Subjectivity Is Truth And Truth Is Subjectivity

If Christianity is an existence-communication rather than a doctrine, a truth to be appropriated in existence rather than comprehended by thought, then it must be regarded as being essentially subjective rather than objective in nature. Accordingly, Climacus defines Christianity in the following manner: 'Christianity is spirit; spirit is inwardness; inwardness is subjectivity; subjectivity is essentially passion, and at its maximum an infinite, personally interested passion for one's eternal happiness' (CUP i. 33). Objectively, he contends, Christianity 'does not exist at all' inasmuch as its being and truth exist only in the subjectivity of those individuals who are passionately concerned about their eternal happiness (130-1). This leads Climacus to posit the following dual theses: 'subjectivity is truth' and 'truth is subjectivity' (189, 203-4, 281). Beginning with the first claim, Climacus suggests that, in relation to all knowing that is essentially related to existence, namely ethical and ethical-religious knowledge, the individual is in the truth 'if only the how of this relation is in truth, even if he in this way were to relate himself to untruth' (199). In other words, even if Christianity is objectively untrue (which is an issue Climacus has bracketed in this work), individuals may still be regarded as being in the truth by virtue of the subjective passion with which they sustain a relation to it in existence. The same can be said with respect to subjective relations to other religious ideals and traditions. In fact, Climacus suggests that there is more truth in a person who prays passionately to an idol than in someone who has knowledge of the true God but prays in untruth to the deity (201).13 This is so, he explains, because 'at its maximum the "how" is the passion of the infinite, and the passion of the infinite is the very truth. But the passion of the infinite is precisely subjectivity, and thus subjectivity is truth' (203).

In claiming that Christianity is subjectivity and subjectivity is truth, Climacus (or his Danish 'editor' at least) has often been accused of subjectivism, which is decidedly not the case.14 Climacus is not saying that truth is subjective in the sense that there is no objective truth. On the contrary he clearly recognizes that Christianity or any other religion for that matter may be objectively true or untrue. Nor does he deny the possibility of acquiring objective truth in other areas of investigation, such as mathematics and science. Rather, Climacus's point is that, with respect to ethical and ethical-religious truth, the 'how' or passion with which one is related to a truth claim constitutes the 'deciding factor' and qualitative content of one's being, and it is in this sense that 'the subjective "how" and subjectivity are the truth' (CUP i. 203).

If subjectivity is truth, the reverse claim that truth is subjectivity also obtains, for 'when subjectivity is truth, the definition of truth must also contain in itself an expression of the antithesis to objectivity' (CUP i. 203). Accordingly, Climacus offers the following definition of subjective truth: An objective uncertainty, held fast through appropriation with the most passionate inwardness, is the truth' (203). This definition also corresponds to the definition of faith in a formal or general sense as the passionate leap or risk by which one becomes related to an objective uncertainty as the basis of one's eternal happiness. According to Climacus, 'if I am able to apprehend God objectively, I do not have faith; but because I cannot do this, I must have faith', which he likens to being 'out on 70,000 fathoms of water'—Kierkegaard's favourite expression for the uncertainty of faith (204).

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