Walker Percy received the Laetare Medal at Notre Dame in 1989, and in his acceptance speech he said:
The motto of the Laetare Medal is, I understand, ‘Magna est veritas et prevalebit,’ ‘Truth is mighty and shall prevail.’ I like to think that it applies even to the humble vocation of a novelist.
In my last novel, The Thanatos Syndrome, I tried to show how, while truth should prevail, it is a disaster when only one kind of truth prevails at the expense of another. If only one kind of truth prevails, the abstract and technical truth of science, then nothing stands in the way of a demeaning of and a destruction of human life for what would appear to be reasonable short-term goals.
It’s no accident that I think that German science, as great as it was, ended in the destruction of the Holocaust.
The novelist likes to irritate people by pointing this out. It’s his pleasure and vocation to reveal, with his own elusive and indirect way, man’s need of and openings to other than scientific propositions.
The novelist, I think, has a special calling to truth these days. The world into which you are graduating is a deranged world. It is his task to show the derangement.
This is a much needed perspective in current conversations regarding ethics and (or vs.) science.
Percy’s entire speech is available on YouTube.