Book Summary: Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard

Is there a motivation to drive our decisions than aesthetics and ethics? How can faith help us achieve our goals without compromising nature?

Anmol Mohan


For those who are not familiar with the story of Abraham, here is a super condensed version:

Abraham was a ruler in the ancient world. But unfortunately, he did not have any heirs, and he was concerned that once he died, there would be no one to continue his legacy.

After praying to God for several years, 70-year-old Abraham finally gets a son Issac. Everything was great till God came to Abraham and asked him to sacrifice Issac by taking him to Mount Moriah.

Abraham takes Issac without telling anyone about what is going on. Upon reaching, he sets the stage to kill Issac. But God intervenes at the last moment, saves Issac, and grants Abraham that his legacy will be continued throughout the world.


"Innocence is the only defense in the modern world" is what the author claims with undying conviction in his book. Yet he chooses the story of Abraham willingly sacrificing his only son Issac as a means to understand what faith is.

There is a paradox at the heart of this book. Metaphorically and Literally.

Soren Kierkegaard wants to understand what faith is.

He thinks there is no better expression of faith than Abraham's story from the old testament.

Author's Beliefs

Kierkegaard doesn't believe that he understands faith and keeps repeating this throughout the book. That's why he is so fascinated with the story of Abraham.

He believes that Abraham made an extraordinary choice by accepting to sacrifice of his only son.

He thinks a paradox is at the heart of his story that is challenging to see. Many people might misjudge Abraham by comparing him with tragic heroes of our generation who also sacrificed their love to help the world.

Kierkegaard doesn't believe that is what is happening with Abraham. Consequently, he wants to rationally explore his situation piece-by-piece and compare it with other tragic heroes so that the paradox in his case can be unearthed.

That he believes is the path to understanding faith.

Kierkegaard's Approach

He doesn't think that what Abraham did had any aesthetic value. Because it was not making him or anyone he cared about happy. This much is pretty evident.

Then there is a long debate about the ethical duties of Abraham and their repercussions. He had a moral responsibility to love his son, and he could not sacrifice him like a piece of money since we do not have ethical duties to care for our money.

Kierkegaard views Abraham's behavior as unethical since he did not say anything about his decision to his wife or son. He compares his behavior with other tragic heroes and draws a contrast. He stresses that for tragic heroes, the sacrifice is all about the greater good, which is clear. However, this is not apparent in the case of Abraham.

But rather than condemning Abraham's behavior for both a lack of aesthetic and ethical motivation, the author points to a different kind of motivation, namely religious. Kierkegaard stresses that while aesthetics and ethics can describe the rules of our society, they fail to consider the relationship with the spirit realm. If someone truly has that bond with the spirit realm, actions like Abraham's might find a justification.


Kierkegaard doesn't understand Abraham. Yet, he keeps stressing his admiration for Abraham while accepting that he may be unable to do what Abraham did in his position.

All Kierkegaard points out is that there has to be something more to our world that meets the eye with aesthetics and reason with ethics.

He doesn't know what it is. It may not be something that can be learned but only experienced. He opens our minds to the possibility of faith. And if someone goes down that possibility, they may experience the highest human virtue, even beyond love and passion.

What Abraham did is only possible if an individual is in an absolute relation with the absolute. I don't know what that means. And that is the point that Kierkegaard wants to make.

Why is it essential for us to

Our life is nothing but a series of decisions. Our decisions are always limited by the possibilities we see. Our knowledge, beliefs, and habits determine our possibilities.

Kierkegaard wants to open us up to the possibilities that come with faith. He believes that faith is a way of making better life decisions. Something that can help us get what we want, not by virtue of being human but by virtue of the absurd (unknown/future/unexplainable).

If we want to explore those possibilities and bring them into our decision-making, is for every reader to decide. Personally, I would like to explore how innocence is the only defense and how it can be used instead of shrewdness to achieve our goals in a way still better aligned with the practices of nature.

Book Summary

Anmol Mohan

I am just trying to make sense of this world. I am interested in the hardest puzzles like Consciousness, Humanity and Multiverse. Sharing my honest learning during this journey.