chapter  8
10 Pages

Did Napoleon Teleologically Suspend the Ethical? A Dilemma for some 'Hegelian' Readings of Fear and Trembling

WithRyan S. Kemp

I argue that (i) a good interpretation of Fear and Trembling’s notion of a ‘teleological suspension of the ethical’ must characterize it as a move that Hegel cannot endorse and (ii) a recent and influential interpretation fails to do this. It fails because it misunderstands the scope of ‘Hegelian ethics.’ While the latter is instantiated in concrete historical communities, not all historical communities are ‘ethical’ in the relevant sense. Even Hegel thinks that some people (so-called ‘world historical agents’) can justifiably transgress local ethical norms. This makes the world historical agent an important test case. If Abraham’s suspension of the ethical is not distinct from Napoleon’s, then Hegel can do precisely what the author of Fear and Trembling so vehemently denies: he can account for Abraham.