He who wishes to know and to do the good must turn his gaze upon the objective world of being. Not upon his own 'ideas', not upon his 'conscience', not upon 'values', not upon arbitrarily established 'ideals' and 'models'. He must turn away from his own act and fix his eyes upon reality.
From Living the Truth, by Josef Pieper
The quote above is from the second half of the book that is cited. The second half is titled Reality and the Good. Although I have only finished reading the first few pages, which the author titles “The Thesis”, it appears that this essay is in regards to how mankind can know right and wrong and therefore be able to do that which is good. This is evidenced by the three sentences that precede the above quote where Pieper writes, “All obligation is based upon being. Reality is the foundation of ethics. The good is that which is in accord with reality.”
When I first started this essay I had to read those three sentences several times. They seemed to me to be disjointed – that they did not fit together. It now seems to me that the reason it seemed disjointed was because of my lack of background in philosophy. After all, you cannot really understand what someone is trying to say to you unless you understand his frame of reference. But as I continued reading the thesis statement the point the author is making began to make sense to me.
In order to understand this we must first have a correct understanding of reality. First of all, mankind is not the author or definer of what is true or good, but he can come to know it. In other words, we do not create the reality in which we live, instead we exist within an objective reality. And we experience this objective reality through our sense perception. It is through our senses that we experience the things around us. 'Things' here is to be understood as the word res from philosophy. Pieper says, “Res is everything that is 'presented' to our sense perception or our intellectual cognition, all that has being independently of our thinking.” Another word from philosophy, realis, is taken from res and denotes reality. Of this Pieper says, “Reality (in the sense of realis) is the whole of being which is independent of thought.” And elsewhere says, “Reality is the basis of the good.” Also realis means “that to be good is to do justice to objective being…the good is that which is in accord with objective reality.” “All laws and moral principles may be reduced to reality.” 'Reality' here meaning objective being outside ourselves.
As a result of all of this the author makes the conclusion that this “makes impossible the attitude of always referring to oneself and to the judgment of one's conscience*, which is considered as providing the norm in each instance. We are forced now to look through and beyond our own moral judgment to the norm presented to us by the objective reality of being.” I most heartily agree with this conclusion. [*Just a side note: here the author is referring to people who use their consciences as an excuse to do whatever they want. He is not referring to the use of our conscience in the correct sense. The Church teaches that a “human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience.” (CCC §1800) But the Church also teaches us that we must have a well-formed conscience that “formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. Everyone must avail himself of the means to form his conscience.” (CCC §1798) This is completely the opposite of using your conscience as a scapegoat to do whatever you want to do.]
But our modern society most certainly does not agree. The world is no longer viewed objectively by society but instead it is interpreted in a relativistic way. What I mean can be shown through an example: people who don't want to abide by traditional norms of moral behavior seem to have adopted the slogan, “What is right for you may not be right for me.” (You can replace right with moral or with good.)
Now to a certain extent this slogan is correct. For instance, if someone has cancer it would be right for them to have chemotherapy because that is one of the only methods we have to get rid of cancer. Whereas for someone else, who does not have cancer, it would not be right to have chemotherapy because to a person who is healthy chemotherapy is poisonous. Like I said, this would be a proper way to understand the above slogan.
But in saying this slogan our modern society means something completely different. For them the slogan turns everything upside down. To use the previous example about cancer – when modern society says “what is right for you may not be right for me” it isn't talking about whether or not a person should have chemotherapy. Instead, it is trying to change the rules to such an extent as to say that there is nothing wrong with cancer in the first place and that we don't need anything to fix it. Obviously, this is just crazy talk.
With this in mind we can begin to understand why our modern society is so disordered. It has left behind any idea of objective truth (like cancer is bad for you) in favor of just doing what feels right. And obviously, the chemotherapy this society needs (that being objective standards to determine morality) to fix its diseased nature would not feel right (because it would cause people to have to let go of the fantasy world they have created for themselves where right and wrong is determined by their own judgments). But nevertheless, objective truth is the only medicine that will cure us.