The True, the Good, and the Beautiful … Part 1

I really appreciate almost everything I’ve learned via engineering – first through a couple of degrees, then by plying the trade for quite some time. Disciplined thinking, careful questioning of (most – but more on that in a moment) presuppositions, and perhaps the confidence to know when to quickly gather what you know, then project a most likely course of action from a woefully sketchy set of facts.

All of that is great, and can lead to some real clarity in situations that confuse many.

But …

A presupposition that is almost never explicitly stated, but for too many has become the sacrosanct equivalent of revealed dogma is this

Only the material world is knowable, testable, verifiable … so everything else is at best fodder for pleasant conversation, and at worst, a dangerous, delusional trap for the stupid, toothless, uneducated residents of … well places that I wouldn’t live.

Besides being demonstrably false, this presupposition disposes many to go beyond a healthy skepticism to a dangerous delusional state of their own … presupposing away the only rational explanations for most of life, flattening and deadening a rich, vibrant full-color existence into the flattest of faded, monochromatic, drab false realities.

This unspoken, dogmatic presupposition had bothered me for some time. First of all, it didn’t correspond to many of my own experiences, but perhaps more damning was that whenever I would question it with some of my friends, or even hint that I might think about questioning it at some point in the future, perhaps even in an alternative stream of a multi-verse and promised to absolute, never, never, ever NEVER bring it up in this stream of existence, even then I would receive some of the most intense streams of venom, all with substantiation … rather, just because.

Well that just started to make me mad.

Reptition and volume are no substitute for an actual reason, or perhaps even more crazy talk (and pardon me while I indulge a bit here), perhaps even a whole, defensible chain of reasoning.

Unfortunately, when it came to justifying this materialist presupposition for knowledge, reason itself was typically noticeable by its absence.

Another Way

So as I began to explore the classical Greek philosophers I was really intrigued by this constant reference to “the true, the good, and the beautiful”. Despite my very analytical professional training (essentially devoid of arts), this really was appealing.

last butterfly of summer 2012The idea that something true, good, and beautiful was somehow worth knowing, that it was elevated in its purity, somehow of a higher order and clearly worth knowing made sense.  Onto these childishly simple intuitions I could begin attaching all sorts of anecdotal evidence – the deeply attractive nature of a particular sunrise; the clear rightness of a Bl. Mother Teresa, the embodiment of self-gift, of the loving act well-done; the piercing truth of one of the first utterances by St. Augustine in The Confessions …

You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you … (Book 1, Ch 1)

The first time I heard this it sounded right; when I read it in context I knew it was right. It simply corresponded to my own experience, the experience of so many of my friends, and like so many other elegant truths, it explained a very wide ranged of experiences and intellectual loose ends, all at once.

I mean, when I heard it I just knew … this is Capital T Truth T – R – U – T – H.

Yup, most definitely.

The idea that this was a truth worth knowing was clear; and it made it much easier to accept that there were things that could well be worth knowing, despite not being able to measure a test for the results. After all, here was at least one example.

So to hear the philosophers strain with all their might, generation after generation to delve deeper into “the true”, to reason unto exhaustion, to relentlessly pursue truth, goodness, and beauty began to make sense, and became quite attractive.

Next I will explain one resonance of “the True, the Good, and the Beautiful” with engineering thought.

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