Options

Lucretius speaks of a worm in all pleasures that sits at the ovule of the blossom and poisons the whole flower.

The worm at the heart of things is their finitude. We can love finite goods but not as finite, i.e. we can love that they are perfected but not that they end, we can love what they can do but not what they are incapable of, we can love their existence but not their looming inexistence. Part of loving the finite is hating this limitation – loving life and hating death are simply two aspects of the same thing. In the finite, however, these two aspects are integral to the very good you’re attracted to. Every love of the finite for its own sake is a deeper commitment to the pain that comes in losing them.

One response is to love nothing for its own sake but to use things for what we can make of them or the pleasure they afford us. This makes one good just as good as another, and so after using up any one of them we can move on to a fresh one. Hedonism or libertinism or do-what-thou-wilt is, most profoundly, our first rational response in the face of death. This response is both shallow and impossible: shallow since it would deprive us of friendship or the love of anyone in themselves; and impossible since even use and pleasure rest upon our loving ourselves for our own sake, and we have the worm just as much as anything else. We can flee from this fact too by fantasizing that we will kill ourselves when we can no longer enjoy life, but this too is an illusion of a solution which pushes the self back behind bodily life. We flee from love of the finite for its own sake, but find no coherent place to stand.

Lucretius might meet this all with a shrug. There is a worm in things, you flee from it by nature, and that’s all there is to it. There is no point to retreat back to: you just flee to nowhere, from a disgust that cannot be escaped. If this is right, it seems we have two options:

1.) It is absurd to love finite goods.

2.) The love of finite goods is made possible by a non-finite good.

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3 Comments

  1. Loreen Lee said,

    April 23, 2015 at 3:21 pm

    Love thy neighbour as thyself….(this I believe would include my self , my ‘neighbor’, and all on earth – we are all finite beings, as is nature! Should I not love nature, nor animals?) – for – (the purpose?) the love of God? or (to receive the love of God? To love God, first? as being beyond the material?

  2. April 23, 2015 at 7:06 pm

    A beautiful meditation. I’ve not yet finished, however, puzzling over our being left with but the two options given.

    • April 29, 2015 at 6:33 am

      It’s important to note the various restrictions made in the argument: we’re starting with the Lucretian worm and interpreting it as finitude. If someone just thought “there’s some good in things and bad in things, and on the whole the good is worth it” they’d be denying this.

      This is philosophy, so there will always be enough contrary positions with solid arguments. Nussbaum would defend the complete opposite of what I’m saying here and argue that finitude is essential to human goodness, and a condition of it being lovable. I’m sticking with Augustine, though, and seeing the ground for our love of the finite as being its suggestion of and its taking part in something that can satisfy the will tout court.


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