Monday, October 7, 2013

Be good to think good

The work of Daniel Kahneman and others has made the public more aware of something that we all know but are sometimes reluctant to admit--we make bad decisions.  Since our intellectual work is certainly not immune from these poor decisions, something must be done to overcome the cognitive biases that pervert our perception of reality at every turn.  A big part of the answer to these biases for Sertillanges is building virtue.  Sertillanges considers his section on the virtues to be “so important that simply to recall it would have made the writing of this little work worthwhile.”*

The intellectual must gradually, and more closely approach the True.  To do this, we must love the True, and not with any old sort of teenage luv, but with a real love that is willing to live completely differently in order to better understand the true.  This kind of love is willing to aspire to the highest heights of goodness because the Good IS the Truth.

Let’s take an example that will help clarify the theoretical.  By natural reason we know that God is the first cause and creator of all things.  This truth permeates all other truths, sustains them, vivifies them.  Joe Intellectual believes this truth.  It seems obvious to him.  But, Joe’s parish gets a new priest, whose homilies are too basic for Joe’s intellectual taste.  Joe’s motivation to attend holy mass begins to wane, although intellectually Joe knows that his desire to attend mass should not depend on the quality of the homily since the mass is much more than a homily.  Joe starts to arrive late to mass in the hopes that he’ll miss some of the homily.  If you ask Joe, “Hey, Joe, what’s the most important thing you do during the week?”  He would dutifully respond that mass was the most important thing because God is the most important thing and worshiping him is, therefore, the most important thing for me.  His behavior belies this truth, though.  And, therefore, in this situation “one must expect the sense of the great truths to suffer.”**

The connection between the Good and the True requires the intellectual to be as good as he wishes to be intelligent.  And, if you want to be an intellectual in the model of Sertillanges, an intellectual with aspirations for the very heights of knowledge--let your desires for virtue soar as high as your desire for knowledge.  Take up the call to authentic, canonizable holiness despite any objections that such a pursuit would take away from your scarce time for intellectual work.  That time is precious, but its efficacy will be stunted by a “just-get-by” approach to morality.  “Purity of thought requires purity of soul...The neophyte of knowledge should let it sink deeply into his mind.”

*Ch. 2, Section I
**For more information on this connection, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2518.

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