Is The Good Logically Prior To The True?

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. Right now, we’re going through the doctrine of God and in relation to that doctrine, we are covering the doctrine of truth. Our guide for our study has been the Summa Theologica of the great medieval theologian, Thomas Aquinas. If you do not own a copy of the Summa, you can read it online at Tonight, we’re going to be asking if the good is logically prior to the true.

Notice first what the question is not asking. The question is not asking what is going on in actuality. It is asking what is going on in our understanding. Why could it not be asking if the good is actually prior to the true? The answer is simple. Aquinas is discussing transcendentals. Transcendentals are those things that exist wherever being exists. It is not that being shows up and then being becomes good and then being becomes true. They are all three there.

However, in our understanding, which comes first? Aquinas answers that the true comes first. We understand that something is before we can understand that it is good. He does of course affirm that the good and the true are the same in substance but they differ only in idea and thus differ in sequence.

Aquinas based this on two ideas. The true refers to being itself and thus something can be true without really being desirable. The devil truly exists and has being. Now contrary to what some people might think, insofar as he has being, he is good. Being is a good thing. The problem is not that his existence is evil. What is evil is what he does with that existence, in which case he is the most depraved of all and one whom our Lord has said was a murderer from the beginning.

No one would desire to be as the devil is for instance. Even the most hardened atheist if he understood the way of the devil now would know that that truly is the way that he is but that that is not the way he would desire to be. Thus, the idea of something that can be known is there prior to knowing how that thing is good or not.

This gets to the second argument of Aquinas also. Knowledge precedes appetite. Do you really want something that you have no clue what it is? Now someone might say we want Heaven, but we do have an idea of what Heaven is. We know many things mainly by knowing what it is not. You can take away suffering and death and fill the cosmos with the manifest presence of God and you want Heaven. When you know those things are what Heaven is, then it is at that point that Heaven becomes desirable. In the same way, before you can desire anything, you have to know what it is. Knowing relates to the true and desire relates to the good. Therefore, truth is logically prior to goodness.

We shall continue tomorrow.

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