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North Seattle Community College
Hostetler & Kerns

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 read the remaining parts of this passage (which we will not be spending any time on in our class discussion) you would 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.

© copyright Dr Tom Kerns