Kierkegaard: Subjectivity is Truth

Kierkegaard“The subjective thinker is not a man of science, but an artist. Existing is an art. The subjective thinker is aesthetic enough to give his life aesthetic content, ethical enough to regulate it, and dialectical enough to penetrate it with thought.”(1974, 314)

“What is truth?” asked Pontius Pilate. “Subjectivity is truth,”(1987, 203) answered Søren Kierkegaard. For so long I misunderstood Kierkegaard. My love-hate-relationship with this brilliant Danish thinker underwent an existentialistic crisis. Re-reading Kierkegaard’s works in their proper historical background made me realise how I misunderstood him. My “hate” in my love-hate-relationship with him was based on misunderstanding. This article attempts to explore one of the Kierkegaardian ideas, namely subjectivity, which I once misunderstood.

Kierkegaard’s works can easily be misunderstood if not read within their proper context. Two clear examples are:  “Objectively, there is no truth”(1941, 201) and “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 absolutely no existence”(ibid. 116). Prima facie it seems that Kierkegaard is denying the objectiveness of truth and Christianity. This article aim to show that this is not the case. It argues that a relativistic understanding of subjectivity in Kierkegaard’s writings, which streamed existentialistic restoration of primitive Christianity from Danish State Church’s Christendom, would be misunderstanding his whole project all together.

Kierkegaard basic rejection of objectivity could be summed up in one  of his sentences; “objective thought has no relation to the existing subject”(1941, 112).  Holding on of objective truths of Christianity does not make an existing individual a genuine Christian. Majority of Danes, in Kierkegaard’s time, did that. The problem was what they believed did not affect them as existing individuals. Their daily lives were undistinguished from pagans.  The Hegelian systematic and objective Christianity did not affect existing individuals daily life. It did not generate passion for Danes to fully commit themselves to. Kierkegaard’s project was purely to address this issue. For him, “Christianity is spirit, spirit is inwardness, inwardness is subjectivity, subjectivity is essentially passion, and in its maximum an infinite personal, passionate interest in one’s eternal happiness.” (1974, 33) Continue reading

Kierkegaard: The Folly of Proving God’s Existence


Let us call the unknown God. It is only a name we give to it. Now it hardly occurs to the understanding to want to demonstrate that this unknown exists. If, namely, God does not exist, then of course it is impossible to demonstrate it. But if he does exist, then it is also foolishness to want to demonstrate it, for in the very moment the demonstration commences, you would presuppose his existence. Otherwise you would not be­ gin, easily perceiving that the whole thing would be impossible if he did not exist.

One never reasons in conclusion to existence, but reasons in conclusion from existence. For example, I do not demonstrate that a stone exists but that something, which exists, is a stone. The court of law does not demonstrate that a criminal exists but that the accused, who does indeed exist, is a criminal. Whether you want to call existence an addition or the eternal presupposition, it can never be demonstrated.

If, for example, I wanted to demonstrate Napoleon’s exist­ence from his works, would this not be most curious? Isn’t it Napoleon’s existence which explains his works, not his works his existence? To prove Napoleon’s existence from his works I would have in advance interpreted the word “his” in such a way as to have assumed that he exists. Moreover, because Napoleon is only a human being, it is possible that someone else could have done the same works. This is why I cannot reason from the works to his existence. If I call the works Napoleon’s works, then the demonstration is superfluous, for I have already mentioned his name. If I ignore this, I can never demonstrate from the works that they are Napoleon’s. At least I cannot guarantee that they are his. I can only demonstrate that such works are the works of, say, a great general. However, with God there is an ab­solute relation between him and his works. If God is not a name but a reality, his essence must involve his existence.

God’s works, therefore, only God can do. Quite correct. But, then, what are God’s works? The works from which I want to demonstrate his existence do not immediately and directly ex­ist. Are the wisdom in nature and the goodness or wisdom in governance right in front of our noses? Don’t we also encounter terrible tribulations here? How can I demonstrate God’s exist­ence from such an arrangement of things? Even if I began, I would never finish. Not only that, I would be obliged to con­tinually live in suspense lest something so terrible happen that my fragment of demonstration would be ruined.

The fool says in his heart that there is no God, but he who says in his heart or to others: Just wait a little and I will prove it to you – ah, what a rare wise man he is! If, at the moment he is supposed to begin the demonstration, it is not totally unde­cided whether God exists or not, then, of course, he cannot demonstrate it. And if that is the situation in the beginning, then he will never make a beginning – partly for fear that he will not succeed, because God may not exist, and partly because he has nothing with which to begin.

In short, to demonstrate the existence of someone who al­ready exists is the most shameless assault. It is an attempt to make him ludicrous. The trouble is that one does not even sus­pect this, that in dead seriousness one even regards it as a godly undertaking. How could it occur to anyone to demonstrate that God exists unless one has already allowed himself to ignore him?

A king’s existence is demonstrated by way of subjection and submissiveness. Do you want to try and demonstrate that the king exists? Will you do so by offering a string of proofs, a series of arguments? No. If you are serious, you will demonstrate the king’s existence by your submission, by the way you live. And so it is with demonstrating God’s existence. It is accomplished not by proofs but by worship. Any other way is but a thinker’s pious bungling.

Written by Søren Kierkegaard: Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard. Compiled and Edited by Charles E. Moore p. 74-76

Copyright 2011 by The Plough Publishing House. Used with permission. [Photography added]

Time To (Dis)agree with Kierkegaard: Unlike Kierkegaard, I think it is possible to try to demonstrate that God exist by offering a series of arguments and at the same time demonstrate that God exist by way of subjection and submissiveness, namely my life ought to reflect what I hold to be true. I will respond Kierkegaard case showing why I think it is both.

Question: What say you? Did Kierkegaard succeed in showing that it is folly to prove that God exist?

Kierkegaard: God Has No Cause

KierkegaardThere are those who talk about God’s cause, and about wanting to serve that cause. This is all very fine, but how, exactly, is this to be interpreted? The common view thinks that God has a cause in the human sense of the word, that he is some kind of advocate, interested in having his cause win and there­ fore eager to help the person who would serve his cause, and so forth. If we follow this line of thinking God becomes a minor character who arrives at the embarrassing dilemma of needing human beings.

No, no! God has no cause, is no advocate in this sense. For God everything is infinitely nothing. Any second he wills it, every­ thing, including all opposition to his cause, becomes nothing. Wanting to serve God’s cause can never mean the same thing as coming to his aid. No, to serve God’s cause is to face examina­tion. If someone wants to serve his cause, it is not God who loses his balance and sublimity; no, he fixes his attention upon this volunteer – observantly – and sees how he conducts him­ self, whether he has integrity and resolve. Because God is not interested in temporal causes, because he is infinitely the con­quering Lord, precisely for that reason he examines. He is quite able to accomplish his will alone.

This is why the more one is involved with God the more rig­orous everything becomes. It is out of God’s infinite love that he involves himself with every human being. The very fact that God permits evil people to thrive in this world is a mark of his infinite majesty. Do you not understand this frightful punish­ment, that God overlooks them? God’s punishment is upon those he chooses to have nothing more to do with. And yet he always accomplishes what he wills.

We usually think that when we honestly want to serve God’s cause, God will also help us along. Well, how? In a material way? By a successful outcome, prosperity, earthly advantage, or the like? But in that case everything gets turned around and it no longer remains God’s cause but a finite endeavor. Besides, maybe I am only a cunning fellow, who really does not want to serve God but in a deceptive, pious way to cheat God to my ad­ vantage. Perhaps I even think that God is in a bind and is made happy as soon as someone volunteers to serve his cause. Utter nonsense and blasphemy! No, God is spirit – and our task is to be transformed into spirit. But spirit is absolutely opposed to being related to God by way of temporal benefits. Such is God’s sublimity – and yet this is the infinite love of God!

Yes, infinite love, so infinite that God desires to involve him­ self with every human being, with every weak, foolish, carnal heart who tries to make him into a nice uncle, a really fine grandfather whom we can make good use of.

God is infinite love and for this reason has no cause. He will not suddenly overpower a person and demand that he instantly become spirit. If that were the case we would all perish. No, he handles each person gently. His is a long operation, an upbring­ing in love. Yes, there are times when one gasps and God strengthens with material blessings. But there is one thing God requires unconditionally at every moment – integrity – that one does not reverse the relationship and try to prove his relation­ship to God or the truth of his cause by good fortune, prosper­ity, and the like. God wants us to understand that material blessings are a concession to our weakness and very likely something he will withdraw at some later date to help us make true progress, not in some finite endeavor but in passing the examination.

Written by Søren Kierkegard: Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard. Compiled and Edited by Charles E. Moore p. 43-45

Copyright 2011 by The Plough Publishing House. Used with permission. [Photography added]