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Kierkegaard On Courage - before and after God

Clare Carlisle explores the contemporary relevance of Kierkegaard's ethics.

In his 1843 book Fear and Trembling, Søren Kierkegaard presents a provocative discussion of the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac. Some readers are shocked by Kierkegaard’s apparent approval of Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice his son at God’s command, especially as this suggests alarming parallels with the actions of religious terrorists. However, careful reading of Fear and Trembling shows that this response is too hasty.

This lecture will examine the important – but often overlooked – role of courage in Kierkegaard’s account of Abraham’s faith. Courage is one of the traditional ethical virtues, but for Kierkegaard a certain kind of courage has a special place in the Christian life. However, this virtue is not confined to a religious context. Fear and Trembling emphasises features of human existence that call for courage: finitude, vulnerability, uncertainty, and deep attachments to other mortal beings. For Kierkegaard, it takes courage to love another person, and this makes it a universal human virtue. In fact, living without God may require even more courage than living with belief in God. Furthermore, in our present age the fast pace of change and the dissolution of traditional shared values make courage more important than ever for those who want to hold on to the idea of an ethical life.

Claire Carlisle's (KCL) research interests converge at the interface between Philosophy and Theology: she is currently working on the philosophy of habit; Spinoza's ontology; and Kierkegaard's phenomenology of religious life. She is a member of the British Society for the History of Philosophy, and the Søren Kierkegaard Society of the UK.


Dr Clare Carlisle | talks


Date and Time:

13 November 2011 at 11:00 am


2 hours



Conway Hall
Conway Hall
25 Red Lion Square
0207 242 8034

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£3 on the door/free to SPES members.

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