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Posted March 17, 2014
I found this brief essay by Kierkegaard to be autobiographically revealing. Known to be a loner, and standing at odds with the intellectual climate of his time, Kierkegaard provides a brief defense for offering viewpoints that stand in direction contradiction to prevailing intellectual norms.
Kierkegaard writes, “There is a view of life which holds that where the crowd is, the truth is also, that it is a need in truth itself, that it must have the crowd on its side. There is another view of life; which holds that wherever the crowd is, there is untruth, so that, for a moment to carry the matter out to its farthest conclusion, even if every individual possessed the truth in private, yet if they came together into a crowd (so that "the crowd" received any decisive, voting, noisy, audible importance), untruth would at once be let in.”
To Kierkegaard, simply because an idea is broadly accepted does not add a greater sense of credibility. That’s because crowds can be easily swayed. As the author writes, “For to win a crowd is not so great a trick; one only needs some talent, a certain dose of untruth and a little acquaintance with the human passions.”
The task then of any thinking person is to stand at odds with commonly accepted ideas by looking to those individuals (like Kierkegaard) who are willing to proffer viewpoints that courageously speak the truth. “The crowd is untruth,” Kierkegaard repeats over and over again. For wherever there is a crowd, “…there no one is working, living, and striving for the highest end, but only for this or that earthly end.” That’s because, according to Kierkegaard, only the individual who stands at odds with the crowd will do that.
Simply put, the very fact that an idea has been granted widespread credence points to the probability that it is more than likely an untruth.