© Brendan Triffett 2018-2019
All rights reserved.
All rights reserved.
In the previous post I claimed that moral realism could only be true if there is a spiritual dimension which informs and determines reality as a whole. The idea that I was trying to convey can be communicated more clearly as follows. To be sensitive to (true) moral principles is to inhabit a spiritual “field” which orients us morally. This universal “field” or orienting principle repels us away from murder and indeed from anything that is evil; conversely, it lures us toward what is good. I went further than this though, and claimed that this field/principle is universal Spirit, and therefore universal Subject—something which cares how things go, something which evaluates, something with preferences. The Spirit has a consistent pattern of loving or willing. There are certain things which the Spirit delights in and approves of; there are other things which the Spirit recoils from and even condemns. Whatever is in the first category is good; whatever is in the second category is evil (I will return to this point).
When I speak of “the Spirit”, do I mean specifically the Holy Spirit of Christian belief? Or do I mean “God” understood as an undifferentiated divine Being? Or alternatively, God the Trinity? Or perhaps the “world-soul” of Stoicism, or even Hegel’s “Absolute Spirit”? At this stage I am neutral on this point. For my immediate goal is simply to defend the claim that there is a universal Spirit which (1) has a coherent pattern of loving and “preferring” and (2) is in this way the ontological ground of good and evil, the objective basis of morality.
Before explaining (2), let me develop (1) further. There is an inner “law” of the Spirit which governs and unites all of the Spirit’s movements of attraction and repulsion. This “law” is not some principle which transcends the Spirit; it simply is the Spirit. By virtue of its very nature—its dynamic essence—the Spirit is impelled from within to love what it loves, and as a result of this, to hate what it hates. Now we can determine this “nature” or “dynamic essence” further, as divine self-love. The Spirit by nature loves to be itself and therefore to be one with itself. The very Being and Life of the Spirit is its Self-Love, its dynamic attachment to itself, its radical will-to-be-itself. (I do not mean to imply that the Spirit is one thing, and that its Being or Life or Self-Love is another thing; I am not affirming a real distinction between any of these terms.) The Spirit is absolute Life which absolutely loves to live as it lives—actively being itself, being actively one with itself, enjoying and affirming and appropriating itself. Everything that the Spirit does, and everything that the Spirit experiences, is rooted in the Spirit’s love-of-self. Hence the ultimate “law” which impels the Spirit from within to love what it loves (and to hate what it hates) is its Self-Love.
I have claimed that the Spirit loves some things other than itself (a man’s act of justice, for example, or a holy woman) on account of its essential love-of-self. The reason why an object is pleasing to the Spirit, is that the Spirit’s living unity-with-self is somehow enhanced or facilitated by that object. The Spirit, being Spirit, wills to be one with itself in an unending life of self-unity, an eternal act of self-possession. And to repeat, this radical will-to-be-one-with-Self is the Self-Love of the Spirit. It follows that whatever the Spirit loves, it loves on account of loving itself. There is one primary object and “concern” of the Spirit’s will, and that is the Spirit itself. This is not simply a fact, but an absolutely necessary fact. If (per impossible) the Spirit had another primary object of love, it would not be the Spirit. It is incompatible with the Spirit’s divinity for it to have something (substantially) other to itself as its one-and-only primary object. It is also incompatible with the Spirit’s divinity for it to have another primary object alongside itself—for the Spirit to love itself in first place and also love something other in first place. If either of these scenarios obtained, then the Spirit would not be the Spirit. The Spirit would not exist. But the existence of the Spirit is absolutely necessary (for it is impossible for something divine to fail to exist). Therefore it is absolutely necessary that the Spirit has itself—and itself alone—as its primary object of love.
What this means is that the Spirit’s love-for-another is not a self-transcending movement. The Spirit does not move out beyond itself in love. Nor could the Spirit go beyond itself in this way. After all, the Spirit is infinite. Yes, the Spirit affirms and accepts what is other to itself. The Spirit respects and accommodates whatever is different to itself (i.e., whatever is not divine), including the human person with her finite freedom. And yet even this—the Spirit’s affirmation-of-the-different—is grounded and accommodated in the Spirit’s Self-affirmation. Whatever the Spirit affirms, it affirms on account of affirming itself (“affirmation” being another word for love).
Does that mean that everything that the Spirit loves (or affirms), exists necessarily? No, it does not. I will explain why in the next instalment.
[To be continued …]