Monday 5 November 2018

Nothing less than The Good will suffice

For the past couple of hundred years in The West, influential groups of people have been trying to get-by with less than the unified-Good.

For example, aesthetics - the beautiful, the idea of Art for Arts sake - was popular in the late 19th century, and recurrently since. But it does not suffice. One intrinsic reason is that The Beautiful is a part of that unified totality which is The Good, and while beauty may be distinguished from the totality it cannot be conceptually separated.

We also know this because living with beauty as priority has been thoroughly tried, and comprehensively failed. We ourselves can try the experiment, and discover this.

We may try to put aesthetics first and final; but will find that Truth and Virtue are unavoidable. People can, and do, split The Good into components - assert one or some and omit another - but the rejected will return. People will find themselves asserting that the Beautiful is also the Virtuous, and that it is also True.

If they try to escape this by focusing on feelings, and reduce Beauty to that which evokes Pleasure - they will find themselves asserting that this is True, that Pleasure is a Right, that the promotion of pleasure is a Virtue; that the infliction of pain, suffering, misery is Sin...

(I am here describing mainstream modern morality as asserted in the public sphere: hedonic utilitarianism.) 

When Beauty is rejected, they will find themselves asserting the the Ugly is really, deep-down or when you properly consider it, Beauty. And that this is True.

Or - they may reject Morality, but find themselves asserting that Morality-rejection is the proper form of Virtue.

The Good turns-out to be unified and primary; and then the Good turns-out to be a part of Creation...

(Because if the universe was caused by physics, life caused by chemistry, and consciousness by biology - then The Good is merely a product of meaningless and purposeless and non-human historical processes - so is not really Good.).

And so we get back to a Creator.

It's an all-or-nothing situation - deny any component of The Good/ Creation/ Creator - and you are put into the position of denying everything - including the reasons for your first denial. THIS fact may, of course, itself be denied - but That denial doesn't affect the fact that the resulting is incoherent and contradicts itself all the time and in multiple ways...

...Which has consequences (even when these consequences are denied!)


Francis Berger said...

This, in my humble opinion, is one of your finest blog posts. It captures a fundamental misunderstanding that has mislead and continues to mislead so many astray. The ideas expressed here remind me of a fictional character I once created - an unabashed hedonist who is driven by the notion that pleasure is all we have left when we no longer believe in the Good.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Frances - Thank you!

It was indirectly 'inspired' by my current detailed re-reading of the Owen Barfield Chapter in RJ Reilly's Romantic Religion - expounding the common and contrasting philosophies of Tolkien CS Lewis, Charles Williams and - as the key - Barfield.

I remember looking at your stylish web pages a couple of years ago - - glad to know you still look in here sometimes.