1.6 The Gateway of the Arts and Literature


Science, it has been argued, depends on two tests of truth, that concerning predicted facts and that concerning internal logic or syntax, though both are in the end empirically tested. These can take the form of cognitive intuition which is, however, different from emotional intuition. It is different, first, in that it can be brought to explicitness, if required, and, therefore, fully communicated, whereas a gain of emotional truth through emotional intuition cannot be reliably transmitted. The differences of the arts and sciences cover much more than the dependence of the former on emotional truth, especially when one comes to consider, as we shall in Chapters 8 (Mass Media) and 9 (Art and Morals), the social, institutional role of the arts. But here we are concerned purely with the arts as a way of gaining truth about our world.

The appeal of the arts of music, poetry, painting, sculpture, literature, and the performing arts (drama) as a gateway to understanding life has always been very great. For this reason religion which believed it had the organized answer did well through history to harness the arts to its purposes. In questioning, as we shall here, any claim of the arts to any fundamental way of discovering truths different from that of science, we are not questioning their tremendous educational value for emotional adjustment, nor are we questioning the possibility of giving a real psychological meaning to emotional truth reached by art and emotional intuition. Our argument will be, however, that in the end the latter draws its correctness from cognitive truth.

Claims for a direct emotional knowing or testing of truth go back into the mists of antiquity. But the sense in which it is claimed in early times is different from the technical sense to be studied here and far more easily dismissed. The central feature of this early "emotional knowing" is a purely subjective conviction of truth from music, intoxication, art, or religious mysticism which fails, by any realistic test one can apply. Many people have come out of nitrous oxide anaesthesia (and more recently a hundred other drugs) with a sense of absolutely profound discovery, yet muttering only some banal cliche[4]. There is no convincing argument that famous instances cited among the more respected annals of religion and art have any more claim to validity than these instances from intoxication. Yet, hidden in such phrases as "Truth is Beauty: Beauty Truth," the mystics have again and again asserted this supra-sensory and direct emotional path to truth[5].

A modern psychologist-philosopher of eminence who has sought to shape and utilize the emotional truth concept is Royce (1965), but it turns out that the criterion in which he takes refuge (when the scientific criteria of fact and logical consistency are denied) is the goodness of fit of the emotional attitude to the emotional norms of society! But delusion and insanity are not just being emotionally different from other people, and being emotionally similar is no guarantee that one is not merely sharing some popular delusion.

A sense can be defined in which an emotional reaction is truthful, as being adapted to a situation. Indeed, a whole class of insanities the affective psychoses are recognized precisely by their absence of that appropriateness. The individual is manically elated by something that does not justify it, and profoundly depressed by what is sometimes realized by the patient himself to be only a trifle. The touchstone for "truth" here is whether the behavior is biologically adapted. The unduly depressible individual will not eat or avail himself of what is necessary for life, and the unduly elated individual will wear himself out or break his neck by jumping a chasm too broad for leaping. The correctness or truth of the emotional attitude is thus in the last resort tested by the same empirical and rational tests as cognitive truth. Yet, an additional feature is here being taken into account, namely, the appropriateness of the emotional energy-expenditure-determining reaction in relation to the cognitive realities of the external situation. (In relation to the fundamental postulate, of course, that it is desirable for the organism and species to survive!) What is "emotionally true," therefore, carries the extra meaning that it maximally aids survival. But this quality of the emotional response is something quite different from the emotional conviction of truth. It may be, however, that our sense of beauty is a signal, built into us by natural selection, that certain emotional balances are more adaptive than others. This is only a speculation to be psychologically investigated.

Meanwhile, much of the learning and evaluation of truth in the arts does not hinge upon their having any strange "emotional path to truth" of their own, but rests on the same basis as "truths of the heart" in simple cognitive intuition. Tolstoy's War and Peace, Shakespeare's Tempest, Goethe's Sorrows of Werther, Tennyson's Locksley Hall, Beethoven's Eroica Symphony, Leonardo's Virgin of the Rocks, or Michelangelo's Last Judgment, convey to us, with superb stirring of the imagination, a sane emotional response to truths that are in fact reached by the same respect for experience and logic that is characteristic of the cognitive intuitions of science.

Later, we may have occasion to criticize second-rate art as pandering to unrealistic, autistic, wishful thinking; and favoring a contemporary humanistic philosophy in art which is dangerously flattering to man. But art and literature in themselves need have no such bias. The author of the Psalms, Dante, Donne, Baudelaire, Holderlin, and Nietzsche have, in quite diverse ways, avoided anthropocentrism, though it may be a standing weakness of the arts to over-value man. The point to be made here, however, in regard to gaining an understanding of our universe and ourselves, is that there exists no magic gateway in the arts. Indeed, unlike science, which can organize its knowledge architectonically so as to move on from generation to generation, the artists and writers of past generations stand on the same ground; and if a particular artist towers over the heads of the others, it is not by virtue of something which all have built, but because his personal stature enables him to do so.















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