Synthesis and Truth

Despite all the consequential drawbacks of his philosophy, the German thinker, Georg W. F. Hegel, leaves us one very fundamental and useful approach to ‘truth.’ For Hegel, all activity participates in the perpetual cosmic cycle of “thesis,” “antithesis” and “synthesis.” In short, one reality emerges first; he calls this the thesis. Then, an opposite reality arises to counter a balance against the already existing thesis; this he names the antithesis. In the tension between these two polar opposites, a final consequence materializes from the midst of the struggle: the synthesis. This synthesis then, standing alone as the sole product of the whole operation, will assume the role of ‘thesis,’ and the whole process begins anew: thesis, antithesis, synthesis.

Although that is an overly simplistic view of Hegel’s truly groundbreaking philosophy, it is enough to at least prompt some basic questions. While I’m not lobbying for a neo-Hegelian upswing in contemporary philosophy, perhaps considering this proposed lifecycle of truth and reality, so to speak, would be helpful in our own perception of truth, and particularly of the Truth of Jesus Christ present in the world around us. If the purpose of philosophy is to aid us in understanding reality, then surely utilizing such critical reasoning in seeking to understand the fullness of reality present in the divine Logos—the Son of God—is well within the scope of dutiful Christian activity. Oftentimes, it is all too easy for us to forget that the history of the Catholic faith is laden with just this sort of ‘thesis, antithesis and synthesis.’ Undoubtedly, the process will continue for as long as humans are unable to articulate perfectly the mysterious reality of a Triune God. However, we cannot fail to see the importance of such productive argumentation in the academic forum. After all, it is what has given us the faith we possess today.

One critical aspect of this dialectic, as it is called by Hegel, and with specific regard to the faith of the Church, is that the fundamental principle for all synthesis and understanding must be an appeal to the already accepted dogma of the Catholic Church, and an ascent to rightly informed reason. Without these two cornerstones, all dialectic will inevitably become flawed, and more focused on self-interest than on an interest in the objective and ultimate Truth we ought to desire. This being said, the freedom to thoughtfully and challengingly process the depths of our knowledge about life and God should be the primary focus of academic pursuits, for those serious about coming to understand the fullness of truth and reality as best as possible.

While we all encounter the fundamental “vocation to holiness” as the basis for our own lives, we ought to consider that calling in relation to our inherent human vocation to engage the world in which we live, and the thoughts and mentalities that compose it. If we look at our desire for truth as a dialectic of positions, ultimately resulting in the beautiful synthesis of Catholic Truth, we should not be afraid to venture into the deep—to duc in altum—and to mine the riches of the reality that surrounds us. This is precisely the importance of authentic academic freedom, and the forum to discuss such sensitive yet compelling topics in a manner oriented toward true growth and the pursuit of knowledge. So long as our quest is always guided by an ascent to the Truth as we know it and the Church professes, and we maintain the discipline to fully hear all possible considerations before making conclusions, our labor will prove fruitful and our lives and intellects will benefit greatly.