Soren Kierkegaard has been accused of forsaking reason in favor of searching for truth in the purely subjective. To that accusation, I say phooey.
His argument concerning the objective and the subjective and their value in the search for truth holds that logic, reason, and conclusions based upon sensory or scientific observation are only valid in the objective realm. Truth about our values, the meanings of our lives, the essential nature of reality, or our purpose for existing cannot be observed by using our physical senses, nor approached through reason except by commencing with a premise such as: what matters most is achieving the greatest good for the greatest number, or nothing exists outside what our senses can observe.
Without relying on such a premise, questions of value, meaning, purpose, or essential reality must be approached from outside the reach of the purely objective. To find answers, we must add another element to the equation.
In other words, Kierkegaard doesn’t deny the usefulness of the objective, but simply maintains that it can’t answer all of our concerns. Either we give up searching for answers outside the objective realm or we find another path.
Many, perhaps most, people choose to give up searching and instead choose to rely exclusively on someone else’s answers or to relegate any non-objective search to the category of nonsense.
Kierkegaard suggests, as an alternative to giving up or blindly following a leader, that we inquire of the subjective when we feel called to explore places in which the objective will only reach a dead-end. The subjective, contrary to popular belief, is not necessarily synonymous with wishful thinking or whim. In Kierkegaard’s vision, the subjective involves a dedicated and relentlessly honest journey inward. I’ll offer a few thoughts about this journey.
One way to begin is to cultivate solitude. Removing ourselves from other people and the distractions they bring can at least allow us time to discover what else we are and what our beings possess other than the superficial and obvious.
Kierkegaard proposes that “… anyone who stands alone for any length of time soon discovers that there is a God.” Though in this passage standing alone can refer to alienation from others, another of his central topics, it can also apply to solitude.
Anyone at liberty to practice solitude, or who sometimes longs for solitude, may appreciate reading Thomas Merton’s No Man Is An Island, which in one edition was subtitled “thoughts in solitude”.
But solitude is by no means the only route inward. Even while surrounded by people and engaged in activity, we can do our best to expel from our thoughts a lot of what normally occupies them. Many of us spend valuable time and effort needlessly passing judgment on people or things or situations. We not only judge ourselves but dedicate energy to making excuses for the thoughts or behaviors that led to those judgments. We listen to the opinions of others, or read books or articles, without absorbing or relating to any subtle insight or wisdom because we are occupied with creating arguments against or in favor of the speaker’s or author’s assertions or implications. All this activity, most of it fruitless, keeps our minds whirling, on the surface.
When I studied Tae Kwon Do, we began each session with a brief meditation. Master Jeong would guide us to: “Think about who you are. Not what you do or what you want. Who you are.”
Some of my deepest and most valuable excursions inward have come during long road trips. For an account of one such journey, and to experience how a journey inward can lead us to the kingdom of heaven, take a look at Reading Brother Lawrence.
Happy holiday preparations,