Sunday, April 11, 2010

Is There a Teleological Suspension of...the Individual?

We talked a lot in class about how the story of Abraham includes a teleological suspension of the ethical. Let’s walk through it, mostly for my benefit of explaining it to myself. Abraham decides to sacrifice his son, Isaac, to God. Human sacrifice is one of the more blatant as well as attention-grabbing violations of the Ethical realm. But, because of his absolute relation to the absolute—that is, God directly speaking to him and telling him to do it—the entire ethical realm is suspended. Thus we call Abraham a knight of faith instead of a filicidal psychopath (though the latter is hands-down way more fun to say).
We also talked a great deal about the tragic hero, mostly how Kierkegaard contrasts him with the knight of faith. While the knight of faith’s actions cause a teleological suspension of the Ethical, it seems to me that the tragic hero’s actions cause a teleological suspension of the Individual. The tragic hero performs some noble deed that benefits the Universal realm, whether it be his country or village or bowling team, at the expense of the Individual realm. The tragic hero personally endures suffering that is at least in part undeserved. Example time!
Let’s go with Agamemnon for this one, not only because Kierkegaard mentions him in Fear and Trembling but also because his predicament is somewhat similar: he sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia to the Gods. However, his reason for doing so lies in the Universal. Slaying Iphigenia appeases the goddess Artemis and allows the Greek fleet to sail. In terms of the Individual realm alone, Agamemnon’s actions appear ludicrous. Killing one’s own daughter tends not to lie in one’s individual interests, at least not here. Most of the time it would lead to great emotional suffering and grief. But Agamemnon doesn’t do this for himself, he does it for the good of his country, so that the Achaean troops can sail to Troy. Even though he must endure great personal suffering in killing his own daughter, the citizens and troops of Greece benefit en masse, facilitating a war in which they do fairly well for themselves. This story therefore includes a teleological suspension of the Individual; Agamemnon’s actions transcend this realm and relate solely to the Universal. That’s why we (well, actually not we, since we didn’t benefit from Iphigenia getting summarily offed. Let’s go with the Greek people) call him a hero and man of valor instead of a filicidal masochist.
But we don’t get an absolute relation to the absolute here. The corresponding relation that I guess would exist in this example would be a Universal relation to the Universal? This is the part of the comparison for which I don’t really have an answer, and it’s also the part that starts to make my brain hurt. Therefore I’m going to stop writing. Peace.

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