Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Truth as Subjectivity in the Theology of Kierkegaard: Part 2


This preceding biographical sketch must serve as context for Kierkegaard’s theology, and indeed he would have it no other way. For him, this is the only way it even can be discussed. In his Journals, Kierkegaard explains his calling thus,

“The purpose of my life would seem to be to express the truth as I discover it, but in such a manner that it is completely devoid of authority. By having no authority, by being seen by all as utterly unreliable, I express the truth and put everyone in a contradictory position where they can only save themselves by making truth their own.”

The objectivity claimed by so many Enlightenment thinkers is thoroughly rejected by Kierkegaard, who instead claims and embraces his own subjectivity. It should be noted, however, that Kierkegaard does not so much seem to question the existence of an “objective truth” as we would define that term, but rather seems to question (a) our ability to access that truth in an objective manner, and (b) the relevance of any “truth” accessed in such a way to the individual and the world. Kierkegaard believes that it is not our consideration of a thing that matters, but rather the decisions we make in relation to the thing in question. In the voice of Johannes Climacus, he explains,

“Objectively we consider only the matter at issue, subjectively we have regard to the subject and his subjectivity; and behold, precisely this subjectivity is the matter at issue. This must constantly be borne in mind, namely, that the subjective problem is not something about an objective issue, but is the subjectivity itself. For since the problem in question poses a decision, and since all decisiveness…inheres in subjectivity, it is essential that every trace of an objective issue should be eliminated. If any such trace remains, it is at once a sign that the subject seeks to shirk something of the pain and crisis of the decision; that is, he seeks to make the problem to some degree objective.”

Here we get to the heart of Kierkegaard’s concept of subjectivity and its importance. When a concept or idea is considered in the abstract, that’s all it is: an abstract concept. It is in no sense “reality”. A thing can only be real or true when a decision is made and we engage the thing subjectively. This flies in the face of philosophers like Kant and Hegel. Theologically, Kierkegaard’s claim seems to be that their objectively observed god is no God at all. He doesn’t, and indeed can’t exist as such. Their faith of “reason” isn’t “true” because it is devoid of subjectivity and decision…it is simply the result of presumably pure, objective reason. Under the pseudonym of Anti-Climacus in The Sickness Unto Death, Kierkegaard tells a parable that expresses his feelings about those philosophers who seek to objectively reflect on reality. He explains that it is as if they build an immaculate palace, all the while unaware that they do not personally live in their beautiful construction, but rather in a barn or a dog kennel beside it. Kierkegaard appears to accuse them of effectively removing themselves from reality.

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