Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Internets is self-affirmed…

According to this peculiar website, the Internet has a 65% positive attitude towards… "the Internet".

Then again, it apparently has an 89.2% positive attitude towards… "death"!

I'm sure he'll be glad to know that the Internet has a 74.9% positive attitude towards "Richard Dawkins" and 66.9% positivity about "the New Atheism", while it scours with a 52.4% negative attitude towards "the pope" and 59.8% negativity towards "the Catholic Church".

Good thing truth ain't a beauty contest.

On a similar front, "natural selection" gets 86.1% positivity while "intelligent design" only gets 63.1% love.

Results may vary from region to region and time to time.


djr said...

Truth isn't a beauty contest? What an un-Catholic thing to say. After all, as a good Thomist, you should believe in the convertibility of the transcendentals (I'm not a Thomist, and I'm tempted to believe it!). But no doubt the contest requires a competent judge.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

I KNEW you would catch that semi-inadvertent pun! I hesitated a while after typing the sentence, since I said, "Wait, truth is convertible with beauty." I think there is a place for aesthetic appeal in the attainment of truth, but I don't that webpage captures it, to say the least.

djr said...

Actually, the more I think about this transcendental business the crazier it begins to seem. Isn't it just obvious that truth, goodness, and beauty don't convert? It is probably true that right now someone is molesting a child, but it isn't good or beautiful. It would be good for people who currently live in abject poverty to gain the means to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves without serious worry, but it isn't true. It is good for human beings to defecate, but it isn't beautiful. Plato's Symposium is a beautiful dialogue, but it isn't true. An unnecessary exercise of a martial art might be beautiful but bad. What kind of crazy metaphysical thesis would deny these things?

When I focus on beauty and goodness, the convertibility thesis seems extremely sensible. This is especially so when we keep in mind that goodness and beauty both can be goodness or beauty in a certain respect. So, while animal defecation may smell unpleasant, when we come to understand the biological system and the role that the removal of wastes plays in it, it has a certain beauty as an object of understanding. The same goes for the unnecessary martial artist; not only is his display of his art good in a certain respect, but it also fails to be as beautiful as it might be precisely because it is gratuitously violent. In other words, whatever we understand to be good takes on a certain beauty, and whatever we take to be lacking in goodness also loses some of its beauty. Moreover, beauty itself is a kind of good; taking something as beautiful just is taking it as good in a way. So, despite some counter-intuitive cases where goodness and beauty apparently part ways, the convertibility thesis seems quite plausible to me.

I can't pull off the same trick for truth, though. It just seems clear to me that there are truths that are neither beautiful nor good. Even if there is some sense in which a person molesting a child is good in some very limited respect -- say, in so far as he is actualizing his capacities for rational choice, aesthetic appreciation, and physical pleasure -- and even if those same respects in which his action is good are respects in which it has a kind of beauty, it seems pretty clear that there are many features of his act that are not good in any respect. Moreover, it is these features that make his act a case of child molestation instead of simply being a case of rationally chosen aesthetic appreciation and physical pleasure, and it is qua child molestation that we deem the act intrinsically bad (and that makes most people unwilling to consider that there might be some other aspects of the act that are good in a limited respect). Now, I take it that it's uncontroversial that if a person has molested a child, then it is true that this person has molested a child. But if that is a truth, and yet aspects of what makes it a truth are not good in any respect, then how can truth be convertible with goodness and beauty?

On its own, the convertibility thesis does not suffer from the fact that there are many possibilities that would be good and beautiful but aren't actual, and so aren't true. But the apparent reality of truths that are neither good nor beautiful seems to make the convertibility thesis unsustainable.

Yet I'm sure that it must be more complex than that. After all, the claim was developed in large part by Catholics, and Catholics aren't shy about the prevalence of evil in the world.

So what gives?

Crude said...

Amateur though I am, I wonder if part of the problem can be addressed with pointing out a difficulty of truth in isolation. Or, in another sense, what role the idea of evil (and ugliness) being a privation plays in considering truth's convertibility.

I admit, my own view is to regard truth as convertible with beauty and goodness all the same. But then, there's a distinction between truth and what makes a thing true, or so it seems to me.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...


First, I've been confused for a while now: are you Catholic? Are you even Christian? Not that you need be to get in the club here, I just think it would help me parse your replies.

Second, I agree the convertibility thesis (CT) is counterintuitive. Indeed, that's its dialectical starting point. Since it is at the pinnacle of metaphysical wondering, if it were "obvious" (to the sophists or hedonists in Socrates' time, say), it would not be a path literally "meta-physical".

Third, as you note, obliquely at least, analogy is key to the issue. Good is not beauty simpliciter. Rather they are both mutually composed analogues of the order of being. The truth of that harmony is its own kind of goodness and beauty.

Fourth, I think you are focusing what-it-is-that-is-true (Tw) with something-being-true (Tb). Take your opening example, a child being molested. I'll restate it: "Right now a child is being molested in the future by no one in particular." That's an ugly proposition, cognitively speaking (I hope you frowned or squinted a bit and reread it if it struck you as off, such discomfiture which makes my point), because it can't even begin to be true formally speaking. Tw is a sad state of affairs, and yet the fact that its truthfulness (Tb) can register at all is a kind of good. Indeed, if there were no fact(s) of the matter in such a case, law enforcement could never convict the wrongdoer and there wouldn't be any true state of affairs to be angry about: without the goodness of Tb in that scenario, Tw would be mere conjecture.

Along similar lines, in so far as evil is a privation, there IS not anyTHING there to BE good or beautiful in the factuality of such crimes. It's "good", as I say, that we can register the Tw of such crimes, but in themselves they are perversions, falls, from what should be: the way things really ought to be. Evil is thus a deformation of the order of being because it pits Tw against goodness and beauty by making us face horrible Tb. This should not be: Tb should naturally coalesce with goodness and beauty, but saying this is a fallen world may fundamentally be shorthand for saying that natural harmony does not hold for us any longer.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...


Replace "focusing" with "confusing".

djr said...

One suspicion I've had is that 'truth' as it figures in the convertibility thesis is not best understood as picking out any true proposition, but as more closely connected to being. So, let's suppose for the sake of argument that it's beauty, goodness, and being that convert. In that case, the convertibility of being with goodness and beauty hangs on the analysis of goodness as fullness of being, and hence, as you suggest, to evil as a privation. I'm very sympathetic to the analysis of evil as privation. Still, I'm not quite sure whether it works out. One of the problems with that conception of goodness is that almost all of the common objections to it are bad, and so one rarely finds good discussions of it; it's either dismissed with bad arguments or it's supported but not very critically probed. So, while that keeps me sympathetic to it, I distrust myself enough and have enough doubts to be unwilling to assert it confidently.

Where, I wonder, can I find a good treatment of the convertibility thesis that goes beyond introductory statements of it but isn't several hundred pages long?

As for me and Catholicism, that depends on the day, the week, the month, sometimes even the hour. I suppose I'm too skeptical to be a good Catholic, but if I were going to be a good anything, that's what I'd be.