The Eschatology of the Transcendentals

Thinking on the symposium on Roger Scruton, I found myself wanting to flesh out a bit the relation between the classical Transcendentals and his philosophy of beauty-as-belonging, so let’s see what can be done with that.

The classical Transcendentals are Beauty, Goodness and Truth – the most important universals or forms (the Christian way of looking at things has generally ascribed them to the divine life – perhaps as divine Ideas, or something else along that line). The will and mind are oriented towards these transcendentals by virtue of the desire evoked by our desire for particulars which instantiate one (often more) transcendental – our desire for a beautiful thing isn’t satisfied by the thing, because our desire for a beautiful thing is ultimately a desire for the beautiful as such. On this view, beauty is a rather abstract thing.

Scruton, in a nutshell, brings beauty down into day-to-day life. The beautiful for Scruton is something which, when pursued, gives meaning to the world and to our endeavors, and from this follows our sense of belonging. Hence, beauty-as-belonging (see the above symposium for more detail). Scruton grounds a lot of his meaning-talk and beauty in the actions of a community – generally, for Scruton, a religious community, where reconciliation and forgiveness can be had.

A possibly fruitful way to put these two themes together might be as follows: suppose we bring the notion of the eschatalogical into play here (which Scruton does, albeit in a somewhat vague manner) – specifically, Christian eschatology? What might that look like?

Perhaps we can think of the transcendentals as ‘orienting our sense of belonging’, that is, as conditioning how we achieve and even express belonging. On the Christian scheme of things, the transcendentals have ‘come down’ to us in the person of Jesus Christ – the embodiment of God, who is Truth, Goodness and Beauty as such. They will, however, ‘come down’ further at the eschaton – this is the now/not yet tension of Christian theology. Thus, in this ‘coming down’, that which orients our mind and will towards action in pursuit of truth, beauty and goodness is seen to be not an abstract form but a concrete person doing concrete things.

Building of Scruton’s philosophy of belonging as being something we practice and ‘build for’, and bringing in the Christian idea of being ‘in Christ’, wherein we participate in both the suffering and vindication of Christ, we might say that we act ‘transcendentally’. Our acts of love, sacrifice and charity are ways in which, borrowing again from Scruton, we redeem the world and build our home in anticipation of when we truly come home at the eschaton. In short, by making the world beautiful, whether through art, or acts of love, acts of service, tending a garden or simple acts of kindness, we act the transcendental – instead of being ‘out there’, they have been shown to be right here in our communities and acts of faith. Our actions becomes practices of belonging in preparation for the final redemption. By ‘coming down’, the transcendentals orient us towards redemptive practices.

Here we need to take careful account of the role of grace – it is only by grace that any of this happens because it is only by a free movement of grace from above that any of our actions are in fact actions of grace and redemption, because it is only by grace that we are incorporated in Christ.

As a kind of summary: by way of Incarnation, Truth, Beauty and Goodness have been shown to be concrete acts done in community, and by practicing the transcendentals (which have been shown to be actions of redemption in preparation for the final redemption) we make the world our home, where we belong, while we wait for our true Home, where we Truly Belong.

6 thoughts on “The Eschatology of the Transcendentals

  1. Kevin Davis December 20, 2014 / 7:28 pm

    Yes, I don’t see anything wrong with this. I’ve been thinking about my questions for Scruton, namely why he doesn’t utilize the material of special revelation. But that would make him a theologian, instead of a philosopher. Even when he is appealing to metaphysics, he has to be descriptive and phenomenological, especially in the context of the late 20th / early 21st century academy. Otherwise, he would receive no hearing, at least not as a philosopher. Of course, his followers are all Christians (with presumably a few exceptions), but he is faithful to the philosopher’s task. His theology is still a bit heterodox, but his philosophy is a description of reality that harmonizes with Christian claims about, to use theological terms, redemption and sanctification.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Andrew December 21, 2014 / 6:36 am

    My undersandting is that Scruton’s view of beauty was his way back to something like Christianity (or, at least the ‘sacred’). It was hard won. His way of speaking about Christianity, such that it is, is consistent with how he speaks about beauty; home and homecoming.

    Of his recent turn to writing about theological issues his book Our Church is illustrative of this. Not much about doctrine or theology to be found, what’s important is the church that is ours. In his case, the Anglican church. A church that is his, as an Englishman, through inheritance.

    That’s to say, if he had his choice, he might choose the Roman Catholic Church over the Anglican Church in the same way he would choose French culture over English culture.

    On the broader themes of Christianity, such as redemption, what he says is fine as far as it goes. But I’m not sure that it goes that far. I, too, would like to hear him say more about special revelation. I think he’s essentially Kantian on the issue. In various places he is less than complementary about the practice of theology.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. whitefrozen December 21, 2014 / 8:17 pm

    To try and answer the common theme of both comments – my guess would be that Scruton would receive a far more narrow hearing if he couched his ideas in explicitly theological or religious arguments and language. He’s an important voice in a lot of cultural issues – politics, art, etc – and that would probably be nixed if he approached it as a ‘Christian philosopher’. Consider David Bentley Hart, who is just as opinionated but comes at issues from a strictly theistic (and often very polemical against those who don’t share his position) viewpoint. Few people who don’t share Hart’s religious viewpoint really give him a favourable hearing, whereas I suspect with Scruton, one could agree with him on X even if they didn’t share his thoughts on religion. This lends him a much more favourable hearing in the public square – even though he has written against the ‘new atheists’, and whatnot, that’s not the focus of his work, and it’s couched within cultural and general philosophical argument that make it appealing to the public at large.


  4. Andrew December 22, 2014 / 5:06 pm

    When I say I would like to hear him say more about special revelation, I mean I would like to know what he thinks about it — be it philosophically or otherwise. I don’t mean that I would like him to use it as a resource in speaking about politics, art &c.


      • Andrew December 22, 2014 / 5:43 pm

        Reading back I think I was unclear.

        I’m mostly interested in his conservatism, which for him, as you will know, is much broader than simply a political thing.

        The curious thing is how is work is engaging more and more with religious and theological topics. His books — The Face of God, Our Church, The Soul of the World. His recent lecture on prayer at the Ian Ramsey Centre (featuring a rather amusing exchange with Richard Swinburne.) I’d like to know why.


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