The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard devoted much of his philosophical writing to his own struggles with faith. Perhaps one of the few modern Christian apologists, Kierkegaard contributed much to modern philosophical Christianity, and one of his best known ideas is the concept of the teleological suspension of the ethical.
What Is The Teleological Suspension of the Ethical?
Teleology is the belief in and study of “final causes” in nature and is often associated with Christian and religious philosophy. Thus, in Kierkegaard’s case, the teleological suspension of the ethical refers to an abandonment of normal religious beliefs in favor of the “final cause” or “ultimate cause” of God’s will. In this teleological suspension of the ethical, normal moral and ethical dictates are abandoned in favor of an absolute and unquestioning faith in God.
Abraham and Isaac
Kierkegaard’s prototypical study in the teleological suspension of the ethical involves the Biblical characters of Abraham and Isaac. God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, a dictate that obviously is in stark contrast to moral norms about murder and parental love and protection. However, Kierkegaard believes that there is a higher authority than ethical norms and that Abraham was answering to this higher authority in God. Thus Abraham committed a teleological suspension of the ethical and did the right thing in being willing to sacrifice Isaac in order to please God.
The Teleological Suspension of the Ethical and Moral Development
It is important to note that Kierkegaard does not condone performing immoral actions and claiming they were in the name of God. He argues that a person must first recognize, understand, and embrace social norms and normal ethical dictates in order to reach a moral level where they are able to follow a higher power in the form of God. Being able to engage in a teleological suspension of the ethical is the highest level of moral development for Kierkegaard and therefore Abraham is an admirable character, even though what he did with Isaac may seem troubling at first glance.
Soren Kierkegaard- Fear and Trembling
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy