What Is Truth?

“Truth is the work of freedom,” Kierkegaard wrote.  “…truth exists for a particular individual only as he himself produces it in action.”

We might test this theory by allowing ourselves freedom to experience a variety of attitudes, beliefs and actions and asking which of them makes our conscience feel free. Then, as we act in accord with our conscience, our actions become the truth. Not the results of truth, but truth itself, as John Keats expressed when he wrote, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” Notice he didn’t claim that beauty is true and truth is beautiful.

Truth as action and substance rather than mental construct is a central tenet of Kierkegaard’s vision of Christ. He asserts that when Jesus claims to be the truth, it doesn’t mean Christ’s teachings are true or his example is the right way to behave. It means, Jesus, his person, his existence, is the truth.

The validity of the test suggested above depends upon whether or not we have a conscience. Not long ago, I realized that when I was a boy, the word conscience was commonly used, but I couldn’t remember having heard it in years. No doubt the social sciences knocked the stuffing out of the word with the theory that the conscience once viewed as part of human nature is actually a result of early childhood programing.

While we are certainly affected by parental and cultural programming, I’ll argue that a deeper level of conscience exists. This conscience recognizes the good and will guide us toward the good, if we set it free. Sure it’s buried deep, under heaps of learned opinions, attitudes, prejudices and fears. To find it we need to devote the will, time, and effort to journey inward.

Kierkegaard has plenty to offer concerning the journey inward, which can become the adventure of a lifetime. And which I mean to explore next week.

For more about the journey inward than a blog can offer, Ken Kuhlken’s Reading Brother Lawrence.


  1. As I’ve been pursuing this quest for beauty, I have found that it can be very difficult to be your true self with others, although it is not so with God. I believe this is because as you said, the conscience is buried beneath a pile of opinions and attitudes that constrain and restrain people from being true to themselves.

    Beauty doesn’t just happen, because as a Christian, God is purifying the soul to be more and more like him- the truth. But it is far too easy to be distracted from what is true or run away when it is revealed, because we do not want to see our own imperfections. Beauty of course has a cost, which is that we give up our own concept of what is beautiful in our lives or even about ourselves for a far greater beauty that is a reflection of God’s heart for us.