Wednesday, 9 May 2007

The Teleological Suspension of the Objective

Fear and Trembling sets forth Soren Kierkegaard's attack on the absolute ethical system of Hegel. Using the example of the biblical patriarch Abraham (whom God tested by asking to sacrifice his own son Isaac), Kierkegaard shows how an individual can, through religious faith and a personal relationship with God, suspend the normally absolute code of ethics. Thereby, acts which normally - from an objective standpoint, would be considered immoral, in fact entail no evil; and because they are not comprehensible from a logical viewpoint, only from the 'absurdity' of irrational faith, they transcend the universal code and establish faith as the basis for something far more important than the everyday 'rules' of life.

The most important implication of Kierkegaard's teleological suspension of the ethical (as it is called), is not in its new, faith-based attitude toward morality: it is in the possibility of the particular ascending above the universal.

Kierkegaard does not dispose of the universal (as later existentialists would); he does not strip reality down to a purely subjective experience, meaning and truth inscribed only from the pen of the individual. He accepts that the universal is there as guide and rule. There is indeed a perfect form against which everything must be judged. We, the particular, the individual in manifestation, stand perpetually in relation to the awesome form of the Absolute. But this relation is not insusceptible to change - for the fluid power of particularity can at times break it banks and overcome the iron hand of objective Truth. At these times reality is turned inside out, and individual experience takes the upper hand, the power of A Mind, My Mind, reaches up and over the staticity of Mind the Form, and we realise the imperfection of that which is prefect. For the Absolute cannot change, has no ebb and flow, it has no power of adaptation. The personal only can approach and be influenced by situation, and in this way its imperfection is the very thing which makes it perfect.

And this in some small way is the meaning of life - that to be an individual, no matter how weak, corrupt and ephemeral we are, tossed between the hands of destiny and lost in the flow of statistic and chemical interchange, we still can overcome all of reality, and place ourselves above that which defines truth; we can, by means of subjectivity, rewrite the rules of reality.

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