In search of “Truth, Beauty and Goodness”: Thoughts and reflections for a purposeful life
What can you do constructively with your analysis that goes beyond the immediate critique? In any area of inquiry, a question arises: How do you know when enough is enough, when your evidence is sufficient? When is it justifiable to claim insight? There cannot be an indubitable criterion for eliminating error, for doubt could arise concerning that criterion. Thus in every realm of intuition, the mind is engaged in adventure.
Each discipline--physics, history, ethics--has its own methods for refining judgment, but at the very least this minimum guidance might be generalized: Become familiar with the critical methods developed in the relevant disciplines, and be open to approaches outside the mainstream. Get in there and work at it with perseverance; it may take decades. Humility and limits of proof. Children sometimes ask for explanations and persist in asking "Why? The child's persistent questioning only expresses continuing wonder and desire for more interaction.
When the ability to keep answering the "Why? Nature, mind, and spirit are all evident, albeit in different ways: Nevertheless, logically speaking, the intuitive capacities to grasp matter, mind, and spirit, are assumptions , and they are so basic that we cannot prove them. The humility of philosophy is to acknowledge its inability to prove its basic assumptions.
Any attempted proof--or disproof- assumes too much or proves too little. Of course most philosophers who believe one way or the other think that reason is on their side, so they mount up arguments to persuade, giving the other side ceaseless opportunities to keep the conversation going. Note that the assumptions in question are not dogmas, but affirmations of access to regions of reality.
Inability to prove basic assumptions does not mean they are arbitrary, lacking evidence to motivate them. There is evidence, but one remains free to reject what experience appears to teach. It is not unreasonable, then, to use unproven assumptions, since the very structure of reason requires it. The most sophisticated formal system has to begin with axioms.
Logically, then, the primary intuitions are axioms. Experientially, they are self-evident. Practically and personally, they are commitments. The practical dimension to these primary intuitions is a dedication to explore these regions and to act in harmony with what one discovers. Philosophy can be visualized as taking place half-way up the mountain on a journey from a basic grasp of fact toward a remote and uncertain spiritual peak obscured by clouds. Half-way up the mountain, one may speak little, or skeptically, or diplomatically about the possibility of there being any worthwhile vista to attain.
Philosophy can also be visualized as an integrative discipline for those who have journeyed to the peak and who now, descending the far slope, are coordinating their understanding of the entire terrain. Suppose there is a gorgeous sunset, and you say to me, "Turn around and have a look at that! Each of our three assumptions is a window to experience, and this point is most dramatically illustrated in the case of spiritual reality. Those who debate the existence of God may choose to suspend judgment.
But fear of error may conceal fear of truth. If knowing God has similarities to knowing another person, then it is reasonable to expect that the evidence will grow bright only for the person who makes the adventuresome turn. The turn is not a leap of blind faith, however, because of the intuitive, if dim, glimmer of spiritual truth that motivates the question. How do you know? Don't we all crave to grasp cosmic reality and to transcend the ordinary human perspective? Wouldn't it be ideal to be able to approach any problem by thinking about things in terms of their high origin, evolutionary history, and ultimate destiny?
As philosophers build systems to satisfy the demand for such a perspective, however, ideas get complicated. Writers and readers get confused. Then the skeptical reaction sets in, charging that metaphysics, the human attempt to conceive of ultimate reality, is presumption and folly. What can justify "metaphysical" talk about matter, mind, and spirit?
The most basic assumptions and categories for thinking are ways of organizing experience, and it seems as though they may be just useful tools, even human constructions. The pragmatic answer is easiest: Life based on these assumptions is more livable, more satisfying, than trying to live out their denial. I believe, however, that the reason that experience so broadly supports these categories is that they are real. In other words, we don't only say they are true because they work; the reason they work is that they are true. Belief in a Creator offers a profound justification for the basic structures of the human mind.
The God who created the heavens and the earth also created the basic powers of the human mind. Even though the divine mind is vastly superior to the human mind--"as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts"--we still have some grasp of reality.
Mind and universe we survey come from a common source. What a fresh sense of thinking results from this outlook! Each of us can say that we, as thinkers, are operating with what the Creator has given us. No matter what our level of education, no matter how incomplete our understanding or how confused our culture, no matter how much own minds are torn by fear and anxiety, we still have basic capacities for reality recognition provided by the Creator. If religion warns of how sin distorts the mind, it also testifies to the rejuvenating results of faith, repentance, and forgiveness.
As we do our best to pursue truth, we are opening ourselves to whatever higher assistance there may be to help us along our way. The mind's framework for thinking, then, though it is shaped by culture, is not totally dependent on culture. Culture shapes our understanding of material thing, moral duty, spirit, and so on.
But the deep structure of the human mind reflects a higher source. A further assurance of the validity of our basic intuitions is available for those who believes that revelation has occurred, that a superhuman source has expressed truth in a way we can understand. For Jews and Muslims, the very fact that revelation utilized the Hebrew or Arabic language validates the serviceability of human language and thought-forms.
For Christians, the personality of Jesus unites divine nature and human nature. Hinduism has a comparable belief in Krishna and other avatars; and many Buddhists believe in one or more Buddhas as having descended from a heavenly realm. For the majority of religionists in these traditions, the thought that such extraordinary persons worked with the powers of the human mind gives a profound validation of what human thinking can be at its best.
To go out on a speculative limb, at the frontier of the ability to conceive such things, assuming that it is meaningful to even think of mind on such a high level, what could the divine mind be doing? Various answers have been given. God knows the creation. Within the unfathomable unity of God there is sufficient complexity, sufficient self-articulation of Deity, that it is meaningful to think of God as revealing himself to himself.
Thus the ultimate metaphysical meaning of our basic intuitions is that they participate in the process of cosmic mind as the infinite reveals itself to itself. The practical significance of this idea is to encourage the quest to live the maximum of divinity that the mind can comprehend--truth and beauty and goodness. One more reflection supports the dignity of the mind's basic intuitive capacities.
I may consider myself to be a small and lowly creature.
When I define myself as finite, I may imagine, however vaguely, an infinite beyond me. Religiously speaking, I imagine the Creator as an awesome infinity, altogether beyond my poor powers. It is as though there is a great fence, a barrier between me, the finite creature, and the great infinite. An infinite that is located on one side of a fence is thereby made into a finite being. In order to be truly infinite, the infinite must somehow encompass the finite.
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However difficult it may be to explicate that "somehow," the finite as it cries out in despair is already included in the infinite. This idea is already on the books: The social side of thinking. Although thinking is often a lonely vocation, it is a matter of teamwork far more than we usually think. First of all, we think most of the time in language.
Language involves us in culture. We use most of the terms and assumptions of those with whom we interact. We went through some school system. We read things, and discuss with people. Our flights of independent thinking occur against a backdrop of community participation. This is not regrettable but inevitable. Study and experience lead us to gradually alter the way we view things, and we may spiritualize our thinking. But we remain minds of our age.
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Our intuitions are shaped by our location in culture. Some writers emphasize the fact of different perspectives, different cultures, and different locations in a given culture. Acknowledging differences--sex, race, class, religion, sexual orientation, language, education, condition of health--reminds us that our own cultural location is not universal, our own perspective not absolute. In this light, it may seem as though the hope of insight just went out the window, that "truth" is a title for presumption, and that wisdom, synthesis, integration must be regarded as premature or totalitarian until every voice has been heard and understood--an impossible task.
The erroneous impression that wisdom is unattainable, however, comes from insisting on impossible ideals. Though deeply inconsistent perspectives force us to choose between them, different perspectives often complement each other. If language and social location were everything, there would be no hope of communication with "outsiders," and nationalism would be the last word in politics. But people find kindred minds across "barriers" of culture and language. This is not surprising if the mind that expresses itself in language comes from a common source.
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True, there is no way to express that common humanity other than in some particular language. Today the teamwork of thinking involves participating in a global culture of cultures where differences sharpen intuitions, challenge hasty reasoning, and make the synthesis of wisdom an ongoing process. However chaotic that culture has been, it remains our mind's immediate home, the "place" from which we attempt our interface with divine mind. Dialogue often rouses the hope that perspectives will converge. It feels wonderful to expand areas of agreement, to find common ground.
The movement toward harmony and unity is thrilling. Nevertheless, when the perspectives do not converge, people should be able to enjoy contributing to the common good by expressing their particular angle as well as possible.
If group action must be taken, then we can work for fairness in the political process that composes differences. Cultural differences cannot block the quest for truth. Even divine truth can only be communicated to us in ways that we can understand. If Krishna or Buddha or Moses or Jesus or Muhammad or any other prophet ever brought a higher-than-human truth, the gift arrived packaged in a particular language at a particular time, and it takes wisdom to apply it to the needs of another place and time.
Even eternal truth must be applied. And the insight sufficient for today may not be enough for tomorrow. This in no way denies the cosmic validity or eternal truth of the insight, but it does show the magnitude of the adventure. Forming and integrating concepts. Philosophy achieves its wisdom synthesis by bringing together many lines of reasoning. All reasoning begins with propositions. All propositions link a subject term and a predicate term. The terms can stand for anything--objects, persons, ideas. The key terms in the central propositions of this book stand for concepts.
What is a concept? A concept is an idea plus. It is an idea that has become invested with rich associations through experience. It has become linked with high values. You can pick up ideas as fast as you read, but you cannot pick up concepts without the labor of thoughtful living. My favorite example of a concept comes from the story of an eleven-year-old Jewish boy who went through a three-year struggle. On the one hand, he had a supreme desire to be loyal to God and to live according to his understanding of the highest religious standards.
It might have seemed easier to solve the problem one-sidedly, by letting go of one side of the tension, dismissing one group of duties; but he stayed with both sets of legitimate requirements, and day by day he worked out the needed adjustments as best he could. At the conclusion of that period, he had formed a concept of group solidarity, a concept with several interesting components. These ingredients were virtues and qualities of relationship: His story illustrates the kind of struggle involved in forming a concept and the kind of ingredient that goes into one.
As I pondered the sketchy story it seemed that the boy solved an immediate family problem in a way that applied to other groups as well. This shows the universality of concepts. He could speak of group solidarity , not just the solidarity of his immediate family. Next, the first ingredient was loyalty to God.
In other words, group solidarity has its ultimate foundation in the members' loyalty to divine ideals. Group solidarity also requires tolerance, since there are always imperfections that you see or seem to see in others that you simply have to put up with. On the basis of accepting people for who they are now, a friendship emerges that binds the members of the group together.
And we can save the word love to denote that divine experience that integrates the previous phases and uplifts the relations among the members to their dynamic maximum. To set forth a network of concepts is the goal of this book, as stated in the introduction.
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The book's conclusion can be put in the form of a thesis: A full exploration of truth embracing fact, meaning, and value culminates in spiritual experience, whose beauty opens up a fresh experience of nature and the arts, whose inspiration invigorates you for a life devoted to goodness, whose result is a character dominated by love. This huge thesis sentence actually contains several propositions: A full exploration of truth culminates in spiritual experience.
Experiencing the beauty of truth opens up a wonderful new experience of beauty in nature and the arts. Realizing truth and enjoying beauty prepare you for the practices of goodness. Noble character draws on all these values, and love is its crowning virtue. This thesis can be taken as a promise: Follow this path, and you will know fulfillment in a life of love. It could be stated as an empirical prediction "If you try out this experiment, I expect you will find consequences like these" or as a command "Follow this path.
The thesis implicitly contains a testimonial: I have walked this path far enough to become assured that the promise is trustworthy. These chapters try to show links between truth, beauty, and goodness of truth. While trying to avoid a contentious spirit, I show how to defend religious affirmation of a Creator God against objections based on considerations that every religionist needs to take into account. Most of all, however, I rely less on logic and more on trying to convey experience. The practices of philosophy may be put in a logical sequence: Sharpen intuition to the level of insight.
Use reason to draw logical inferences. Synthesize a wisdom perspective. These three stages intermingle in practice, and excellence in each is required for excellence in any one of them. Synthesizing various lines of reasoning. Excellence in any one of these steps requires excellence in the others. My main goal is to give you concepts of truth, beauty, goodness, and love that are radiantly alive. To do so requires the other steps, too. Meditation can be giving a gentle focus for the mind on its path to transcend every finite object of experience.
Meditation can be as simple as conscious breathing. The most remarkable insights and experiences can arise in meditation. But these practices are optional, not essential to the philosophy of living that is my object here. In addition, I believe, some practices of meditation may be harmful and lead people to mistake psychic alterations for spiritual experience. It takes a well-balanced path to promote the well-balanced physical, emotional, social, intellectual, moral, and spiritual character that we desire.
Here, when I speak of meditation, I am thinking about taking time to stop and ponder, to think things over. Meditation may focus on striking words, phrases, sentences, the meanings of events, passages of scripture, spiritual realities. In meditation we contemplate some reading or teaching whose personal relevance we sense without yet fathoming it.
In reading and listening the adventurer looks for the gems and lets their attractiveness be a magnet for attention. Meditation is not in a hurry. Meditation lets associations come to mind, not in a random and chaotic way, but in a creatively purposeful way. When the mind glimpses higher meanings and values, we customarily move on quickly, thinking that we have gotten the message.
We do not let the message establish roots in the heart, so it has almost no transformative effect on our behavior. Taking time for thorough meditation increases mental efficiency later on. For example, in the process of forming habits of spiritual response to a recurring problem, for example, dealing with uncertainty, it may take considerable reflection and inner "work" to acquire receive the attitude that gives the necessary leverage for coping with the problem.
It may take something like a meditation, repeated time after time. For example, you may bring to mind the alternative possibilities, think through their consequences, and prepare yourself at length to face whatever has to be faced and to act constructively in response. You acknowledge the human tendency to react to uncertainty with fear, but you seek and find a dynamic and positive attitude, an actual appetite for uncertainty. But gradually, with consistent practice, a habit forms, an ability to summarize and move quickly without going again through all the steps.
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Gradually it is not just the uncertainty of this or that situation that can become the occasion for rousing receiving your positive appetite; uncertainty itself becomes a stimulus. Eventually, as soon as you recognize uncertainty, the new and better attitude leaps forth.
Meditation moves in an unhurried way from quietness to openness toward a higher source. Somewhere along the path from thinking to prayer, meditation gives an opportunity to become permeable to meanings and values that the spirit is trying to bring to mind. A cousin of mine used to fly the enormous airplanes that refueled Bs in flight. A long pipe would extend to connect "the flying gas station" with the B In meditation, we open ourselves to an input of higher wisdom.
As we saw at the close of the previous section, philosophy functions as an interface between our material, social, emotional, and cultural concerns and our spiritual dimension. Philosophic reflection enables blind struggles to be recognized as problems, and enables problems to be conceptualized in a way that prepares the mind most effectively to seek higher wisdom.
For example, you are tired, but there is a task you need to finish. You can simply persevere and drive yourself into needless exhaustion or you can put up your periscope of reflection. If new ideas were purely a product of rationality, other people would quickly grasp and embrace novel solutions. Periods of enforced solitude can cause a person to develop eccentricities of conduct and character, parley with a number of mental aberrations, partake in self-destructive diversions, or use their time productively to contemplate worldly issues and diligently work on self-improvement. It requires concentrated effort to create self-hood.
The task of creating a fully developed human being is an ongoing process, an open-ended assignment. The goal of self-hood is to evade slipping into a state of thoughtlessness, where we fail to take ownership of our thoughts, deeds, and lifestyle. In an elusive quest to disinter meaning out of life, we must cull joy from our daily rituals while conscientiously striving to nourish the nucleus of our buried innate essence. We constantly make and remake our personal version of the self.
Personal introspection is critical to ascertain who we want to become by ascertaining what traits we wish to eradicate and what qualities we wish to embody. Overcoming fear of making an irreversible, lifetime mistake is the first step of living an artistic existence. Every day is a good day to live and a good day to die. Every day is also an apt time to learn and express joy and love for the entire natural world.
Each day is an apt time to make contact with other people and express empathy for the entire world. Each day is perfect to accept with indifference all aspects of being.
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A love-hate relationship defines our personal history with society, where the suppression of individuality for the sake of the collective good battles the notion that the purpose of society is to enable each person to flourish. A conspicuous feature of cultural development involves societies teaching children the sublimation of unacceptable impulses or idealizations, consciously to transform their inappropriate instinctual impulses into socially acceptable actions or behavior.
Staying Sane in a Crazy World. Restoring our World Soul. Meet Your Mind Volume 1. Spirituality for Our Global Community. A Spirit the World Has Forgotten. Kill the Carnal Mind. Dialogue With The Self: Envisioning a New World: Awakening to Life's Oneness. Notes Towards a New Age, Volume 2. It's Between What They Say. I Am the Change I Seek. Wisdom of the Soul and Life's Challenges. The Key to a Meaningful Life. New Vision For the New Millennium. Truth Will Set You Free. The Renewal of the Social Organism. More on the Maverick Way. I Am Not God.
God - The Truth -- The Lies. Dialogue for Interreligious Understanding. A Whole New Attitude. Spiritual Transformation of the Fourth Millennium. Loris Malaguzzi and the Schools of Reggio Emilia. Radical Education and the Common School. Alternative Narratives in Early Childhood.
Early Childhood and Compulsory Education. From Children's Services to Children's Spaces. Ethics and Politics in Early Childhood Education.