SUBJECTIVITY IN KIERKEGAARD: A REASSESSMENT

by Steve W. Lemke
A paper presented at the Eastern regional meeting of the Society of Christian Philosophers
at Salem College


        Søren Kierkegaard is often depicted as the paradigmatic subjective thinker. Survey ethics and philosophy textbooks (and some sermons) frequently use Kierkegaard as a convenient model of unqualified subjectivism. This designation is, of course, not without warrant. Kierkegaard consciously sought to counterbalance the objectivism of Hegelian idealism with subjective thinking. His definition of truth was that "An objective uncertainty held fast in an appropriation-process of the most passionate inwardness is the truth, the highest truth attainable for an existing individual" (CUP, 182). He could dare to say, "Subjectivity is the truth" (CUP, 187). (1)

        Kierkegaard's unequivocal emphasis on subjectivity has led some Kierkegaardian scholars, championed by Louis Mackey, to portray Kierkegaard as an antirationalist or irrationalist. Mackey described Kierkegaard's work as "a piece of rhetorical exhortation masquerading as discursive presentation" and as "anti-philosophy." In Mackey's view, Kierkegaard did not merely believe that subjectivity was one important form of truth, or even the ultimate form of truth, but that "subjectivity is alone the truth there is." (2)

        Mackey depicted Kierkegaard as a comical, enigmatic poet. He summed up the Dane's "entire life (as) a retelling--to his journals, to himself, to God, and to posterity--of a grief inexpressibly out of proportion to the events that occasioned it." (3)>  Mackey took Kierkegaard (as distinguished from the views of the pseudonyms) "at his word when he says he has no opinion and proposes no doctrine." (4) Mackey did not regard Kierkegaard's pseudonymous works as "mouthpieces through which Kierkegaard hopes to get a hearing for his views, but fictive personalities whose lives are poetically observed and reported." (5) In fact, "the truth is that Kierkegaard the poet of inwardness did not 'really mean' anything." (6)

        Louis Pojman has led an effort by other Kierkegaardian scholars (7) to point out an objectivist and rationalist pole in Kierkegaard's epistemology. While freely admitting that Kierkegaard's major emphasis was the need for subjective thinking with regard to the Christian faith, Pojman has contended that Kierkegaard attempted to demonstrate that Christianity was "eminently reasonable":

        Kierkegaard is a philosopher, a thinker who uses arguments, develops concepts, and employs "thought
        projects" to establish conclusions. He is a rationalist, who makes use of reason even if it is to show
        reason's limits . . . . He has a message to communicate which is founded in a belief in objective truth. (8)

        Whereas Mackey was inclined to discount Kierkegaard as an irrational poet who had no opinion or doctrine, Pojman finds Kierkegaard's work to be "filled with doctrines." (9)  And whereas Mackey accepted at face value Kierkegaard's self-designation as a humorist and the Dane's disavowals of his pseudonymous works, Pojman took more seriously Kierkegaard's later explanations of his use of many forms of indirect communication in the service of his message. In Pojman's view, Kierkegaard attempted to show the rationality of taking the subjective leap of faith, a leap which Kierkegaard regarded as logically justifiable.

        An interpreter of Kierkegaard must wend one's way through a labyrinth of mirrors: pseudonymous authorship, irony, sarcasm, and exaggeration. The key to Kierkegaardian hermeneutics is when and where one takes him seriously, if ever. With Pojman, I accept Kierkegaard's most prosaic works, his journals and The Point of View for My Work as an Author as my hermeneutical clue. (10)  I agree for the most part with Pojman's understanding of Kierkegaard, for three reasons: Kierkegaard's own disclaimers about the limits of subjectivity, Kierkegaard's expressed intentions of what he was attempting to accomplish, and the logic which underlies Kierkegaard's thought, particularly in the Climacus works. It is not necessary to my thesis to prove that Kierkegaard's logic was necessarily convincing, but simply that he was using rational means to point to what he believed to be objective truth. The different strategies of indirect communication that Kierkegaard used were, I believe, expressions of his larger objective of demonstrating that subjective truth is the rational approach to Christian epistemology.


Kierkegaard's Disclaimers about the Limits of Subjectivity

      The Kierkegaardian corpus (particularly the Climacus works) provide a bevy of familiar quotations which, taken alone, would seem to justify an anti-rationalist interpretation of Kierkegaard:

        Subjectivity is the truth. (CUP, 187)
                        . . . . . . . . . . . .
        . . . the only truth which edifies is truth for you. (E/O 2, 356)
                        . . . . . . . . . . . .
        Faith is precisely the contradiction between the infinite passion of the individual's inwardness and the objective
        uncertainty. (CUP, 182)
                        . . . . . . . . . . . .
        Christianity . . . is subjective; the inwardness of faith in the believer constitutes the truth's eternal decision. And
        objectively there is no truth; for an objective knowledge of the truth of Christianity, or of its truths, is precisely
        untruth. (CUP, 201)
                        . . . . . . . . . . . .
        It is easy to see, though it scarcely needs to be pointed out, since it is involved in the fact that the Reason is set
        aside, that Faith is not a form of knowledge; for all knowledge is either a knowledge of the Eternal . . . or it is
        pure historical knowledge. No knowledge can have for its object the absurdity that the Eternal is historical.
        (PF, 76, c.f. 103, CUP, 30)
                        . . . . . . . . . . . .
        When he stakes his life upon the absurd, he makes the motion in virtue of the absurd, and he is essentially
        deceived in case the absurd he has chosen can be proved to be not the absurd. In case this absurd is
        Christianity, he is a believing Christian; but if he understands it is not the absurd, he is eo ipso no longer a
        believing Christian . . . until he annuls understanding again as an illusion and a misunderstanding, and relates
        himself to the Christian absurd. (CUP, 495-496)
                        . . . . . . . . . . . .
        It is subjectivity that Christianity is concerned with, and it is only in subjectivity that its truth exists, if it exists
        at all; objectively, Christianity has no existence. (CUP, 116)

Kierkegaard saw the incarnation as the "Absolute Paradox" (PF, 46-67) which appeared an "absurdity" (CUP, 182-190), "contradiction" (CUP, 510-511), or "offense" (PF, 61-66, CUP, 518-519) to the reason. A would-be Christian must therefore "endure the crucifixion of the understanding" (CUP, 500). Truth is realized by "He who in truth has given up his understanding and believes against the understanding . . . ." (CUP, 502).

        As convincingly irrationalist as these quotations may appear, Kierkegaard himself placed important qualifications and limits on subjectivity. Kierkegaard qualified his subjectivism significantly by his affirmation of the ultimate objectivity of truth:

        An existential system is impossible. An existential system cannot be formulated. Does this mean that no
        such system exists? By no means; nor is this implied in our assertion. Reality itself is a system--for God;
        but it cannot be a system for any existing spirit. (CUP, 107)
                        . . . . . . . . . . . .
        The eternal essential truth is by no means in itself a paradox; but it becomes paradoxical by virtue of its
        relationship to an existing individual. (CUP, 183)
                        . . . . . . . . . . . .
        Christianity exists before any Christian exists . . . it maintains its objective subsistence apart from all
        believers. (On Authority and Revelation, 168).

Kierkegaard thus does not question the objectivity of truth, but is calling for epistemological humility with claims to that truth. A distinction must be drawn in Kierkegaard's thought between ontology and epistemology. He does not doubt an objective ontology, he simply views that reality as being transcendent of any human's capacity to understand. He makes an objective ontological commitment with epistemological humility. Even after "Christendom" had been demythologized of its speculative graveclothes, a core of objective content remained necessary for Christianity, such as the "nota bene on a page of universal history" (PF, 130) and the objective revelation of the "Teacher" in the "Moment" to the student in the condition of "Error" (PF, 9-33). It was not enough to believe just anything, no matter how passionately, but some objective content was required as the object of faith.

        Kierkegaard further limited his subjectivity by insisting that the epistemological method used must correspond to its object. Kierkegaard did not question the validity of objective thinking when applied to mathematical and scientific inquiry. (11) In a manner analogous to Pascal's doctrine of the three orders and Brunner's law of the closeness of relation, (12) Kierkegaard questioned the appropriateness of objective thinking when applied to Christianity:

        Now if Christianity is essentially something objective, it is necessary for the observer to be objective. But if
        Christianity is essentially subjective, it is a mistake for the observer to be objective. (CUP, 51)

Subjectivity is the appropriate epistemological mode for becoming a Christian because Christian faith is more relational than rational. "The object of faith is not the teaching but the Teacher" (PF, 77). Salvation does not come as the result of a deductive argument, but of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

        Even within Christianity, Kierkegaard felt that objective thinking served a purpose by clarifying doctrine and examining its truthfulness:

        . . . Our treatment of the problem does not raise the question of the truth of Christianity. It merely deals
        with the question of the individual's relationship to Christianity . . . . The objective problem consists of an
        inquiry into the truth of Christianity. The subjective problem concerns the relationship of the individual to
        Christianity. (CUP, 18-20)

Kierkegaard believed that reason could be appropriately used concerning "immanent" metaphysical questions such as immortality and God's existence (Pas, V B 40, commenting on PF, chapter 3). Reason had its limits, for reason alone could not make one a Christian. But when Kierkegaard claims that "Reason cannot advance beyond this point" (PF, 55), he cannot justly be called an irrationalist. He should more accurately be labeled "trans-rationalist" or "super-rationalist." He did not say that reason was useless, but that it has its limits.

        Reason played an important role in Kierkegaard's epistemology in leading the would-be believer to the correct place from which to make the leap of faith. Immediately following the section in Concluding Unscientific Postscript on the "crucifixion of the understanding," Kierkegaard delegated to reason the responsibility of guarding faith from believing in sheer nonsense:

        So the believing Christian not only possesses but also uses his understanding . . . to make sure he believes
        against the understanding. Nonsense therefore he cannot believe against the understanding, for precisely
        the understanding will discern that it is nonsense and will prevent him from believing it . . . . (CUP, 504)

        Kierkegaard disapproved of "subjective madness" which embraced just any "particular finite fixed idea" (CUP, 173-175). Yet he had the confidence that "even if a man were to choose the wrong, he will nevertheless discover precisely by reason of the energy with which he chose, that he had chosen the wrong" (E/O2, 171). Whereas Kierkegaard was confident that dialecticians could not make someone a Christian, dialectics could lead "the individual up to it, and says, 'Here it must be, that I guarantee; when you worship here, you worship God'" (CUP, 438). But Kierkegaard provided no clear rationale of just where the subjective pagan (such as Socrates) who prayed to the wrong God in the right spirit had gone wrong, or how her/his fate differed from that of the objective Christian who prayed to the right God in the wrong spirit (CUP, 179-185, 218-220). This is one of the crucial weaknesses in Kierkegaard's religious epistemology, and one that I believe has led scholars such as Mackey to regard Kierkegaard as an unqualified subjectivist. Perhaps Kierkegaard's setting in nineteenth-century Denmark, in which the Lutheran state church had no significant rivals, may help account for this strange silence about other religions. One can but speculate that Kierkegaard may have qualified his subjectivism much more stringently had he lived in the pluralistic setting of twentieth-century America.

        Some of Kierkegaard's later writings, however, argue for the uniqueness of the biblical revelation. In one of his lesser known but very significant later books, On Authority and Revelation: The Book on Adler, or, A Cycle of Ethico-Religious Essays, (13) Kierkegaard utilized the curious case of Magister Adolph Adler's confrontation with Danish Lutheran authorities as an occasion to insist on the authority of Scripture over religious experience. Kierkegaard distinguished between the genius and the apostle. (14) The genius' contribution is not really new, is in the realm of immanence, has an interior telos, and carries only the author's personal authority; while the apostle has a new contribution, is in the realm of transcendence, has an exterior telos, and carries divine authority. But for Kierkegaard, "the divine authority is the qualitatively decisive factor," for while ". . . a genius is appraised on purely aesthetic grounds,

        . . . the man called by a revelation, to whom was entrusted a doctrine, argues from the fact that this was a
        revelation, from the fact that he has authority. I am not obliged to obey Paul because he is clever or
        exceptionally clever, but I must submit to Paul because he has divine authority . . ." (15)

        So while some would trace the subjectivist erosion of biblical authority through Barth back to Kierkegaard, authority was precisely what Kierkegaard was striving to reaffirm. Despite Kierkegaard's emphasis on the individual, Walter Kaufman asserts, "his protest against his age was centered in a lament over a loss of authority." (16) Karl Barth in his early period carefully distinguished the lineage of thought from "Kierkegaard to Luther and Calvin, and so to Paul and Jeremiah," from that of Schleiermacher, which came from "another ancestral line." (17) Barth's doctrine of biblical authority and his insistence on revealed theology flowed from his conviction of the transcendence of God. Barth's rejection of natural theology resulted from his following Kierkegaard's assertion of "the infinite qualitative distinction between God and man." (18)

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        Some of Kierkegaard's later journal entries reflect that he became concerned that his strong advocacy of subjectivism had been misunderstood. Responding to those who labeled him a subjectivist after the publication of Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Kierkegaard wrote:

        In all that is usually said about Johannes Climacus being purely subjective and so on, people have
        forgotten . . .  that in one of the last sections he shows that the interesting thing is that there is a "how"
        which has the property that when it is present the "what" is also present; and that is the "how" of faith.
        Here quite certainly, we have inwardness at its maximum proving to be objectivity once again.
        (Pas, X A 299)

Kierkegaard thus was confident that "truth manifests itself to the ones who love truth" (Pas, X3 A 438) and that "When the pro 'how' is present, the 'what' is also present" (Pas, X A 299). Faith leads to understanding:

        When the believer has faith, the absurd is not the absurd--faith transforms it, but in every weak moment it
        is again more or less absurd to him. The passion of faith is the only thing which masters the absurd.
        (Pas, X6 B79)

This places Kierkegaard squarely in the mainstream of the integrative or verificationist tradition in Christianity reflected through Augustine, Bonaventure, and Anselm. (19) Far from being an unqualified subjectivist, Kierkegaard is advocating a "faith seeking understanding" model of epistemology. Just as Bonaventure was concerned that Thomistic Scholasticism was placing understanding before faith, so Kierkegaard felt impelled to counterbalance Hegelian idealism.

Kierkegaard's Point of View for His Work as an Author 

        It would certainly be gratuitous to assume to know an author's motivation in what she/he wrote. Even intentions stated by the author may be incorrect. In the case of Kierkegaard, these intentions are even more clouded by his use of a number of literary devices, including pseudonymous authorship, irony, and humor. It is difficult to know just how much of the pseudonymous works reflect Kierkegaard's own views. The pseudonymous authors and even Kierkegaard himself issue repeated disclaimers about their books. Johannes de Silentio presents himself in Fear and Trembling as an "amateur writer who neither writes the System nor promises the System" (FT, 23-24), and as one who cannot become a Knight of Faith like Abraham (FT, 60). Johannes Climacus introduces himself as a "humorist" who "does not make the slightest pretension to share in the philosophical movement of the day" nor even to be a Christian (PF, 3, CUP, 19, 545). Kierkegaard makes the following startling disclaimer at the end of Concluding Unscientific Postscript:

So in the pseudonymous works there is not a single word which is mine, I have no opinion about these works
        except as third son, no knowledge of their meaning except as a reader, not the remotest private relation to
        them. . . (CUP, 551).

        On the other hand, Kierkegaard maintained in his journals and in The Point of View for my Work as an Author that his use of pseudonymous authorship and other means of indirect communication were a conscious effort on his part to match pedagogy with content. (20) Just as Socrates used the maieutic method to prompt his pupil's recollection, Kierkegaard used indirect communication (21) to invite his readers to appropriate the Christian faith personally with passionate subjective inwardness. Which of these stated intentions are we to believe?

        I believe that, despite his protestations to the contrary, Kierkegaard was stating the objective case for a subjective system. By "system" I mean not a system of finality and closure, as Kierkegaard defined it (CUP, 107), but a cohesive, interlocking set of doctrines. Since neither deductive logic nor inductive historical approximation were sufficient alone for religious epistemology, subjective appropriation was necessary. The Kierkegaardian corpus is an elaborate defense of this subjectivist system of doctrines. If this is true, Kierkegaard faced in his authorship a dilemma analogous to that of the philosopher of humor discoursing on comedy. Objective analysis robs humor of its vitality and makes it something other than it really is. In a similar way, Kierkegaard would undermine his own position if he defended subjectivity with purely objective discourse. Pseudonymous authorship, satire, and irony were the tools he used in attempting to escape this dilemma. This was the only way he could present the objective case for a subjective system without conceding to a self-defeating objectivist methodology. Kierkegaard's use of humor was thus consistent with his belief in the infinite qualitative distinction between God and sons, not to mention his perception that Hegelianism took itself far too seriously.

        If I am correct, then contrary to Mackey's assertions, we do see much of Kierkegaard's own doctrine in the pseudonymous works. Of course, the presence of irony and pseudonymous authorship should put the Kierkegaardian interpreter on guard lest she/he should be deceived, and all Kierkegaardian interpretations should be made with tentativeness and humility. This interpretive problem is exacerbated by Kierkegaard's proclivity to exaggerate and overstate his case. Continental rationalism and Hegelian idealism so dominated the educational institutions of Kierkegaard's day that he seemed compelled (perhaps aided by elements in his own personal disposition) to cry out against them as a voice in the wilderness. Just as Socrates had been the gadfly of Athens, Kierkegaard decried the Danish crowd blindly flocking to objectivism. Kierkegaard saw himself as a "corrective" to his own age. (22) When Pastor Boisen complained that Kierkegaard's "Attacks on Christendom" were more severe than reality, Kierkegaard responded, "So it must be; otherwise it does not help." (23) Walter Lowrie reminds us that "exaggeration and one-sidedness are of the very nature of satire," a technique which Kierkegaard used "precisely to shock--into reflection, repentance, and action." (24) In the interest of awakening and reversing what he perceived to be a one-sided pendulum swing toward the objective pole, Kierkegaard sometimes overstated his case.

        One could speculate what Kierkegaard might have said in the contemporary situation in which relativist and subjectivist ethics are more often the rule than the exception. My personal prejudice is to imagine that he would have placed much greater emphasis on objective checks and balances on subjectivity. But we can only interpret him against the backdrop of his own era, which he described with these words: "What our age lacks . . . is not reflection but passion" (FT, 53). It is instructive that Kierkegaard's later writings reflect that he apparently reconsidered his earlier extremism, somewhat modifying his stance on subjectivism (as suggested above). He also became discouraged with both the results and the deception involved in indirect communication, and moved toward more direct communication as in his later religious discourses (Pas, VIII B 81-89).

The Objective Case for Subjectivity

        Louis Pojman (among others) (25) has analyzed at length the logic Kierkegaard uses in building his case for subjective epistemology, particularly in the Climacus works. He finds Kierkegaard reasoning via negativa to eliminate foundational elements of the objectivist's argument. This logic in the service of illogic is seen in Kierkegaard's "uselessness of investigation thesis" regarding history: (26)

        UIT1 -- Historical investigation yields only yields approximations.

        UIT2 -- Approximations are inadequate for faith.

        UIT3 -- Therefore all historical inquiry is inadequate for faith.

Pojman asserts that underlying such arguments in the Climacus works is the "cognitive disjunct thesis" that "there is an exclusive disjunctive relationship between a subjective inquiry and an objective inquiry:" (27)

        CDT1 -- There are two approaches to truth: objective and subjective.

        CDT2 -- The objective approach fails.

        CDT3 -- Therefore, the subjective approach is correct.

Thus when Kierkegaard debunks the ontological argument (PF, 52-53) and the objectivist Grundtvig's "proof of the centuries" argument (CUP, 35-47), he is eliminating what he thinks to be the only alternative to subjectivity. If one accepts his argument, becoming subjective is the only rational thing to do. Of course, one may challenge Kierkegaard's premises, but this misses the point that Kierkegaard is attempting to use rational arguments to build an objective case for subjective truth. If Pojman is correct, Mackey has misrepresented Kierkegaard when he portrays him as merely a humorist or poet with no rational or objective content.

        Pojman has suggested that there are three models for understanding the relationship of subjectivity to eternal truth (28) in Kierkegaard: the Socratic model, the Platonic model, and the auxiliary model. All three arguments agree on the first three premises:

        ET1 -- Either subjective reflection or objective reflection for eternal truth, but not both.

        ET2 -- Objective reflection is inappropriate for eternal truth.

        ET3 -- Therefore use subjective reflection, leading to subjective truth.

        The arguments diverge at this point. In the Socratic (or reduplication) model advocated by Mackey, subjective truth never leads to the eternal truth. Subjectivity is unrelated epistemologically to truth. In the Platonic (metaphysical) model advocated by Pojman, maximal subjective truth regarding metaphysical and ethical propositions guarantees eternal truth. Subjectivity is a sufficient condition for eternal truth. In the auxiliary (necessary condition) model advocated by Pojman's teacher Gregor Malantschuk, subjective truth cannot guarantee eternal truth, but it can lead to eternal truth. Subjectivity is a necessary but not sufficient condition for eternal truth. (29)

        My reading of Kierkegaard leads me to disagree with Pojman at this point, and to opt for the necessary condition model of subjectivity. Although Kierkegaard honored Socrates and the passionately believing pagan for discovering the right "how," he nevertheless said they did not have the right "what" (CUP, 179-184, 218-220). Some objective content (be it ever so small) was also a necessary condition for eternal truth.

        I have argued that although Søren Kierkegaard's primary concern was to demonstrate that genuine Christianity required subjective appropriation by faith, he did place important limits on subjectivity in even religious epistemology. Further, he believed that Christianity was objective truth, and sought to establish by objective logic the reasonableness of subjectivity. Kierkegaard's own disclaimers about the limits of subjectivity, his use of pseudonymous authorship and irony against his Hegelian context, and his use of logic to establish the rationality of subjectivity support this thesis. I believe that this long-neglected objective pole of Kierkegaardian religious epistemology deserves thoughtful reconsideration. (30)

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Primary Sources

Kierkegaard, Søren. Concluding Unscientific Postscript. Translated by David F. Swenson and Walter Lowrie.
        Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968. (Abbreviated as CUP).

______. Either/Or, vols. I and II. Translated by Walter Lowrie. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974.
        (Abbreviated as E/O1 or E/O2).

______. Fear and Trembling. Translated by Walter Lowrie. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974. (Abbreviated as FT).

______. The Journals of Soren Kierkegaard. Translated by Alexander Dru. New York: Oxford University
        Press, 1938. (Abbreviated as Journals).

______. On Authority and Revelation, The Book on Adler, or, A Cycle of Ethico-Religious .
        Translated by Walter Lowrie. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955.
Essays

______. Philosophical Fragments. Translated by David Swenson. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969.
        (Abbreviated as PF).

_______. The Present Age and Of the Difference between a Genius and an Apostle. Translated by
        Alexander Dru, introduction by Walter Kaufman. New York: Harper and Row, 1962.

Secondary Sources

Barth, Karl. The Word of God and the Word of Man. Translated by D. Horton. New York: Harper, 1957.

_______. The Theology of Schleiermacher. Edited by Dietrich Ritschl and translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley.
        Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982.

Bretall, Robert, editor. A Kierkegaard Anthology. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1946.

Brunner, Emil. Natur und Gnade. Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1935.

Craddock, Fred. Overhearing the Gospel. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1978.

Duncan, Elmer. Soren Kierkegaard. Waco: Word Books, 1976.

Edwards, Paul. "Kierkegaard and the 'Truth' of Christianity." Philosophy 46 (April 1971), 99-101.

Fabro, Cornelio. "Faith and Reason in Kierkegaard's Dialectic, A Kierkegaard Critique Edited by
        Howard Johnson and Niels Thulstrup. Chicago: Gateway Books, 1967.

Lowrie, Walter. Kierkegaard. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1938.

Lescoe, Francis J. Existentialism: With or Without God. New York: Alba House, 1974.

Mackey, Louis. Kierkegaard: A Kind of Poet. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971.

Michalson, Gordon E., Jr. Lessing's "Ugly Ditch": A Study of Theology and History. University Park:
        The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1985.

Pascal, Blaise. Pensees. Translated by Leon Brunschwicg. Paris: Nelson, 1932.

Pojman, Louis P. "Kierkegaard on Justification of Belief." International Journal for Philosophy 8 (#2, 1977), 75-93.of
        Religion

______. The Logic of Subjectivity: Kierkegaard's Philosophy of Religion. University, AL: University
        of Alabama Press, 1984.

Stack, George J. Kierkegaard's Existential Ethics. University, AL: The University of Alabama Press, 1977.

Taylor, Mark. Journeys to Selfhood: Hegel and Kierkegaard. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.

Thompson, Josiah, editor. Kierkegaard: A Collection of Critical Essays. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books,
        1972.

Torrance, Thomas. Karl Barth: An Introduction to His Early Theology, 1910-1931. London:  SCM Press,
        1962.


Kierkegaardian Passages Suggesting Objective Limits on Pure Subjectivity

"An existential system is impossible. An existential system cannot be formulated. Does this mean that no such system exists? By no means; nor is this implied in our assertion. Reality itself is a system--for God; but it cannot be a system for an existing spirit." (CUP, 107)

"The eternal essential truth is by no means in itself a paradox; but it becomes paradoxical by virtue of its relationship to an existing individual." (CUP, 183)

". . .our treatment of the problem does not raise the question of the truth of Christianity. It merely deals with the question of the individual's relationship to Christianity . . . . The objective problem consists of an inquiry into the truth of Christianity. The subjective problem concerns the relationship of the individual to Christianity." (CUP, 18-20)

"So the believing Christian not only possesses but also uses his understanding . . . to make sure he believes against the understanding. Nonsense therefore he cannot believe against the understanding, for precisely the understanding will discern that it is nonsense and will prevent him from believing it. . . ." (CUP, 504)

[Kierkegaard disapproved of] "subjective madness" [which embraced just any] "particular finite fixed idea" (CUP, 173-175)

" . . . even if a man were to choose the wrong, he will nevertheless discover precisely by reason of the energy with which he chose, that he had chosen the wrong." (E/O2, 171)

[Dialectics is useful because it leads] "the individual up to it, and says, 'Here it must be, that I guarantee; when you worship here, you worship God.'" (CUP, 438)

"In all that is usually said about Johannes Climacus being purely subjective and so on, people have forgotten . . . that in one of the last sections he shows that the interesting thing is that there is a 'how' which has the property that when it is present the 'what' is also present; and that is the 'how' of faith. Here quite certainly, we have inwardness at its maximum proving to be objectivity once again." (Papers, X A 299)

"When the believer has faith, the absurd is not the absurd--faith transforms it, but in every weak moment it is again more or less absurd to him. The passion of faith is the only thing which masters the absurd." (Papers, X6 B 79)


The Logical Case for Subjectivity


The "Uselessness of Investigation Thesis" Regarding History

        UIT1 -- Historical investigation yields only yields approximations.

        UIT2 -- Approximations are inadequate for faith.

        UIT3 -- Therefore all historical inquiry is inadequate for faith.


The "Cognitive Disjunct Thesis"

        CDT1 -- There are two approaches to truth: objective and subjective.

        CDT2 -- The objective approach fails.

        CDT3 -- Therefore, the subjective approach is correct.


The "Eternal Truth" Argument

        ET1 -- Either subjective reflection or objective reflection for eternal truth,  but not both.

        ET2 -- Objective reflection is inappropriate for eternal truth.

        ET3 -- Therefore use subjective reflection, leading to subjective truth.


Three Models of Kierkegaardian Epistemology

        Socratic (reduplication model [Mackey]--Subjectivity is unrelated epistemologically to truth.

        Platonic (metaphysical) model [Pojman]--Subjectivity is a sufficient condition for eternal truth.

        Auxiliary (necessary condition) model [Malantschuk]--Subjectivity is a necessary but not sufficient
                condition for eternal truth.



1. This paper will follow the standard abbreviations in Kierkegaardian studies. See the bibliography for complete bibliographical data. . Ibid., 97. Louis Pojman, The Logic of 

2. Louis Mackey, Kierkegaard: A Kind of Poet (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971), ix, c.f. chap. 6.

3. Louis Mackey, "The Poetry of Inwardness," in Kierkegaard: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Josiah Thompson (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1972), 1.

4. Ibid., 61-62.

5. Ibid., 90

6.

7. For instance, George Stack supports a more objectivist reading of Kierkegaard by saying: "The often misrepresented notion that 'truth is subjectivity' . . . does not mean, as some critics of Kierkegaard and existentialism have maintained, that all truth is subjective or that the only truth that man can know is subjective truth. Kierkegaard is not the converse of the logical positivist who avers only 'truths' that are either logical truths or verified (or, more humbly, 'confirmed') empirical assertions. It was a corrective to the tendency to deny the validity of the subjective perspective or to relegate it to fantasy, reverie, or an inconsequential, irrelevant domain." [George J. Stack, Kierkegaard's Existential Ethics (University, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1977), 172]. While Paul Edwards accuses Kierkegaard of convoluted logic in his advocacy of subjective truth [Paul Edwards, "Kierkegaard and the 'Truth' of Christianity," Philosophy 46 (April 1971), 99-101], Elmer Duncan has ably defended the rationality of Kierkegaard's view against Edwards' charges in Elmer H. Duncan, Søren Kierkegaard (Waco: Word Books, 1976), 107-112.

8. 3. Søren Kierkegaard, quoted in Bretall, A Kierkegaard Anthology, 435.