Kierkegaard Against the Ethics of Aristotle

We are concentrating on Fear and Trembling here, which I am teaching in an Ethics course.

For Kierkegaard, Aristotle defines something accurately, that is the Ethics of the Ancient world. In Fear and Trembling, he does this more with reference to Arisotle’s Poetics rather than the Nichomachean Ethics, or any other of Aristotle’s texts on Ethics.

What Kierkegaard concentrates on in Fear and Trembling is the recognition of the sin of the tragic hero. There is disclosure and recognition through necessity beyond the control of the hero. Oedipus’ tragic error is revealed not by his confession but by the plagues which assault Thebes, where he is King.

For Kierkegaard, Aristotle defines a view in which the individual is not responsible for sin. It is the nation, the family or fate. Greek tragedy in Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides, shows that a sin is inherited from the family , or fate makes the sin inevitable, as when Oedipus actions to avoid the prophecy of his sin, leads to that sin.

In the modern world, it is clear that the individual is responsible for guilt, bears sin. The idea that ethics may contain conflict between the individual and the universal, for the social good, is replaced by an extreme of individual responsibility. The şissue of sin becomes harder to bear than the ethics derived from social habit in Aristotle.

Ethics must refer to subjectivity, Aristotle detracts from that in his view of humans governed by fate. The difficult situation that must be faced now is the melancholic within. The real anxiety we have to face now, on or own, is the need to have faith which will enable us to endanger another person with our melancholia. We can overcome melancholia as an expression of subjectivity that can only see itself as contingent. That may require silence and an inner suffering, which cannot be explained to another person. The universality of Aristotle’s ethics is replace by the bond that exists between the melancholic person and the person who might be a sacrifice to that melancholia. The melancholia that mişght lead us to think, Like Abraham that God has commanded him to kill Isaac . Ethics at its highest rests on a subordination of universal rules to the inner struggle to find the absolute within the contingency of the self.

Ethics at its highest is not obeying rules, it is developing the self that rises above itself in the dialectic of the absurd, in the passion for paradox, with regard to the actions in which the subject becomes ethical in the strongest sense. The self that can be ethical must emerge from the paradoxes of subjectivity. The self that is ethical because it has the capacity to be unethical. Ethics emerges fully when we take the risk that the unethical will destroy in our relations with others.

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