Soren Kierkegaard’s Relevance to Students’​ Lives: Finding a Truth That is True for Me

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Soren Kierkegaard

In one of Soren Kierkegaard’s Journal entries, which is dated August 1, 1835 — in a moment of self-examination or introspection — he detects a lack of commitment to doing the truth. He feels as though thinking about life were not enough to be an existing individual, a person. He finds himself knowing so many things, but doing so very little about them. Thus, he writes,

“What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act.”

Kierkegaard is searching for an existential truth, that is, an objective truth which has subjective significance, which is relevant to his life to the point of being personally “invested” in it. He is, then, not anti-intellectual, opposed to thinking rationally. Rather, for him, as he says,

“the crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die.”

Thus, for Kierkegaard, it is not enough to just think about life; an existing individual must also apply the truth to his or her life, be personally affected by it. According to Kierkegaard, a person not only grasps the truth as an objective idea, but the truth also “grasps” him or her, making a meaningful difference in his or her life. Further on, he writes,

“Of what use would it be to me to discover a so-called objective truth, to work through the philosophical systems so that I could, if asked, make critical judgments about them, could point out the fallacies in each system; of what use would it be to me to be able to develop a theory of the state, getting details from various sources and combining them into a whole, and constructing a world I did not live in but merely held up for others to see; of what use would it be to me to be able to formulate the meaning of Christianity, to be able to explain many specific points — if it had no deeper meaning for me and for my life?

For Kierkegaard, then, objective truth matters. However, the fact is that in life, some truths matter more than others. And for him, the truth by which one lives is more important than merely thinking about the truth. He admits as much, saying,

“I certainly do not deny that I still accept an imperative of knowledge and that through it men may be influenced, but then it must come alive in me, and this is what I now recognize as the most important of all.”

Therefore, find the truth that matters to you, because not all truths, even the most objective ones, are equally important to every person. After you find that truth, allow it to affect you, live for it, be passionately committed to it and it will, in the process, give meaning to your life.

Endnote

Kierkegaard’s Journals: Book I A, scroll down to Entry 75.

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