The Crisis in the 21st Century – I.IV. Belief (Part III)
What is it that properly contains the true or the good? Clearly they are both more universal than any particular good or truth encountered; what then, is more universal than the true or the good? The only sufficient answer which can be given is Being simpliciter, that is, Being without limitation. In the tradition of Aristotle, Western philosophy has looked at Being as that which contains the ten genera, or categories, into which fall all particular, definite, perceivable beings.1 This is rather clearly not a definition of Being itself, just as saying that a man is arms and legs and hair and a billion other designations of materiality is not a definition of man; even a complete enumeration of man’s parts does not explicate what he is, and is a far cry from explicating who he is. Man is best defined by understanding his function, his end; understanding his end, what Martin Heidegger would term the “for-the-sake-of,” that at which his actions aim or ought to aim, allows understanding the actions themselves, and both the means which enable and the means taken to enact those actions. Without such a metaphysical context, there can be no comprehension of the physical, for comprehension itself exists on a metaphysical plane. Can the same sort of metaphysical context be seen and done for Being? In a way it can, and in a way it cannot. While there can be experiences had of man, the universal concept, through particular men, and experiences had of Being, the universal, through particular beings, the universality of each differs drastically.
What does it mean for something to be “universal”? To take a syntactical example, a universal is something which can be predicated of another. Dog can be predicated of this dog and that; animal can be predicated of dog and cat; creature can be predicated of human person and animal; being can be predicated of creature and creation. But yet again a complete enumeration of all the objects which fit into any universal category or designation does not provide the definition of that by which the more particular, designated objects are categorized, only examples from which an abstraction may occur. Thus while this sort of example can be helpful in understanding how universality is predicated, it does little to help clarify what a universal is. At best, such a definition would posit universals as undesignated possibilities bearing a likeness to designated realities. In a way, this is what some universals are, such as dogs or animals or even creatures; the definition of the universal comes from the actuality of the particular.
But what of the true or the good? Does the definition of truth come from the actuality of some particular true being?2 In the sense that the true is in the knower, yes; in the sense that the true is in the particular being, no, for it is in every being insofar as they are; the source of a particular truth regarding a particular being (e.g., the duck’s feathers are green) is true because it is as it is, which is true because it is and as such can be known. In other words, a thing is true because commensurate with its degree of participation in Being, as a being, there is intelligibility. Likewise with the good; in which commensurate with the participation in Being, as a being, there is a fittingness in the active participation in the fulfillment of the end.3 Thus, the source of truth and goodness is simultaneously Being; it exists in the particulars by their participation in Being, as beings, which supersedes all categorical predication, for the principle of Being (such being an analogous term) clearly exists in no way which is definable by particular instantiations of beings, since it is predicated of all and of all that could be. It is the most universal, and implicitly recognized by everyone whenever they recognize the existence of anything.
What does all this have to do with belief? While the justification provided is rather soritical and lacking in demonstration by example, the foregoing has shown one thing: meaningful pursuit or employ of any thing in the world requires a conception of the true and the good; a conception of the true or the good which defines them purely by their instantiation in the particular object divorces the principle of intelligibility from Being, which would coincidentally posit a radical alteration of man’s knowledge, presumably placing the principle of the intelligibility within man, a theory with which there are a host of innately relativistic problems. Thus, since meaningful action depends on a conception of the good and the true, and the good and the true have their principles of existence within Being simpliciter, then in order to properly justify one’s actions by an objective, one must have a belief in said Being, which cannot be proven by demonstrative science. The argument that this Being is God is the cusp between metaphysics and theology, and is what motivates St. Thomas Aquinas’ Treatise on the Divine Nature.4
It is somewhat ironic that the New Atheists who would insist upon examination of everything before putting trust in it, believe in something they cannot prove without even being conscious that they believe in it. Indeed, those individuals who constitute the primary targets of the New Atheism’s derision, the simple believers in the pews, who can provide no rational argument for those things that they believe in, are better off than their skeptical atheist assailants, for the conscious belief of the simple believer does not contradict his subconscious belief. It is better, certainly, to have investigated and examined one’s conscious beliefs than to let them lie shrouded entirely in unnecessary mystery, to ignore one’s intellectual pursuit of religious truth; but it is far better to have an unexamined and correct belief than a thoroughly examined but incorrect practice which contradicts all meaning or purpose in life. Were anyone to live out the demand for absolute proven certainty of the New Atheism, or the Old Atheism, or the Ancient Skepticism, he would not live, or would live only according to the purpose that he himself deigns, without respect for anyone other than himself, or even himself, but merely subject to the whims of an unrestrained animality. Truth is absent if one predicates the sole measure of its reality in the object, just as goodness is a fiction without basis if one determines its quiddity on the conscious whims of the individual alone; truth and goodness both require belief.
In the words of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, “As in the questions of everyday, so too in our relationship with God we can find a path forward only by sharing in the knowledge of others. In our relationship with God, those who see and those who experience are present, and we can rely on them in our own faith. In some way, they bestow their own certainty on us. We make up the multitude, but we are not simply blind vis-à-vis God. Relying on those who see, we advance gradually toward him, and the buried memory of God, which is written on the heart of every man, awakens more and more to life in the depths of our own being. When we live close to God, our sight is restored: when we use our eyes, they bear witness to his truth.”5
1 A good explanation of the categories is difficult to find online, but the Wikipedia article will suffice for its brevity.
2 Dealing with the question of “what is the truth?” is beyond the scope of this essay; for the sake of being succinct the operating definition will be “the active and continual adequation of the intellect with the thing itself,” and thus the source of that which is said to be true is the object of truth; hence “true being.” If clarification is desired please open a dialogue in the combox.
3 There is much implied in this statement, particularly by the word “active” – which should be taken to indicate a continual and total pursuit of the end, as a good, which means not justifying the means because of the end, but being good in itself.
4 Summa Theologiae, I.Q2-13
5 Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006) 115