Monday, February 18, 2008

Veritas Forum: Day 2

The first official segment of the Veritas Forum with Dallas Willard kicked off Monday at lunch, entitled Why Are U Here in the U? Could It Be the Good, the True, and the Beautiful? Just like the title would have you think, this lecture felt like something from a Classical philosophy class. Dr. Willard’s main contention in the lecture was that the topics of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful are no longer addressed in the university setting, leaving “the primary value of life in the domain of the irrational, the sentimental, with no standards really to go by.” His hope in the lecture was to have us as undergraduate students begin to use these three as ways of organizing our experiences and to make more intentional decisions while keeping these three in mind.

Fine, so what are the Good, the True, and the Beautiful really?

Willard offered a traditional view of the good: “the good is what makes life as a whole hang together harmoniously.”
One’s will must be guided by what is good. In a sensual culture like our own, where things are constantly being hailed as good, despite their offering little goodness to the consumer, this can be a treacherous guide. Dr. Willard offered two words on this: first, we must remember the difference between will and desire; secondly, we must recognize that “Goodness is not just a matter of what we enjoy, but who we become.”
Will he described as making choices between alternatives that are good, better, best. Desire, in contrast, is rooted in immediacy and pleasure. During the closing Q&A session Willard touched on the importance of teaching this difference to children: the greatest need for a child is to discover that what they desire isn't really what they want. If they don't realize this, they will never grow up; I think a glance at the lives of many of our celebrities will illustrate this well enough. He also warned us of history's accounts of those cultures which turn pleasure and feeling into ultimate values.
For the idea of Goodness being related to ontology ("what we become"), Willard could do little more, or better, than pointing to some of the men who've already tried to answer the question "who is really a good person?"--Plato, Aristotle, and Kant were mentioned. We must think deeply on these writings and study them carefully.

Next, Willard turned to Truth, veritas. This is another great value of humanity, yet is seldom really approached in a university classroom. He noted quickly that many people are afraid of Truth because they've been abused in its name. People must be allowed space to think through and come to Truth on their own. This is the only way to handle knowing and sharing truth, for "you can’t make people know anything, but you can help them come to know things."
Like Sunday night, here Willard appropriately put heavy emphasis on the resolve of Truth: "Truth doesn’t adjust to our feelings, it’s there regardless of what you may want to be the case." Interestingly, he also had a lot to say about the peculiar situation we find ourselves in today where we seem to feel that falsehood is many times necessary, often feeling we can't "afford" the truth. This begs the question: what kind of world is it where you can actually do what is right and not worry about the consequences? This is a question to which he would return in closing.

Finally Dr. Willard looked at Beauty. "Beauty is goodness made manifest to the senses." This definition points to the power of beauty--we surround ourselves with it because it is goodness. "Beauty strengthens what is good and what is true."
Of course Dr. Willard lamented that much of contemporary art has forsaken beauty; we tend to use whether or not you can sell something as art for a standard. As an alternative he offered us this measure: "A good test of art is its effect on you: are you exalted or excited? Is your desire to do what is good and faithful strengthened by the art around you?"

In closing we arrived back at the question: What kind of world is it where Goodness, Beauty, and Truth are safe, safe to follow, so that if you give your life to these you would actually have a life of Goodness, Beauty, and Truth?
His answer: A world that is presided over by a God who is Good, True, and Beautiful. Power resides with God. In the end, he’s the one that assures you that if you trust him, these aspirations will be reached.
“These things are a part of objective reality, and you know them as such when you enter into the Kingdom of God.”

The final session that I was able to attend was Monday's night's wonderful lecture on Moral Truth. I'll have up the overview of it by tomorrow night, if time permits.

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