Sunday, March 1, 2015

Grasping for the Truth

From Joseph Pieper, in his book Silence of Saint Thomas:
Man, in his history, whether it be individual or collective, does not advance through a continuous process of development like a plant, from the state of inferior to one of greater and more comprehensive understanding. Rather, the actual historical development of the human intellect appears as a progress in the form of assertion and counter-assertion. The assertion does not seize upon the totality of truth in one gradual, uninterrupted process, but, expressing one aspect of truth, necessarily conceals another. The second aspect is brought out in the counter-assertion, which interrupts the assertion until in its turn it is interrupted. And as one aspect of the varied and many sided truth becomes more evident, another aspect in turn recedes from view. And when this other aspect forces its way back from oblivion into consciousness, the earlier aspect tends to fade from the mind... The fact that every positive chance involves at the same time a danger shows the clearest possible manner that the human mind can enjoy no tota et simul possessio. Indeed no positive chance can be taken without accepting the risk inherent in it.
Truth is like a three-dimensional object, like a globe, which we apprehend from out in space. We can only see so much of it at one time. Any aspect of the truth which we embrace has the potential to obscure other aspects of truth from our minds, yet this is the path we must tread...
...everything is obviously timely and relevant which encourages and confirms an epoch in its special values, attitudes and problems, which positively and immediately corresponds with the line of its major effort. But here we should not forget that such an emphasis on the primarily discussed concerns of an epoch must intensify the blind spots of the epoch. This is just a further notion of "timeliness": timely is not only what an epoch wants, but also what an epoch needs; a corrective attitude to the present is timely, the refusal to accept it is timely, or, rather, the refusal of the dangers necessarily inherent in the chances.
Every age in human history has its particular truths which it clings to, and from time to time must be shaken out of its dogmatic slumber.
... the human mind, in spite of its strict historical boundaries, is not the prisoner of a specific period; rather, that it is truly spirit, capax universi, oriented toward the whole of truth, and therefore capable of detached consideration even of its own time-conditioned existence.
From the start, then, the notion of timeliness contains a note of optimism, of confidence. It is the confidence that each "contemporary" emphasis upon some special feature of truth need not imply a denial of the totality of truth (as every shade of rationalism tends arrogantly to assume); that, on the contrary, this emphasis might bring with it the chance for a new perception of truth. This chance, as we have seen, is by its nature linked with its inherent danger...