Thursday, June 18, 2009

All good things...

"All good things must come to an end."

Or so goes the conventional wisdom.

But will the truth of this claim also come to an end at some point? That is, will its goodness as a true claim someday cease?

Its truth-value is a good thing. If, however, it is true that "all good things will come to an end"-- i.e., lose their existence as good things-- then this claim is itself only provisionally true, and therefore ultimately false. As such, it is not true that all good things will come to an end. Only if the claim's truth persists without end, would it be true, according to this permanent truth-claim, that all good things come to and-- but then, of course, the claim's endurance as a good thing would contradict its own import, since its own truth-value would be the one good thing that does not come to an end. Hence, this piece of conventional wisdom is self-contradictory.

I realize that this piece of folk wisdom is not normally invoked as a rigorous metaphysical claim, but is usually, for example, invoked to encourage high schoolers after their first break-up. Still, though, I have encountered cases where a kind of worldly pessimism insists that even the glory of the Church, or, say, the life of the soul will, in time, wither, die, and disappear. Bertrand Russell claimed on more than one occasion that a thing's value is not related to the length of its existence: a good life, in other words, need not result in eternal goodness in Heaven. So, the claim can have metaphysical teeth, and it is those I am plucking in case someone, like Russell, tries to bare them.

Now consider this statement: "Nothing that is perfect comes to an end."

Will the truth of this claim ever come to an end?

If so, its truth is not perfect, and therefore it is not an absolutely, perfectly true statement. If its perfectly true status does come to an end, then, paradoxically, it was never true, since its "truth-demise" is an instance of a perfect thing ending (imperfectly). The claim is not an indexical truth, like, "Marv is eating a hoagie in the lounge" at 12:35, which by necessity is no longer true at 12:36 or after. The second claim, rather, is more like "Marv was eating a hoagie in the lounge at 12:35," which is permanently true when the time is included in the statement.

In any case, if the second claim's truth-value never ceases to be true, then its endurance as a truth is evidence of its own correctness. If it were ever proved wrong, it would only count as an instance of the terminal nature of imperfect things (viz., truth claims), but would, nevertheless, still retain its truthfulness insofar as some other perfectly true claim would never end in falsity.

Seeing as the second claim trumps the former, in terms of both epistemic integrity and ontological robustness, ought we not look to the eternal for truth and lasting perfection? Does not the perfection we seek in love, mixed though it is with apathy and hate, in truth, though it is mixed with error and deceit, and in life, though it is mixed with decay and death–– does not the nature of our deepest ambitions point toward infinity, where the goals of our hearts will persist in eternal perfection?

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