Question: "What is subjective truth?"

Answer: Subjective truth, which is sometimes mistaken for relative truth, is a philosophical concept normally attributed to Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813—1855). Kierkegaard believed that religious truth is a personal, not impersonal, thing—that it is something we are, not something we have. Kierkegaard acknowledged objective truth as being something “outward,” while believing that subjective truth is something “inward.”

The idea is that, while objective truths are important, subjective truth can actually be more crucial to a person because it involves how a person relates to and accepts those objective truths. Kierkegaard believed that spiritual truth cannot be just acknowledged; it must be appropriated: it is not just correspondence, but internal commitment. Religious truth is found in a subjective encounter with God and acceptance of His truth by one’s will, not only by an objective understanding with the mind. In other words, a person “subjects” himself inwardly to truth.

Kierkegaard’s subjective truth is especially important in today’s post-truth culture, which believes that objective facts are less important in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal beliefs. For many today, feelings and preferences matter more than facts and truth. Their “inward” beliefs override the “outward” facts, which they refuse to “submit” to.

Post-truth culture will readily acknowledge an objective fact as being “true,” but, because of the conflict it has with personal preferences or political agendas, the objective fact is discounted in some way. Some will ignore the facts, misrepresent the truth, or even spread lies about it in order to move their personal agenda forward. This approach conflicts with Kierkegaard’s subjective truth concept, which by no means dismisses objective reality in favor of a person’s preferences and agenda.

That said, one of Kierkegaard’s flaws in his framework is the thought that there can be a gulf between objective and subjective truth. He felt that a person’s faith can leave him in a state of objective uncertainty and, because of that, faith requires a leap from disbelief to belief.

However, a correct understanding of the distinction between faith “that” something is true and faith “in” something is that the required leap is not a jump in the dark, but rather a step into the light. The objective or “outward” evidences for God deliver the means needed to believe that God exists, which then leads to subjective or “inward” truths that one submits to in a trusting fashion. Both objective and subjective truths are biblical and spelled out in Hebrews: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is [faith “that”—objective] and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him [faith “in”—subjective]” (Hebrews 11:6).