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The Singularity of Truth

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Okay, some of this is just semantics–a result of the fact that the way we say things sometimes makes it seem as if we’re talking about the same thing in two different statements, when we’re actually talking about two different things.

There, that should break your head open on a Sunday morning.

If you ask me if the reality of the world–the thing we have to stare in the face in order to create a good work of art, literature or otherwise–is always the same, then I would say yes.

The nature of the world, like the nature of the human being, is what it is.   It exists as itself whether we like it or not, and whether we would prefer it to be another way than it is. 

In Aristotle, this is called the Law of Idenity.  The way it’s usually stated is:  a thing cannot both be and not be in the same respect at the same time.

Some things that can be said about the world are true, and they are true for every person.  Some things that can be said about the world are false, and they are false for every person.

The nature of the world, and of human beings, and of human life is objective, outsider ourselves, independent of what we want.

But when you say “is looking at life in the face the same for every person,” you’re no longer talking about the nature of the world, or of life.  You’re talking about the experience of the individual person.

Each individual human being is limited–limited in her capacity, limited in her ability, limited in his experience.

How’s that for solving the his-her problem.

Anyway, we each of us stand in our own little bubble, and our contact with the world is limited by the fact that we all live and die radically alone.  Nobody can get inside your skin.  Nobody can get inside your head.  You must take what you have inside you, apply it to the objective reality outside you, and come to some understanding of what you can see.

This is a large part of the point of the arts in all their forms–they are a way for us to at least partially experience what other people do, people who are different from us in many ways, and who therefore see different aspects of our common reality.

Not to get too cliched about it, but it’s like the old story of the blind men and the elephant.   None of the blind men were wrong about what they perceived–all of them were perceiving a reality that was not dependent on their perception–but all of them were limited in how much they were able to perceive. 

The reality of the elephant, however–the truth of its elphant-ness–did not change, and was not different, for each person.   It remained really and objectively true outside their perceptions.

Life is,  I think, like that.  None of us can see all of it.  None of us can experience all of it.  And none of us see, or experience, in just the same way.  

But the objective reality of life–and of what it means to be human–is the same for everyone, because it is not created by our perceptions, and it is really not created by our limitations.

Neither Keats nor Celine were wrong.  The beauty that Keats saw in human life is really there, the beauty in the human being and in nature.  The ugliness Celine saw was there, too, the will to death and destruction.  Neither of them made the m istake of bad art, and tried to obliterate reality in favor of a lie, comforting and otherwise.  Kitsch is kitsch, first and foremost, because it is that kind of lie.  Think not only of the coziest of the cozies, where everybody is Just So Cute, but of the most hard boiled of the hard boiled, where every Pillar of the Community is a corrupt pint-sixed Machiavelli and every woman willing to have sex is either a murderess or the mistress of a murderer.

The Greeks tried to come to some understanding of this by saying that the human being is halfway between a god and a beast.  Christianity provides a similar answer in the doctrine of original sin.  Both Socrates and St.  Paul saw this as the principle dilemma for the human being–the fact that we can see what is good and true and beauitful, the fact that we know how we ought to behave, and yet we have so much trouble actually doing it.

That implies, of course, that there is an objective foundation for the moral law, that morality is outside ourselves in the sense that we do not create it, either by opinions or by laws.  The Greeks would have said that morality was instilled in every man by nature.  St. Paul would have said it was instilled there by God.  Aquinas would have said that God intilled it in every man’s nature, so that every man could know the good even if he didn’t know God. 

I think Socrates and St. Paul and Aquinas and all the hundreds of others who came to this same conclusion over the long course of Western Civilization are not only right, but provably right. 

Which means I need to talk about the fact that there are lots of contradictory omral opinions out there, and to address the question of the relationship of morality to law.

But I’ll get to it tomorrow, because this is Sunday.

And that means there is Bach.

Written by janeh

November 22nd, 2009 at 8:14 am

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses to 'The Singularity of Truth'

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  1. You can only listen to Bach on Sundays?


    22 Nov 09 at 11:41 am

  2. So far, we are in complete agreement–well, except that it will more likely be Williams than Bach. Cherish the moment.


    22 Nov 09 at 12:28 pm

  3. Okay, I concede. Except that there are sociopaths. An abberance, certainly, but there all the same.


    22 Nov 09 at 12:51 pm

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