Truth, Beauty, and the Common Good
The Search for Meaning through Culture, Community and Life
Table Of Contents
- Copyright Page
- About the author
- About the book
- Chapter 1 Between High Art and Popular Culture: Beauty Where Art Thou?
- Chapter 2 The National Community and the Common Good
- Chapter 3 Truth and Meaning: A Pilgrimage Toward Wisdom
- Select Bibliography
- Index of Names
A number of years ago I co-organized a conference on Charles Taylor’s philosophy which broached the topic of its applicability for the humanities. Since then, having taught a philosophy and popular culture course for the last several years at my university, I have felt the need for some time for using a more philosophical approach to several problems that interest me, especially since it seems to me other approaches in academic research—including the ones I used—do not nearly as well plumb the potential of the humanities that are largely stuck in the “knowledge factory” mode, and not just in Poland where I teach. This book does not fully accomplish my aim, but it is certainly closer to what I wish to accomplish. And certainly the topic I chose gives me space for development.
The actual idea for tackling the transcendentals in this book came from two articles I published in the online journal The New English Review. The first of these articles was: “The Wedding of High Art and Popular Culture: Beauty that ‘Will Save the World’ and ‘Which Upon Being Seen Pleases,’” and was published in the September 2020 number of the journal. The second article was “To See the World in a Grain of Sand: The Family, the National Community and the Common Good,” published the following month. Both articles have been incorporated into the first two chapters of this book—with more or less editing—and with the permission of the editors of The New English Review. I am very grateful to the editors for the encouragement they gave me both for the original articles and for this project.
Moreover, realizing the importance of religion for community and the common good drew me to my earlier writing on religion in Poland, most specifically the article “Catholicism in the New Poland: A Religion and Society in Transition,” which was published the fifth number of the online journal Occasional Papers on Religion in Eastern Europe in 2020. While I hold the copyright on the article I do wish to acknowledge the previous publication of the portion of the article that I use in this book.
I also wish to thank the people at Muzeum Narodowe w Lublinie for allowing me to use the photograph of the Holy Trinity chapel for the cover of the book.
I was already living in Poland for a number of years when the Winter Olympics of 2002 were held in Salt Lake City. At a symbolic level my past and present were represented during the opening ceremonies of the games. First, an honorary position was given to the Polish Nobel peace prize winner Lech Walesa, who helped carry the Olympic flag during the parade early in the ceremonies, together with—among other people—another laureate, Bishop Desmond Tutu. This stirred the hearts of many like myself watching the ceremonies in Poland. Second, just a little later when the slightly less symbolic and more entertaining part of the ceremonies took place, on the theme of Native Americans, the Canadian musician Robbie Robertson—formerly of the legendary rock group The Band, after which he had been exploring his Native American identity—was leading a band that was now performing at the ceremonies. Since I am from Canada myself and had been a great fan of The Band and was now a Polish citizen as well, at the time the combined presence of the historical leader of the Solidarity Trade Union and a great Canadian artist—even if he also had American citizenship at this point—at the ceremonies struck a deep chord within me.
One of the differences between living in Poland and Canada was the mobility of life in the latter. I came to Poland in the first half of the 1980s to study at the Catholic University of Lublin and am still in the city decades later, whereas while in Canada, especially after graduating from community college, I moved around to different places of employment. But during my last years in my hometown in the 1970s I would regularly watch Man Alive on television, an excellent Canadian public program on religion. The title came from a saying attributed to the second century Church Father St. Irenaeus: “The glory of God is man fully alive.” In this self-explanatory aphorism we find the basis of Christian humanism, developed more fully later among others by St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas. One of the programs I will never forget is when the Jewish psychiatrist and survivor of German concentration camps Viktor E. Frankl was interviewed. My father was a Polish war veteran, for one thing, so his story was closer to me since it concerned the war, the memories of which had accompanied my childhood. But at one point after the program my Polish Canadian mother gave me letters from a member of her family describing how he had survived the gulags in the Soviet Union where he had been imprisoned during the war, like so many Poles. When I read those letters, they made what Frankl wrote about his experiences in concentration camps—once I started reading his Man’s Search for Meaning, ←9 | 10→which starts with his memoir and reflections on the experience before his systemized theory—even closer for me. This also helped me better understand what my uncle I never met had gone through and how he did not lose hope and managed to survive. So from early on Frankl’s thought had something of a personal meaning for me.
What I gained from all this is something along the lines of Einstein’s idea that a theory must have elegance, in other words some aesthetic quality that allows it lodge in your mind. This to no small extent was the result of the combination of his dramatic real-life experiences that complimented his theory, making it seem so true to life while corresponding with my closer knowledge at the time. My family history certainly provided a deeper affinity for me with regards to Frankl, and this is partly why he remains so pertinent to me after so many years.
The essence of Frankl’s psychology is the crucial need for meaning in our lives; he called it the will to meaning. He integrated this form of motivation in our lives with what was earlier discerned by Freud and Adler, that is he accepted that we are also governed by instincts and a will to power. He did not reject what he felt was constructive in his Viennese predecessors’ theories. Yes, instincts are important, and power even had a positive role in our lives, for instance the power parents had in the surrounding world could help a child feel secure and thus played a role in his or her development. Nevertheless, for Frankl it was finding meaning that made our lives truly human—it could be said that it helped us be truly alive in a manner similar to St. Irenaeus’ understanding. Only when we could not find meaning did the lower levels of our being—power and instincts—fill the void, so to speak, and in doing so become distorted. In Frankl’s theory meaning allowed us to transcend ourselves. Thus, he laid the foundations of what later developed as moral or positive psychology.
Frankl is surprisingly confident in human nature. Freud once claimed in accordance with his theory that when people are starving, they are all the same, reduced virtually to the level of animals. Naturally the difficulty with such a claim is that it is impossible to test under normal conditions. Who in the comfortable West could honestly say they know how they would behave under such a circumstance. History, however, conducts such experiments. Having experienced German concentration camps Frankl knew that people responded differently. Some indeed were reduced in the manner that Freud described, but he saw that others transcended their state, for instance sharing what little food they had with those who were in even greater need. To no small degree he noted it was the decisions people made together with their attitude that made a difference. And Frankl saw that religion was not “the opium of the masses,” and could genuinely help people under such circumstances.
- ISBN (PDF)
- ISBN (ePUB)
- ISBN (Hardcover)
- Publication date
- 2021 (October)
- Cultural Philosophy Religious Philosophy Virtue Ethics Moral Psychology Rituals Popular Culture
- Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 130 pp.