Perfect Truth: The 5 Transcendental Desires Considered Individually, Part A (II: Evidence of the Soul from our Transcendental Desires)
In this post, we’ll start breaking down the evidence of the soul from our transcendental desires starting with the desire for perfect or absolute truth.
We can explore this in four steps:
- We have a very interesting ability. Every time we give an answer to a question, we have the ability to know whether that particular answer is the knowledge of “everything about everything.” As you may have discovered by now, you always seem to think that your answers are not the “knowledge of everything about everything” – that your knowledge is imperfect. And so you ask another question. We not only have a desire to know everything about everything, we have the capacity to know whether we have reached that goal at any point in our inquiry, and if we have not reached it – which at least for me has not yet occurred – we keep asking questions. We won’t be satisfied until we have finally gotten to our goal – the whole, final, absolute truth – knowledge of everything. By the way, if you did not know that your answer was not “everything about everything,” you would not ask another question – you would simply marvel blankly at the answer you have already gotten. But the fact is, we relentlessly ask questions because we are aware that our knowledge is imperfect and incomplete.
- Now here is the crucial question. How can we always know that our knowledge is imperfect – and that we have not yet reached the goal of perfect knowledge – unless we had some idea of what perfect knowledge would be like? Think about it – if you had absolutely no awareness of what perfect knowledge would be like, you would not recognize any imperfection in your current knowledge – and so you would have no desire to ask a question – indeed you would not even be aware that there was a question to be asked. In a sense then, without this awareness of what perfect knowledge would be like, we would be unintelligent and uncreative because we would ask no questions. That would be too bad because Aristotle said – asking questions is the beginning of all knowledge and creativity.
Note: So what is this awareness of perfect knowledge?
Well, it can’t be the knowledge of perfect knowledge, because if you knew that, you wouldn’t have any further questions – you would have perfect knowledge.
So philosophers have talked about this as a tacit or notional awareness of what perfect knowledge would be like. It is something we can sense as a goal of our inquiry, but we have not yet brought it into focus – so that we explicitly know it.
Many philosophers, such as Karl Rahner, call it a horizon – we are aware of a horizon of perfect knowledge, but like any horizon, it is beyond our reach — we have not yet reached its full extent.
- What could possibly be the source of our tacit awareness of “everything about everything?” Well, as you can imagine, it cannot be anything in this world – because all of the objects of our experience and all the ideas that we have are imperfect – inciting us to ask further questions. So we clearly did not get our tacit awareness of everything about everything from either our experience of the outside world or the ideas we already grasp. So where did we get it from? Philosopher’s from Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas, to Rahner, Lonergan, and Coreth all say it must come from perfect knowledge itself – “perfect truth itself” – “the complete set of correct answers to the complete set of questions.” No other reality can produce the idea of perfect knowledge except the idea of perfect knowledge itself.
- So what is the idea of perfect knowledge itself? As you might suspect, it is God. This proof was given in a previous topic (The Five Transcendental Attributes of God). Recall that this God must be an unrestricted act of thinking (shown in both the contemporary Thomistic metaphysical proof and the Lonerganian proof).
If the above reasoning is correct, then God is present to your consciousness – and not only that – his presence to you as “the idea of perfect knowledge” gives you a horizon of perfect knowledge, enabling you to ask questions ceaselessly and to create new ideas continuously in the wake of that questioning.
God not only exists – he incites our continuous questioning and creativity.
This concludes our analysis of the desire for perfect truth.