Beauty, Goodness, and Truth

Plato believed in universal forms. These “transcendentals” were thought by Plato to be fundamental properties of being. Beauty, Goodness, and Truth are examples. 

Here are some definitions:

Beauty is the universal aesthetic represented in art.  

Goodness is the universal form represented in justice, moral codes, and laws.  

Truth is universal objective reality, which exists independent of human bias. An example is mathematics. 

Is it possible for beauty, goodness, and truth to advance together in society? 

This question has perplexed philosophers for millennia. There is scant evidence of lasting answers ever being found. One of the advantages of retirement is having the time to ponder such questions.

Stepping back to gain perspective, beauty is an aesthetic validated by individual tastes. Goodness is addressed in society. Truth lies in the domain of independent facts. Therefore, beauty, goodness, and truth reduce to “I,” “We,” and “It.”  

Modern science demonstrates that everything in the universe is connected. Experimental evidence verifies what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance,” or interconnectivity of phenomenon faster than the speed of light. But, if the universe is a united whole, then why can’t “I,” “We,” and “It” coexist in peace?

Before the Renaissance, religious or feudal authorities prescribed beauty, goodness, and truth. Today, a more enlightened mindset empowers individuals as arbitrators. This liberal transformation of values appears self-validating by progress witnessed in our modern age. 

Are we approaching the limits of decline in institutional authority? Not likely! The internet further empowers individuals, enabling clever entrepreneurs to disintermediate one institution after another. 

Despite huge advances in science, technology, and economic well-being, our progress as a species appears lopsided, especially when considering beauty, goodness, and truth.

Let’s start with truth. One would think science-backed facts should be the easiest area to agree on. Yet, truth in our modern times is increasingly defined by the eyes of the beholder. Anthony Fauci, the former dirctor of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is a good example. To some, he is a hero; others believe he is a demon. Three years into a pandemic, there is no agreement on whether or not masks are helpful. Vaccine skepticism is widespread. Truth in this area (and many others) breaks sharply along political lines.

What about goodness? Ethics are increasingly taking a backseat to tribal affiliation and the pursuit of  individual wealth/gratification. A strong case could be made that computer algorithms are a more potent driver of collective behaviors than ethics. I don’t mean to be cynical; I’m just saying!

Finally, there is beauty. Here we might be ok. Beauty is self-defined, and Self, at present, reigns supreme. 

Am I concerned about beauty, goodness, and truth in our modern era?

Aren’t you?


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