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The Good, the True, & the Beautiful

In the novel Death Comes for the Deconstructionist [1], the protagonist confronts a character who feels isolated within the academy. Their dialogue, in part:

“…I am nearly extinct. There are very few of us left.”


“People who believe in the old triad of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. And in the ability of reason to help us discover all three. People who believe in the ind and the imagination and the spirit as more than chemical interactions — and who value greatly the creations that result when those things engage the world. People who believe that all these things offer us protection against chaos and meaninglessness and totalitarianism and ‘might is right’ and, yes, against injustice.”

That got me to thinking: if somebody said, “I want to cultivate in myself an ability to see the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, to embrace them and to defend them in a hostile culture,” which books would you tell them to read to get started? How can they — how can we — begin to understand why the Platonic triad is important, how they can be identified, and how they are linked? Open thread.


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84 Comments To "The Good, the True, & the Beautiful"

#1 Comment By Bart W On March 11, 2015 @ 4:34 pm

The Great Theologians: A Brief Guide by Gerald McDermitt
War and Peace
Crime and Punishment & The Brothers Kasmorasov
Fahrenheit 451
For Whom the Bell Tolls
To Kill a Mockingbird

of course I would always recommend the Bible and a good understanding of the classics.

#2 Comment By Lee Penn On March 11, 2015 @ 4:53 pm

– Another vote for Lord of the Rings (and,for those who get bitten by the Tolkien bug, the Silmarillion).
– Chesterton’s “Everlasting Man” and “Orthodoxy”
– Three by Peter Kreeft: “Love Is Stronger than Death,” “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Heaven,” and “Heaven: the Heart’s Deepest Longing”
– CS Lewis – almost anything, but especially the Narnia stories and the space trilogy

Another way to appreciate goodness, beauty, and truth is to experience their opposites. Read 1984, Brave New World, and the Gulag Archipelago to do so.


#3 Comment By Gabrielle On March 11, 2015 @ 5:00 pm

I think I put this on a thread before, but I can’t recommend “Poetic Knowledge” by James S. Taylor enough in this regard. Also “Norms and Nobility” by David V. Hicks and “Sound and Sense” by Robert Herrick. I know these are all education based texts and not novels, but classical teaching pedagogy is driving at just that telos, so I think it applies. I enjoy how they have taught me to value poetry in my understanding of education, because a good poem can point to all three virtues simultaneously. Cultivating the right desire for that is a good start!

#4 Comment By Peg Robinson On March 11, 2015 @ 5:09 pm

Um…the Bible. First in a Jewish edition of Torah, with footnotes for a Jewish reader. Then Catholic. Then Protestant…probably the NIV, but with one of the really old school Bible guides from the American Calvinist tradition as backup.

By the time you are done, you’ll have come a long way in seeing that scripture is true, beautiful and good…and supple as silk.

#5 Comment By Stubbs On March 11, 2015 @ 5:19 pm

“Kisses from Katie” by Katie Davis. It is the most profound and moving story of Christian Love made manifest in the last 20 years, maybe longer.

#6 Comment By Bart W On March 11, 2015 @ 5:22 pm

Odd I have not been able to get anything posted for several days. So I am going to amend my list from the first time and put it in order.

THE Great Theologians: A brief introduction
Dostovesky and Tolstoy. Prefer Tolstoy War and Peace
To Kill a Mockingbird
For Whom the Bell Tolls
The Illiad
The Republic

#7 Comment By brians On March 11, 2015 @ 5:23 pm

Thought of one more: Henri Nouwen. No Schmemann, but still good.

#8 Comment By Major Wootton On March 11, 2015 @ 5:25 pm

C. S. Lewis’s The Four Loves together with Till We Have Faces, and his space trilogy; and his letters
Dickens’s Great Expectations
Sergei Aksakov’s Years of Childhood
Augustine’s Confessions
Bo Giertz’s The Hammer of God — a must

#9 Comment By Major Wootton On March 11, 2015 @ 5:52 pm

Eric Brende’s Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology (life with an Amish-like group)

Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soul Craft

Michael O’Brien’s novels

Lars Walker’s novels

#10 Comment By Sam M On March 11, 2015 @ 5:56 pm


“So why is TBK so beloved? Or am I overthinking this or extrapolating from too little data?”

I have tried probably 15 times to read TBK. I cannot finish it. In fact, I can’t even get to the part where they kill someone, which I understand happens. I understand that this is an intellectual failing on my part, but I have tried time and time again and I cannot endure it.

I know it’s stupid, but every person appears to have like 26 names. I can’t get past it. I never have any idea who they are talking about at any time. Twenty nine hours later, on page 56, I am ready to just sit around watching Urkel on TV. Anything but read more TBK.

I know. I KNOW.

I can’t read Ulysses, either. But I did love Moby Dick!

#11 Comment By ratnerstar On March 11, 2015 @ 6:21 pm

I have tried probably 15 times to read TBK. I cannot finish it. In fact, I can’t even get to the part where they kill someone, which I understand happens. I understand that this is an intellectual failing on my part, but I have tried time and time again and I cannot endure it.

I know it’s stupid, but every person appears to have like 26 names. I can’t get past it. I never have any idea who they are talking about at any time. Twenty nine hours later, on page 56, I am ready to just sit around watching Urkel on TV. Anything but read more TBK.

I know. I KNOW.

I can’t read Ulysses, either. But I did love Moby Dick!

Haha, I feel you man. I mean, I really do love TBK, but reading it is an intellectual workout. And I have also been unable to finish Ulysses, despite recognizing the genius of it.

#12 Comment By Giuseppe Scalas On March 11, 2015 @ 6:28 pm

A real timeless masterpiece, an epic novel about the war waged by modernity against Humanism and Christianity:


Unfortunately, It looks like the English translation is a bit sloppy, but I definitely urge you to overcome this obstacle: I promise you won’t be disappointed.

#13 Comment By Brian G. On March 11, 2015 @ 7:44 pm

The Sea of Fertility books by Yukio Mishima

Annie Proulx’s That Old Ace in the Hole

Knut Hamsun’s The Growth of the Soil

#14 Comment By Carlo On March 11, 2015 @ 9:14 pm

I don’t think there is one book that “cultivates the ability.” You have to hang around people who have that ability and learn from them. That’s the correct meaning of the word “authority.”

Having said that, the formative literary text of our generation is definitely The Lord of the Rings.

#15 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On March 11, 2015 @ 10:28 pm

I would recommend House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday. There is some ugly in there, as well as some beauty, but it is the ugly that points the way to what is true and beautiful, and good.

#16 Comment By redfish On March 11, 2015 @ 10:29 pm

First thing that came to mind —

Lectures on the True, the Beautiful, and the Good, by Victor Cousin

Cousin was an influential 19th century French philosopher; he founded what became known as Eclecticism, and himself promoted Scottish Common Sense philosophers. His argument somewhat goes that every school of philosophy is rooted in truth, but each is flawed, though a theodicy lies between them. To him, philosophy as a field was really about the history of philosophy, always expanding on itself through its critique of previous philosophers. He revived the concept of psychology and influenced French universities to open psychology departments. To him, meaning was implicit in language: by definition, we have free will, because freedom is implicit in the concept of willing — there’s no such thing as “unfree will.” He strongly linked Christianity to Platonism — something that bothered some of his critics — defining God as “the principle of principles.”

#17 Comment By SocraticConservative On March 11, 2015 @ 10:31 pm

Plato e.g. The Meno, The Apology, Gorgias, The Republic etc.
Aristotle, particularly Nicomachean Ethics (or at least know *about* Aristotle, as he is very dry to read. Like eating hay, as I’ve heard it described).
The Stoics: Epictetus, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius.
Augustine: The Confessions
Boethius: The Consolation of Philosophy
Anselm: Proslogion
Aquinas: Some basic familiarity with The Summa Theologiae (Peter Kreeft is particularly helpful in this regard).
Dante: The Divine Comedy
Pascal: Pensees
The music of Bach and Arvo Part.

#18 Comment By Political Atheist On March 12, 2015 @ 12:11 am

Stendhal, The Red and the Black
I don’t think anyone writes with more precision about the passions than Stendhal.

Richard Wagner, The Ring of the Nibelung
Prefer Wagner’s ring to Tolkein’s. “The fear of the end is the beginning of all lovelessness.”

Hermann Broch, The Death of Virgil
The Roman poet realizes that his poetry cannot give humankind what it needs, but in his dying moments has a glimpse of the divine gift that human beings will receive in the image of a woman and child.

#19 Comment By Tom the First On March 12, 2015 @ 12:34 am

Carlo’s right on both counts:
People who know the Good, the True, and the Beautiful can point you in the right direction – by their actions (as St. Francis of Assisi said: Preach Christianity; use words if necessary), their words, and what they suggest to read. And “The Lord of the Rings” introduces readers to many good things that are growing more scarce in our world: Sacrificial love, the appreciation of beauty, and a serene trust in Providence, to name a few.
In addition, I’ll be eclectic: The Bible, praying (and looking around) in a beautiful church, “The Brothers Karamozov” (readers who struggle might try an audio version), Titian’s portraits, August Sander’s portraits, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” Krzystzof Kieslowski’s “Decalogue” – sometimes beautiful, and sometimes harrowing.
As an odd bonus, I’ll mention a film I haven’t seen: “The Double Life of Veronique” – because director Krzystzof Kieslowski once said that a 12-year-old girl told him: When I saw that film, I realized that I have a soul. Kieslowski said that girl’s epiphany made *everything* he did to make that movie worthwhile.

#20 Comment By Bart W On March 12, 2015 @ 8:14 am

I would also like to add two books.

Pensee and The Leopard

#21 Comment By Nils On March 12, 2015 @ 11:27 am

The Atrocity Exhibition
Paris Spleen
The Road

#22 Comment By David On March 12, 2015 @ 12:10 pm

C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man. This book directly confronts the deconstructionism that makes humans into “trousered apes” incapable of seeing the true, the good, and the beautiful.

Wendell Berry, Life is a Miracle. The closest thing to an American Abolition of Man as exists in print.

St Augustine of Hippo, Confessions. A brilliant account of a re-constructive journey out of a kind of Sophism, through Cicero and Plato, with a detour into Mani, and finally to the Catholic faith.

#23 Comment By Jonathan On March 12, 2015 @ 1:27 pm

It is not just a Platonic triad but possible evidence of cross-cultural pollination. In the Sanskrit, truth, goodness, and beauty is satyam, shivam, and sundaram the Bollywood movie with that name notwithstanding.

#24 Comment By Jim On March 12, 2015 @ 1:43 pm

Start with John Senior’s “The Restoration of Christian Civilization.” He was one of the 20th century’s most astute classicist. In the book, is a suggested list that is excellent. Senior built an integrated classics program at the U of KY. By simply teaching the good, the true, and the beautiful he brought about the conversion of hundreds of college students – for which he was reviled by his peers. Two of his converts started a traditional Catholic school in Pennsylvania, Gregory the Great Academy, whose motto is “Bonum, Verum, Pulchrum.” One of my sons graduated there and he staunchly holds to the faith. In fact, it’s a rarity for any of the graduates to leave their faith as most young people do today. Teach the truth and young people will follow, it’s natural. We need to stop the watered down pap from the 60’s and 70’s – it is driving the majority of young people away from the Church because they have an innate sense of it not containing, you got it, the good, the…..

#25 Comment By Bluescreen On March 12, 2015 @ 1:52 pm

The Lord of the Rings?

I like a Hobbit as much as the next fellow – but “the Good, the True and the Beautiful”?

If you like a thought-provoking children’s trilogy, might I also recommend Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials Trilogy – excellent stuff – though judging from the comments above, it will be viewed as deeply theologically unsound by this audience.

Speaking of which – no Milton? Paradise Lost is certainly Good and Beautiful, which more than compensates for any questions about its Truth…

#26 Comment By La Lubu On March 12, 2015 @ 2:03 pm

I’m really pleased to see Shop Class As Soulcraft by Michael Crawford has already made the list in this thread; it’s one of those relatively rare books that transcends barriers of identity, ideology, or class—I recommend it to anyone. Along the same lines, I recommend Richard Sennett: Respect in a World of Inequality, The Craftsman, and Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation (the latter two are the first parts of a trilogy; the final part will be on making cities)

I can’t believe Joseph Campbell hasn’t made the list yet: The Hero With A Thousand Faces, The Masks of God, and The Power of Myth.

Some folks criticize Campbell for being male-centric; it’s a fair criticism but it doesn’t stop me from enjoying his work. For more balance, one can always check out
Marija Gimbutas: The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe, The Language of the Goddess, and The Civilization of the Goddess; Monica Sjoo & Barbara Mor: The Great Cosmic Mother, or Merlin Stone: When God Was A Woman.

Along pagan lines of what comprises the Good, True, and Beautiful, I enjoyed Starhawk’s The Earth Path, Dreaming the Dark, and Truth or Dare. The work of (pagan) philosopher Brendan Myers is good too; work of his that non-pagans may also find valuable is: The Other Side of Virtue and Circles of Meaning, Labyrinths of Fear: the 22 Relationships of a Spiritual Life and Culture and Why They Need Protection.

Works of non-pagans I also found valuable: David Abrams The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World and Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology, James Lovelock Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, and EarthDance: Living Systems in Evolution by Elizabeth Sahtouris and James Lovelock, and various works of Lynn Margulis.

I love, love, love the work of Michael Ventura: Shadow Dancing in the USA, Letters at 3AM: Notes on Endarkenment, and his latest, If I Was A Highway. He’s the most slept-on essayist in the US, and it’s a damn shame. He’s retired from his former gig at The Austin Sun, but the [4] are worth reading.

I’m mostly a non-fiction reader. But for fiction and poetry, for the Good, True and Beautiful? I relate best to work where women take center-stage: Pat Mora’s The House of Houses, Tina DeRosa’s Paper Fish, Carole Maso’s Ghost Dance, the poetry of Diane DiPrima and June Jordan, and I’m starting to get into science fiction/fantasy (Octavia Butler, Ursula LeGuin, Nnedi Okorafor)—that was a genre I used to dismiss because there was so little I was exposed to that I found interesting or relevant (wow, was I wrong!). Wally Lamb also makes my list for the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, especially I Know This Much Is True. No male writer living or dead has done a better job of writing female characters.

#27 Comment By CB On March 12, 2015 @ 4:19 pm

More of a collection than a single book, Helen Waddell’s Wandering Scholars would be a good choice. Again not a book, but an outstanding poem is Gawain and the Green Knight. The reader will forgive the medieval bias,perhaps because the medieval speaks to us still.

#28 Comment By Thomas Kaempfen On March 12, 2015 @ 5:12 pm

Eclipse of Reason, by Max Horkheimer

The classic manifesto of Critical Theory (aka the Frankfurt School), it directly addresses the loss of objective value that is the central development of post-Enlightenment society, a development that had found its apotheosis in the rule of Hitler and Stalin. Written by a Marxisant philosopher disillusioned with not only Stalinism, not only Marxism, but the entire Western project of conforming the world to human domination. But though he rejects the new subjectivist understanding of morality as either leading to thoughtless accommodation to existing power structures or toward abject totalitarianism, he also rejects the old objectivist morality as inhumane and too limiting of human freedom.

Because he astutely points out the unacceptable limitations of both visions of morality he’s one of the few thinkers who has squarely addressed our current predicament: How can we be free if we believe in absolute truths and how can we be fully human without them? It doesn’t offer any satisfying answers, but it doesn’t relieve us of our responsibility for trying to find them.

#29 Comment By Quentin On March 12, 2015 @ 10:28 pm

Les Miserables

Orthodoxy by Chesterton for sure

Crime and Punishment

He is There and He is not Silent

#30 Comment By Quentin On March 12, 2015 @ 10:30 pm

Oh, and the Bible, of course. Start with page 1, it lays the foundation for the rest of the book!

#31 Comment By Frater On March 12, 2015 @ 10:32 pm

To whoever said the commies and nazis highly valued the Good, the Truth and the Beautiful: this is utter BS. A complete lie.

Also, these things are contemplated not through books (what a Prot thing to think, eh). They are contemplated by a way of life–this is confirmed from Plotinus and Proclus down to and Ratzinger, passing, of course, all major saints.

But I would recommend Dionysus the Areopagite, the Divine Names, for example.
Also, St. Thomas for more recent things–if you love medieval, gothic Cathedrals how can you not love the Summa structure (the highest point in dialects). And the Carmelites also have a beautiful spirituality.

Really, the list could get quite long. My main suggestion, though, is to pray the Office (which is basically the Psalms) and the Latin Mass.

#32 Comment By Ted On March 13, 2015 @ 2:33 am

Really? Has no one here read the Daodejing?
The Bhagavad Gita – ?

#33 Comment By Jeremy Hickerson On March 13, 2015 @ 1:41 pm

Just thought of Douglas Hofstadter’s “Godel, Escher, Bach”. Built on mathematician Kurt Godel’s stunning proof that all mathematical systems contain statements which cannot be proven within the system. This seems very similar to Robert Pirsig’s idea in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that Quality exists before and outside of our scientific, logical system.

#34 Comment By Fred T On April 8, 2017 @ 9:08 pm

Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Riding