"What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism." - G.K. Chesterton

Sunday, April 13, 2008

I think I like John Wesley

"For, how far is love, even with many wrong opinions, to be preferred before truth itself without love! We may die without the knowledge of many truths, and yet be carried to Abraham’s bosom. But, what if we die without love, what will knowledge avail? Just as much as it avails the devil and his angles."

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9 Comments:

Blogger Matt M said...

I think there's a lot of... truth in that.

Love and truth are completely intertwined - Without the former (which I'm taking to include the whole range of positive emotions) we have no reason to care about the latter. And without the latter the former is almost useless.

4:10 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Hey Matt,
Hope life back home is treating you well!

I also am of the conviction that love and truth are intertwined, though I wouldn't say that "love" includes the whole range of "positive" (I'm taking that to roughly mean "emotions I like") emotions. Love, in the sense I believe Wesley is driving at, cannot be reduced to positive emotions. Rather, it is self-giving agape love. Agape love serves others at the expense of self and truth at the expense of cherished ways of seeing the world. In this way love, truth and virtue are locked in a perichoretic unity.

The ancient philosophers lived in this reality. From Pierre Hadot's Philosophy as a Way of Life: "For the ancients, the mere word philo-sophia—the love of wisdom—was enough to express this conception of philosophy. … Philosophy thus took on the form of an exercise of thought, will, and the totality of one's being, the goal of which was to achieve a state of practically inaccessible to mankind: wisdom. Philosophy was a method of spiritual progress which demanded a radical conversion and transformation of the individual's way of being.

Thus, philosophy was a way of life, both in its exercise and effort to achieve wisdom, and in its goal, wisdom itself. For real wisdom does not merely cause us to know: it makes us to "be" in a different way. Both the grandeur and the paradox of ancient philosophy are that it was, at on and the same time, conscious of the fact that wisdom is inaccessible, and convinced of the necessity of pursuing spiritual progress."

It seems it wasn't until the Enlightenment that an ethos began to develop in which Truth could be apprehended apart from virtue and love. Enlightenment epistemology (Descartes, Locke and Bacon) relied on reason, experience and science as the only reliable equipment for truth acquisition. For the seasoned rationalist then, love, beauty and virtue became little more than epiphenomenal froth.

My conviction is that our search for Truth must be holistic. Love, virtue, reason, experience, science and beauty all ought to be invited to the party. The modernist era seemed replete with the constant bifurcation of these and the privileging of one over the others. Such a state of affairs is not satisfactory... nor possible.

6:52 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

And I suppose I should point out that our friend Wesley seems to be of the opinion that if we must fall off one side of the horse or the other, love would be the side to do it. Me thinks I agree, though I'd personally rather stay in the saddle. ;-)

6:57 AM

 
Blogger DSK Samways said...

"It seems it wasn't until the Enlightenment that an ethos began to develop in which Truth could be apprehended apart from virtue and love."

I'm not sure I agree with this as worded. For a start, it's always been accepted that truth, as in fact, is not something that can be empiracally determined with absolute finality. We can only suggest it's approximate boundaries. Plus, factual truth and Truth are arguably descriptions of different phenomena.

The tilt towards rationalism must also be taken in the context of a perceived need to fight back against what could often be a brutal and implacable traditionalism. Whether an appeal to God or King, the usual departure from reason was not in the name of embracing love, but actively suppressing it among any individual who did not obey the prevailing dogma.

"And I suppose I should point out that our friend Wesley seems to be of the opinion that if we must fall off one side of the horse or the other, love would be the side to do it."

In the name of love, I would certainly be prepared to live a beautiful lie (I think we already do). Again, however, what provokes many of us to rally around reason is that those who choose to spurn reason, who feel threatened by it, rarely do so out of love, but out of fear and anger.

12:06 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Incit,
You rightly note the "T." It does indeed denote something more (yet not other) than the apprehension of 2+2=4.

I agree with your assessment of rationalism's birth as a reaction to unexamined devotion to an authority, the result of which was decidedly "not love." And so the pendulum swings. Which nicely makes my point that Truth cannot be realized amidst bifurcated di-, tri-, or even quad-cotomies. (if that's even a word)

"(I think we already do)"

At least you are consistent in your beliefs... now lets see you do it in practice. (like when the wee one makes his/her first appearance) ;-)

"what provokes many of us to rally around reason is that those who choose to spurn reason, who feel threatened by it, rarely do so out of love, but out of fear and anger."

Indeed it does. Which illustrates once again the need for a return to a holistic notion of the search for Truth. Just mind which side of the horse you're riding on and we're good.

12:21 PM

 
Blogger Timmo said...

Alex,

It seems it wasn't until the Enlightenment that an ethos began to develop in which Truth could be apprehended apart from virtue and love. Enlightenment epistemology (Descartes, Locke and Bacon) relied on reason, experience and science as the only reliable equipment for truth acquisition. For the seasoned rationalist then, love, beauty and virtue became little more than epiphenomenal froth.

What makes you say this? Where does, say, Descartes, say anything like "love, beauty, and virtue are little more than epiphenomenal froth"?

1:29 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Timmo,
It is not at all common for one's work to trigger unintended consequences in thinkers that follow. I don't argue that Descartes denied the value of love, beauty and virtue. (quite the contrary from what little I know) However, the general ethos of Enlightenment thought (as a movement) tended towards enthroning empiricism and rationality as the sufficient requirements in the apprehension of Truth.

I am still relying on the commentary of others at this point. (still hammering through Copleston's work, though not as quickly as I'd like.) And thus, the views of others may well be coloring my assessment.

1:44 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Ahhhh.... Truth.

If you ever discover what that is exactly then please let me know. :-)

In the meantime, I'm happy just making do with (lowercase) truth.

My conviction is that our search for Truth must be holistic. Love, virtue, reason, experience, science and beauty all ought to be invited to the party

I can only speak about the non-capitalised version, but I agree with what you say here. Cold hard facts are worth little unless we enrich the experience of them with feeling. It seems little use knowing the process of fusion unless we can gaze up in awe at the stars in the night sky.

I think Bertrand Russell said it best:

Neither love without knowledge, nor knowledge without love can produce a good life. In the Middle Ages, when pestilence appeared in a country, holy men advised the population to assemble in churches and pray for deliverance; the result was that the infection spread with extraordinary rapidity among the crowded masses of supplicants. This was an example of love without knowledge. The late war afforded an example of knowledge without love. In each case, the result was death on a large scale.

Although both love and knowledge are necessary, love is in a sense more fundamental, since it will lead intelligent people to seek knowledge, in order to find out how to benefit those whom they love. But if people are not intelligent, they will be content to believe what they have been told, and may do harm in spite of the most genuine benevolence. Medicine affords, perhaps, the best example of what I mean. An able physician is more useful to a patient than the most devoted friend, and progress in medical knowledge does more for the health of the community than ill-informed philanthropy. Nevertheless, an element of benevolence is essential even here if any but the rich are to profit by scientific discoveries.

- 'What I Believe'

4:25 PM

 
Blogger DSK Samways said...

Reading Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle. Very relevant to this discussion, but you had to be there.

7:20 AM

 

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