The wise man is not only he who knows his end and how to achieve it, but he who habitually acts on what he knows. Because the good of man is anything that will help him achieve his end, knowing the truth and acting on it are goods he can have and can be, respectively. The good he can have is the means to the good he is or can be, which is his end. To know the truth is the good that is higher than any good he can have by acting on the truth, and the good that is higher than any good he can have by acting on the truth is better than to act on the truth. However, it is one thing to have and another to be. Truth as the good of the intellect, when possessed, is just the means to the end, vis-a-vis the good of man. In order for man to be good, to reach his end, he must act on the truth, on the reasoned good the intellect presents his will with. It can then be said that acting on the truth is better than simply knowing the truth, given that it allows man to be the good, rather than to merely have the good, which will not guarantee the achievement of his end.
A good man may not always be wise, though a wise man is always good. A man is good to the extent that he acts according to the whole truth, while a man is wise when he does so habitually, repeatedly acting on the whole truth in the right way, resulting in a virtuous will. The man who knows the good means to the end and habitually acts on them possesses the virtue of prudence; the man who is able to habitually counter the paralysis of the will that sways him against acting on the good out of fear or difficulty possesses the virtue of fortitude; the man who habitually opposes the pleasure of a current good that prevents him from acting on a higher good possesses the virtue of temperance; and the man who habitually seeks the good due to man and other beings and is aware that everything is working towards its own good possesses the virtue of justice. When these are acquired as virtues, his intellect and will are always then in perfect true harmony, for the will pushes the intellect to reveal more of the truth to it for it to act on. Geared towards the fulfilment of man’s nature as the truth in God’s mind and the reality that conforms to it, the virtuous will enables man to conform himself to God and to perfect himself accordingly.
The perfection of beings is achieved according to nature. The perfection of a pen is achieved when it is used and functions properly, as it was intended to by its maker. This perfection is different from man’s perfection. We know man is made for goodness because it is the good he delights in and therefore tends towards and strives for—there is no man who wants what’s bad for him, and even drugs, for example, attract him because of the pleasure he gets from them, the good he sees in them, and not because of the harm that could result from abusing them. Because he was made for goodness, his perfection is achieved when he acquires goods and acquires them habitually through reason so that he himself may be good. It can then be said that goodness and perfection are correlative when it comes to man: his perfection lies in his goodness and his goodness lies in his perfection.
The greatest good man can have (and is meant to have) is the truth, given it is what directly serves man’s being good by being what it is he acts upon—it is the good he reasons out to be true that he acts on that makes him good. Having the truth that children need affection, for example, man acts on it by being appropriately affectionate with his children, his nieces, his nephew, and it is this act that makes him a better person, while neglecting it and acting otherwise makes him worse. For this good done, another good is acquired. In being affectionate with his children, he acquires the good of having a strong and close relationship with them, of gaining their trust and eventually knowing what they are like, which is then to be acted upon. And so it is a cycle in which having the truth as a good is oriented towards and gets its significance from being good, while being good is oriented towards and gets its significance from having goods. What sets this cycle in motion is freedom and virtue. When the will is in perfect harmony with the intellect in truth—when he acts according to the truth presented to him by the intellect willed by the will to be virtuous—man is free in that he can acquire more goods and be a better person. But still, what is this freedom, this virtue, this goodness for? Rather, what is the good that man is meant by nature to be for? What is man’s final destiny that these goods merely help him achieve? Is this final destiny to be had or to be? In order for this to be answered, one must turn to wonder and its horizon.
What motivates man to make the jump from knowing the truth to acting on it—to perfecting himself—is wonder. With the aid of the imagination, man wonders about and for things that do not yet exist, and because he wants these things to exist so that he may wonder at them and continue to do so, he acts on such ideas, making and creating them into existence, actualizing their potencies, embodying them, for it is through his body that he wonders at and delights in beauty. Directed at himself, at his possible perfection, wonder moves man to perfect himself when he realizes he isn’t yet true to form, to the truth in God’s mind. With the help of the four cardinal virtues, man gets closer and closer to his perfection by habitually acting on this potency, this truth, becoming a wise man. The closer he gets to his perfection, however, the more he realizes he is far from it. The closer he gets to attaining the highest good, the closer he gets to becoming good, the more he realizes just how far he is from his goal, which seems to be a horizon. It is easy for man to despair at its vanishing point, paralyzing himself.
The wise man, however, is able to keep his gaze at the horizon with hope for the perfection he acts according to. His good is contained if he is horizon-bound. It is the horizon and vanishing point that man, being attracted to beauty and being the kind of being that he is, moves towards, either by being good and better or by expressing himself as man through culture. His desire for beauty is inexhaustible. When he sees something beautiful, he wants to see more of it, and then he wants to see something more beautiful. For something beautiful created, there is a beauty that is greater that keeps him moving towards a higher level of beauty, a higher level of truth, of goodness.
And it is at the end of the horizon of wonder that he knows he will be united with Beauty Itself, Goodness Itself, Truth Itself—the highest levels where his inexhaustible desire will finally be exhausted that his will will tell his intellect to remain for both to rest in contemplation of the kind of wonder man wonders at forever. God is Beauty, but He is also Goodness and Truth. In order to get closer to this horizon, man creates beauty through culture, but it is through his morally good actions that, just as he becomes the good, he himself becomes more beautiful, participating more in Beauty Itself. There is a paradox here, for the very definition of aesthetic beauty is that which pleases man upon being seen, while what is morally good is the good man can become. There is the image of Christ dying on the cross, and that, even if aesthetically displeasing, is beautiful. There is something about a morally good act that is intrinsically beautiful; in fact, there is no morally good act that is not beautiful. And just as man’s perfection lies in his goodness and his goodness lies in his perfection, his perfection lies in beauty (intrinsic and possessing harmony) and his beauty lies in his perfection through habituated morally good acts.
Because man is relational, most of his actions are directed towards other persons. When we wonder about a person and at a person, the act that results from these two kinds of wondering is love—the morally good act that serves another gives a good to him and makes the giver good. However, the cycle persists. Loving a person by desiring the good for him and providing him with that good remains within the dynamics of having and being, with the highest good that can be given to the beloved being the truth and the highest good he can be to her being being good, which provides the beloved still with a good that can be acquired, a good yet to be achieved. The kind of good that the beloved herself can be is the kind of good she must work out on her own; the lover can’t give her her own goodness to be received from him. An impatient woman loved by a man cannot receive from him her being patient—it is something she herself has to work on. What he can give her, however, is the truth about what patience is and how to achieve it, or maybe even how he has achieved it by setting an example. The highest good he can ever give her is the truth, which is the best she can have from him in order for her to be virtuous. Even then the truth is given materially when the sharing of intimacies takes place through the communication of information, thoughts, ideas. The judgment by which truth is engendered in the subject is the subject’s act alone. When he tells him of his experiences, he cannot give her his experiences themselves. Even perfect “self-giving”, in this context, is only the most intensely effective desire that the good be actually achieved in the beloved. Perhaps this is what leads to frustration and despair between lovers in relation to the horizon of wonder and the limitations of language, for man cannot give his good to another even if he so desperately wants to for her own good. But again, the horizon must not be reacted to with despair; rather, man must see that there will always be more that he can give her (and through many different ways), and this is furthered due to the depth of his being, his personhood that guarantees there will never be an end in the sharing of intimacies, which is why a lifetime can be spent continuing to know one person and still not know everything about her. That must not be seen as something to despair at; it is something to wonder at all the more.
Still the question is unanswered, and the cycle not yet broken, for even if his being good is at the service of the beloved’s being good by giving her the good she needs to have for her to be good, what is the good that she is meant by nature to be for? Yes, wonder motivates one to act, but we mustn’t forget that delighting in and affirming a person’s already existing value—the good she has already achieved—and doing what we can to stay in the presence (not necessarily physically) of that beauty is an act as well. This is love as well, but love as the loving gaze that endorses a person’s goodness, which is closer to what wonder is than wanting a person to be more good. And it is this kind of love that breaks the cycle of having a good in order to be good so that one may have more goods in order to be more good. It is an active engagement of both intellect and will in harmony towards the same object, which in love, is a subject still, for the object of a man’s love is a person, who is a subject, an “I” with his own freedom that must not be impinged. What is shared in this love is the good already achieved. And even a terrible person is worthy of love, for a person is good insofar as he exists, and at least that good of existence can be shared still.
In the spectrum of beauty, the necklace adorning a woman is of a lower beauty than that of a woman for the reason that the value of the necklace is not a value in itself—its value is for another, for the woman whose beauty takes up that of the necklace and stretches it. Taking this up another step, the aesthetic beauty of a woman is of a lower beauty than that of her inner beauty—or rather, her intrinsic value—which becomes more beautiful with every morally good act done, every virtue habituated, while her aesthetic beauty, being at the level of matter, can only change at the level of matter. The calling of the beauty of the person is deeper into the person, making it more difficult for man to grasp the intrinsic value that delights and is endorsed. But nothing that was ever easy was worthwhile. Man has more to give, and if one can see that in a person, beyond his face—if he sees he has more than aesthetic beauty and does not only possess goodness but IS good, which makes him intrinsically beautiful—then when this value is endorsed, loving a person is worthwhile. It is in ecstatic contemplation that one engages in the good of another; it is in wonder as a loving gaze that one can simultaneously be good and have the good. In the context of the active engagement with goodness through the mutual communication of inner lives, self-giving is giving the good one is, and this good of being good becomes a rational good that the beloved can have. Though he cannot grant her her own goodness, as a good person he gives himself to her for her to have. And he gives more of this good when he works on himself to become good. And so does she (or at least strive to be). Though the virtue cannot be given, the person can, under the condition that it takes place within freedom. In fact, love is only possible with freedom; it is for love that freedom is. Without freedom, man cannot propose his purpose, cannot make himself good for him to give himself as a rational good she can have.
An act of charity delights, whether one is the receiver of the action or merely a witness to it. Love as a morally good act is beautiful—it is what most live for and live to do, and it can also be what makes people live, what motivates them to act when they imagine and wonder at it. Every morally good act is done out of love, for it requires one to reason out a good, to endorse a person’s value, and to act on the beauty that is also truth. And so, here on earth, man is able to unite goodness, beauty, and truth through a morally good act of love—he not only becomes good, he becomes beautiful. The habitual act of loving, if kept in line and kept morally good through the four cardinal virtues, brings man closer and closer to the horizon of wonder. There is suffering and sacrifice in love. If man has the prudence, fortitude, temperance, and justice to endure pain, physical or emotional, for the sake of something higher, for the possibility of being in the presence of beauty, true and good, that will make him supremely happy, he is wise. Christians have done this and continue to do this. We still want to “see” beauty—and the fullness of beauty which is Beauty itself—because the happiness we shall obtain from that vision will surpass the pain. There is also the possibility of pain making it more beautiful—or in the case of God, glorifying him—for the reason that there is meaning and purpose in that suffering, in the way that sacrifice can be beautiful if we know that heaven is on the other side.
The inexhaustible character of man’s desire allows him to keep searching for what will satisfy him, for that perfect beauty that will finally fulfill his desire—the beauty that will cause the will to command the intellect to stop looking for more because “the infinite more” has already been achieved. The glory of God is man fully alive. And a man fully alive is one who wonders at the truth and acts on it. If he does this out of love for persons, especially God, he is wise. And so the wise man is one who loves. The love of the good already achieved is the beginning, the middle (as the process), and the end—it is what our striving to acquire good and be good is for. At the horizon of wonder, the definitive good for which man’s being good is good for is the goodness and beauty of all persons adorning Goodness and Beauty Personified who takes our value up. And it is that participation in Him that man is fully alive.
The Humanities is the branches of learning that investigate human constructs and concerns (great ideas) insofar as they are human—insofar as they emerge (through articulation through the liberal arts) from man’s inner life and insofar as they shape human life, educating man in moral excellence (through liberal education, self-realization through reason). It is for liberal education as a learning strategy that addresses the purpose of the Humanities as that which should be served by guided experiences of intelligibility (of what it means to understand), of value (of what it means to value something and what to do with or about it), and of the dignity of a person. Each helps us answer what the human being is for—his purpose, his destiny—and how it can be achieved. Given that the interpenetration of all good persons with Goodness Personified is what will make man fully alive—and God’s glory IS man fully alive—what the Humanities contributes to this is the disciplining of vision, action, and reflection in relation to the horizon of wonder and what is at its end which, when reached, remains a horizon. Because vision, action, and reflection as those which can help us reach our destiny if disciplined can also move us farther away from it if undisciplined, the Humanities provides us with the greatest good we can ever achieve—the truth—in order for us to act upon it, be good, endorse in the good of another, and have our good endorsed as well, therefore having and being good (and getting better and better due to the horizon of wonder). They contribute to making man fully alive by disciplining his wonder so that instead of despairing at the horizon, he hopes—a theological virtue directed towards the fullness of Beauty, Goodness, Truth, Unity—that he reaches perfection and the purpose he correctly (through the discovery of the truth regarding it) proposes. It is liberal education that teaches people to discern knowing what a thing is from knowing why it is (understanding) in relation to his tendency towards unity; to discern consumption from contemplation, the value of another from the value in itself; and to discern acting for a purpose from acting for his true purpose through the understanding of dignity rooted in freedom, the burning core of our being alive. Being able to determine one from the other is a matter of whether or not man will be able to achieve moral excellence and be fully alive. And so it is the Humanities that equips man with the wisdom to strive for God’s glory, to be full alive.