Archives for posts with tag: Truth

Prometheus a Hero?

Is the Promethean outcry of atheists against the gods actually heroic? Back when I was somewhat agnostic, I thought so, especially when reading science-fiction. Now I think that the Promethean stance is merely an attempt to give some spiritual and poetic appeal to the dreary landscape of irrationality and nihilism.

Atheistic worldviews can never account for the total reality. Even when drawing from spiritualist or Gnostic views, they usually end up, like Prometheus, in hating the gods and attaching themselves to the rock of materialism, to the point of becoming one with it. In fact, this metaphor may be a half-conscious admission that the transcendent part of reality is inexplicable to atheists, hence their usual attempts to explain it away.

Franz Kafka wrote a satirical, and a bit obscure, comment about the myth of Prometheus, ending with: “Everyone grew weary of the meaningless affair. The gods grew weary, the eagles grew weary […]” “The legend tried to explain the inexplicable. As it came out of a substratum of truth, it had in turn to end in the inexplicable.” (Complete quote below.)

The phrase “substratum of truth” probably alludes to archetypes or other truths, such as the hero or demigod who wants to help lesser beings, but the legend of Prometheus has so many different origins and retellings that it varies widely from one story to another, to the extent of becoming meaningless.


Franz Kafka wrote a short piece on Prometheus, outlining his perspective on four aspects of his myth:

According to the first, he was clamped to a rock in the Caucasus for betraying the secrets of the gods to men, and the gods sent eagles to feed on his liver, which was perpetually renewed.

According to the second, Prometheus, goaded by the pain of the tearing beaks, pressed himself deeper and deeper into the rock until he became one with it.

According to the third, his treachery was forgotten in the course of thousands of years, forgotten by the gods, the eagles, forgotten by himself.

According to the fourth, everyone grew weary of the meaningless affair. The gods grew weary, the eagles grew weary, the wound closed wearily.

There remains the inexplicable mass of rock. The legend tried to explain the inexplicable. As it came out of a substratum of truth it had in turn to end in the inexplicable.

Franz Kafka: The Complete Stories. Glatzer, Nahum N., ed. Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir. Schocken Book, Inc.: New York, 1971.

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Civilization Is A Conversation

The popular philosopher Stefan Molyneux (https://freedomainradio.com) often reminds his audience that “civilization is a conversation. ” I read about the same idea before in a blog article by John C. Wright (www.scifiwright.com) about the Great Books. A philosopher himself, as well as a novelist, Mr Wright is an alumnus of St. John’s College of liberal arts. I gather the school’s Great Books program was inspired from the writings of philosopher Mortimer Adler on “The Great Conversation” and his editing work for the Encyclopaedia Britannica Great Books series.

According to classical philosophers and other classical writers who had to know philosophy as a general foundation for their field, philosophy and science, literature and arts, civilization in a word, is a great conversation, and philosophy is its common language. It began to spread from Greece some six centuries before Christ.

Metaphysics, or philosophy properly so called, is the conversation about the fundamentals of everything that is or may be, especially the “why”, the causes. The “how” is more particularly the domain of empirical sciences and mathematics.

Ethics is the part of philosophy that examines the use of practical reason, or moral conscience. Why is there a sense of right and wrong? Why is conscience attracted to the good and repulsed by evil? Why is happiness connected to the good? These are some of the main questions of moral philosophy.

The moral questions are of course paramount also to religion and theology. Philosophy is the greatest achievement of the human mind unaided by faith, since it derives its information from the senses, external and internal. But the self-revelation of God being at the same time the revelation of man to himself (e. g. John 2:25), the Judaeo-Christian revelation is a very reliable source of information for philosophy, particularly for natural theology (or theodicy) and ethics.

Christian theologians, philosophers, and authors of literary or scientific writings were the ones who kept the conversation ongoing and timeless. It is timeless because philosophia perennis, the common philosophy of humanity (as philosopher Jacques Maritain would say), known also as Aristotelian-Thomism, or classical theist philosophy, is true in all essentials and those essentials are not subject to time. True philosophy is therefore capable of organic, continuous development upon this perennial basis.

Up to the 1960s, every generation educated by learned masters had access to the great works of the past and to a common philosophical framework. Scholars and writers could thus contribute to build on and transmit the intellectual and moral treasure of civilization, the treasure of human wisdom.

 

Conversation Slows Down

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Lewis and Tolkien Debate Myths and Lies

The following 8:45-minute clip is from EWTN’s documentary “Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’: A Catholic Worldview” (2011). It portrays a debate between C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien on whether or not myths are lies. This debate was instrumental in C.S. Lewis’s conversion to Christianity.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NzBT39gx-TE

Kevin O’Brien, director and founder of the Theater of the Word, Incorporated, a Catholic convert from atheism, plays the role of Tolkien. Al Marsh is C.S. Lewis.

The whole thing is here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjCfb35jqZ0

The narrator is Joseph Pearce, a Catholic convert from agnosticism, writer and professor of literature. The script is based on his book Tolkien: Man and Myth, A Literary Life.

Transcript of the 8:45-minute clip: Myths_and_Lies_Tolkien_Lewis.pdf

Beauty is in the Form

Professor Edward Feser quotes a sarcastic passage by Isaac Asimov and asks why plastic objects cannot eventually be admired as antiques.  (“The metaphysics and aesthetics of plastic”  Feb. 14, 2014)

Elsewhere, a commenter quoting from a David Gerrold novel compares moral integrity to that of a plastic balloon, lost when the balloon is destroyed by a pinhole. Philosopher and novelist John C. Wright answers that forgiveness is better than asking for perfect integrity. (“Why the Rats Conquer Empires”, Feb. 27, 2014 )

I looked into the matter in Plato and Maritain.

Perception of form

Beauty, Plato said, is in the form. It is not in the philosophical prima materia, that cannot exist without an essential form. Contrary to Plato’s theory, though, separate forms of material beings do not exist either, except as concepts. For example, human form, or nature, does not exist apart from actual human beings.

Form differentiates individuals only in beings who are pure forms (God and angels). There are as many angelic natures as there are angels. But physical beings are differentiated by matter, and all individuals in a species share a common form.

By the fact it has a form actualized in matter, every physical being, particle, element, compound has the same degree of intrinsic beauty that the form lends to matter. Although an unlearned observer may not perceive anything interesting and pleasing about, say, subatomic particles, an observer possessing even a small knowledge of the thing certainly does.

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Another pearl from David Warren :

http://www.davidwarrenonline.com/2013/06/18/the-idleness-of-saint-thomas/

and a development following comments [comments erased since] :

http://www.davidwarrenonline.com/2013/06/25/quote-for-the-day/

Other quotes:

Beauty is the splendor of Truth.
Plato

Beauty is akin to the Good.
Plato. The Symposium

The light of God’s face shines in all its beauty on the countenance of Jesus Christ, “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15) […] Consequently, the decisive answer to every one of man’s questions […] is given by Jesus Christ, or rather is Jesus Christ himself […]

Jesus Christ, the “light of the nations”, shines upon the face of his Church, which he sends forth to the whole world to proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Hence the Church, as the People of God among the nations […] offers to everyone the answer which comes from the truth about Jesus Christ and his Gospel.

John Paul II. Veritatis Splendor (Introduction)

Peace from Heavens to Men of Goodwill

It is Advent and a timely season to wish peace to all who have a place in their heart for Truth, Beauty and Goodness.

To an unbeliever who is a man of goodwill, John C. Wright offers his advice on  “How to Find God”  (http://www.scifiwright.com/2012/12/how-to-find-god/, December 4).

His essay titled “Christ and Nothing” on December 6 is also a very good read (http://www.scifiwright.com/2012/12/christ-and-nothing-2).

Abstraction and Judgment

In a blogpost titled “The Other Side of the Picture” about the failings of Leftist and politically correct college education, John C. Wright wrote:

”This is a mental disorder inflicted by modern education. It is a narrowing of the mind in the name of broadmindedness, and the closing of the mind in the name of openmindedness.
“It is the folly of those who are taught only enough of a subject to be told the objections and questions undermining its foundations, but not enough to do the disciplined and rigorous intellectual work, yes, the hard work, of answering those objections or sitting as a judge and making a determination of their admissibility, as debating as a juror and weighing their probity and pertinence.
” [my emphasis]

I was at the same time reflecting on an idea I noticed in Dr. Bruce G. Charlton’s Thought Prison where he qualifies Leftist and PC worldview as “abstract.” I was a bit taken aback by the term, as I find nothing wrong with abstraction in itself, but then I recalled, from Maritain’s works, that abstraction is only the first of the two necessary operations of the intellect.

Knowledge – and determination of an act as good or not when speaking of the practical intellect – is achieved only when ideas formed through abstraction of universal essences are processed in the second operation of the mind, namely judgment, where they are checked against reality. To be proven true, an idea must terminate at the thing itself, actual or possible; judgment must assert what the thing is in extramental reality.

It is then no wonder that Leftists and nihilists are always accusing others of being “judgmental.”
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MYSTERY OF BEING
Summary of Preface to Metaphysics

The following summary of Jacques Maritain’s Preface to Metaphysics – Seven Lectures on Being, with some quotes from a couple other books, is not a scholarly work, so there will be no quotation marks or italics apart from those already in the text. Passages between brackets are my comments or paraphrases.


Being As Such
The object of metaphysics is the knowledge of being as such. Being is the first object attained by every man the instant he begins to think as a rational creature, but at this stage it is a more or less confused perception of the concrete being, enveloped or embodied in sensible things. The metaphysician will consider the essence, or nature, of sensible things by abstracting, or disengaging their intelligible values from particularized objects.

Essence/Existence
The first operation of the mind is thus to apprehend essences (what is universal, what is the nature of the thing), but the term of knowledge is the actual, existing being, the esse in the strict sense. Thomist philosophy does not stop short at essences. It is to existence itself that the intellect proceeds when it formulates within itself a judgment by composition and division (second operation of the mind) corresponding to what a thing is or is not outside the mind.
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Emotion over Truth

John C. Wright wrote the following in his essay Parable of the arbiters (July 13, 2012 scifiwright.com):
“The claim of the Protestant type would take us to the arbitration of the intellect. Oddly enough, Reformers are sometimes criticized (at least in Catholic circles) for their emphasis (we call it overemphasis) on the spontaneous and emotional and passionate nature of their communion with God.
I reject these criticisms as being a misunderstanding of the Protestant mind.”
[…]
“All Protestants, even those who reject Puritanism, have a strong inclination toward the ideal of pure worship, a simplicity and purity of rite.”
[…]
“It is not emotionalism. It is intellectualism.”

(Science-fiction writer, philosopher, lawyer and technical writer, John C. Wright was raised Lutheran but he was an atheist most of his life; he converted to Catholicism a few years ago.)

My comments (inspired mainly by Maritain’s essay on Luther in Three Reformers: Luther, Descartes, Rousseau and Blessed John Paul II’s Encyclical Fides et Ratio):

These criticisms are perfectly valid, but I grant you emotionalism is an important consequence of the real cause.

“Strong inclination”, “ideal”, “simplicity”, “purity”: if all those words are not moral or aesthetic emotion, I don’t know what they are. Not that they are unjustified, far from it, because love for beautiful ideals, simplicity and purity and all good things is our motivation to be and do good.

“It is not emotionalism. It is intellectualism.”
Our two superior faculties are not intellect and sensibility, they are intellect and will, the coupling of which in the liberty of TRUTH being the image of God in us. Thus the opposite of intellectualism is not emotionalism, it is voluntarism. Of course, decisions of the will are often expressed emotionally, this is why we tend to conflate the consequences and the cause.

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André Frossard asked one day to John Paul II what was the single most important saying he would leave to humanity if he was permitted to leave only one. Frossard expected the Pope would take a moment to think, but the answer came immediately: Truth will set you free.

All the Bible and all Christianity are contained in this short sentence expressing God’s plan for us: to set us free from evil so that we can welcome the Kingdom of God – that is, God himself – in our lives.

Nothing less than the one and whole Truth, who is a Person, can set us free. Nothing else than the love of truth can guide us on the way and ultimately bring us to the love of the One who said: I am the truth.

But there are obstacles:

It will happen with every sort of wicked deception of those who are heading toward destruction because they have refused to love the truth that would allow them to be saved. (2 Thess. 2:10)
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Food of the Intellect

Certain foods are natural for the body, but it takes a fair amount of training and reasoning to choose the right aliments, prepare them properly, and eat quantities suitable for our real needs.

Truth is the natural food of the intellect. We are capable of arriving at truth by correct reasoning, that is, the right use of a trained intellect previously nurtured in truth or, at least, not impeded in its appetite for truth.

In theory, feeding body or mind seems straightforward and easy, but experience tells both are often not done as they should.

French Catholic philosopher Marcel Clément wrote that, in his youth in the 1930s, he was looking forward to studying philosophy. But instead of the traditional introduction to history of Greek philosophy and systematic presentation of basic concepts, he was given the views of various philosophers and schools of thought. Seeing how those philosophers were contradicting each other, he naively remarked: “Which one is right? Which system can we hold true? They cannot be all true, or else philosophy does not exist.” He was answered that he had a dogmatic mindset and that philosophy could do perfectly well without absolute truth.

Then, on the occasion of a dissertation on Greek ethics, he became acquainted with Aristotle and knew for sure that philosophy existed. He devoted the rest of his life to write about and teach philosophy and Catholic thought, particularly the social doctrine of the Church.
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