Tag Archives: philosophy

Truth

In John 18:33–38, while being interrogated by Pilate, “Jesus answered, ‘For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.’

Pilate said to Him, ‘What is truth?’”

Maybe if Jesus could’ve pitched a zinger, a sound bite he knew would reach Pilate where he lived, he would’ve responded. But most likely no such zinger is within the province of language.

Imagine Jesus answering, as did the poet John Keats about 1800 years later: “Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty.”

So Pilate asks, ‘What is Beauty?’

Suppose Jesus answers, “Love.”

Then Pilate counters, “And just what is love?” Which leads Jesus back to Truth, beginning an endless loop.

Or Jesus might’ve answered, as according to John 14:6 he did to his disciple Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life…”

To such a claim, Pilate could reply, “That’s not an answer.” Which would be a valid point, as Jesus seems to imply elsewhere.

In John 8:31-32, “Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed him, ‘If you continue in my word, then you are truly disciples of mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.'”

Here he has revealed that knowledge of the truth requires the actions of perseverance, discipline, and application of a fund of principles.

Probably since the concept of truth entered language, folks have argued it’s meaning. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy gives a summary of 20th century approaches. If you’re up for a challenge, give it a read.

Of the philosophers I’ve consulted on the topic, Soren Kierkegaard offers revelations that most appeal to my admittedly highly subjective mind.

What you’ll find below I have clipped from a philosophy website and edited a bit for the sake of conciseness and clarity.


Subjective Truth

Kierkegaard distinguishes between objective and subjective truth. Considered objectively, truth merely seeks attachment to the right object, correspondence with an independent reality. The statement “cats often meow” is objective truth. Considered subjectively, however, truth seeks achievement of the right attitude, an appropriate relation between object and knower. Thus, for example, although Christianity is objectively merely one of many available religions in the world, it subjectively demands our complete devotion.

For Kierkegaard, it is clearly subjective truth that counts. How we believe matters much more than what we believe, since the “passionate inwardness” of subjective adherence is the only way to deal with our anxiety. Anxiety, a condition central to Kierkegaard’s world view, is the appropriate reaction by seekers of truth to accepting that they must make the journey entirely on their own, relying on nobody or no set of dogma. Passionate attachment to a palpable falsehood, Kierkegaard supposed, is preferable to detached conviction of an objective truth or common belief.

This could translate, “It doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you’re sincere.” But Kierkegaard’s standards for sincerity are exceedingly high. They bring us around the circle to John 8:31, where Jesus advises those who seek the truth to practice discipline, perseverance and the application of the principles he teaches. And I’ll maintain that such application requires uncommon humility and deep, courageous honesty.

For now, at least, I’m going to end this exploration with a highly subjective conclusion: Truth is that which alerts us to Beauty by drawing us closer to openhearted, generous, selfless Love. 

Find Ken Kuhlken’s books at www.kenkuhlken.net

The Curse of the Clever

Let’s return to the question, does Sören Kierkegaard offer a cure for depression, which he called melancholy?

Because Kierkegaard offers nothing easy or simple, the opposite may appear more likely.  He would have us live by Christ’s standards, without recourse to excuse or compromise.  To attempt living out such an idealistic set of prescriptions might only add pressure to our minds, and the pressure might drive us into even darker places.

But if what he writes is the truth, and if the truth will set us free (John 8:32), then the ticket to freedom is not less pressure but more truth. And if the truth won’t set us free from depression, how valid is the assertion that the truth will set us free? And if that assertion proves invalid, isn’t all belief in Christ and his wisdom called into question?

Unless we’re inclined to credit Christ with superior wisdom, engaging with Kierkegaard might prove simply annoying.  So let’s suppose that Christ hit the mark with his proposition that the truth can set us free.

Sure, we could debate endlessly about the definition of this “truth” Christ referred to, and about what on earth “free” means.  But I’d rather leave such debates to folks with time on their hands, and move on with our attempt to heal melancholy.

Kierkegaard was fanatically devoted to discovering truth. And he offers a wealth of insight about human nature, which should lead to insights about our individual selves.  Applying these insights can save us from harmful attitudes and actions.

Kierkegaard was deeply suspicious of intelligence, which he referred to as cleverness. The clever, he maintains, are more apt to expend their powers creating excuses than to use their cleverness in the quest for honest self-discovery.

When I studied Tae Kwon Do, Master Jeong would respond to every excuse, for failure to execute a move or for lack of progress toward the next level, with stony silence.  I suspect most every psychologist and educator would agree that excuses are the archenemy of growth and learning.

But not so many of us recognize that the clever are most in danger, as they can dream up the most convincing excuses.

I’m not remarkably clever.  Still, I am going to try throwing out my best excuses and re-opening the inquiries that inspired them.

Ken Kuhlken, 9-18-11