LOVE and TRUTH notes 

IN A&O we spent some time thinking about TRUTH and BEAUTY:  with what may be Keats’ most famous lines (in his ode ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’(1819):  ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.  (visit the page on Truth and Beauty)  The page touches on this famous connection from multiple angles, but mainly the two cognitive “reality-testing” mechanisms (correspondence and coherence) and the aesthetic criterion.

We also visited Goethe’s powerful idea that “you cannot understand something you do not first love”  


Just saw these words by WH Auden:

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.


(read Maria Popova’s blog entry where I found this: https://www.brainpickings.org/2019/02/04/janna-levin-w-h-auden-the-more-loving-one/ )  Then listen to Simon and Garfunkel, Kathy’s Song (1966) (“And so you see I have come to doubt / All that I once held as true / I stand alone without beliefs / The only truth I know is you”) …      

  • Sometimes we can find ourselves untethered, doubting everything (radical doubt as in Descartes Discourse on Method,1637). and we urgently seek a connection we can trust and build on (Simon and Garfunkel).   This resembles the opposite of the overwhelming confidence experienced in certain extreme states: recall Dostoyevski.



  • Keats’ ode contains the most discussed two lines in all of Keats’s poetry – ‘”Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’ The exact meaning of those lines is disputed by everyone; no less a critic than TS Eliot considered them a blight upon an otherwise beautiful poem.” — http://englishhistory.net/keats/poetry/odeonagrecianurn/
  • A man doesn’t learn to understand anything unless he loves it” – Goethe (Man lernt nichts kennen als was man Liebt)
  • But LOVE is a tricky concept.  In “Love and Death,” Woody Allen explained to Natasha:  “… to love is to suffer. To avoid suffering, one must not love. But, then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer, not to love is to suffer, to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love, to be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy, therefore, to be unhappy one must love, or love to suffer, or suffer from too much happiness, I hope you’re getting this down.”
  • radical doubt of Descartes is nicely summarised at Tom Drakes Western Civ website


Professor Emeritus, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville.