Archives for posts with tag: Moral philosophy

The following is a slightly expanded version of my comments under the thread “The Empire of Lies”, an essay from John C. Wright (February 13, 2016).

“Either there is truth or there is not.”

After this opening line, Mr. Wright proceeds to demonstrate that the statement “there is no truth” is impossible and self-destroying, an absurdity even if only for the sake of argument. Such an argument is sustained solely for expediency, for moral reasons, in order to pass vice for virtue, virtue for vice, and evildoing for good works. In short, nihilism.

The origin of such extreme moral outlook is sin unacknowledged, unrepented, and conscience stifled accordingly. As Jacques Maritain explained, when we sin, the will (or the “reason of the heart” as Blaise Pascal would put it) listens to emotions and sentiments and averts its inner eye from the sound principles of the practical intellect, that is, the truth as seen by the conscience. By blurring objective truth about the objective good, the will is generally able to trick a poorly formed conscience into taking an evil for a good, or a lesser good for a greater good, or evil means as expedient to attain some good.

But the guilt remains. To evade the guilt efficiently, there is no other way than to attack the principles, the axioms themselves (identity, reason for being, finality, causality, etc.), and ultimately the transcendentals above the principles: no objective beauty, goodness or truth, thus no moral obligation.

Now, what is truth? The shortest and simplest definition is: Truth is the conformity of the mind to things. An honest search for truth makes licit almost any question. For example, the question “Either there is a God (or gods), or there is not” implies that the human mind might be able to discover the truth, or accept the revelation of truth.

If there are things, there is a God, because nothing contingent can exist if there is no necessary being which is the first cause and reason for being of everything else. Hence the same reasoning applies to truth: if there is something, there is truth in the same measure that things do exist and are good and beautiful, and at least partly knowable.

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Catharsis

The Greek word catharsis, heard in Christopher Nolan’s movie Inception, was unfamiliar to me. The authors I read usually translated it by purgation (same in French and English), or used other words to convey the idea. Nolan applies it to the relationship between Fischer (the “inception” target) and his father. Reading some reviews afterwards, I came upon Bishop Robert Barron’s YouTube commentary of Inception, where he dwells mostly on the spiritual Christian meaning of catharsis.

Bishop Barron says how he was taken aback by the “relentlessly secular” aspect of the movie, and the “mercenary purpose” of the “inception.” He then proceeds to describe the “old venerable spiritual practice” of Catholic contemplatives on their “inner journey to discover God.” This type of catharsis is quite expectedly absent from Nolan’s movie, as it is applicable to ascetic and mystic theology. The film author used the term rather in the second and third meanings, related to literature and psychology respectively.

Four meanings

The first meaning of catharsis is medical, and retains its original Greek literal sense of bodily purgation in an attempt to cure an illness. A cathartic substance is a purgative one.

The second meaning, in classical literature, is the emotional release provided by an artistic or theatrical experience, such as a Greek tragedy. Maritain alluded to this in passing in his book Three Reformers, and quoted it as “the purgation of passions by tragedy.”

The classic metaphor probably mutated into the psychoanalytic contemporary meaning of liberation from repressed feelings and traumatic experiences. This third meaning is especially obvious in the movie when Nolan appends it with the word “reconciliation” while speaking of Fischer’s relationship with his father.

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