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Knowledge and justification


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Soren Kierkegaard - Fear and Trembling - the Absurd


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In Fear and Trembling the Christian existentialist, Soren Kierkegaard, gives an illustration of this problem drawn from a Biblical story of Abraham and Issac. Abraham was only granted a son, Isaac, at a very advanced age his wife, Sarah, was well beyond the age of child-bearing. One day he became convinced that he had to sacrifice Isaac to Jehovah on the mountain in Moriah. He went to do so. At the last moment God presented him with a lamb, and he sacrificed that instead. There is an obvious ethical problem here. Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son that is, to murder him. He was prepared to do this because he believed that he was commanded to do so by God.: "I have no mind to take part in such mindless praise [of Abraham]. If faith cannot make it into a holy deed to murder one's one son, then let the judgement fall on Abraham as on anyone else. If one hasn't the courage to think this thought through, to say that Abraham was a murderer, then surely it is better to acquire that courage than to waste time on underserved speeches in his praise. The ethical expression for what Abraham did is that he was willing to murder Isaac; the religious expression is that he was willing to sacrifce Isaac; but in this contradiction lies the very anguish that can indeed make one sleepless; and yet without that anguish Abraham is not the one he is." If God exists, and if God commanded him to kill his own son, then his actions are the expression of greatest obedience to the will of God; if God does not exist, and Abraham was only deluded in believing that he should kill his own son, then his actions are the expression of a deeply troubled mind. If an angel appeared to Abraham and instructed him to kill his son, then Abraham has the problem of interpreting this sign what is the angel? If it is a real angel and a messenger from God, then he must kill his son; but it is also possible that the angel is a product of his own diseased mind. There is nothing in the sign (the appearance of the angel) that could determine it one way or another. For Kierkegaard, and Existentialists generally, this is the character of all life. We are forced by the necessity to act to make a commitment to an interpretation of life; but the evidence does not force one to act in any given way. The commitment is an act of faith. Existentialists describe this by saying, you believe it on the strength of the Absurd. " ignorance is the precursor of the absurd, the irrational and inexplicable fact that an individual lives in the world he does live in. The absurd is that part of man's situation which is intractable to generalizations or system-making. It is the brute fact that he exists as a concrete thing in the world. To accept the absurd is to accept a paradox, and for this one needs faith." Existentialism is one response to the problem raised by scepticism; it is a response to the absurd situation or paradox that we exist in a world where action is obligatory, but where nothing is certain.
Contents of
Knowledge and justification

1 The distinction between knowledge and belief
2 Unsound, invalid, possible world and fallacy
3 Counterexample, exposing a fallacy
4 Belief and doubt
5 Believing that and knowing that
6 Knowledge and certainty - the tripartite definition of knowledge
7 True, justified belief
8 Plato: The Theaetetus
9 Plato: Forms
10 The possibility of scepticism and categories of belief
11 Global scepticism
12 The Argument from Authority
13 Valid argument, inference and justification
14 Chain of deductive inferences, self-evident truths
15 Sense experience, empiricism
16 The dialectic method, thesis and antithesis
17 Rationalism and empiricism; the Discourse on the Method
18 The Cogito, Reason and Rational Insight
19 Bertrand Russell, Acquaintance
20 Universals, Forms
21 Scepticism, Existentialism and Faith
22 The evil genius argument
23 Existentialism
24 Soren Kierkegaard - Fear and Trembling - the Absurd
25 Foundation for Knowledge
26 Theory of Knowledge, Epistemology and Metaphysics
27 Rationalism, Mathematics and Logic, Innateness
28 Innate Ideas
29 The a priori
30 Truth by convention, Hume and the Method of Doubt
31 Hume and the distinction between belief and knowledge
32 Hume and the definition of belief
33 Truth as a logical operator on sentences
34 The correspondence theory of truth
35 Wittgenstein: On Certainty
36 Wittgenstein and the coherence theory of truth
37 William James and Pragmatism
38 W.V.O. Quine, pragmatism and the Two Dogmas of Empiricism
39 Postivism and pragmatism
40 Pragmatism and utilitarianism
41 Pragmatism and religiion

Related articles: (1) Introduction to Plato, (2) Knowledge and justification