L. Castle Richard L. Purtill


{ L:} In a previous discussion you talked about art as a means to beauty inquiry as a means to truth and love as a means to goodness. I had some doubts about love as a means to goodness: surely sometimes love leads to unhappiness and other things that are not good.

{ R:} Yes and I said that real love has to be a means to goodness: `love' of something bad is actually based on an illusion. When we love or desire something it must be because it seems good to us. That seemed to satisfy you at the time.

{ L:} Perhaps it did but when I thought about it more I could see some difficulties. Even if we grant that `real' love has to be of something which exists not just an illusion then you would still have to tell what makes something `not an illusion'. As a neo-platonist I think that Beauty Truth and Goodness are all names of God and they are really much more interconnected than you allow for. You can't really talk about any of these ideas without talking about the others.

{ R:} Well we talked a good deal about Beauty in our last discussion so let's confine ourselves in this discussion to the relation between Truth and Goodness and the relation between inquiry as a means to Truth and Love as a means to Goodness.

{ L:} All right. Let's start out with what you mean by `inquiry'.

{ R:} Well as a preliminary definition I think that experience raises certain questions in our mind and inquiry is trying to answer these questions. To take an everyday example someone dies and we want to answer the question of why he died. We investigate or inquire. In fact what in American english we would call a private detective is called an `inquiry agent in British english.

{ L:} All right then inquiry is the attempt to find the truth about something: but that means that the truth is seen as something good. So what's the difference between inquiry as a means to truth and love as a means to goodness.

{ R:} I see what you mean: it looks as if inquiry leading to truth is simply a special case of love leading to goodness. But perhaps inquiry uses certain distinctive means to get to the desired object truth.

{ L:} That would fit in with what I said about art: the importance of technique in achieving or exhibiting or displaying beauty. So if the end of inquiry is a good how do the techniques differ from for example art.

{ R:} Well even though inquiry aims at a good that good is truth not beauty or other kinds of goodness. Perhaps as you say all good things are God or derived from God but for our present intellectual situation we have to make differences between beauty truth and goodness. I'd say that the methods of inquiry into truth are experience and reason.

{ L:} Doesn't an artist have to have experience to create beauty or exhibit or display it and doesn't he use rational techniques to achieve these ends?

{ R:} I'd say that experience alone doesn't get you either beauty or truth. The artist must after experience communicate his experience to others in the form of a work of art. The inquirer must make use of his or her experience to form a theory about the world. Again perhaps these theories are one in the final result but we can certainly distinguish between a work of art like Dante's Divine Comedy and a theory of the universe such as Aquinas's in The Summa.

{ L:} And yet we can speak of the beauty of a theory and even regard a theory as a human creation and we also talk of the truth found in art. So you want to say that inquiry leads to a theory and art leads to a work of art.

{ R:} Yes so long as you realize that a theory need be not at all high-flown. If someone dies and a detective thinks that someone killed him this is a theory in the broad sense. Theories are confirmed or unconfirmed by reason or further experience.

{ L: } Well we said we'd confine ourselves to inquiry and truth so I won't keep trying to find parallels in art. As a neo-platonist I not only have the view that truth beauty and goodness are ultimately the same but also a theory about how we attain them.

{ R:} I'd be very interested to hear this theory.

{ L:} Begin with a human being with very little experience. Something usually something out of his ordinary experience arouses him to inquire and he comes to what you call a theory about the thing that has aroused his inquiry. Then she or he tries to test this theory by testing it for logical flaws and by further experience. Take the case of religion. Something happens to us which makes us happy and we know that we could not have done it. A natural reaction to this is to look for someone to thank. Sometimes this is another human being but for certain things we have to thank someone beyond human beings. God or at an early stage of religion `the gods'.

{ R:} Yes. G. K. Chesterton said that the worst moment for an atheist is when he feels thankful but has no one to thank.

{ L:} Like many things Chesterton said that is both wise and witty. So the person we are talking about forms the `theory' that there is a God and that God is good. Later on other experiences seem to conflict with this; the experience of evil which we are not responsible for. So then you must form a new theory for example that God is good but human beings by their choices have brought evil on themselves.

{ R:} Yes `the problem of evil' and the `free will defense' as many philosophers would call them. But how does this relate to inquiry and truth?

{ L:} Our thankfulness leads us to love God and by loving God we get to know more about God and knowing more about God leads us to love God.

{ R:} You and I agree that God is the Supreme Good. The more you know about God the more you love God; the more you love God the more you understand God. But how does this apply to more ordinary cases of inquiry?

{ L:} Since God is a person the closest analogy to the love of God is love of a human person. Someone does something for us which causes us to love him or her. This love helps us to know the other person.

{ R:} But many people would dispute that. They'd quote the proverb "love is blind" blind that is to the faults of the loved one and say that love is in one sense `the great deceiver'.

{ L:} Here I can make use of something you said in our dialogue about art: love has to be of something existing and false or mistaken love is love of what doesn't exist.

{ R:} But surely many people love things which don't exist.

{ L:} I would say that they are loving an imaginary picture of the person they think they love. Or in some cases they concentrate on the good things about a person ignoring the bad. I think that women are more realistic than men about the faults of someone they love. Real love is knowing someone's faults and still loving them. But of course women try to do away with the faults they see. Literature (and life) is full of women who marry men and then try to improve them.

{ R:} Yes men are `romantic' in this sense (and some women too); they don't see the faults in the one they love. If all the good things they see are imaginary then you have a case of infatuation not love. But can you extend this to inquiry about subjects?

{ L:} I think I can. We both admire Socrates. Wouldn't you say that two of his characteristics were his love of truth and his ability to inspire this love of truth in his students.

{ R:} Yes I certainly think that this was what made him such a great teacher. We've both taught introductory philosophy courses and certainly if someone is indifferent to or even hostile to philosophical truth it's almost impossible to teach him or her. You have much greater success with students who believe that some philosophical error is the truth and defend it: at least they care about truth.

{ L:} Yes and to take another example a person who does not love mathematical truth will never really understand mathematics.

{ R:} That's very true. Unfortunately some people who don't love mathematics get enough grasp of it to be teachers of mathematics. In high school I had a teacher who inspired in me a love of algebra which was promptly killed by my next teacher who taught geometry so badly that for a long time he killed any interest in mathematics for me. It was only later when I began to study logic that I regained a love of formal systems.

{ L:} Yes though some lovers of mathematics are bad teachers simply because they can't see how anyone cannot `just see' a mathematical truth or not love it as they do.

{ R:} Yes such teachers love mathematics but not students. To be a really good teacher you must love your students as well as your subject. Socrates was interested in the souls of those he taught not just interested in philosophy.

{ L:} But what does it mean to `love' your subject? Is it an emotion?

{ R:} I think you might get some idea of what love of a subject is if we look at the two kinds of persons we've talked about. A mystic who is `in love with God' isn't always happy about it. Sometimes she or he suffers what some mystics call `the dark night of the soul' and have no consolation in the thought of God; perhaps even negative emotions toward God. But nevertheless he or she is dedicated to God. His only real object in life is to know and serve God better. Similarly a person in love with another person doesn't always have positive emotions about that person: if there is a quarrel between them or other problem in their relationship they may even have negative emotions about that person. But at the same time if it is real love he or she is dedicated to that person wants to know and serve that person. Now in the case of loving philosophy or mathematics it doesn't always mean you have positive emotions about the subject but you're dedicated to that subject wouldn't think of abandoning it for another subject want to know more about it and teach others to appreciate it.

{ L:} So the bad teacher of philosophy only wants to get a minimum knowledge so that she or he can get a teaching job and would gladly abandon it for an easier job.

{ R:} Very true. Similarly if a supposed mystic gets discouraged by `the dark night of the soul' and stops praying to God or thinking about God he didn't really love God. And if a human loving another human is discouraged by difficulties in the relationship and goes on to find someone `easier' to love he didn't really have real love for that person.

{ L:} I see that you're doing the same thing here that you've done in other discussions: if something doesn't have what you think are the proper characteristics of love you say it isn't love. Others may prefer to describe it as not real long lasting love but a lesser love. Certainly in my study of philosophy there were times when the whole study of philosophy seemed pointless and abstract and I was tempted to abandon it.

{ R:} Yes but you didn't and your love of philosophy comes through in your teaching which is why you're a good teacher. Any relationship with a person or a subject goes through peaks and valleys what C. S. Lewis called `sloughs. Love of anything has to be worked on and that includes love of philosophy.

{ L:} But now where is truth in the discussion? You've said a lot about love but less about truth.

{ R:} Well truth is the way things really are. For theists like ourselves we can define truth as `the way God sees things'.

{ L:} But some truths like the sinfulness of humans and our own sinfulness isn't something we love.

{ R:} That's a good example for my purposes. That humans are sinful that we are sinful is part of the facts. But these facts have to be connected with other truths; that Christ died for us and redeemed us. When we put the depressing facts into context then we can love the whole truth.

{ L:} So `love of truth' for you has to be `love of the whole truth'. Did Socrates for example love the whole truth?

{ R:} He loved as much of it as he knew and was always eager for more truths. In one way a `truth' out of context isn't really a truth at all.

{ L:} Well take some fact: the number of murders or rapes in the world today. Are you saying that isn't a truth?

{ R:} I think that to know a truth you must do more than just know the facts: you have to understand them. And understanding involves putting them into context. As Aristotle might have put it "not just knowledge of the facts but the reasoned facts".

{ L:} I have some sympathy with that: as a neo-platonist I think all truth is connected and is ultimately one and is ultimately God. So Aristotle's `reasoned facts' would be connected with each other and ultimately with God.

{ R:} Yes God is the ultimate reality and the source of all other reality.

{ L:} How would you distinguish among `facts' `reality' and `truth'? Are they all the same?

{ R:} We sometimes substitute one for the other but I think we can make a distinction among them. Truth involves language: an old definition of truth is "the equivalence of thought to reality". Reality is what exists regardless of whether it is described in language and facts I would regard as uninterpreted statements about reality. You my have seen the television program "Dragnet". The police sergeant Sergeant Friday often says "just the facts" and I think that means he wants the facts without interpretation. For .example if you say "I saw him steal it" that involves theory which you may not be certain of; whereas if you say "I saw him pick it up and put it in his pocket" you can be certain of it since you observed it. Your interpretation may be wrong: perhaps the person didn't intend to steal it but put it into his pocket because he wanted his hands free.

{ L:} So as you said earlier we can know `the facts' without love but love is needed for understanding and if the truth is facts plus interpretation then we cannot know `the truth' without love.

{ R:} Yes. Notice when we use the words "I know the facts but have no idea what they mean" we are not self contradictory. "I have experienced the reality but don't know how to express it in words" is not self contradictory. But I think that "I know the truth but don't know what it means" or "I know the truth but can't express it" are self contradictory.

{ L:} Yet you say that these terms are often used interchangeably.

{ R:} Yes in a given case we might say "I want to know the truth" "I want to know reality" or "I want to know the facts" and mean pretty much the same by all of these statements. What's involved are various ways of speaking where we take a part for the whole. If I say "Moscow objects to the proposal" I am using Moscow which is part of Russia to express "the Russian Government objects".

{ L:} What's the difference between saying something which is true and saying that the statement you have made is true.

{ R:} Some philosophers think there is no difference: what's sometimes called `the redundancy theory of truth'. But I think that in ordinary language saying that something is true is more than just saying it. For example someone might say "God is good" and you and I would agree that is a true statement. But if someone says "It is true that God is good" they've added something to what they said before. Students can often see this in the case of "God is good" and "It is true that God is good" because they can see that "It is true that God is good" really adds something to only saying "God is good".

{ L:} What do you think it adds?

{ R:} I think that to say "It is true that God is good" is to say that you have some reason for thinking that God is good. Students often say that the statement "God is good" may be spoken out of faith or belief but "It is true that God is good" raises the question of how you might defend or justify the idea that God is good.

{ L:} You recall that in one of our earlier discussions I defended the idea that faith is a means of knowing.

{ R:} Yes and I think you made a good case for that thesis. But if faith is a means of knowledge then you do have a reason for saying "God is good" is true. Many of my students seem to define `faith' as believing in something for no reason.

{ L:} Yes I agree that many students do have that idea. So in your view "God is good" being not true is different from it being true that God is not good.

{ R:} Yes. Suppose as some students believe that "God is good" can not be shown to be either true or false. Then on this view it is not true that God is good but that does not mean that God is not good.

{ L:} So what do you think is shown by what you have said today?

{ R:} I think my key point was the close connection between love of something and understanding it. Since in my view understanding is necessary for truth this means that the connection between truth and love is much closer than many people think.

{ L:} As a neo-platonst I find this quite satisfactory but it only makes a start on understanding truth. Ultimately I hope we can explore this topic for all eternity and have as our basis for discussing it our experience of God who is truth.

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