Saturday, April 10, 2010

Relation of truth, beauty, and reason

This is a disproof that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder," which is really a statement of someone who denies objective truth, who upholds relativism. It shows the relation between truth, beauty, and reason.


  • "Truth is the equation of thought and thing." (St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica Iª q. 16 a. 1 co.)
  • God is the equation* of thought, the divine intellect, and thing, His essence. 
  • "Beauty [...] consists in a certain clarity** and due proportion"† (ibid. IIª-IIae, q. 180 a. 2 ad 3).
  • God is "the cause of the harmony and clarity of the universe," being its creator. (ibid. IIª-IIae, q. 145 a. 2 co.)
    • ∴ God is the cause of beauty.
      • ∴ Truth is the cause of beauty.
  • "The ancient philosophers held that the species of natural things did not proceed from any intellect, but were produced by chance‡.
  • "But as they saw that truth implies relation to intellect, they were compelled to base the truth of things on their relation to our intellect.
    • ∴ "Such, however, do not follow, if we say that the truth of things consists in their relation to the divine intellect" (ibid. Iª q. 16 a. 1 ad 2), God.
    • God, Who has and is the divine intellect, exists outside of the human intellect, viz., He is objective. [St. Anselm's ontological argument: "God, being defined as most great or perfect, must exist, since a God who exists is greater than a God who does not" (New Oxford American Dictionary) and exists only in the mind.]
      • ∴ Truth is objective.
        • ∴ The cause of beauty is objective; ∴ beauty is objective.
* to the highest degree
** viz., truth, the 'equation of thought and thing'
† which is "found radically in the reason; because both the light that makes beauty seen, and the establishing of due proportion among things belong to reason."
‡ Chance, or randomness, has neither clarity nor due proportion; therefore, chance is opposed to both beauty and reason.

The nested syllogisms above are of the form:

  • Proposition A
  • Proposition B
    • ∴ Conclusion / Proposition A*, etc.

Is not it utterly amazing how truth, beauty, and reason relate to one another because of God?

Many scientists, e.g., Einstein and Dirac, thought a beautiful explanation of nature is the truest, but they have defeated themselves by failing to realize the connection—because of their often relativist, positivist, and atheist philosophical assumptions—between absolute truth and beauty, thus severing the link between these: reason.

It is no wonder that we moderns—who eschew God and a true study of God, Thomistic theology, from universities—often have little desire to seek absolute truth and beauty and often have a very primitive aesthetics, evidenced, e.g., by the current iconoclastic trends in architecture. Theology is absolutely critical to a property functioning university and true science.

After having visited Thomas Aquinas College (TAC) in Santa Paula, CA, (read their amazing founding document), I have been inspired to pursue further the idea of starting a Catholic Technical Institute (CTI), a sort of tech-biased version of the more liberal-arts–biased TAC. For further background on this sort of university and its importance to science, read Newman's Idea of a University. In a nutshell, we need a tech university that prepares future physicists, e.g., to combat both skepticism and relativism, a university that acknowledges both faith and reason as legitimate means to an absolute truth. Skepticism and the denial of an absolute truth toward which the various sciences strive renders knowledge once obtained meaningless. If there is no real connection between the objective world viewed by physicists and psychologists, e.g., then what use is knowledge in either field? Is it even knowledge or a fabrication, perhaps self-consistent but isolated in itself? This connection between the sciences is called theology, and the lack of theology in schools—especially the "perennial philosophy" of St. Thomas—is really a bigger issue than one may think.

I lay it down that all knowledge forms one whole, because its subject-matter is one; for the universe in its length and breadth is so intimately knit together, that we cannot separate off portion from portion, and operation from operation, except by a mental abstraction; and then again, as to its Creator, though He of course in His own Being is infinitely separate from it, and Theology has its departments towards which human knowledge has no relations, yet He has so implicated Himself with it, and taken it into His very bosom, by His presence in it, His providence over it, His impressions upon it, and His influences through it, that we cannot truly or fully contemplate it without in some main aspects contemplating Him. Next, sciences are the results of that mental abstraction, which I have spoken of, being the logical record of this or that aspect of the whole subject-matter of knowledge. As they all belong to one and the same circle of objects, they are one and all connected together; as they are but aspects of things, they are severally incomplete in their relation to the things themselves, though complete in their own idea and for their own respective purposes; on both accounts they at once need and subserve each other. And further, the comprehension of the bearings of one science on another, and the use of each to each, and the location and limitation and adjustment and due appreciation of them all, one with another, this belongs, I conceive, to a sort of science distinct from all of them, and in some sense a science of sciences, which is my own conception of what is meant by Philosophy, in the true sense of the word, and of a philosophical habit of mind, and which in these Discourses I shall call by that name. This is what I have to say about knowledge and philosophical knowledge generally; and now I proceed to apply it to the particular science, which has led me to draw it out.

I say, then, that the systematic omission of any one science from the catalogue prejudices the accuracy and completeness of our knowledge altogether, and that, in proportion to its importance. Not even Theology itself, though it comes from heaven, though its truths were given once for all at the first, though they are more certain on account of the Giver than those of mathematics, not even Theology, so far as it is relative to us, or is the Science of Religion, do I exclude from the law to which every mental exercise is subject, viz., from that imperfection, which ever must attend the abstract, when it would determine the concrete. Nor do I speak only of Natural Religion; for even the teaching of the Catholic Church, in certain of its aspects, that is, its religious teaching, is variously influenced by the other sciences. Not to insist on the introduction of the Aristotelic philosophy into its phraseology, its explanation of dogmas is influenced by ecclesiastical acts or events; its interpretations of prophecy are directly affected by the issues of history; its comments upon Scripture by the conclusions of the astronomer and the geologist; and its casuistical decisions by the various experience, political, social, and psychological, with which times and places are ever supplying it.

What Theology gives, it has a right to take; or rather, the interests of Truth oblige it to take. If we would not be beguiled by dreams, if we would ascertain facts as they are, then, granting Theology is a real science, we cannot exclude it, and still call ourselves philosophers. I have asserted nothing as yet as to the pre-eminent dignity of Religious Truth; I only say, if there be Religious Truth at all, we cannot shut our eyes to it without prejudice to truth of every kind, physical, metaphysical, historical, and moral; for it bears upon all truth. And thus I answer the objection with which I opened this Discourse. I supposed the question put to me by a philosopher of the day, "Why cannot you go your way, and let us go ours?" I answer, in the name of the Science of Religion, "When Newton can dispense with the metaphysician, then may you dispense with us."


Now, as far as this objection relates to any supposed opposition between secular science and divine, which is the subject on which I am at present engaged, I made a sufficient answer to it in my foregoing Discourse. In it I said, that, in order to have possession of truth at all, we must have the whole truth; and no one science, no two sciences, no one family of sciences, nay, not even all secular science, is the whole truth; that revealed truth enters to a very great extent into the province of science, philosophy, and literature, and that to put it on one side, in compliment to secular science, is simply, under colour of a compliment, to do science a great damage. I do not say that every science will be equally affected by the omission; pure mathematics will not suffer at all; chemistry will suffer less than politics, politics than history, ethics, or metaphysics; still, that the various branches of science are intimately connected with each other, and form one whole, which whole is impaired, and to an extent which it is difficult to limit, by any considerable omission of knowledge, of whatever kind, and that revealed knowledge is very far indeed from an inconsiderable department of knowledge, this I consider undeniable. As the written and unwritten word of God make up Revelation as a whole, and the written, taken by itself, is but a part of that whole, so in turn Revelation itself may be viewed as one of the constituent parts of human knowledge, considered as a whole, and its omission is the omission of one of those constituent parts. Revealed Religion furnishes facts to the other sciences, which those sciences, left to themselves, would never reach; and it invalidates apparent facts, which, left to themselves, they would imagine. Thus, in the science of history, the preservation of our race in Noah's ark is an historical fact, which history never would arrive at without Revelation; and, in the province of physiology and moral philosophy, our race's progress and perfectibility is a dream, because Revelation contradicts it, whatever may be plausibly argued in its behalf by scientific inquirers. It is not then that Catholics are afraid of human knowledge, but that they are proud of divine knowledge, and that they think the omission of any kind of knowledge whatever, human or divine, to be, as far as it goes, not knowledge, but ignorance.

Card. John Henry Newman's Idea of a University, part 1. ch. 3 §4 & ch. 4 §1


  1. This is brilliant! I am going to share it with my Theory of Knowledge students. TOK is a required class in the International Baccalaureate program at the public high school where I teach. As I quickly scanned some of your others posts, I was excited to see more of your logical/faithful posts. Great blog!

  2. The previous post made me laugh, I'm doing research for a ToK presentation! Thank you, this helped with finding good claims and counter claims.

  3. Just one issue with the foundation of your argument: if God 'exists outside of the human intellect' then, firstly, He can be neither objective nor subjective as these are concepts human intellect has formed to attempt to understand our world. Secondly, even if one insists He is objective, our understanding of Him remains subjective therefore our perception of beauty is subjective.