can't become a Knight of Infinite Resignation.
But Kierkegaard would object further: `You are considering faith as relative to the universal, you cannot apply faith to matters that correspond to the universal. I merely used the love of the princess and the lad as an example, to speak of faith in human terms. I respond by saying you cannot consider faith in relation to the universal, therefore it cannot be viewed as a telos'. As Kierkegaard writes: "If one imagines one can be moved to faith by considering the outcome of this story, one deceives oneself, and is out to cheat God of faith's first movement, one is out to suck the life-wisdom out of the paradox" (Kierkegaard, p.66). Presumably, this is why we cannot find an instance of a Knight of Faith. If there was one, he couldn't tell us; for if he at all related to the universal (in respect to faith) he couldn't become a Knight of Faith, because he couldn't make the first movement.
My only recourse here is to accept what Kierkegaard says and realize that only a matter of divine nature, i.e. God requesting the sacrifice of my son, can be related to faith. Nothing that is part of the ethical/universal can be relative to faith. This can only lead me to believe that divine matters are only experienced by the individual [strictly the individual], and that even if I were to experience divine intervention (similar to that experienced by Abraham), I still could not make the first movement properly. I couldn't make this first movement because I would still see faith in the distance. I cannot renounce the ethical, it's all that I am and all that I know. I stand by this belief, unless, this divine experience, that must occur purely subjectively, contains enough courage in itself to give me strength to renounce the universal. But this would require a divine experience to actually occur, and this I am quite skeptical about.
Kierkegaard has conceptualized faith so convincingly that I cannot ignore his insight, but in the process he has convinced me that experiencing faith is contingent on the existence of a divine experience. For the occurrence of a divine experience, there must exist the divine (God). Without proof for godžs existence, with which Kierkegaard fails to present me with, I cannot have faith. Consequently, unwittingly, Kierkegaard has eliminated me from the faith game by convincing me of the concept of faith. Thus, I am excluded from knighthood and will lead a life of mundane, meaningless existence.