Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Three Platonic Ideals: Truth — Martin

In my recent blogs I have been talking about the three Platonic ideals: First Goodness (Nov. 14), then Beauty (Dec. 31); and now we’ll look at the third — Truth. These concepts have all been under attack in recent days. The politically correct are troubled by absolutes — particularly by Goodness and Truth.

Although Christians are comfortable with the word Truth, post-modernists have undermined it so that it’s viewed subjectively. In the same way that the ideal of Beauty has been watered down by the misconception that it is "in the eye of the beholder", many now contrast what is "true" to one person with what is "true" to another. Personally, I don’t like the word Truth to be used to mean "what I think is real"; we already have the word "believe" to indicate that. I prefer to save the word Truth to mean what really is, regardless of whether it is perceived or not.
If we don’t reserve this word for this purpose, we no longer have a simple way of expressing the idea of something that really is regardless of our perception. If I say, it is true that God sent Jesus to die for us, I don’t merely claim to believe it, but that it is fact regardless of what people may say. In his essay "The Death of Words" C.S. Lewis says that when "you have killed a word you have also...blotted from the human mind the thing that word originally stood for. Men do not long continue to think what they have forgotten how to say."
It is true, that sometimes believers falsely claim to have a corner on Truth. I think of the Catholic church persecuting Galileo because they believed in a geocentric universe. I think of when we use the Bible as a science textbook, dogmatically claiming to have a full understanding of everything that happened when God created the world, interpreting scripture in ways that may never have been intended. We need to proceed with humility as we speak of God’s Truth.
But we can and should speak of Truth — of what really is — because we have some unique insights to offer. As a poet I consider words to be precious, and concepts such as Truth to be worth protecting. The word Truth carries with it the idea of accuracy — that’s why it’s an ideal; if we remove this from our concept what is left of the value Plato praised?

D.S. Martin is Music Critic for Christian Week; his new poetry book, Poiema (Wipf & Stock), and his chapbook So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed are available at


Linda Wegner said...

Wow - this one I'm printing out and pinning up on my desk. Thanks!

Peter Black said...

Challenging, insightful, and rather sobering!
Thank you, Don.

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