At Trinity Academy we have a motto that states "discovering truth, practicing goodness, and creating beauty." We believe with confidence that human beings can discover truth and articulate it to the service of the common good.. This post is the first of three installments on truth, goodness, and beauty by Dr. Kerry Koller the President of Trinity Schools. Next week we will publish his essay on goodness.
Truth is the stuff of education. It is also the stuff of life. Truth is nothing more than knowing how things actually stand. It is a matter of knowing what is the case, what is real and what is not. It is accurate knowledge of ourselves and of the social and physical worlds which we inhabit.
Our culture is skeptical about the truth, about whether anyone can discover what is the case, can discover how things really stand. Our culture thinks it's all about marketing, spin and hype. Whatever else it's about, it most certainly is not about truth.
This is a skepticism born of an easy tolerance of any and all views, a weariness of the competing claims of the marketplace and the anesthetic of a consumerist life-style. Roger Rosenblatt calls this "the painful and thumping heart of the rapacious American appetite."
At Trinity Schools we try to develop another appetite—the appetite for truth. We think that truth can be discovered. We think that truth is what finally guides the human project and fills it with hope.
Whatever truth we know is hard-won and, to some degree, provisional. Our human experience, both as individuals and as a species, is limited. We are always discovering new features of reality and old mistakes in our thinking. When we do, intellectual honesty demands that we revise our understanding, that we adjust our thinking to new realities. Since we are finite historical beings who make mistakes, we will always be revising and adjusting.
This happens not only at the individual level but also in the social life of mankind. All mankind is historically engaged in this search for the truth. Science is a good example. The Ptolemaic account of the universe was a pretty good explanation for what could be seen and measured at the time. Centuries later, Copernicus argued that he could account for the same data in a radical new way: place the sun at the center and the earth and other planets in motion around it. Galileo adopted the Copernican view and developed a mechanics consistent with it. Newton took the Galilean achievement to new heights by showing how it flowed from simple laws of nature, and he also introduced calculus, which made it possible to solve new problems. Closer to our own time, the Michelson-Morely experiments created problems for the Newtonian account, and Einstein proposed the notion of different frames of reference rather than the one absolute frame of reference of Newtonian space and time.
This scientific quest is a paradigm for how truth is discovered by beings like ourselves. Note, first, that it is discovered over time—a long time; second, it involved the work and thought of thousands of people; third, each advance meant the discovery of something wrong with the previous account; fourth, although there is constant change and advance, the core beliefs become more and more certain.
The provisionality of truth and the difficulty of finding it do not count against its existence. Rather, it simply stipulates the nature of the case. The difficulty of becoming a good tennis player doesn't argue against the obvious fact that it is better to play well than poorly. It does, however, test our characters: are we willing to do what is necessary in order to get better? Surrounded as we are by a thousand and one pleasures and comforts, it's easy to back away from the work of improving, our tennis game. It is exactly the same when it comes to the difficult work of learning the truth or of subjecting our own convictions to an intellectually honest critique. It can be simply too much work. There are a lot more fun things to do with our time.
This temptation always lies close at hand for students. The search for truth is difficult and it demands a searing kind of honesty. Adolescent life is full of countless pleasures and comforts which are more immediately satisfying than the hard work and character which truth demands.
It is remarkable, then, to see students at Trinity Schools working so hard, holding themselves to the highest standards in this quest. This quest is not supported by our desires for pleasure and ease, nor is it supported by a culture which holds that the satisfaction of these desires is the goal of life. No, it is supported by something substantial, humane and noble.
Truth is only won through hard intellectual work and personal discipline, but it is worth it. It is the way of light and freedom and hope for each of us and for those who will follow us.