De transcendentibus & the Purpose of Philosophy


On Truth: Truth is primordial. “Is true” is not a predicate like “is bipedal” or “is dark blue” or anything else. Instead, the assertion of a proposition and the assertion of its truth are the same assertion. We do not assert “spring follows winter” and also that “spring follows winter is true” because that would be redundant. To mean something is to mean that it is true. It may seem that one could reverse the order of terms and assert that “winter follows spring,” and that this might contradict the above. But this is not so. Either the modified proposition means that winter follows spring, but not immediately (i.e. other seasons, such as summer and autumn, interpose), or it cannot be meant at all. A person, at a given moment and in the same way, cannot believe something he knows to be false. For this reason, he cannot mean it at that moment either.

Truth just is being that is known as being. For this reason, truth is, in potency, what is both believed and meant in actuality. Anything else would imply a performative contradiction. For example, for someone to claim “there is no truth” contradicts itself in the fact of its assertion, since it would have to be false to be true. Nihilism is untenable for the same reason. Nothing(ness) cannot be true because it cannot be. Neither can it be meant, since if it does not exist in potency, neither can it in actuality. In fact, non-being is just what “nothing” means. “Nothing,” cannot be thought; it is impossible. Parmenides offered a famous exposition of the subject in the sixth century B. C.:

Come now, I will tell thee—and do thou hearken to my saying and carry it away—the only two ways of search that can be thought of. The first, namely, that ‘It is,’ and that it is impossible for anything not to be, is the way of conviction, for truth is its companion. The other, namely, that ‘It is not,’ and that something must needs not be—that, I tell thee, is a wholly untrustworthy path.
For you cannot know what is not—that is impossible—nor utter it;
For it is the same thing that can be thought and that can be.

In other words, there is no limit to what is potentially knowable (i.e. intelligible) because to describe the limit would demand knowing what is not, which cannot be known. Obviously, what is actually known at any moment is indeed limited, both by time and by the capacity of the thinker (which is something like a second-order potency). In other words, of everything which is potentially knowable in itself, some things are potentially knowable by us, according to our actual knowledge. And out of everything that is potentially knowable by us, some things are actually known by us according to our intentional activity at any given moment. And only truth is known.

On Beauty: Nothing is beautiful but beauty itself. An analogous assertion holds in respect to each of the transcendentals. In this manner, we can understand the Plotinic notion of participation (6έθεξις, methexis). Transcendental means “that which transcends the categories of being,” or hórs categorie, and beauty is a transcendental. We might see beauty in everything. Why do we not? Because usually we only look for utility (i.e. we sustain a utilitarian intentionality). Beauty and utility are contraries. Beauty is the condition in which perception is an end in itself, and not as a means to something else, as in Pragmatism or Utilitarianism. What we call “love” divides in the same manner according to whether the beloved is loved in herself or only for another reason. The first case renders the beloved lovely, or beautiful. The second case objectifies her as a means. The first is the general attitude of the philosopher; the second that of modern, Liberal, technological society.

On Goodness: All desire has the Good as its end (τέλος, or causa finalis). All created things are moved to activity by their desires.* In this manner, the Good moves without itself being moved. Desires belong to life and to soul. Everything has soul by possession or by participation. The soul is immanent in living things to varying degrees. A flower, for instance, has more intensity of soul than a fern, but less than an human being. Inanimate objects have no soul themselves. That is what “inanimate” means. Nevertheless, all things participate greater wholes. Thus a pebble possesses no soul immanently, but partakes of a soul by participation, since the Earth is a living thing (the Ancient Greeks called the Earth “Gaia,” for instance).

It was said above that “all desire has the good as its end.” Why do some desires seem to have ends other than good ones? For the same reason that a lyre must be tuned, a telescope must be focused, and a compass must be calibrated. The purpose of philosophy is to calibrate the soul so that its desires do not draw it towards arbitrary things in the outer darkness. The purpose of philosophy is to calibrate the soul so that its desires draw it towards to the Good. Morality is always a question of knowledge, since we must know how the world is before we know how to act in it. Thus, ethics and metaphysics are revealed to be designations of the same thing, which is the meaning of “transcendental.”

* Cf. “There is a mover which, not being moved, moves, being eternal and reality and actuality. The desirable and the intelligible move without being moved. The primaries of these are the same … It moves as loved.”
(Aristotle, Metaphysics 1072a26–27, b3–4)


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Sadly, I can only “like” this once.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Max Leyf says:

      Thank you for reading.


    2. Max Leyf says:

      And thanks to you for the extraordinary work you do at


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