Gilson on Truth

‘There is an ethical problem at the root of our philosophical difficulties; for men are most anxious to find truth, but very reluctant to accept it. We do not like to be cornered by rational evidence, and even when truth is there, in its impersonal and commanding objectivity, our greatest difficulty still remains; it is for me to bow to it in spite of the fact that it is not exclusively mine, for you to accept it though it cannot be exclusively yours. In short, finding out truth is not so hard; what is hard is to not run away from the truth once we have found it. When it is not a “yes but”, our “yes” is often enough a “yes, and…”; it applies much less to what we have just been told than to what we are about to say. The greatest among philosophers are those who do not flinch in the presence of the truth, but welcome it with the simple words: yes, Amen.’ (Etienne Gilson, ‘The Unity of Philosophical Experience’, p. 49)

History and Truth

Continuing still with the ‘eyes of faith’ theme, but going in a slightly different direction.

Kierkegaard makes some interesting points about the nature of truth in ‘Philosophical Fragments’. In a nutshell he says that in Jesus Christ, absolute truth descended into history and was made contingent – the transcendent absolute became historical fact. T.F. Torrance draws this out a bit more, but Kierkegaard’s basic point is that truth moved – therefore, movement is a property of truth – kinetic truth, as Torrance calls it. So we can’t think of truth as a sort of detached, frozen in time, out there kind of thing. We have to think in kinetic terms – I posted on this subject some time ago in relation to theological method. We have to know truth in a relation and dynamic, not detatched and frozen, kind of way.

A Few Thoughts on Science

I recently bought Fire in the Mind: Science, Faith, and the Search for Order, by George Johnson. I’ve only just started reading it – I’m only a dozen or so pages in. and so far it is quite enjoyable, well-written, engaging, somewhat in the vein of Timothy Ferris’ books like Coming of Age in the Milky Way and Seeing in the Dark. The introduction, however, contained a couple interesting passages:

‘There are two opposing ways to view the scientific enterprise. Almost all science books, popular and unpopular, are written on the assumption that there actually are laws of the universe out there, like veins of gold, and that scientists are miners extracting the ore. We are presented with an image of adventurous explorers uncovering Truth with a capital T. But science can also be seen as a construction, a man-made edifice that is historical, not timeless – one of many alternative ways of carving up the world.’ (p. 5)

So what we have here are two theories of science – discovery and creation. I actually wasn’t aware of such a debate in science, but apparently there is. But at any rate, it seems to me that to posit a dichotomy between doesn’t make much sense – it makes perfect sense to me to think of science as both a process of discovery and one of creation/creativity. Actually, it seems to me that unless one takes this view, one ends up with some a pretty deficient view of science. Humans are creative beings – a central theme of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis is that because we are made in the image of God, who is a creator god, we are also in a sense creators. It would make sense, then, that there is a definite creative element in the process of science – the greatest minds in science have been the most creative (one thinks of minds like Planck, Einstein, Galileo, etc, etc). But this view doesn’t necessarily entail any kind of theism – one can note and praise the brilliant creativity in science whether or not one holds a belief in God.

Science as discovery also seems to me to be a pretty fundamental aspect of science – the discovery of the laws of nature, specifically. Recently, however, there have been attacks and criticisms of this view, that there aren’t laws of nature. This, I’m afraid, seems to be pretty incoherent, for reasons I’ve gone over before here.

But at any rate, to separate the discovery aspect (discovering the laws of nature, etc, etc) of science from the creative part of science (various quantum mechanical models, developments of mathematics, etc) is just silly.  How can there be a coherent, unified process of science if either of the two aspects required to harmonize the process are turned into the process itself?

Etienne Gilson on Truth


‘Through this intellect, every man is a person and through the same intellect he can see exactly the same truth as any other man can see, provided they both use their intellects in the proper way. Here, and nowhere else, lies the foundation for the very possibility of a philosophia perennis; for it is, not a perennial cloud floating through the ages in some metaphysical stratosphere, but the permanent possibility for each and every human being to actualize an essence through his own existence, that is to experience again the same truth in the light of his own intellect. And that truth itself is not an anonymous one. Even taken in its absolute and self-subsisting form, truth itself bears a name. Its name is God.’