Scattered thoughts inspired by the teaching of Fear and Trembling
Sunday, November 13, 2011 — Adam Kotsko
I had always thought that the “everyday” knight of faith in the Preliminary Expectoration was strangely disproportionate to the extraordinary act of Abraham, but this time around I realized that Abraham’s huge achievement was not to murder his son — surely not an uncommon or extraordinary act.
When I asked the students to compare the “everyday” knight of faith with Augustine’s self-assessment in book X of the Confessions, the first section thought he was only a knight of infinite resignation and the second thought he hadn’t even attained that level yet.
Bruce Rosenstock once said in comments or in an e-mail to me that Hegel believed that the only consolation for modern people was philosopy — we can never have the holistic, harmonious life putatively enjoyed by the Greeks, but at least we’ve reached a point in history where we can “comprehend our era in thought.” If this is an accurate reading of Hegel, perhaps Kierkegaard’s critique is more precise than many seem to think, insofar as “infinite resignation” ultimately means exchanging the realization of your desire for an idealized, eternal, spiritual/intelligible version of it — that is, “infinite resignation” simultaneously negates and preserves the desire. The dialectic of thought can move on from this point in many ways — for instance, by demonstrating how the desire itself was inadequate — but the dialectic of faith moves beyond it in action.
Adam, I’m struck by your second point – I asked students in my Christian Philosophy course this semester to evaluate whether, by Johannes de Silentio’s lights, Augustine is a Knight of Faith. It seems that the overwhelming majority class Augustine as a Knight of Infinite Resignation. Interesting inductive sample there.
On your third point: Karol Wojtyła was a philosopher by training, when he became Pope he told some close friends something along the lines of “I must now leave the search for truth behind, now my job is consolation.”