Goodness, truth, beauty – these three words can be found in the statute of our Foundation. Each of our readers probably has their own feelings about what each of these words means to them. Often we use them very loosely, e.g. in Polish there is an idiom “this man is walking goodness” (or kindness); “this guy speaks the very truth”; The meaning we would like to give to these three words is a bit more general – it speaks about three points of reference, which in our opinion could be the basis for looking at reality. I will lean into each of these words here and try to give some insight into the origins of these three concepts, which come in threes for a reason and their roots can be sought over two thousand years ago in a beautiful, sunny country in the south of Europe – Greece.
I would look at the Good, which is at the very beginning of this triad, from two perspectives. The first would be an ethical perspective, which is one in which the relationships between people or between collectivities take center stage. In our statute, we emphasize the harmonious coexistence of people within society in the context of Nature. In contrast to the strictly philosophical meaning of the term, here we mean rather taking into account the good of others when calculating conduct that is to bring about good for ourselves, and altruistic attitudes that we consider praiseworthy, though “optional”, because of the high bar set. The question of a high bar is of course very conventional, because what for some will be an obvious action (say, rescuing people from a burning house) for others will be an act of heroism. In this way, we want to open a discussion on the shape of interpersonal relations and on how we can reach a compromise between striving to maximize our own good and the good of other people/groups of people living next to us, in the same country and in Europe.
There is also the theme of caring for the well-being of the community in the context of Nature. On the day I start writing this text, November 11, this is perhaps particularly important. We assume that if we all live in the same place, it should be our unwritten duty to be interested in what is happening in our country and what is happening in the world, to know what we can take from this world for ourselves and put into action at home. We should have the desire and courage to speak up and take responsibility. This is, of course, a big challenge, requiring time, attention, and the dedication of mental resources, but it is the only means of getting better and better in an increasingly complex world. In the long run it may also be the only remedy for those who want to take advantage of the situation under these conditions, reaching out to the lost and offering simple solutions saying, “come with me, build a great, glorious project. I appreciate you, you are great, only the bad guys don’t see it. I’ll point them out to you and tell you what to do about them.”
The second concept I would like to expand on is Truth. The classical definition of truth (Aristotelian, anyway) is that truth is the correspondence, most generally speaking, of some state of affairs with a judgment concerning that state of affairs. So it is not some interpretation, “my truth” or “your truth”. It is therefore an objective state of affairs, which I have the impression is currently very easy to forget. Of course, each of us interprets the world in our own way and gives it color, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, we should think twice before demanding that the world recognize our interpretation as something that is universally valid and should be, for example, a law. In the name of the aforementioned simple solutions we forget that the world is not black and white, and pushing only our own interests in the long run may have bad consequences. It happens so, because on the other side arises a desire to do the same and more or less severe revenge for the exclusion. So the question is how to distinguish our opinion from something that could be universally valid. We should be able to justify it rationally, and not just appeal to emotions and labels of “good” or “bad”. The scientific method, logic and deduction were created to give us tools to deal with similar problems.
And at the end I left what is the sweetest and probably the most subjective. I am of course talking about Beauty. The way we have included and described Beauty in our statute suggests that experiencing it is, in fact, essential to living life to the full. Awe of something, joy, enthusiasm and sometimes even amazement in the face of something stunning are feelings that can pull us out of the daily rush and make us feel a little better in the world for a moment. It is amazing how many different situations and objects people used to find beautiful. One of the seemingly less aesthetic things are the laws of nature and the physical theories and equations that describe them. The word “simplicity” is often mentioned in the same breath by experts on the subject. By contrasting an incredibly complex world with a rule that binds three variables together to describe some aspect of it, we gain an astonishing and (to some) delightful paradox. On a daily basis, however, we are rather delighted by other beautiful things: music, art, the beauty of people, or phenomenal landscapes. Undoubtedly, without the ability to feel these feelings, we would lose our seemingly specifically human privilege.
I mentioned at the beginning that the roots of the Triad are to be sought in ancient Greece. From there, specifically from Athens, comes one of the most significant authors in the history of philosophy. We are, of course, talking about Plato. He is the author of the so-called theory of ideas (or forms) – much later there was even a thinker who said that the entire history of European thought is basically a footnote to Plato. Plato’s understanding of Truth, Goodness and Beauty was quite different from the one we are familiar with today. In his understanding they were the most important element of the so-called world of ideas, i.e. perfect, eternal and constituting the model of our physical world in the sense that the phenomena and objects of our world in some sense “participate” in the world of ideas and each idea is, as it were, an extract, an essence, e.g. of goodness, beauty or justice.
Undoubtedly, however, it is the case that we cannot honestly point to something, any thing or any person, that would be good or beautiful, and at the same time include everything beautiful and good in the whole world, for anyone who might want to make a similar judgment. By its very nature, then, we are dealing here with something abstract, a fraction of something larger. Moreover, the world of ideas is the extrasensory cause of the sensory world, which can be known only conceptually, intellectually, and ideas themselves are the essence of things, what makes a thing a thing. The fact that the world of ideas can only be known in this way implies the reliability and truthfulness of cognition – Plato believed that the world of ideas, as the only fully existing and cognisable conceptually, is the domain of true, reliable “knowledge”. Through inquiry unmediated by sense cognition, we are able to discover the nature and connections between ideas.
Perhaps an attentive reader will associate this point with mathematical entities – by the way, it is known that relations between mathematical entities such as numbers seem to be invariable and true in all circumstances. Nevertheless, according to our thinker, mathematical entities were cognizable only by reason, but “there were many of one kind”. And this in turn removed them from the list of ideas. Ideas are individual and unique. The sensual world, due to its changeability, constant becoming and fading, could not be an object of reliable knowledge – what can be said about it has rather a character of a more or less probable opinion.
At the very end let us return to the idea of the Good. The strictly historical philosophical meaning of this notion goes much further than the simple, colloquial understanding which we included in the Foundation’s Statute. It is much closer to some kind of pra-cause and pra-sense of what exists, both fully (ideas) and partially (things existing in the sensory world). Every idea of lower order gains from the idea of the Good in that it is useful and valuable in its own way and, what is more, it is the idea of the Good that gives birth to truth and reason G.Reale, Historia Filozofii Strożytnej, T.2, Wydwanictwo KUL, Lublin 2008, przeł. Edward Iwo Zieliński; Platon, Państwo, PWN, przeł. Władysław Witwicki, Warszawa 2010. So if the Good gives rise to reason and to the rational structure of reality (at least that comprehensible by reason), in which each element has its own value and meaning, then it is probably not the worst perspective to know that somewhere there is a pattern to which we could refer. From the assumption we can’t reach in the physical world the complete reproduction of the world of ideas, because it is built by completely different conditioned creations, but maybe it is worth at least trying.
|G.Reale, Historia Filozofii Strożytnej, T.2, Wydwanictwo KUL, Lublin 2008, przeł. Edward Iwo Zieliński; Platon, Państwo, PWN, przeł. Władysław Witwicki, Warszawa 2010