Dr Tom Kerns
North Seattle Community College


Indirect Communication

from Soren Kierkegaard's autobiography
The Point of View for My Work as an Author (pp 39-41)

"One can deceive a person for the truth's sake, and (to recall old Socrates) one can deceive a person into the truth. Indeed it is only by this means, i.e., by deceiving him, that it is possible to bring into the truth one who is in an illusion. Whoever rejects this opinion betrays the fact that he is not over-well versed in dialectics, and that is precisely what is especially needed when operating in this field. For there is an immense difference, a dialectical difference, between these two cases: [a] the case of the man who is ignorant and is to have a piece of knowledge imparted to him, so that he is like an empty vessel which is to be filled, or a blank sheet of paper upon which something is to be written; and [b] the case of a man who is under an illusion and must first be delivered from that. Likewise there is a difference between writing on a blank sheet of paper and bringing to light by the application of a caustic fluid a text which is hidden under another text. Assuming then that a person is the victim of an illusion, and that in order to communicate the truth to him the first task, rightly understood, is to remove the illusion - if I do not begin by deceiving him, I must begin with direct communication. But direct communication presupposes that the receiver's ability to receive is undisturbed. But here such is not the case; an illusion stands in the way. That is to say, one must first of all use the caustic fluid. But this caustic means is negativity, and negativity understood in relation to the communication of truth is precisely the same as deception.

"What then does it mean 'to deceive?' It means that one does not begin directly with the matter one wants to communicate, but begins by accepting the other man's illusion as good money."

Soren Kierkegaard is recognized as one of the originators of the school of philosophical thought called "Existentialism" (whatever that is), and he also sees himself as a religious person, specifically as a devout Christian. If you want to read the remaining parts of this passage (which we will not be spending any time on in our class discussion) you will see him drawing a connection between what he has said above and the manner in which he thinks believers could most effectively communicate with disbelievers.

- TK

"So (to stick to the theme with which this work especially deals) one does not begin thus: I am a Christian; you are not a Christian. Nor does one begin thus: It is Christianity I am proclaiming and you are living in purely aesthetic categories. No, one begins thus: Let us talk about aesthetics. The deception consists in the fact that one talks thus merely to get to the religious theme. But, on our assumption, the other man is under the illusion that the aesthetic is Christianity; for, he thinks, I am a Christian, and yet he lives in aesthetic categories.

"Although ever so many parsons were to consider this method unjustifiable, and just as many were unable to get it into their heads (in spite of the fact that they all of them, according to their own assertion, are accustomed to use the Socratic method), I for my part tranquilly adhere to Socrates. It is true, he was not a Christian; that I know, and yet I am thoroughly convinced that he has become one. But he was a dialectician, he conceived everything in terms of reflection. And the question which concerns us here is a purely dialectical one; it is the question of the use of reflection in Christendom. We are reckoning here with two qualitatively different magnitudes, but in a formal sense I can very well call Socrates my teacher whereas I have only believed, and do only believe, in One, the Lord Jesus Christ."