The Familiar, the Comfortable, the Kitsch; the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.

I bet that you and I do the following at times. We confuse the familiar, the self-beneficial, the surprising for the good, the true, and the beautiful (in no particular order)? We’d love to think we don’t but I suspect we all do. I suspect I do.

Familiar, novel, nostalgic, surprising, self-beneficial – these words describe the relation of a thing to ME. By contrast, good, true, and beautiful describe a thing’s relation to reality.

Obviously I would have to clarify what is meant by good/just, true, beautiful for the “relation to reality” bit to make more sense. I’d have to give an argument for what grounds them. That is a different post altogether. I trust you get the basic idea here.

I worry that well meaning people take themselves to be pursuing truth when they are in fact pursuing what is familiar. They fight for what is self-beneficial and call it just/good.

This is important. The classical tradition emphasized justice, truth, and beauty; or the good, the true, and the beautiful. These were grounded in the platonic realm. Christianity, in turn, grounded the good, the true, and the beautiful in God. In either community, pulling on the three threads drew one towards reality; towards the ultimate. In both traditions it was a central task of a person to seek the good, the true and the beautiful en route to the eternal, and for Christianity, en route to God.

Yes, there is a deep assumption lurking here – that good, true, beautiful do in fact have purchase on reality, that they are transcendental. These days it is tempting to suggest that goodness, truth, and beauty are merely words we project onto the world. As a child of the postmodern (sure, the term is a tired one) I can default to this temptation with ease. Capitulation aside, if my claim at the start of this little post is right, then it seems we all do a bit of projecting. Isn’t that just what is afoot when I treat the familiar as if it were true? Furthermore, the discovery, centuries ago, of cultures with intuitions and affections far different than our own, also supports this worry.

The possibility that we are projecting, that we are mistaking our feelings for reality, doesn’t rule out the existence of goodness truth and beauty though; it just complicates it. Likewise the discovery of cultural differences. Furthermore, the claim—that we project these attributes on the world around us—has no purchase on reality unless it is, itself, true. It seems, we can’t easily get away from this triad, even if it does seem a bit dated. Furthermore, those who claim the transcendentals are just projections, still act as if certain behaviors are more just than others. They still speak as if some things more lovely. They still think that the claims of others are *really* true and others are *really* false.

It seems we, not to mention they, come back round to goodness truth and beauty whether we want to or not. And thus the original question remains. Are we mistaking the familiar, the self-beneficial, the surprising for the good, the true, and the beautiful?

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