References

Kierkegaard: The Passionate Individual
From Garth Kimmerling's rich pages with many links to key ideas and people.

D. Anthony Storm's Commentary
A unique collection of notes on Kierkegaard's works and ideas.  See both the Commentaries  and Primer sections.

Søren Kierkegaard Introduction
Informative Danish site with text by Peter P. Rohde

Existentialism: An Introduction
A well produced set of resources by Christopher Scott Wyatt, who emphasizes that his writing "should not be used as a study guide."  I think that he means that one should use all available resources, but always think for yourself!

 

 

 

Kierkegaard: Leap of Faith

"The transparency of thought in existence is inwardness."
[Concluding Unscientific Postscript]

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. 

"0ur age is essentially one of understanding and reflection, without passion, momentarily bursting into enthusiasm, and shrewdly relapsing into repose. . . . Nowadays not even a suicide kills himself in desperation. Before taking the step he deliberates so long and so carefully that he literally chokes with thought. It is even questionable whether he ought to be called a suicide, since it is really thought which takes his life. He does not die with deliberation but from deliberation."
[Our Present Age]

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;

"What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act. . . . [T]he crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, and to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die. Of what use would it be to me to discover a so-called objective truth, to work through the philosophical systems so that I could, if asked, make critical judgments about them, could point out the fallacies in each system; of what use would it be to me to be able to develop a theory of the state, . . . and constructing a world I did not live in but merely held up for others to see; of what use would it be to me to be able to formulate the meaning of Christianity . . . if it had no deeper meaning for me and for my life?" [Journals]

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.

"When we objectively investigate the truth, we reflect objectively about the truth as an object to which we are related. We do not reflect upon the relationship, but upon the fact that it is the truth--the truth to which we are related. When this to which we are related merely is the truth, the true, then the subject is in the truth. When we subjectively investigate the truth, we reflect subjectively upon the relationship of the individual; only when the how of this relationship is in truth, is the individual in truth, even if he is thus related to the untrue." [Fear and Trembling]

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. 

"Most people are subjective toward themselves and objective toward all others, frightfully objective sometimes--but the task is precisely to be objective toward oneself and subjective toward all others." [Works of Love]

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;

"An objective uncertainty, held fast through appropriation with the most passionate inwardness, is the truth, the highest truth there is for an existing person."
[Concluding Unscientific Postscript]

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."

Next - The Crowd is Untruthlink to Augustine on faith

 

 

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