The Transcendental Taxonomy and Catholic Education
The philosophical concept of “transcendentals” has all but disappeared from common speech. Students of philosophy may study them, but the common man wouldn’t know this philosophical term until it is described – and then, almost immediately, recognition and embrace: “At last, bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh!”
The transcendentals are attributes of human nature inherent to all men everywhere at all times. It is within man’s deepest consciousness that he is aware of, and has a desire for, the transcendentals of perfect and unconditional Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. They are a way of looking at reality, a reality that aligns with the way God made us. When we find truth in daily events, we can say this is good, because the truth corresponds to reality, which is beautiful to behold.
These transcendentals lead us to God. When we question something to find truth, we are eventually led to the ultimate Truth, Christ himself, who is truth incarnate. When we look for the goodness of something, we look to the fidelity and flourishing of its nature; how God designed it to be. Beauty is the perfection, wholeness, unity, and proportionality of something. All of these lead us to a deeper understanding of creation, of God, and of ourselves, and are, therefore, ideal for discussion in a Catholic classroom.
Using Truth, Beauty, and Goodness as Strands
The Catholic Curriculum Standards include the transcendentals of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness as strands that run through all four academic disciplines. For instance, the following standards all refer to the search for Truth:
ELA.712.GS2. (English). Analyze works of fiction and non-fiction to uncover authentic Truth.
S.712.IS4. (Science). Relate how the search for truth, even when it concerns a finite reality of the natural world or of man, is never-ending and always points beyond to something higher than the immediate object of study.
H.712.IS17. (History). Examine texts for historical truths, recognizing bias or distortion by the author and overcoming a relativistic viewpoint.
M.712.GS2. (Mathematics). Develop lines of inquiry to understand why things are true and why they are false.
These standards prompt discussions within particular content areas, but also act as springboards toward a much deeper, and interdisciplinary, discussion of life itself. Just as Truth can be found in the content of all academic disciplines, Beauty is not just a discussion for art class. The morality of Goodness and Justice know no academic boundaries either.
Taxonomy of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness
To help teachers with discussion prompts in this area, the Cardinal Newman Society developed a Transcendental Taxonomy.
The Transcendental Taxonomy is a list of questions teachers can use either when examining the transcendental itself (General questions) or when applying the transcendental to particular content areas (Applied questions). It is divided according to the three attributes of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. Teachers may want to develop one lesson on each of the transcendentals first, allowing time for students to more fully explore and understand each concept so as to set a foundational base for future discussions.
Teacher Formation on the Transcendentals
To help teachers new to these philosophical concepts, The Cardinal Newman Society suggests a list of textbooks with designated pages on the Transcendentals in its teacher resource material found online.
These resources begin with a general article of the importance of philosophy and theology to Catholic education by Dr. Peter Kreeft. It is with the inclusion of the philosophical approach that the richness and depth of our faith can be found. Philosophy allows us to ask the bigger questions, such as “Why am I here?”, “What is the goal and meaning of life?”, “Why does evil exist?”, and “What is a good life?”. Theology allows us to ground these discussions in revealed principles of faith.
Want more insight into the Catholic curriculum standards? Read our blog Understanding and Implementing the Catholic Curriculum Standards.
Denise Donohue is the Deputy Director of K12 Programs with The Cardinal Newman Society and Manager of the Catholic Education Honor Roll. She has worked at all levels of education in Catholic schools and universities from classroom teacher, administrator, founder, and board member to college professor and interim Department Chair. She holds an Administrators and K-6 Elementary Education license from the state of Florida.