Winter 2000

Is Truth Ugly? Moralism and the Convertibility of Being and Love

David L. Schindler

"[T]ruth and goodness are not ugly, finally, because being is love and love is being, and this is beautiful!"

[My readers] will respect the consistency of Christianity in conceiving the good man as ugly. Christianity was right in this.
For a philosopher to say, “the good and the beautiful are one” is infamy; if he goes on to add, “also the true,” one ought to thrash him. Truth is ugly.1

Nietzsche’s statement seems to me to identify accurately the radical question of our time as it concerns truth: namely, whether truth is ugly. The present article seeks to clarify the sense in which this is so. I begin indirectly, by sketching the premises that indicate the more comprehensive terms of my proposal.

(1) Father Luigi Giussani says that genuine morality occurs when “one’s behavior flows from the dynamism intrinsic to the event to which it belongs”; and that moralism, on the contrary, is “an arbitrary . . . selection of affirmations among which the choices most publicized by power will dominate.”2 What Giussani describes as moralism is expressed in what may be called relativistic theories of morality on the one hand, and formalistic-mechanistic theories on the other. That is, moralism implies finally that moral truth is a matter of either arbitrariness or (mechanical) imposition from without, or both.

Pope John Paul II, in a teaching that in my opinion goes to the heart of his pontificate, says that “a body expresses the ‘person’.”3 His further statements indicate what this means: man realizes his essence “only by existing ‘with someone’—and even more deeply and completely—by existing ‘for someone’”( 60). “The body . . . manifests the reciprocity and communion of persons. It expresses it by means of the gift as the fundamental characteristic of personal existence” (61–62). The pope identifies this internal aptness of the body for expressing love, or again this rooting of the body in love, as the “nuptial attribute” of the body (63; 67).4 The internal aptness of the human body for relation presupposes an “interior freedom in man” that rises above the level of the “instinct” characteristic of fertility and procreation in the world of animals (62–63), and this freedom signals the difference within the analogy of the human body—and of sex—in relation to the world of animals (63).


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1. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power [=WP], trans. W. Kaufmann and R. Hollingdale (New York: Random House, 1987), n. 822.

2. “Religious Awareness in Modern Man,” Communio (American edition), 25 (Spring, 1998): 104–40, at 132.

3. “The Original Unity of Man and Woman: Catechesis on the Book of Genesis,” in John Paul II, The Theology of the Body (Boston: Pauline Books, 1997), 25–102, at 61.

4. In this notion of the body as nuptial, we see the root of the pope’s rejection of the “physicalist” or “biologistic” moral theories that view the body as simply “premoral”: cf. Veritatis splendor, 48. Not infrequently today, it is charged that this notion of a “nuptial” body is romantic: the present article taken in its entirety implies an argument in response to this charge.