Today, I had the pleasure of sitting in my backyard, smoking a cigar, and watching nature play out before me. Moments like these are what remind me of what is truly good in life. Seeing the local bumblebee flit from flower to flower, scavenging for pollen; watching my dog needlessly defend me from the deer which were loping through the trees. These are two examples of creation at its best, performing what it was created to do. In this moment, it was easy to glimpse the truth, goodness, and beauty inherent in my surroundings.
Unfortunately, it is not always quite so easy to see these transcendental qualities in everyday situations, but they are still there. Learning to color our lives with these transcendental qualities is key to human happiness and a life well-lived.
The liberal arts are structured to direct man into recognizing the transcendental nature of all that is around him. When I refer to the liberal arts, I refer to those studies which allow one to be truly free to recognize those transcendental qualities of goodness and beauty. One who has been educated liberally can more easily see the intrinsic goodness and beauty of those things which surround him. By being able to know what is true, one can understand the good of a thing, and therefore delight in the beauty of that thing acting towards that good.
But what do I mean when I refer to the true, the good, and the beautiful?
The true refers to whatever is real. In logic and in life, there can only be a point if there is a reality to base it upon. When speaking of truth and what is true, we must first base ourselves firmly within reality and objectivity. If I were to state that “the puma is eating the spaghetti on your plate,” I would only be correct if there were indeed a puma, a plate, spaghetti, and for that plate to be in use by yourself.
While it is easy to learn what is thought to be true today, understanding how that truth was discovered is just as important. A liberal education opens our eyes by teaching us the methods of obtaining truth in a myriad of subjects, and therefore allowing us to verify what is already understood to be true, as well as add onto the body of knowledge already available for us.
The good of a thing is that at which it aims. The good of one thing cannot be discerned without first being related to another thing. Let us take up my dog, Jasper, as an example. Jasper is a dog, and we all know that there exist good dogs and bad dogs. Jasper is, by all accounts, a good dog. How do I know this? Because Jasper excels at doing that thing which dogs have been bred for thousands of years to do: He loves man. The good of Jasper, and of all domesticated dogs, is discerned through their relationship with man.
Without man, it would be impossible to truly call Jasper a good dog or a bad dog. He would be something more like a wolf, but not a dog as they relate to man. For the good of a canine living in the wilderness varies wildly from the good of a canine which lives under the submission of man.
It is no coincidence that dogs are man’s best friend. They have been selected and bred to be so for nearly as long as humans have existed. If Jasper did not love me, he would not be a good dog. This afternoon he exercised his goodness by driving away the deer from my backyard, for surely they were plotting to do terrible and nasty things to me and my family. Through action, Jasper worked towards his good of loving man.
The beautiful is the being-at-work of something in accord with its good. The bumblebee in my backyard today was certainly beautiful, as it was working towards its goods of providing for itself as well as pollinating the world around it. When we see something successfully acting towards its good, we immediately recognize it as beautiful. The beautiful violinist performs without errors, but also with the passion which brings the music to life. The beautiful person lives a life in accordance with virtue, and it is evident when we meet such people in real life.
By steeping ourselves in that which is true, we can understand the good and delight in the beautiful. The person who can partake in such a life is truly free and will forever be surrounded by the wonder offered by the truth, goodness, and beauty available in everyday situations.