Kierkegaard: Leap of Faith
Kierkegaard is often depicted as an opponent of Hegel and the hegelian philosophers who followed. His criticism is complex, especially since he uses fictitious author names (pseudonymous) and personalities in the critical works (readers of Kierkegaard come to recognize that his styles of writing are important clues to the meanings of his works). For our purpose here we may well say that in Hegel, Kierkegaard sees the epitome of Rationalism. One of Hegel's trademark claims is; "Reason is Reality and that the only reality is Reason." It is this prioritization of reason and objectivity that Kierkegaard challenges.
This passage has the intense poetic expression so characteristic of Kierkegaard's writing, yet a simple survey of contemporary attitudes to suicide shows that he is not far off. Consider the depiction of suicide in much contemporary music (e.g. Marilyn Manson). Just as Kierkegaard suggests, it is a cool, reflective, planned, vision of self-destruction. The intensity and passion is rehearsed and blocked out with a professional stage crew, photographers, and media experts. Kierkegaard's point is that our modern world is thoroughly rationalized. Even apparent acts of random insanity are typically planned for maximum media impact. Little escapes the objectification of the modern eye. Of course, Kierkegaard himself is quite deliberative in his effort to undermine modern rationalism, but his methods cleverly escape easy turing of this criticism upon him. It is as if one does not gain a philosophical theory or position from Kierkegaard (though those are in abundance in his work) as much as a fresh insight and encouragement to personal creativity.
Kierkegaard did not mean to flatly discard objectivity and reason, but he clearly held that objective knowledge and reasoned action are not sufficient to reach the truth. On the rationalist (including empiricism in this meaning) view, when one has all the facts (objective knowledge) and the relevant relations among the facts (rational interpretation), then one has absolute truth. This is where Kierkegaard objects;
In addition to the facts and theories, we must also have the right attitude to the facts - the appropriate relation between the knower and the known. This is a radical requirement. The rational tradition seeks to remove the individual thinker from the equation entirely. Objectivity means that which is independent of any particular point of view. On the modern rational scheme, both science and morality require a strictly impartial perspective. Knowing that no individual is fully capable of such impartiality or objectivity, we construct political decision making systems designed to compensate for the inevitable bias. The pivot point of modern politics, science, and ethics is the nullifying of the individual point of view. This is what Kierkegaard is resisting.
One of his famous quotes is; "Truth is subjectivity." It would be easy to misinterpret that as meaning you can believe whatever you want to believe. That is not the subjectivity Kierkegaard seeks. Selecting beliefs out of convenience is a superficial, consumer-level mode of living. People sometimes justify their beliefs this way saying "it works for me" or "it is my truth" or some such. As I read Kierkegaard, the appropriate slogan would not be It works for me, thus it is true but rather I work for it, thus it is true. The difference is the matter of personal commitment to the truth.
This is not the picture of a convenient subjectivity that supports the comfort of avoiding change. It is a subjectivity that requires reorientation of the self and the acceptance of commitment that makes personal demands. Kierkegaard's phrase that expresses this commitment is the leap of faith. This phrase is frequently used in other ways (i.e. as trust or taking a risk). Kierkegaard meant it in a very specific way. Truth acquired this way is;
A genuine leap of faith will not be a temporary and exchangeable choice. It will be deeply individual, without any guarantee of success, and made with total commitment For Kierkegaard, it is the highest point of individual freedom.
To more fully understand the role of individuality in Kierkegaard's philosophy, read the following excerpt from his Journals titled; "The Crowd is Untruth."