The Texas Inkling


Why Not Truth:  Childlike Sanity for a Childish Philosophy by Nathan Anthony Kennedy

Quite often does the wisdom of a small, simple, innocent child prove truer than that of our most intelligent and sophisticated philosophers. This observation is as engrained into out hearts as it is true: Comte, for example, attempts to escape this truth by explaining away his philosophy as “adult” and the philosophies that precede it as being “infantile”. Other philosophers have followed suit, and as such we contend with philosophies that try to bring mankind into progressive adulthood or some version of overcoming the “childish” truths we have grappled with since the beginning of philosophy. To such an “infantile” race as man, the concept of truth proves to be too transcendent, too self-serving to hold any real meaning. The best thing to do, modern philosophers tell us, is to ditch the idea of truth altogether—besides, it never existed, and even if it did, we would be too childish to know it anyway.

At this point I am reminded of a quote by C.S. Lewis:

"Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence....When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up."

To say that something is childish usually connotes a meaning of “immature” and “unreflective”. There is, however, a flip side to this—sometimes it can mean “self-evident” or “obvious”. There is a great difference between saying, “That’s so silly that only a child would believe it!” and saying, “That’s so obvious that even a child can understand it!” That is the difference between what is childish and what is child-like: childish refers to the impulsive, immature nature of being—child-like refers to the innocent, pure, and simple nature of being. Childishness is a vice, being child-like is a virtue. Every child in the world knows that there is a difference between true and false, right and wrong, and this knowledge is intrinsic, not socialized. The modern philosopher is confused. Believing in the idea of truth is not childish, it is child-like. Every child, and most adults, see the glaringly obvious difference between truth and falsehood. In the words of Peter Kreeft, “It takes a Ph.D. to miss it.”

With Nietzsche does the idea of philosophy of pitting “life” against “truth” arise. Whereas previous philosophers wrestled constantly with the question, “What is truth?” Nietzsche radically reversed the conversation with the question, “Why truth? Why not untruth?” Yet there are a number of philosophers in our universities—Peter Kreeft at Boston College comes to mind—who have not jettisoned epistemology and as such demonstrate that truth is still a longing written deep within the human heart. Truth is not opposed to life—truth is something that gives meaning to life. Like light on color, truth brings out what is good and beautiful within life.

If truth is such a great thing and if it enhances life so much, then why do modern philosophers insist so greatly that truth is just an ephemeral, archaic, and outmoded idea relegated to superstition and egotism? I argue not only that truth is still a concept with very real and relevant meaning to philosophy, but if it were not for the existence of Truth (with a capital “T”), we would have no philosophy in the first place. Truth is the soil upon which the idea of philosophy first developed; among all the ancient philosophers, truth was the single greatest aim of their projects. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle sought Truth, not ephemeral codifications. At stake is the issue of philosophy’s purpose in general: if not for the search of truth, then what? If our modern philosophers insist that truth is not important at all for their work, then they have ceased doing philosophy and begun producing ideological propaganda. The modern philosopher sees himself as the architect of the perfect society, the author of the next utopia. Thus the philosopher’s task is to first deconstruct our illusive ideas about what constitutes reality, and then construct a system of governance around the resulting “nothingness” of existence. As Dostoevsky retorts, “If God does not exist, then all is permitted.” This is not a fact lost on the modern philosopher who maintains that not only truth, but also goodness—intrinsic, moral goodness—is vain, illusory, and purely cultural.

One wonders at first glace if maybe this crucial insight into the relationship between goodness and truth may account for the abandonment of truth. If you lose definitions between “true and false”, then you also lose definitions between “right and wrong”. Is this, perhaps, a fundamental act of the will and not primarily the intellect? Do philosophers seek to disbelieve or perhaps alter truth because they—and so many others—wish to disbelieve or alter right and wrong? Before my argument takes on the appearance of an ad hominem, I will say that my point is not that modern philosophers are evil people or that we cannot take their work seriously because their intentions are not pure, but simply that there is a relationship between the substance of will and the substance of intellect. Thomas Aquinas points out that the intellect serves the will; the act of the will determines and shapes the course of reason in the human person. This is why, to Christians, faith and reason are of the same essence: faith is an act of the will, and reason is the organ that carries out that act. This is the insight that led to St. Augustine’s famous “Crede ut intelligas”—“I believe that I might understand, for this too I believe, that unless I first believe, I shall not understand.” Faith is like the Constitution, and Reason is like the governmental process—whatever the courts of the legislatures do in terms of writing or defining laws, it is always done through the lens of the Constitution. Whatever reason conjectures or infers is always interpreted through the lens of the will. Neither faith nor reason are autonomous—faith without reason would be like a political manifesto with no followers (such are all over the internet); reason without faith would be like a governmental body without the checks and balances of a Constitution. In either case, a particular tyranny arises: a tyranny against the mind, or a tyranny against the heart. Neither case is conducive to full human thriving or flourishing. 

Our pursuit of truth is then connected to our experience of faith. Could we then derive that the loss of care for the Truth is a direct result of our rejection and loss of care for God? Of course, but not in the way that one would think. The issue portends of the nature of rationality and reason. To borrow an argument from C.S. Lewis, “Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning.” I do not wish to pick on atheists here, only to highlight a fundamental insight laid out in this citation: that human reason only has meaning if there is a backdrop of meaning to give it context. If there was no meaning, then human reason would be just as illogical and irrational as the universe that produced it; a body of meaningfulness cannot produce an organ of meaning—the human mind. Some atheistic philosophers avow this insight and carry it to its logical conclusion: that human intelligence is in fact meaningless, and that we are simply hairless apes adept at altering the world around us; Sartre and Camus are the chief proponents of this view. One wonders, if the human mind is meaningless, how could it in fact know it is meaningless, for this insight is in fact deeply meaningful and comes to us through our meaningless minds? The very insight demands the recognition of some form of epistemological revelation, and without this recognition, the supposed “insight” carries with it a fatal flaw.

So, the real question in all of this is “Why untruth? Why not truth?” The answer is simple: because truth really is a difficult notion for man, and like children who refuse to eat their vegetables, we simply say, “Enough with this. Let’s push this aside and focus on what we really can handle.” We allow this to happen because in our hearts we have first rejected goodness. It is not difficult to see the flow of (irrational) logic: moral goodness is difficult to produce, but moral goodness is based on what is ultimately true. So let’s give ourselves a means by which to reject ultimate truth, and then we can get rid of moral goodness. And of beauty—its doesn’t really matter, because we believe it’s in the eye of the beholder. So many of us now live deceived by a great lie: we have stripped philosophy of all three great transcendentals—Truth, Goodness, and Beauty—and we still continue to call it philosophy. Let us begin calling it what it really is: propaganda. We refuse to believe in truth because we all know, deep down, that truth which causes the atheistic philosopher to quake where he stands: that if there is ultimate truth, that ultimate truth has to be God. In the end, any and all experience and desire for truth is a fundamental issue of the will. If we desire truth, we shall find it, but we must first desire goodness before we can desire truth. As Jesus says in Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Return to the Texas Inklings Home