The Good, the Beautiful and the True

Do we always search out the truth and then conform our reasoning to it later? Or do we find a position attractive, have an intuition as to its truth, and then follow the path of arguments so we arrive at that which we desired to begin with? I’d be a fool to insist on the first and deny the last. It is a combination of both. I think we do have an intuition that a particular conclusion is true, and find it beautiful and desirable. But I also think we legitimately can follow out the reasoning, examine the arguments, and submit the case to logical analysis. And if we still come out on the other end knowing it is true, our initial desire for it does not falsify the truth of it. If something is true, it is true no matter what road I took to get to it. If my pathway to it fails reason’s strictures, I may not be able to demonstrate that it is true, and that would be a great loss. But it would still be true nonetheless.

Furthermore, truth by its nature is beautiful and desirable. Of course we will be attracted to it and our reason will want to struggle and scrape its way toward it. Reason will crawl on hands and knees, following this dead end trail, doubling back, slicing its hands on this jagged contradiction, will hang with sharply in-drawn breath over that abyss of non-sequitor, doggedly continuing on, even through darkness and paradox, until it at last comes to that which it has desired, that for which it has longed, that which gives it meaning and life. And once reason arrives at truth, once the desire for the good and the beautiful has been fulfilled, it will not cease being true, nor falsify reason’s path.

3 thoughts on “The Good, the Beautiful and the True

  1. “If something is true, it is true no matter what road I took to get to it. If my pathway to it fails reason’s strictures, I may not be able to demonstrate that it is true, and that would be a great loss. But it would still be true nonetheless.”

    That is an excellent point and one which I believe speaks to the pathway towards truth from both reason and revelation. I tend to find myself falling more squarely in the camp of the Islamic-Jewish medieval philosophers who held that certain truths simply were not available to mankind by the pure excercise of reason, regardless of how hard he struggled. It’s a break (to some degree) from certain trends found amongst Christian philosophers of the same age who held that while difficult, it was indeed possible to come to the full knowledge of truth by reason alone, even if revelation supplemented it.

    The difficulty with the Islamic-Jewish approach–as you identified so well–is that is leaves the individual who has found the truth incapable of demonstrating that it is true to those who do not accept the first principles of the revealed religion in question. I remain skeptical as to whether or not the axioms of revealed religion–defended in the form of dialectical theology (to steal from Alfarabi)–can be asserted and defended reasonably. It seems as if a “faith leap” has to come into play somewhere along the line for one to fully start down the path of uncovering revealed truth.

    “Of course we will be attracted to it and our reason will want to struggle and scrape its way toward it. ”

    Our reason *may* want to struggle and scrape its way towards “it” (whatever “it” is), but can it? I remain ignorant as to how reason could ever uncover the Jewish Law or even the idea of the Holy Trinity. While reason certainly can assist and has assisted numerous of mighty minds to plunging into the depths of both the Law and the Holy Trinity, it seems to me that revelation remains an essential starting point. Without it, reason would have nowhere to begin (or, at least, no way of knowing if it was even starting in the right place or at any place at all).

    Just a thought. I’m curious if you’ve factored in the role of revelation into the quest for truth or if the truth you’re speaking of above concerns matters which fall outside the religious realm. I’ll spare you any musing on my part whether or not any part of life can rightly fall out of the religious relam or not. 🙂

  2. The “it” in question is truth. Mine was merely descriptive. Reason may not want truth.

    Can reason struggle and scrape its way to truth? Yes. But this does not necessarily that reason can struggle and scrape its way to all truth. As you well note there are some truths that must be revealed. We do not reason our way to the Holy Trinity or the Incarnation. These are revealed to us.

    I think you and I are in agreement here.

    But reason, when rightly ordered, naturally desires these truths, and will work its way toward its erotic telos. As I noted, there will be darkness and paradox, and that implies there will have to be the submission of reason to truth in the noetic leap.

  3. Thank you, Clifton, for many excellent recent posts. Re: wondering how we know the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. Perception of these, our knowledge or judgments of them, seems an insight(your “intuition?”) higher, deeper, and wider than reason. Reason seems more an instrument, a faculty of the mind, that we apply to verify, than it is a substantive insight. Reason is a great, essential, good(!) power, if properly applied. But reason is wounded and impeded by our sin, disordered minds, and clouded consciences. Faith, a perception or form of truth distinguishable from insight or intuition, can heal and renew our reason. Faith allows us to see things most truly, whether truths of so-called “revelation” or of “reason,” truths of the spirit, the heavenly, and eternal, or of nature, the earthly, and historical. Now faith is the substance (hupostasis) of things hoped for, the evidence (elegchos) of things not seen. (Heb 11:1) Yes, as you say, much that is true cannot be known without faith. Your recent posts on the Church and worship well encourage us toward an ecclesial knowing that is active obedience to Truth, practical, and personal, but not privatistic. Truth and our knowing is unique, but not individualistic. This ecclesial truth, seen most clearly in the common service and witness of the Church, in its worship and prayer, in ecclesial love and truth, provides much for reason to ponder, until the entire mind is renewed in Christ the Lord. My only quibble is with talk of “noetic leaps” or “leaps of faith.” Admittedly, we can do worse than S.K., but why did S.K. resort to such language? Perhaps because of being bent or bound too much by the moribund, “faiths” and “churches” of the West? What knowledge did S.K. have of the Eastern Church and its Fathers? Does any Father or Saint speak of Truth or of Christ as asking of us a “leap?” Faith, hope, love, obedience, even unto death or “being fools for Christ,” but a “leap?” Thank you again for the fine posts.

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