Wednesday, January 17, 2007

One More Bracing Declaration:
This Time, It's Provisional

I betrayed here my more-than-sneaking admiration for the take-no-prisoners affirmation of Mr. Valiant-is-Truth in John Bunyan's Pilgrims' Progress (here). Here's another in the same vein, or maybe not:
The Man who seeks what is right
Of choice and free will, shall not be unblest;
The seed of just men shall never perish.
Not so the froward and foolish heart that bears
A motley cargo of iniquity.
His outspread sail shall soon be hauled down;
Caught in the growing storm his stout
Mast shall be rent and shattered.

To ears that hear not he cries,
To angry seas which he cannot master;
His guardian spirit doth laugh to see him,
Who rashly boasted his ship would come into port,
So weak and faint he cannot breach the wave
And sinks unseen with all his riches,
Dashed on the reef of Justice, un-
Looked-on and unlamented.
--Aeschylus, Eumenides (translation??[1])

Well, I guess that settles that. So much for you, froward and foolish heart (Google search does not like "froward"). And remember, "the seed of just men shall never perish."

Okay then, but I do not a critical difference here, from Mr. Valiant-is-Truth. We have here not the man who knows what is right, but the man who seeks what is right--a critical distinction, I should say, and very Greek, in the respect that it reminds us of Socrates, whose principle claim to wisdom is that at least he knows what he does not know. Perhaps an even better analogy is this from Gotthold Lessing:

Not the truth of which any one is, or supposes himself to be, possessed, but the upright endeavor he has made to arrive at truth, makes the worth of the man. For not by the possession, but by the investigation, of truth are his powers expanded, wherein alone his ever-growing perfection consists. Possession makes us easy, indolent, proud.

“If God held all truth shut in his right hand, and in his left nothing but the ever-restless instinct for truth, though with the condition of for ever and ever erring, and should say to me, Choose! I should bow humbly to his left hand, and say, Father, give! pure truth is for Thee alone!

--Gotthold Lessing
(Web sources and my notes, but where, exactly?)

[1] I posed the inquiry to Michael Gillelund of Laudator Temporis Acti. In what must be a first for him, he couldn't identify it either. A gold-plated cigar (or suitable equivalent) to the first person who nails it.

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