Notes on Truth, Beauty, and Goodness -- Phil A231

William Jamison - Instructor

The Will

(After reading the current paradigm go to Wittgenstein’s “The Will” to critique how we use the word – in what contexts does our everyday usages work for us? But what does the examination Witt uses mean for this? Are we just fooling our selves?)

Intuition is to truth – that is how we have the assurance of what we call truth ---

We understand this through use of language – that is through the arrangement of sounds and symbols in approved sequence; that sequence being approved because of its tried and true association with a particular set of actions, or beliefs associated with a set of actions.

The set of actions are explained as being successful because of the paradigm or model that explains how those linguistic utterances attach to those actions in that form of life such that outcomes are what we have expected. We can use them to predict events. The more successfully they predict events the more convinced we are of their truth. They are warranted assertions.

This paradigm and its concomitant set of utterances are considered coherent as well as correspondent to reality. Further, the paradigm is interpreted in terms of a narrative that expands the relevance of success to include our sense of meaning, in the sense that Frankl uses it. That is, to satisfy our sense of narrative, homo narrans extrapolates the paradigm to universalize the interpretations and the metaphors to give meaning to life and value to action. Things are this way and they should be this way.

Now, when those individuals using the tools and utterances associated with one narrative come into conflict with those individuals that are using tools and utterances associated with a different narrative, because original environments were different, or the originating set of utterances were different, and what was successful in that different environment was different than what was successful in the other, then the resulting conflict is a conflict of narratives. This is an external challenge to a narrative.

"What is true on one side of the Pyrenees is false on the other." (Blaise Pascal)

Such conflicts are even part of the development of characteristic utterances in human experience that are part of our narratives. The conflict or competition with other persons is part of the environment that demands a toolbox of useful sayings and expressions to prepare the speaker to successfully out compete the other persons. So narratives refer to a “chosen people” or a “saved people” or “civilized world” as opposed to an “evil people” or “condemned people” or “barbarians.”

When speakers come into contact with the competing narratives of opposing people, how should the opposing narrative be interpreted? Generally,  each narrative will address this challenge by describing the opposing narrative as contrary to fact. It is a lie, or an evil fiction created to distract the true believers from the true way. Or it is simply a mistake by being not as advanced or intelligible. It is primitive, instead of advanced. It is a failed philosophy, instead of right reason.  It is a challenge to true believers to eliminate those among the saved people who ought not be there because of their weakness or lack of faith.

There are also internal challenges to narratives. As Kuhn describes in “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” there are developments within a community that result from challenges on the edge of the paradigm. If they are on the inside of the paradigm they usually result in growth and scientific development. But sometimes even internal challenges that are none the less peripheral because they are over issues not yet adequately described by the paradigm, then if these challenges cannot be met because of some internal or logical element of conflict between the narrative and the form of life the narrative tries to explain, then the paradigm must shift in order to correspond to the dilemma. This shift might be forced because of a conflict with another narrative but as Kuhn explains in his examples, it is more likely a result of data of experience that is not successfully explained by the working paradigm. In short, the narrative fails to explain what has been discovered to need explaining and significant actions contrary to previously developed traditions of actions, or social habits, evolve from the old ones.

The world is no longer viewed as the center of the universe. Or, the solar system is no longer viewed as an adequate model in all contexts. Or, the very fabric of space is viewed as significantly different than the world of physical experience – Schrodinger’s cat gives a picture of two model’s in conflict. Can a cat be mostly dead?

But what happens in the mind of a person experiencing such a paradigm shift or trying to process conflict resolution between two (or more!) narratives?

At least there is a period of doubt. The confidence a person has in a narrative and the sense that life’s experiences are readily managed if only the narrative is followed, comes under the need for inquiry either because there is a growing awareness of difficulties that will not be managed well by the practices associated with the narrative that is being lived and either might be by practices of a competing narrative, or appear irresolvable by any set of practices encapsulated in the narratives known to the person.

Death is one such dilemma that all narratives attempt to describe – since practices will not prevent it, they can at least explain the function of death in the context of the narrative. It is a gateway, perhaps, to the next stage of life. It is a challenge that must be prepared for even if by attempting to avoid worry over it. It may be the end point of a life that gives meaning to the events of a life by the very means of setting a limit to what otherwise might be interminable. Peter Berger argues that there are two related issues in this. He says. (p. 103) in The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge “All societies are constructions in the face of chaos.” and (p. 101) he says, “This legitimation of death is, consequently, one of the most important fruits of symbolic universes.”


In some conflicts the issue is resolved by the person adopting what is viewed as the dominant narrative. Issues of such narrative conflict with Alaskan native villages are often seen in this light. The dominant narrative of the US capitalist economy and the reinforcement of values of consumership override the values and narrative of traditions that previously sustained the villages and the rules and habits that enabled survival. Those habits are viewed as outmoded in many respects just as modern products, foods, tools, and entertainments – even alcohol, replace the cultural narrative elements that sustained life when such modern tools, and supplies were unavailable. As the practical needs of daily life have changed, so does the need for a narrative that distributes those new practices over the course of a life. The old traditions fade from use or become museum pieces to honor the past. For those that find themselves caught in the middle between new and old, perhaps even needing to spend time split between new and old habits, the conflict of narratives are intense. Resolution may certainly require new language development and each language must develop appropriate explanation for the place of the opposing narrative elements – or else there is cognitive dissonance.

One tried and true means of such resolution is the development of a new metanarrative that seeks to step back from emotional commitment to either narrative. They are to be sublated. That is, they are to become explained as sub elements in a more encompassing narrative that houses both sub narratives in a language that explains them as primitive or less complex. In short, they are ways of knowing that are narratives – only stories. They are mythological. Beliefs of primitive peoples. Knowledge has evolved and only those who have learned the terminology that sublates the previous narratives are members of the elite, or the knowledgable ones.

So the language of narrative delvelops to describe the nature of narrative itself. It becomes not only an art form but a way by which people express meaning and satisfy the human need for prediction, value, in short, narratology is a prime means of resolving narrative conflicts.

Include quote from Emerson here:


Some great decorum, some fetish of a government, some ephemeral trade, or war, or man, is cried up by half mankind and cried down by the other half, as if all depended on this particular up or down. The odds are that the whole question is not worth the poorest thought which the scholar has lost in listening to the controversy. Let him not quit his belief that a popgun is a popgun, though the ancient and honorable of the earth affirm it to be the crack of doom.48


Man's Search for Ultimate Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl (Paperback - July 2000) quote p. 142:

A few years after World War II a doctor examined a Jewish woman who wore a bracelet made of baby teeth mounted in gold. "A beautiful bracelet," the doctor remarked. "Yes," the woman answered, "this tooth here belonged to Miriam, this one to Esther, and this one to Samuel.. .." She mentioned the names of her daughters and sons according to age. "Nine children," she added, "and all of them were taken to the gas chambers." Shocked, the doctor asked: "How can you live with such a bracelet?" Quietly, the Jewish woman replied: "I am now in charge of an orphanage in Israel."

The level of removal we achieve by stepping back is a way of reaching an emotional removal by not being a believer of the narrative. Instead one becomes an observer of a subnarrative, a more primitive level of existence.

One is saved by the stepping back.

Wittgenstein begins the essay on "The Will" with a question: "Do I really love her, or am I only pretending to myself?" When I am in the narrative of love I can love, but if I step out of the narrative that says I can love and view love as only a function of narrative for those who believe the narrative, I seem no longer able to truly be in love unless I chose to “forget” that the narrative is just a story. As one of the uncles (Hub) says in the new movie, “Second hand Lions” there are some things you have to believe to be a man even if you don’t think they are true.



The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America
by Louis Menand

Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-1980
by Charles Murray (Paperback - February 1995)

The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change -- by Randall Collins; Paperback

Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought -- by Pascal Boyer; Paperback

Man's Search for Ultimate Meaning
by Viktor E. Frankl (Paperback - July 2000) for the Golden Record

This page is maintained by William S. Jamison. It was last updated August 14, 2012. All links on these pages are either to open source or public domain materials or they are marked with the appropriate copyright information. I frequently check the links I have made to other web sites but each source is responsible for their own content.