Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Kierkegaard, The Arguments Against Christianity, and Psychologizing

It is claimed that the arguments against Christianity arise from doubt. This is a complete misunderstanding. The arguments against Christianity arise out of rebellion, out of a reluctance to obey. The battle against objections is but shadow-boxing, because it is intellectual combat with doubt instead of ethical combat against mutiny. (Moore, 254; JP-I, 359)

There can be no doubt that this is true for some arguments of some people. But it is plainly false that every argument of every person against Christianity is rooted in rebellion and mutiny. There are pious Muslims who have a principled reason for rejecting Christianity’s central claim, namely, that God became man in Jesus of Nazareth. Invoking the divine transcendence and the divine unity – there is no god but God – Muslims reject the very idea of divine incarnation. The issue is not whether the Muslim argument is a good one; the point is simply that there is an argument.

What Kierkegaard is doing in the above passage is an example of rank psychologizing. Person A psychologizes person B when A refuses to take B’s reasons and arguments at face value, i.e., as embodying truth-claims and validity-claims, and treats them instead as mere facts to be explained in terms of B’s psychology. Psychologizing amounts to a refusal to accord one’s interlocutor proper respect, the respect she deserves as a rational being. When A psychologizes B, what A is saying to B in effect is that you, B, are not a rational person like me, but a mere deterministic system whose thoughts and utterances are nothing but effects of such subrational conditions as upbringing, psychological complexes and tendencies, and genetic endowment. This is exactly what S. K. is doing when he writes that "The arguments against Christianity arise out of rebellion...." Instead of addressing these arguments as arguments, S. K. treats these arguments as mere facts about the individuals who advance them – facts to be explained in terms of the widespread human propensity for rebellion.

The point that needs to be made against the psychologizers is that the truth-value of a thesis, and the validity/invalidity of an argument, are logically independent of the conditions in which the thesis or argument came to be accepted.