Subjectivity vs. Objectivity? Kierkegaard on the Epistemological Domains of Science and Theology

Søren Kierkegaard (1813–55) is famous for his claim that “truth is subjectivity.” He is less known for closely connecting this claim with theological truth pertaining to the Christ-event. In Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments, written by Kierkegaard-Climacus in 1846, the pseudonym Johannes Climacus sets out to draw some central epistemological distinctions relating to the notions of objectivity and subjectivity. Based on this account in Postscript, the present paper discusses objective truth in the strict sense, on the one hand, and a more loosely defined objective truth, characterised by approximation, on the other. Analogously, two kinds of subjective, or prescriptive truth, are explored: subjective truth proper and a more loosely defined form. As M. G. Piety notices, in Postscript these forms of truth further correspond to objective and subjective knowledge.

When Kierkegaard in a few places in his writings chooses to address the advancement of knowledge and application of method in the natural sciences, he argues that this is pursued in ways that largely puts the subject of the researcher aside, ensuing in an objective methodological ideal. Even if – as Kierkegaard notes – all knowledge is driven by interest and has a subjective element, when turning to the study of Scripture and theology, the procedure is, however, quite different as compared to purely scientific knowledge. In this case, too, scientific methodology and data may be embraced, such as the inclusion of historical method and approximations, but the key epistemological interest here is how scriptural, theological and soteriological knowledge should be appropriated by the individual and the faith community. Infinite subjective investment vis-à-vis the truth, by means of faith, becomes the central epistemological category. The chapter explores the possibility, within a Kierkegaardian framework, of integrating such subjective knowledge with objective knowledge. It is argued that this is possible despite Kierkegaard’s often sceptical epistemological evaluation of objective truth and knowledge.

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