Truth, Beauty, and Goodness
Its beauty which brings one closer to truth and goodness.
Truth, Beauty, and Goodness
- Fundamental Triplicity
- Satyam Shivam Sundram
- Sat Chit Ananda
- Truth Beauty Goodness
- Platonic Triad
- Socratic Trinity
- Ken Wilber AQAL Model
- Victor Cousin
- Charles Sanders Peirce
- I – You – We – It
From Awakening Wonder:
A Classical Guide to TRUTH, GOODNESS & BEAUTY
The True, the Good, and the Beautiful
It is in this civilizational context that we first encounter the emergence of the cosmic values known as the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. The Greek term aletheia (“truth”) literally means “nonconcealment,” the negation of lethein, “to elude notice, to be unseen.”9 Aletheia thus connotes a sense of disclosure: “truth in the sense of the unhiddenness . . . and disclosedness of the state of affairs which exhibits itself and is therefore perceived in its actuality.”10 The term agathos (“good”) as an adjective connoted “the significance or excellence of a thing or person” and was eventually developed by philosophers to designate the goal, purpose, or meaning of existence.11 Likewise, kalos (“beauty”) is generally rendered as “beautiful,” “healthy,” “excellent,” “strong,” or “good.”12 It is during the fifth century BC that we find two of the three terms used together. For example, kalos is first used together with agathos in a political or social context: the kaloi and agathoi are leading citizens who embody the virtues of the polis, the Greek city-state. Indeed, the synonymity of the terms contracted into a single word, kalokagathia.
Plato and the “Socratic Trinity”
However, it is not until the writings of Plato that these three terms converge into mutually interpreting concepts, in what has been termed the “Socratic trinity” or “Platonic triad.” Though Plato did not provide a systematic treatment of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, it is not coincidental that the first clear presentation of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful historically comes from a fifteenth-century commentary on Plato’s Philebus by the Italian humanist scholar Marsilio Ficino.13
Truth, Goodness, and Beauty for Plato were divine concepts; they make up what he called the eidon, the eternal transcendent world of the ideas or forms. This Socratic trinity is the eternal source of life in which the totality of our cosmos participates as an eikon, a temporal, finite image or icon of the eternal transcendent world of the Ideas or Forms. For Plato, the universe is very much alive, or at least inextricably bound up with divine activity, and is thereby considered an object of veneration. In the Timaeus, the world is animated by a rational soul, which is the macrocosmic basis for the microcosmic human soul.14 Humans, as microcosmic replications of the larger macrocosmic world, are composed of tripartite souls that loosely correspond to the Socratic trinity: logos, thymos or ethos, and eros or epithymetes. The logos involves our rational capacities; the thymos or ethos involves our emotional, ethical, or moral capacities; and the epithymetes or eros involves our desires and aesthetic capacities.15 And it is through the tripartite soul that was forged in the world of the forms before our birth and embodiment (Plato held more or less to a doctrine of reincarnation) that the individual human can mirror, reflect, or image the virtues of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, and thus exemplify and participate in divine life.
Now, for Plato, the dilemma is that we as tripartite souls already possess a knowledge of the virtues, literally the divine order of the eternal ideas or forms—the imprint—of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, but this knowledge has been forgotten as the result of our birth and embodiment. As he made clear in his Meno, knowledge does not derive from inductive or deductive processes or an investigation into the nature of things, but rather knowledge is a recollection, what Plato termed anamnesis, a recovery of Truth insofar as our souls have experienced it prior to our embodiment.16 So the key here is that knowledge needs to be awakened. And it is philosophia, the love of wisdom, that seeks to recover human perception of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful so as to restore the human soul to its participation in divine life. This pursuit of Truth in the Phaedrus and Gorgias, of Goodness in the Republic, and of Beauty in Diotima’s speech in the Symposium, in effect reorients the human person to the divine world of the eternal and immutable, and thereby effects a harmonious relationship with the cosmos, which itself participates in divine life.The Platonic Conception of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty
The precise relationship between the True, the Good, and the Beautiful in Plato is very difficult to determine, largely because these concepts are not treated systematically but rather are spread out among his works. But we can map out a broad, general model for how they work together in relation to the tripartite soul.
For Plato, the Good is not simply a thing or a value; the Good is universal priority in which all true things participate and from which they exist. In book VII of the Republic, Plato considered the Good to be the universal principle, the self-sufficient source of all being and the irreducible essence of reality:[I]n the region of the known the last thing to be seen and hardly seen is the idea of Good, and that when seen it must needs point us to the conclusion that this is indeed the cause for all things of all that is right and beautiful, giving birth in the visible world to light, and the author of light and itself in the intelligible world being the authentic course of truth and reason.17
For Plato, the Good is not simply a thing or a value; the Good is universal priority in which all true things participate and from which they exist. The Good is “beyond being” and is thus the foundation of all hypotheses which requires no hypothesis; that Idea from which all Ideas emerge and on which they depend.18 According to his allegory of the cave in book VII of the Republic, the Good is to the world of Ideas much like what the sun is to our perceptible, physical world. As such, the Good, the divine source of life, is in itself unknowable, being the essence, the light, by which all things are known and perceived. The Good itself must thus be revealed; it must be communicated to the human mind by means of aletheia or “Truth.”19 Drawing from the allegory of the cave, we might say that Truth is the splendor of the Good that can be perceived by the soul.20 For Plato, Truth involves understanding how all things in our world, all particulars, participate in and derive their nature from the Good.21 Thus, concomitant with its etymology, it is the nature of Truth to reveal or disclose reality, the priority of the Good, to the human mind or logos.However, the Good is not merely revealed to the mind through Truth. A desire, an eros, is awakened for the Good within the human soul through kalos or “Beauty.” In Diotima’s speech in the Symposium, Beauty is the object of eros or love.22 And it is here that Plato revealed the means by which the soul encounters the True and the Good. In awakening eros, Plato’s conception of Beauty becomes inextricably linked with Grecian physics, in that eros constitutes the law of attraction. Empedocles had envisioned the cosmos as a whole and all the particulars within it, including humans, as directed by eros and eris, literally “desire” and “strife,” which served as the opposing forces of attraction and repulsion. In accordance with Greco-Roman physics, this love, this desire awakened through Beauty, serves the indispensable role of momentum or motivation in intellectual, moral, and spiritual pursuits. This is why we associate Beauty with “attraction”; through Beauty we are drawn to the True and the Good. By awakening eros within us, Beauty provides us with the allure, the momentum, the gravitational pull toward the True and the Good and thus unites us with the divine source of life:
When a man has been thus far tutored in the lore of love, passing from view to view of beautiful things, in the right and regular ascent, suddenly he will have revealed to him, as he draws to the close of his dealings in love, a wondrous vision, beautiful in its nature; and this, Socrates, is the final object of all those previous toils. . . . Beginning from obvious beauties he must for the sake of that highest Beauty be ever climbing aloft, as one the rungs of a ladder, from one to two, and from two to all beautiful bodies; from personal Beauty he proceeds to beautiful observances, from observance to beautiful learning, and from learning at last to that particular study which is concerned with the beautiful itself and that alone; so that in the end he comes to know the very essence of Beauty.23The important point here is that Beauty, because of its divine nature, is always linked with the True and the Good. In order for something to be truly beautiful, it must by definition draw one to the True and the Good. When eros or love is amputated from Truth and Goodness, say in the case of pornography, it is no longer love but rather lust or epithymia.24 The Greeks alluded to this differentiation in the mythologies of the Muses and the Sirens: the Muses are the daughters of Zeus who inspire Beauty and Truth, while the Sirens are water nymphs who lure sailors to their deaths through their bewitching songs. So we see here a highly ethical significance to this encounter with the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. Because Beauty communicates the True and the Good through its radiance, the awakening of eros always involves the awakening of arête—the classical virtues (wisdom, moderation, justice, and courage)—which occurs when the logos, thymos, and epithymetes or eros constituting the tripartite human soul reflect the balance or harmony of the cosmos.25 Thus Plato saw an inextricable link between virtue and a true knowledge of the world.
The important point here is that Beauty, because of its divine nature, is always linked with the True and the Good. In order for something to be truly beautiful, it must by definition draw one to the True and the Good.Encountering Truth, Goodness, and Beauty through Paideia
For Plato, the educational project of paideia involves teaching students to repudiate what deserves repudiation and to love what is in fact lovely and deserving of our desires.26 This involves what amounts to be a three-stage process.
First, there is the need to realize there is in fact a problem, that one is in fact ignorant and incapable of accounting for reality. This admission of personal impoverishment, what the Greeks called aporia and the Latins called pietas, is the rationale for the Socratic Dialogue; Socrates was able to impart wisdom only when his interlocutor admits ignorance and perplexity.
Second, this intellectual and spiritual vacuousness, this virtue of humility, can then be filled—and filled not merely with facts but with a recollection of the knowledge of the world as it relates to that which is eternally True, Good, and Beautiful. This stage involves a twofold purification by which students cultivate a detachment from false things and an attachment to true things. The twofold purification consists of a moral and an intellectual purification. Moral purification involves the practice of the virtues, which in effect distances the soul from the confines and temptations of the body. Intellectual purification, or theoria, involves contemplation of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, particularly in mathematics, where students are able see the reality that lies beyond appearances. Thus, all subjects in an educational curriculum serve as lenses through which the True, the Good, and the Beautiful can be encountered. Gymnastics cultivate the virtue of enkrateia or self-mastery; music and poetry provide the chief means by which the rhythm and harmony of the cosmos can be communicated through the body and sunk deeply into the recesses of the soul.27
Third, there is ultimate theoria, the union of the soul with the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, a beatific vision that one simply cannot experience while embodied. One experiences this vision only at death.28
Truth, Goodness, and Beauty emerge historically in a world very much removed from our own. This world was characterized by cosmic piety, the sense that the universe was alive with divine presence and thus obligated all people born into the world to live a particular kind of life, one that oriented the self into a harmonious relationship with the world and others. This obligation was lived out in the life of the polis, the city-state, which served as the civic center for communion between men and the gods. In order to foster a harmonious relationship with the cosmos and city, the Greek educational project called paideia sought to instill within students a love for the cosmic values: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. As particularly developed in the work of Plato, these values served as the harmonious model for cultivating a comparable harmony in one’s own soul, which one then lived out in harmony with one’s fellow man, and thus exemplified and perpetuated the cosmic harmony that sustained the world.
The educational project of paideia involves teaching students to repudiate what deserves repudiation and to love what is in fact lovely and deserving of our desires.
Plato’s philosophy provides us with the cosmic, anthropological, and civic frames of reference for the emergence of a distinctly Christian development of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, and it is to this Christian reappropriation that we now turn.
Please see my related posts:
Key Sources of Research:
Lectures on the true, the beautiful, and the good
Translation by O. W. Wight
A Classical Guide to TRUTH, GOODNESS & BEAUTY
Stephen R. Turley, PhD
THE GOOD, THE TRUE, AND THE BEAUTIFUL
THE BIRTH OF THE TRUE, THE GOOD, AND THE BEAUTIFUL:
TOWARD AN INVESTIGATION OF THE STRUCTURES OF SOCIAL THOUGHT
John Levi Martin
Beauty as a transcendental in the thought of Joseph Ratzinger
University of Notre Dame Australia