Love as primarily willed or emotional

One of the reactions to the sexual revolution (and the 19th Century radical Romantic movement) was to stress that love was an act of the will and not an emotional state. I think this leads to seeing love in a way that ends up distorting what it is, but to explain this will take three longish paragraphs of set-up.

Aristotle locates virtue in that part of the person which is not rational but can respond to reason, i.e that part of us that virtues train is what we now call our emotional states. By the time we recognize that emotion is something we need to work on we find ourselves with some good and fitting emotional responses to the world and some not so good, but everyone has a tremendous amount of work to do, and the complete effort is the work of a very long time. One of the more vexing problems is that emotional responses that of themselves count as great natural talents and gifts all come with a dark and harmful shadow that needs to be purged out by effort and cultivation. The emotional warmth that a scholar gets in the face of ideals, perfect constructions, and abstract truth will, before our own effort, come with a dark shadow of irrational expectations of human perfection, which in turn will lead to crazed-impatience and/or scruples  and/or irrational irritation at all demands that others make on our time, and/or a hundred other vices; and the emotional warmth that sociable and gregarious persons get from the presence of others will, before our efforts at improvement, come with a shadow of living beyond one’s means, and/or an overbearing and oppressive alpha-domination, and/or the a loss of one’s identity to the herd, etc.. Again, even identifying our natural emotional gifts is not always easy to do, since what appears to be an emotional gift might well not be, either because we misunderstand what a proper response is or because, even though we understand things correctly, what we take as a proper response is really just two vices fighting against each other or one of our more dominant vices using moderation as a tool to achieve the long-term goals of vice.

Virtue, morality, ethics, psychology, life wisdom, economics, friendship, and much of the work of actual grace and supernatural aid are dedicated to building a city in this wilderness of emotions where good and evil are both obscure and implicated in one another. The basic experience of growing up or living one’s vocation is discovering both the great abundance of natural emotional gifts we have and the extent to which they both help and deeply hurt humanity in the person of ourselves and of others. There’s also a great deal of experiencing our limitation and inadequacy, which in turn is both a gift-in-disguise and, of course, a humiliating self-critique and a source of harm for the humanity of ourselves and others.

Love only exists within this basic human emotional predicament, which we experience as a vocation to vows and virtue. Virtue just is a correct emotional response to the world, where “correct” means one that is purified of its dark shadow and where some emotional responses have been grown more or less from scratch from the habitual repetition of some behaviors. This sort of cultivation involves reason in its whole scope as self-reflective, mindful of human goods, tempered by experience and the arguments of others, perfected by cultivation in in art, entertainment, music, food, narratives of life, etc. Basically, “reason” is a proxy term for “anything in our psychological, cultural, volitional, or intellectual endowment that our emotions can be cultivated by”, and the difference between this and a Kantian deontological pure reason or a soi disant classical essential intellectualism could not be more stark.

And so after all this I can give some sense of just how wrong it is to see love as either essentially willed or essentially emotional, or how far we miss the mark if we want the difference between classical and modern accounts of love to turn on the primacy of emotion or will. The Emotionalists and Romantics want, in effect, the reward of virtue without the work of “reason” (again, understood as the proxy-term just mentioned). Those opposed to the Emotionalists fail to see that emotions are both the source and summit of the work of virtue, and they provide the only context in which love can be a virtue and not a vice.* Emotionalism or Romanticism is a perfectly correct stance to life for the virtuous, the saintly, those fresh out of Purgatory, or Christ and Theotokos throughout life.  Let’s put this claim as scandalously as we can: those right out of Purgatory are morally obliged to abandon or push aside object to which they feel emotional repugnance;** and to the extent that you feel emotional repugnance and something you should not push aside you still have moral work to do on yourself. This is the sense of Augustine’s “love and do whatever you want” or of Vergil’s speech to Dante in Purgatorio XXVII:

“I’ve brought you here with intelligence and art.
Let your own pleasure guide you from now on…
“Await no more a word or sign from me.
Your will is straightened, free, and whole —
and not To act upon its promptings would be wrong.

Said another way, one response to “love is a choice, not an emotion” is to say either “no” or, better yet “not in the virtuous, it isn’t” or “love is either vicious or incontinent where it does not have the proper emotional responses” And the proper response to Emotionalism or Romanticism is not “love is a choice- an act of the will!” but “Yes, you are supposed to live by your emotions, but you have no idea how undeveloped, imperfect, and in need of cultivation your emotions are. Living according to your emotions now would be like trying to make an oak table out of acorns.”


*We can probably make the claim stronger than this: emotions are essential guides to what is true or false. This is easiest to see in the Capgras syndrome, where a failure to route sense information though emotional centers in the brain leads us to think we are sensing fakes or impostors. This has a less delusional but still corruputive instantiation in teenagers who think everyone is fake or phony or without integrity (Holden Caulfield would be a paradigm instance… Full disclosure: as a teenage I identified with Holden, which turned out to be both a source of later perfections and a great source of harm and irrationality).

**Just what sort of exegesis this calls for of Christ’s “not as I will, but as thou will” is not clear, but my own commitments rule out reading this as Christ’s emotional repugnance to a fully understood duty. It likewise creates a greater demand on the imperative to “love your enemies”. Taking this as a duty does commit us to emotions that are appropriate to the imparative which is, for most, an impossibly remote ideal.


Modal transcendence

Modal Transcendence is the claim that the absolutely simple can be neither contingent or necessary.  Alternatively, cosmological arguments from contingency, generation, necessity, or possibility thus prove the existence of something neither contingent nor necessary.

Here’s some arguments for it:

1.) Both the contingent and necessary relate to some later time at which the contingent could be and the necessary must be. But nothing that relates to a later time is absolutely simple. One is tempted to use Leibniz’s law as the most economical proof of this.

2.) The act of creation considered actively is God. But this act cannot be either contingent or necessary. If necessary, then creation both is as necessary as God and is a servile or even unconscious act. If contingent, then God is a contingent being.

3.) The contingency of the world cannot arise either from the contingent or the necessary. This is clearest if these are understood as signified in propositions. The contingent cannot rest only on the contingent, for then there is no explanation of why it is what it is, and it cannot rest on the necessary for whatever arises from the necessary is necessary.

4.) If there is no tertium quid between the contingent and necessary, the procession of the Son and the Holy Spirit is either contingent or necessary. It cannot be necessary for these are the paradigm acts of intellection and will, both of which are understood as proceeding without necessity but as conscious and willed. But they cannot be contingent for then divinity is contingent.

Proofs of domain

Asking whether God exists arises from an experience of sensible but is not an attempt to assimilate him to the world of sensible experience or physical objects any more than the question whether complex numbers exist is an attempt to establish whether these are natural objects. We can’t want the proofs to justify an experience continuous with the experience of the sensible, as though we could have some Eureka! moment like we had with Black swans, black holes or dark matter which allows us to update physics textbooks with new chapters on divinity.

Minimal theodicies

I leave the question open whether one takes them in a weak sense (where it is seen as some element in a theodicy) or in a stronger sense (where it is seen as constituting the whole theodicy)

1.) Permission is Creation. God’s “permission of evils” means that he has created something other than God, and for anything fitting this description evil is a logical possibility. The existence of the universe is the greater good for which evil is allowed. There is no subsequent act of allowance after creation, only a creation in which evil is a logical possibility and so never could be ruled out.

2.) Permission for possibility. God allows some evils because they make a subsequent good possible, but that subsequent good might very well not come to pass. If this “not coming to pass” is in turn seen as another evil allowed, it might lead to a regress of missed opportunities that might coalesce and find resolution in incalculably complex ways.

3.) Incarnational permission. The Incarnation is understood as a good capable of justifying an infinite or all but infinite amount of evil, which ultimately are to be reversed entirely and in no other way than by the action of the Incarnation in the world. Evils are seen more or less generically, not as any one in particular as leading to Incarnation, even if Incarnation is ordered to reversing all in particular.

4.) Competing value permission. Goods and values are implicated in one another in such a way that we cannot maximize any one. The features that make a house attractive are also to a large extent exclusive (affordability, size, location to good neighborhoods). As Anselm points out to Guanilo, finite goods are never able to attain a maximal level of all possible goods. This is true just as much for any one being as for an aggregate of beings. Perhaps some person, just as some value, just has to get the short end of the stick.

In writing this, however, it’s hard to avoid the idea that theodicy as such arises from a poorly framed question or a failure to get the point. Our existential situation is not one where, in the face of evil we demand that God give some account of himself, but of needing God in order for the evil to have any meaning. Our most vexing evils are either bad luck or our own bad choices (wrong place, wrong time, wrong choice) and only a god could make any of this work out.

Temporal vs. causal order and simultaneity

Before and after (BA) get used in several different ways, but it’s crucial to distinguish two:

  • In time. In this sense, childhood is before old age and the stone age was before the bronze age. This sense of BA is synonymous with being earlier and later, and natural science measures it in seconds.
  • In causality. In this sense, the teams are determined after the last player is chosen, conception happens after fertilization, and we have to turn the steering wheel before the car will turn. This sense of “after” is synonymous with when, and natural science measures some of these ways of being before in units of force, work, energy, etc.

It’s clear that it is a serious mistake to identify causal and temporal BA, or even to make all causal BA essentially temporal BA (as Hume does). Setting up an essential relation between temporal and causal BA means either that saying “old age happens after youth” = old age happens when youth happens, or saying “my trip to the store became pointless after the store burned down” = the store burned down and then, at some later time, my journey to it became pointless.

These different senses of BA require different senses of simultaneous, and so saying that causal simultaneity demands temporal simultaneity iterates the mistake just made. Some cases of causal simultaneity will involve absolute temporal simultaneity (e.g. when conception is after fertilization or the teams are determined after the last person is chosen) others will have what is for all intents and purposes a temporal simultaneity (e.g. when the car turns after we turn the steering wheel) and other cases will involve a causal simultaneity with some temporal duration (e.g. when a building burns down after the arsonist sets the fire or the water boils after it is put on a fire). This last use the word “after” is ambiguous and can refer either to being non-simultaneous in time or being simultaneous in causality, an ambiguity which makes the possibility of confusion and ill-founded doubt about the “simultaneous causes” spoken of of in the Five Ways particularly likely. I wrote a whole series of posts that suffered under this confusion. I’m in good company though, since it is almost impossible to extract Hume’s account of natural science from this sort of confusion about causes.

Hypothesis about logical possibility

Hypothesis: In a proposition SP, if S and P differ only as more and less known then SP is logically necessary.

The most startling result is that “Water is H2O” becomes logically necessary.

Here’s three arguments for it:

1.) While there are multiple accounts of what logical possibility is, all sides seem to agree that predicating something of itself yields a logically necessary proposition. But any evidence that two terms differ only as more and less known is evidence that the same thing is being predicated of itself. Said another way, it is logically necessary that X is what it is. But where two terms differ as more and less known this obtains.

2.) Logical possibility in ancient and medieval philosophy is a failure to see a repugnance between S and P, and so necessity seems to be seeing the impossibility of repugnance between S and P. But to know that S and P differ only as more and less known is to know that it is impossible they be repugnant to each other. We can, of course, be mistaken about whether the only difference between S and P is more and less known, but to the extent that we know this it is impossible for us to judge that the two are repugnant.

3.) If you say that this is precisely why we distinguish metaphysical necessity from logical necessity, I respond: it’s no more appropriate to describe “Water is H2O” as a logical truth than as a metaphysical one. The truth is no more a matter of logic than metaphysics as it is not discovered by either.

Here’s three against:

4.) When two things differ as more or less known, one must be less certain than the other. But what is less certain can be thought otherwise, and nothing that can be thought otherwise can be considered logically necessary.

5.) Logical necessity applies to things as known and not things as they are. But a claim like “Water is H2O” is a claim about how something necessarily is and not how it is known, therefore, etc.

6.) We cannot consider something both logically necessary and open to revision. But some more known an less known things are open to revision. Therefore not all S is P related as more and less known are logically necessary.

Why the quantifier shift objection to the Third Way is shortsighted, irrelevant, and wrong

The charge of a quantifier shift occurs at a part in the argument that is trying to prove the existence of something like matter or natural laws, which is why (a) there is no quantifier shift and (b) no one would care if there were.

(a) The charge is that it is fallacious to move from saying that if everything did not exist at some time then there is some time at which everything did not exist. First off, STA only makes this claim about the generated, not about everything – his argument is in fact trying to show that the generated be less universal than everything.

Take all generated things, which in STA’s sense means things that did not exist at some time and later did. Maybe this is an infinite set (like prime numbers) or maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s existed for all time, and maybe it hasn’t. The question is whether everything could be this sort of thing. STA says no since if this would require that natural generation would reduce to nothing at all, and so could not even occur naturally.* By “the natural” he’s including things like matter, absolute space and particles, mass-energy, quantum states, natural laws, and/ or whatever background stuff our physical theories might reduce a universe or multiverse to. In other words, he’s trying to give a reason why every physical theory from Thales to Sean Carroll says that the fundamental physical reality is something everlasting and ungenerated. STA isn’t saying that if the set of generated individuals must have a some time at which they don’t exist, but that if there is no such thing as matter, absolute space and particles… etc. then generated things could not arise naturally, though they obviously do.

(b) Most persons would simply grant STA’s point without argument, or by an inductive argument that pointed to every physical theory ever devised, which seeks to reduce the generated (in STA’s sense) to the ungenerated. All the evidence we have of seeking to understand nature, whether by science, art or myth, points to the axiomatic character of reducing the finitely-temporal and compound to the everlasting and simple.

There are objectors, of course. Smolin and Unger want to deny the axiom, and this would put them in a tradition that seems to begin with Nietzsche who bases his whole philosophy on the mistake of trying to reduce the phenomenal and evanescent world to a deeper unchangeable reality (see “Reason in Philosophy” in Twilight of the Idols for his simplest and most magisterial treatment).** While Heidegger’s thought is incomplete and with at least one fundamental shift, he seems to want to articulate some sort of fundamental reality to the purely temporal. At minimum, he clearly sees this Nietzschean pan-temporality as the fundamental problem of contemporary thought, and in this he sees a good deal further and more clearly than almost everyone.

This helps to manifest just how far the charge of the quantifier shift misses the mark. The argument STA actually gives is a refutation of physical nihilism and a defense of physics as a fundamental science. Cosmological arguments usually articulate diverse levels of reality that are more and less godlike (a point that will be made explicitly in the Fourth Way) and the Third Way does this in a way that establishes the godlike character of the simple and everlasting entities that we seek in order to articulate a physical theory.


*If something natural could not occur naturally, it either occurs from some other-than-natural means or it doesn’t occur at all, and STA takes the second fork in his argument. There’s more than one reason to do this (1) it allows him to prove the existence of a deus in the hardest possible case and (2) it establishes a level of godlike existence in nature itself, which both gives us an analogy to understand God and makes for a greater manifestation of his power.

**The doctrine of “eternal return” is not an exception to this, but is either a clumsy and ill-fitted addition to his thought or a metaphor for the purely temporal existence of all things.


The order of causality in the Second Way

The Second Way begins not from efficient causes simply but from an order of efficient causes. In other words, it assumes we see a multiplicity of efficient causes with a relation to some first. This happens either (a) when the causes are related as one part to another in a whole or (b) when a whole relates to some extrinsic agency. (a) type causes are like the way the motor relates to the axle relates to the wheel or the muscle relates to the jaw relates to the food; (b) type causes are the way that the river relates to the mill or the way chemical energy in the gas relates to the car or the way the driver relates to the car. Neither the river nor chemical energy are parts of the things they are driving: skill at making engine parts, for example, does not show one how to refine gas. The mechanism as a whole is left open to some source that is taken as given and as having an operation by itself. Again, (a) type efficient causes are treated as forming complete system (b) type efficient causes treat causes that are beneath the first as open systems.

While (a) type orders of efficient causes are easier to understand and are useful in getting the conversation started, The Second Way has to be thinking from (b) type orders of efficient causes. The vision of God/ a god we get from this is a source of action that does not in any way arise from another source of action, say in the way that the kinetic energy of the car arises from the chemical energy in the gas. This requires that the primary order of efficient causality is one that causes and is taken as a given that is prior to any quantity that is kept constant throughout changes, and we can recognize this in our modern system of natural science as being a cause above nature.

A contemporary Catholic theodicy

Having seen these sorts of arguments in other places, I figure Melanie Barrett’s theology of evil is representative of contemporary Catholic scholarly theodicy. But I find myself taking exception to almost every claim she makes.

Why God permits evil in the world is a mystery… 

Calling something a mystery does not release you from the obligation to explain what you mean and why this is so. I have students who describe things as “mysteries” all the time and mean nothing more than “This hurts to think about! Can we label it a mystery and feel justified in changing the subject?” Let me sharpen the problem of this particular appeal to mystery: what exactly is mysterious about permitting evil? I’ve permitted all sorts of evils and it didn’t seem like a very mysterious process. For that matter, I’ve committed all sorts of evils and it didn’t seem particularly mysterious.

Describing something as a mystery is only appropriate in media res. Either you have a pretty good account of what a mystery is and you want to characterize x as a mystery, or you have a pretty good account of what it is to think about x, and you indicate why exactly it is mysterious. Using the word short of this is disheartening and frustrating.

…But we can speculate that it has to do with the meaning of love. God’s very nature is love. He is a communion of persons eternally united in love.

The contemporary desire to reduce all divine actions to love continues apace. This can make a fine theology but we never seem to be vigilant enough in addressing its obvious danger of devolving into sentimentality. Theology – even purely pastoral theology – should give light and sentimentality is incapable of doing so.

Whereas older trinitarianisms might have been vulnerable to the charge of forgetting the Spirit or reducing him to the Father-Son relation, our contemporary “communion of love” trinitarianism seems in danger of forgetting the Son-Logos and reducing him purely to the Spirit. How much will we end up overlooking if we forget that God is Love in the same way he is Reason/Discourse/Argument and Birth! How many professors would be horrified at the idea of God as natus, i.e. a blood relative or of national origin!

By endowing us with freedom, God makes it possible for us to love. But he also risks that we might refuse to love.

Okay, okay, I’ll actually start dealing with her argument: Love requires freedom, freedom belongs only to who could be wicked, therefore etc. The problems occur almost immediately, and it’s no good to cry “mystery!” in the face of them:

1.) This is a perfectly fine proof that God could be terribly wicked. Good grief, it is a perfectly fine proof that God is empowered to be a maximally wicked being precisely because he is Love.

2.) We’ve known since Anselm that the ability to choose wickedness is not integral to freedom, and we’ve known since the Greeks that “choosing wickedness” is a purely accidental description of evil. True, if you define “the chosen” as “anything one is culpable for” then we can choose evils, but only in the way that we can choose things we are ignorant of (since there are many kinds of culpable ignorance cf. c. 1).  But there is clearly something wrong in saying that we choose something we are ignorant of since choice is incoherent except as an act made with respect to known alternatives.

3.) Let’s intensify #1: Both God and the communion of Saints is the domain where one would look for the maximal possible wickedness. In other words, this unreflective love-freedom nexus (which, to be honest, seems like a deification of a democratic regime) has puzzling eschatological effects. What would “the definitive conquest of evil” mean on this sort of theodicy? Salvation and Resurrection become sorts of totalitarianism. The only reasonable response to the history of salvation is Non serviam! 

Although God permits the weeds and the wheat to grow together — because uprooting all of the bad weeds would destroy much of the good wheat as well — at the time of the harvest, the weeds will be permanently destroyed and the wheat will be gathered carefully under God’s protection (Mt 14:24-30).

This is a fascinating eschatology. Salvation comes to be seen as “protection” and perdition as “permanent destruction”. Leaving aside the problems just mentioned in founding this on a love-freedom theology, we seem to get the first hints of an allergy to the scandal of hellfire (evildoers are destroyed forever) and an idea of salvation as “protection” from evil, i.e. that evil is something extrinsic to the self that needs to be walled off and kept out. While there is a sense in which this is true, we are left to wonder whether Barrett is hitting it.

The most fascinating overlooked element in this whole comment is the notion of evil as a properly historical reality. The point of the wheat and the tares is, for both Barrett and myself, that evil is not something ontological but something properly historical which belongs to a middle-era of human existence (and a proto-era of cosmic existence) but which will be overcome in the final era of history that has already been anticipated by the Resurrection of Christ and Theotokos. I’ve argued before that ontological accounts cannot explain the reality of evil, only its possibility, and only then if the possibility of evil is itself a good. Actual evil requires an appeal to an entirely different set of categories than transcendental ones. It arises in an account of being in via, and so isolated to a particular era of historical existence.

All human beings possess dignity — intrinsic value — because all were created in God’s own image and likeness… Although the church does permit killing in self-defense (in very limited circumstances), direct attacks against innocent life — such as abortion, murder and euthanasia — are never permitted. Such acts are categorized as “intrinsically evil” because they are always wrong, in every circumstance. By intentionally depriving someone of life, you are destroying not only their body but also their soul’s ability to choose the good — to perform daily acts of love toward their family members, friends, neighbors and God — so as to grow in holiness.

The “although” clause and the adjective “innocent” seem to make room for a morality of capital punishment and war,* but neither make sense in the context of the argument.

1.) The description of what makes killing intrinsically evil (see the last sentence) applies directly to CP and all war. I have a great deal of sympathy with this position, but trying to avoid it by qualifications of “innocent” or “self-defense” strikes me as betraying an absence of conviction in the logic of one’s position.

2.) It is strange to the point of incoherence to describe killing in self-defense as permitted. Can one get a license for it? Can you buy game tags for your aggressors? My point is not to be glib but to force this vague theology of permission into giving an account of itself. “Permission” means half a dozen very different things in human affairs but we’re never very clear on which one of these is supposed to analogize to the divine permission of evils.

3.) Killing in self-defense, at least since STA, is a paradigm case of double-effect reasoning but double effect is worthless in describing actions whose evil outcome is part of the per se description of the action. So either we need some per se description of judicial execution and warfare that doesn’t involve killing (!) or we have to describe both of these actions as something other than execution and warfare (again…!)

*This is to say nothing of what they would mean in light of a theology that allows for the permission of evils or the eternity of punishment.


Response to Sobel

A third ‘metaphysical objection’ to (the the claim in the AFE that “evil exists”) could be that evil is nothing real that it is only the absence or privation of the good… the way to deal, without wasting time, with this silly line is not to say that it does not work against the argument from evil, but to say that it is no avail against “the argument from the absence of goodness”… (i.e.) “why is there so much awful and painful deficiency in being not only in forests during firestorms in which innocent fawns are consumed, but everywhere one looks?

J.H. Sobel:  Logic and Theism, p. 438

The privation account of evil does not make problems for the AFE because it denies that evil exists at all, but because it shows (1) there is no parity between causes of goodness and evil, and (2) because goodness requires the coalescing of all the causes of a thing while evil can arise from a lack of any one of them.

1.) In the context of the AFE, asking “why” is a search for a cause, but deficiencies and failures to exist lack the definite and definable causes. We can explain a definite series of causes that need to coalesce in order to make cookies (these ingredients, this cooking temperature, this amount of time, etc.) but there is no definite answer to the question of how cookies fail to be. The recipe is a perfectly definite thing, but there is no “anti-recipe” that specifies exactly how they go bad. Even where goodness can be realized in diverse ways, the evil will still lack the definition of any of the diverse modes of realization. Considered in this way, the AFE fails because it takes evil as some definite reality in need of explanation (if you want to take evil as definite, skip to 2b)

2a.)  The bread only gets made if all the causes are successful, but it can fail to get made if only secondary and derivative causes fail. In other words, “evil” differs from goodness in that it can be entirely the result of secondary causes, and this arises precisely because it is a privation and not a positive reality. Briefly, the privation account raises the possibility that evil can arise entirely from causes other than God.

2b.) There is obviously a sense in which evil exists, but in this sense the creature is capable of being a source of existence in the strict sense. We cannot say that evil exists without making the creature literally a creator, and so a source of existence in no need of further ontological explanation. The syllogism looks like this:

a.) Either “existence” can only be said of positive reality, or not.

b.) If only said of positive reality, then evil does not exist and the AFE fails.

c.) If not, then a creature is capable of being a source of existence independent of God, and so the AFE fails.

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