Evidence of the Soul from our Transcendental Desires
Around 400 BC, Plato and Aristotle recognized that there are five Transcendental Desires. St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas and many other philosophers have also spoken of these same desires throughout the centuries.
In this article, we’ll look at how these transcendental desires indicate the presence of God to our consciousness and provide strong evidence for the human soul.
What are these transcendental desires? They are our built-in desires for:
- Perfect and unconditional Truth
- Perfect and unconditional Love
- Perfect and unconditional Justice (Goodness)
- Perfect and unconditional Beauty
- Perfect and unconditional Being (Home)
The Basic Argument from Plato to Lonergan
Plato’s basic argument that we all experience the transcendental desires has influenced generations of philosophers. It goes as follows:
- One of the most basic experiences we have is the experience of imperfections in the world around us. We seem to be instinctively aware of imperfections in our understanding of things (truth), imperfections in the love of others and even ourselves, imperfections in the justice or goodness of others and ourselves, imperfections in the beauty of the world around us, and imperfections in our sense of “being at home in the world.” Indeed, we seem to recognize every imperfection in these five areas—instinctively and endlessly.
- How could we recognize these imperfections unless we had an awareness of what perfection in these five areas would be like?
- As we shall see, the source of our awareness of these five kinds of perfection would have to be the five kinds of perfection themselves, and these five kinds of perfection—perfect truth, love, justice/goodness, beauty and home/being—turn out to be the one perfect God.
Let’s now look at all of the transcendental desires individually, starting with Truth.
We can explore the desire for perfect or absolute truth in four steps:
- We are aware that our knowledge is imperfect and incomplete. 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. 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, 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. ]\
- We have an awareness of what perfect knowledge would be like. 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. 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. 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 that we have not yet brought into focus
- 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—thereby 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.
Let’s move on to our desire for perfect love.
You will notice that this argument follows the same lines as the argument from our desire for perfect truth. We will give this argument in an abbreviated way in four steps, but you will be able to see the point.
- We have the ability to notice imperfection in love – in both others and ourselves – in virtually every conceivable context. Amazingly enough, very small children can notice imperfection or inauthenticity in the love of parents, teachers, brothers and sisters, and friends – almost as well as adults.
- How can we notice virtually every imperfection in the love of others and ourselves – continuously and endlessly, if we did not have some idea of what perfect love would be like? Stated the other way around, if we had no sense of the perfect ideal of love (what perfect love would be like), we would never notice any imperfection in love – we would be satisfied with any manifestation of affection – much like my wonderful dog — who is not perturbed by my inauthenticity, distraction, desire to do something else, etc.
- Once again we must ask what could be the source of our awareness of what perfect love would be like. The source of this awareness cannot be any kind of love which we have experienced in the outside world. Let’s face it – it is precisely this love that causes us to recognize imperfection in it. This has led many philosophers to believe that the only possible source of our awareness of what perfect love would be like is perfect love itself.
- What is perfect love? As you might suspect, it is the one God we proved in a previous topic (The Five Transcendental Attributes of God).
If we assume that the source of our awareness of perfect love is the one God (proved in the metaphysical proof), then we move to a two-fold conclusion – first, God is perfect love, and secondly, the perfectly loving God is present to our consciousness.
Furthermore, when that perfectly loving God is present to us, we have a tacit awareness of what perfect love would be like, and this in turn, enables us to see imperfection in our love and the love of others – helping us to grow to evermore perfect kinds of love.
Perfect Justice or Goodness
As you might suspect, the argument concerning our desire for perfect justice/goodness, follows the very same lines as the one for perfect love, expounded upon above. It too can be set out in four steps:
- We have the ability to notice imperfection in justice (goodness) – in both others and ourselves – in virtually every conceivable context. We not only notice unfairness (and evil) in individual people, but also in virtually every organization and institution. We can see unfairness in economic systems, judicial systems, educational systems, cultural institutions, and so forth. Our capacity to recognize imperfection in justice (goodness) seems to know no limits – resembling our capacity to recognize imperfection in knowledge and love. Again, little children have the ability to recognize unfairness in parents and teachers – even though their parents and teachers did not teach them how to do so.
- How can we notice virtually every imperfection in the justice (goodness) of others, ourselves, organizations, institutions, systems, and society — endlessly, if we do not have some idea of what perfect justice (goodness) would be like? Stated the other way around, if we had no sense of the perfect ideal of justice (goodness), we would never notice any imperfection in justice (goodness) – we would simply count “survival of the fittest” as our lot in life.
- Once again we must ask what could be the source of our awareness of what perfect justice (goodness) would be like. The source of this awareness cannot be any kind of justice (goodness) which we have experienced in the outside world. Again, it is precisely this justice (goodness) that causes us to recognize imperfection in it. This has led many philosophers to believe that the only possible source of our awareness of what perfect justice (goodness) would be like is perfect justice (goodness) itself.
- What is perfect justice (goodness)? As you might suspect, it is the one God we proved in a previous topic.
What can we conclude from this? If the above reasoning is correct, then God is not only perfect intelligence and perfect love, he is also perfect justice (goodness).
Furthermore, he is present to our consciousness as perfect justice (goodness), creating a horizon of perfect justice (goodness) which incites us to strive for ever greater forms of justice and goodness in ourselves, others, organizations, institutions, laws, ideals, government, culture, and every other aspect of human endeavor.
In line with our previous posts on the topic, the very same reasoning applies to perfect or transcendental beauty as to perfect truth, love, and justice (goodness).
At this juncture, it will only be necessary to present the first step of the argument, and you can figure out the other three steps from the line of reasoning given above.
- We have the capacity to recognize imperfection in every dimension of every kind of beauty – artistic beauty, musical beauty, architectural beauty, literary beauty – and even beauty manifest in the human heart, human ideals, and human aspirations. Even when we are immersed in the most beautiful of nature walks or along a beautiful seascape, we always seem to strive for another angle – something more interesting – more beautiful. We try to enhance beauty in music by making it more complex – and sometimes by simply “turning up the volume.” We see endless imperfections in the beauty of ourselves and others, and strive to overcome those imperfections.
- How can we notice virtually every imperfection in all of the above forms of beauty – continuously and endlessly? You should be able to answer this question – without even being a Platonist philosopher.
- What could be the source of our tacit awareness of what transcendental beauty would be like? Again, you should be able to answer this question.
- What is perfect or transcendental beauty? Once again, it is the same God we proved in a previous post.
Now you draw the conclusion – what does this say about who God is and how he is present to our consciousness?
How do our transcendental desires provide proof that God exists? If the reasoning above is correct, then God is not only the unique unrestricted uncaused reality who is the cause of everything else; he is also perfect intelligence, perfect love, perfect justice (goodness), and perfect beauty.
Furthermore, he is present to our consciousness as the source of our awareness of perfect truth, love, justice (goodness), and perfect beauty – and as such, he incites us to creativity in every form of human endeavor – in the striving for greater truth, love, justice (goodness), and beauty.
God not only gives us a transcendent soul (manifest in the evidence of near death experience), He also fills our soul with the horizon of his perfection which causes us to be everything that we are – an image of himself.
Note: to learn about our desire for “perfect home,” see The Awareness of & Desire for Perfect Home