When we master desire and aversion in the present we mortify what will soon be dead in any case.
"That may be appropriate wisdom for you, old man, but I'm in the full flood of my youth and vigor. I love, hate, and live passionately. Why should I mortify what will be dead? I should further enliven what is now alive!"
"I am grieved by the transitoriness of things," wrote Friedrich Nietzsche in a letter to Franz Overbeck, dated 24 March 1887. (Quoted in R. Hayman, Nietzsche: A Critical Life, Penguin, 1982, p. 304)
What is the appropriate measure of grief at impermanence?
While we are saddened by the transience of things, that they are transient shows that their passing is not worthy of the full measure of our sadness. You are saddened by loss, but what exactly did you lose? Something that was meant to last forever? Something that could last forever? Something that was worth lasting forever?
Sadness at the passing of what must pass often indicates an inordinate love of the finite, when an ordinate love loves it as finite and no more. But sadness also bespeaks a sense that there is more than the finite. For if we had no sense of the Infinite why would we bestow upon the finite a value and reality it cannot bear?
Sadness thus points down to the relative unreality and unimportance of the world of time and change while pointing up to the absolute reality and importance of its Source.
But Nietzsche, of the tribe of Heraclitus, could not bring himself to believe in the Source. His bladed intellect would not allow it. But his heart was that of homo religiosus. So he had resort to a desperate and absurd measure in reconciliation of heart and head: the Eternal Recurrence of the Same, as if the redemption of time could be secured by making it cyclical and endless.
This is no solution at all.
The problem with time is not that it will end, but that its very mode of Being is deficient. The problem is not that our time is short, but that we are in time in the first place. For this reason, more time is no solution. Not even endlessly recurring time is any solution. Even if time were unending and I were omnitemporal, existing at every time, my life would still be strung out in moments outside of each other, with the diachronic identifications of memory and expectation no substitute for a true unity.
To the moment I say, with Faust, Verweile doch, du bist so schön (Goethe, Faust) but the beautiful moment will not abide, and abidance-in-memory is a sorry substitute, and a self diachronically constituted by such makeshifts is arguably no true self. Existing as we do temporally, we are never at one with ourselves: the past is no longer, the future not yet, and the present fleeting. We exist outside ourselves in temporal ec-stasis. We are strung out in temporal diaspora. The only Now we know is the nunc movens.
But we sense and can conceive a nunc stans, a standing now. This conception of a standing now, empty here below except for the rare and partial mystic fulfillments vouchsafed only to some, is the standard relative to which the moving now is judged ontologically deficient. Time is but a moving and inadequate image of eternity.
So we of the tribe of Plato conceive of the divine life as the eternal life, not as the omnitemporal or everlasting life.
We too weep with Heraclitus, but our weeping is ordinate, adjusted to the grade of reality of that over which we weep. And our weeping is tempered by joy as we look beyond this scene of flux. For as Nietzsche says in Zarathustra, "all joy/desire wants eternity, wants deep, deep, eternity." All Lust will Ewigkeit, will tiefe, tiefe, Ewigkeit!
This longing joy, this joyful longing, is it evidence of the reality of its Object? Great minds have thought so. But you won't be able to prove it one way or the other. So in the end you must decide how you will live and what you will believe.
. . . I’m confused by some of your epistemic terms. You reject [in the first article referenced below] the view that we can “rigorously prove” the existence of God, and several times say that theistic arguments are not rationally compelling, by which you mean that there are no arguments “that will force every competent philosophical practitioner to accept their conclusions on pain of being irrational if he does not.“
Okay, so far I’m tracking with you. But then you go on to say that “[t]here are all kinds of evidence” for theism (not just non-naturalism), while the atheist “fails to account for obvious facts (consciousness, self-consciousness, conscience, intentionality, purposiveness, etc.) if he assumes that all that exists is in the space-time world. I will expose and question all his assumptions. I will vigorously and rigorously drive him to dogmatism. Having had all his arguments neutralized, if not refuted, he will be left with nothing better than the dogmatic assertion of his position."
So how is the atheist not irrational on your view, assuming he is apprised of your arguments? Perhaps the positive case for theism and the negative case against naturalism don’t count as demonstrations in a mathematical sense, but I’m not sure why they’re not supposed to be compelling according to your gloss on the term.
The term 'mathematical' muddies the waters since it could lead to a side-wrangle over what mathematicians are doing when they construct proofs. Let's not muddy the waters. My claim is that we have no demonstrative knowledge of the truth of theism or of the falsity of naturalism. Demonstrative knowledge is knowledge produced by a demonstration. A demonstration in this context is an argument that satisfies all of the following conditions:
1. It is deductive 2. It is valid in point of logical form 3. It is free of such informal fallacies as petitio principii 4. It is such that all its premises are true 5. It is such that all its premises are known to be true 6. It is such that its conclusion is relevant to its premises.
To illustrate (6). The following argument satisfies all of the conditions except the last and is therefore probatively worthless:
Snow is white ergo Either Obama is president or he is not.
On my use of terms, a demonstrative argument = a probative argument = a proof = a rationally compelling argument. Now clearly there are good arguments (of different sorts) that are not demonstrative, probative, rationally compelling. One type is the strong inductive argument. By definition, no such argument satisfies (1) or (2). A second type is the argument that satisfies all the conditions except (5).
Can one prove the existence of God? That is, can one produce a proof (as above defined) of the existence of God? I don't think so. For how will you satisfy condition (5)? Suppose you give argument A for the existence of God. How do you know that the premises of A are true? By argument? Suppose A has premises P1, P2, P3. Will you give arguments for these premises? Then you need three more arguments, one for each of P1, P2, P3, each of which has its own premises. A vicious infinite regress is in the offing. Needless to say, moving in an argumentative circle is no better.
At some point you will have to invoke self-evidence. You will have to say that, e.g., it is just self-evident that every event has a cause. And you will have to mean objectively self-evident, not just subjectively self-evident. But how can you prove, to yourself or anyone else, that what is subjectively self-evident is objectively self-evident? You can't, at least not with respect to states of affairs transcending your consciousness.
I conclude that no one can prove the existence of God. But one can reasonably believe that God exists. The same holds for the nonexistence of God. No one can prove the nonexistence of God. But one can reasonably believe that there is no God.
The same goes for naturalism. I cannot prove that there is more to reality than the space-time system and its contents. But I can reasonably believe it. For I have a battery of arguments each of which satisfies conditions (1), (2), (3) and (6) and may even, as far as far as I know, satisfy (4).
"So how is the atheist not irrational on your view, assuming he is apprised of your arguments?"
He is not irrational because none of my arguments are rationally compelling in the sense I supplied, namely, they are not such as to force every competent philosophical practitioner to accept their conclusions on pain of being irrational if he does not. To illustrate, consider the following argument from Peter Kreeft (based on C. S. Lewis), an argument I consider good, but not rationally compelling. I will argue (though I will not prove!) that one who rejects this argument is not irrational.
The Argument From Desire
Premise 1: Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.
Premise 2: But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy.
Conclusion: Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth and creatures, which can satisfy this desire.
This something is what people call "God" and "life with God forever."
This is surely not a compelling argument. In fact, as it stands, it is not even valid. But it is easily repaired. There is need of an additional premise, one to the effect that the desire that nothing in time can satisfy is a natural desire. This supplementary premise is needed for validity, but it is not obviously true. For it might be -- it is epistemically possible that -- this desire that nothing in time can satisfy is artificially induced by one's religious upbringing or some other factor or factors.
Furthermore, is premise (1) true? Not as it stands. Suppose I am dying of thirst in the desert. Does that desire in me correspond to some real object that can satisfy it? Does the existence of my token desire entail the existence of a token satisfier? No! For it may be that there is no potable water in the vicinity, when only potable water in the immediate vicinity can satisfy my particular thirst. At most, what the natural desire for water shows is that water had to have existed at some time. It doesn't even show that water exists now. Suppose all the water on earth is suddenly rendered undrinkable. That is consistent with the continuing existence of the natural desire/need for water.
But this is not a decisive objection since repairs can be made. One could reformulate:
1* Every type of natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy some tokens of that type of desire.
But is (1*) obviously true? It could be that our spiritual desires are not artificial, like the desire to play chess, but lacking in real objects nonetheless. It could be that their objects are merely intentional. Suppose our mental life (sentience, intentionality, self-awareness, the spiritual desires for meaning, for love, for lasting happiness, for an end to ignorance and delusion and enslavement to base desires) is just an evolutionary fluke. Our spiritual desires would then be natural as opposed to artificial, but lacking in real objects.
Why do we naturally desire, water, air, sunlight? Because without them we wouldn't have come into material existence in the first place. Speaking loosely, Nature implanted these desires in us. This is what allows us to infer the reality of the object of the desire from the desire. Now if God created us and implanted in us a desire for fellowship with him, then we could reliably infer the reality of God from the desire. But we don't know whether God exists; so it may be that the natural desire for God lacks a real object.
Obviously, one cannot define 'natural desire' as a desire that has a real and not merely intentional object, and then take the non-artificiality of a desire as proof that it is natural. That would be question-begging.
My point is that (1) or (1*) is not known to be true and is therefore rationally rejectable. The argument from desire, then, is not rationally compelling.
As for premise (2), how do we know that it is true? Granting that it is true hitherto, how do we know that it will be true in the future? The utopian dream of the progressives is precisely that we can achieve here on earth final satisfaction of our deepest desires. Now I don't believe this for a second. But I don't think one can reasonably claim to know that (2) is false. What supports it is a very reasonable induction. But inductive arguments don't prove anything.
In sum, the argument from desire, suitably deployed and rigorously articulated, helps render theistic belief rationally acceptable. But it is not a rationally compelling argument.
A reader from Portugal raised a question I hadn't thought of before: "Can God satisfy our infinite desire if God is a being among beings?" This question presupposes that our desire is in some sense infinite. I will explain and defend this presupposition in a moment. Now if our desire is infinite, then it is arguable that only a truly infinite object could satisfy it, and that such an object cannot be a being among beings, not even a being supreme among beings, but must be an absolute reality, that is, God as Being itself. To put it another way, the ultimate good for man cannot be a good thing among good things, not even the best of all good things, but must be Goodness itself. Anything less would be a sort of high-class idol. So let's start with an analysis of idolatry.
What is idolatry? I suggest that the essence of idolatry lies in the illicit absolutizing of the relative. A finite good becomes an idol when it is treated as if it were an infinite good, i.e., one capable of satisfying our infinite desire. But is our desire infinite?
That our desire is infinite is shown by the fact that it is never fully satisfied by any finite object or series of finite objects. Not even an infinite series of finite objects could satisfy it since what we really want is not an endless series of finite satisfactions -- say a different black-eyed virgin every night as in popular Islam's depiction of paradise — but a satisfaction in which one could finally rest. "Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee." (Augustine) What we really want, though we don't know it, is the absolute good which is goodness itself, namely God. This idea is common to Plato, Augustine, Malebranche, and Simone Weil.
For thinkers of this stripe, all desire is ultimately desire for the Absolute. A desire that understood itself would understand this. But our deluded desire does not understand this. Our deluded desire is played for a fool by the trinkets and bagatelles of this fleeting world. It thinks it can find satisfaction in the finite. Therein lies the root of idolatry.
Buddha understood this very well: he saw that desire is infinite in that it desires its own ultimate quenching or extinguishing, its own nibbana, but that finite quenchings are unsatisfactory in that they only exacerbate desire by giving birth to new desires endlessly. No desire is finally sated; each is reborn in a later desire. Thus the enjoyment of virgin A does not put an end to lust; the next night or the next morning you are hot for virgin B, and so on, back to A or on to C, D, . . . and around and around on the wheel of Samsara. The more you dive into the flesh looking for the ultimate satisfaction, the more frustrated you become. You are looking for Love in all the wrong places.
So Buddha understood the nature of desire as infinite. But since he had convinced himself that there is no Absolute, no Atman, nothing possessing self-nature, he made a drastic move: he preached salvation through the extirpation of desire itself. Desire itself is at the root of suffering, dukkha, not desire for the wrong objects; so the way to salvation is not via redirection of desire upon the right Object, but via an uprooting of desire itself.
In Buddhist terms, we could say that idolatry is the treating of something that is anatta, devoid of self-nature, as if it were atta, possessive of self-nature. Idolatry arises when some finite foreground object, a man or a woman say, is falsely ascribed the power to provide ultimate satisfaction. This sort of delusion is betrayed in practically every love song ever written. Here are some typical lyrics (trivia question: name the song, the singer, the date):
You are my world, you're every move I make You are my world, you're every breath I take.
There are thousands more lyrics like them, and anyone who has been in love knows that they capture the peculiar madness of the lover, the delectable madness of taking the finite for infinite.
Or will you deny that this is madness, a very deep philosophical and perhaps also religious mistake? I say it is madness whether or not an absolute good exists. Whether or not an absolute good exists, reason suggests that we should love the finite as finite, that our love should be ordered to, and commensurate with, its object. Finite love for finite objects, and for all objects if there is no infinite Object.
Suppose you accept what I just wrote about desire being infinite and ultimately unsatisfiable by any finite object. Would this show that God cannot be a being among beings? Not obviously! The supreme being theists could agree that infinite desire is ultimately satisfiable only by an infinite object, but that the omni-qualified supreme being fills the bill. Furthermore, they could argue, plausibly, that talk of Goodness itself and Being itself, which imply the divine simplicity, is just incoherent to the discursive intellect. To which one response is: so much the worse for the discursive intellect. The ultimate goal is attainable only by transcending it.
Human desires regularly show themselves to be highly competent when it comes to the seduction of reason and the subornation of conscience.
A man murders his wife and the mother of his child in order to collect on a life insurance policy. Why? So that he can run off with a floozie who shook her tail in his face at a strip joint and then pledged her undying love. Upshot? The man does life in orison prison, the child grows up without parents, and the floozie moves on to her next victim.
(O felix erratum! Actually, prison would be a good place for orison if you were 'in the hole,' where I would want to be, and not in the general population ever having it proved to one that "Hell is other people." (Sartre, No Exit))
Pace the Buddhists, the problem is not desire as such, but desire inordinate and misdirected.
Buddha understood the nature of desire as infinite, as finally unsatisfiable by any finite object. But since he had convinced himself that there is no Absolute, no Atman, nothing possessing self-nature, he made a drastic move: he preached salvation through the extirpation of desire itself. Desire itself is at the root of suffering, dukkha, on the Buddhist conception, not desire for the wrong objects; so the way to salvation is not via redirection of desire upon the right Object, but via an uprooting of desire itself.
According to Woody Allen, we all know that human existence is meaningless and that it ends, utterly and meaninglessly, with death. We all know this, he thinks, but we hide the horrible reality from ourselves with all sorts of evasions and distractions. Worldly people, for example, imagine that they will live forever and lose themselves in the pursuit of pleasure, money, name and fame. Religious people console themselves with fairy tales about God and the soul and post-mortem bliss. Leftists, in the grip of utopian fantasies, having smoked the opium of the intellectuals, sacrifice their lives on the altar of activism. And not only their lives: Communists in the 20th century broke 100 millon 'eggs' in pursuit of an elusive 'omelet.' Ordinary folk live for their children and grandchildren as if procreation has redemptive power.
Pushing the line of thought further, I note that Allen is deeply bothered, indeed obsessed in his neurotic Manhattanite Jewish intellectual sort of way, by the apparent meaninglessness of human existence. Why does the apparent lack of an ultimate meaning bother him? It bothers him because a deep desire for ultimate sense, for point and purpose, is going unsatisfied. He wants redemptive Meaning, but Meaning is absent. (Note that what is phenomenologically absent may or may not be nonexistent.)
But a deep and natural desire for a meaning that is absent may be evidence of a sort for the possibility of the desire's satisfaction. Why do sensitive souls feel the lack of point and purpose? The felt lack and unsatisfied desire is at least a fact and wants an explanation. What explains the felt lack, the phenomenological absence of a redemptive Meaning that could make all this misery and ignorance and evil bearable? What explains the fact that Allen is bothered by the apparent meaninglessness of human existence?
You could say that nothing explains it; it is just a brute fact that some of us crave meaning. Less drastically, and more plausibly, one could say that the craving for meaning has an explanation in terms of efficient causes, but not one that requires the reality of its intentional object. Let me explain.
Craving is an intentional state: it is an object-directed state of mind. One cannot just crave, desire, want, long for, etc. One craves, desires, wants, longs for something. This something is the intentional object. Every intentional state takes an object; but it doesn't follow that every such state takes an object that exists. If a woman wants a man, it does not follow that there exists a man such that she wants him. She wants Mr. Right, but no one among us satisfies the requisite criteria. So while she wants a man, there is no man she wants. Therefore, the deep desire for Meaning does not guarantee the existence of Meaning. We cannot validily argue, via the intentionality of desiderative consciousness, to the extramental reality of the the object desired.
Nevertheless, if is it a natural (as opposed to an artificially induced) desire we are talking about, then perhaps there is a way to infer the existence of the object desired from the fact of the desiring, that is, from the existence of the desiderative state, not from the content or realitas objectiva of the desiderative state. The inferential move from realitas objectiva to realitas formalis is invalid; but the move from the existence of the state to the reality of its object may be valid.
Suppose I want (to drink) water. The natural desire for water is rooted in a natural need. I don't just desire it, the way I might desire (to smoke) a cigar; I need it. Now it doesn't follow from the existence of my need that there is water hereabouts or water in sufficient quantity to keep me alive, but the need for water is very good evidence for the existence of water somewhere. (Suppose all the water in the universe ceases to exist, but I exist for a little longer. My need for water would still be good evidence for the existence of water at some time.) If there never had been any water, then no critter could desire or need it; indeed no critter could exist at all.
The need for water 'proves' the existence of water. Perhaps the desire/need for Meaning 'proves' the existence of Meaning. The felt lack of meaning -- its phenomenological absence -- is grounded in the natural (not artificial) need for Meaning, and this need would not exist if it were not for the extramental reality of a source of Meaning with which we were once in contact, or the traces of which are buried deep within us. And this all men call God.
Mr. Allen, meet Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange:
Since natural desire can never be in vain, and since all men naturally desire beatitude, there must exist an objective being that is infinitely perfect, a being that man can possess, love, and enjoy. (Beatitude, tr. Cummins, Ex Fontibus 2012, p. 79)
This argument, studied in the context of Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics, is more impressive than it may seem. If nothing else it ought to undermine the belief of Allen and his like that it is known by all of us today that human existence is ultimately meaningless.
Here is a video with relevant excerpts from G-L's Life Everlasting and the Immensity of the Soul.
Desire leads to the gratification of desire, which in turn leads to the repetition of the gratification. Repeated gratification in turn leads to the formation of an intensely pleasurable habit, one that persists even after the desire wanes and disappears, the very desire without whose gratification the habit wouldn't exist in the first place. Memories of pleasure conspire in the maintenance of habit. The ancient rake, exhausted and infirm, is not up for another round of debauchery, but the memories haunt him, of pleasures past. The memories keep alive the habit after the desire has fled the decrepit body that refuses to serve as an engine of pleasure.
And that puts me in mind of Schopenhauer's advice. "Abandon your vices before they abandon you."
When one is in the grip of a desire one typically knows it. He who wants a cold beer on a hot day knows what he wants and is likely to deem unhinged anyone with the temerity to deny that there are desires. Anywhere on the scale from velleity to craving, but especially at the craving end, there is a qualitative character to desire that makes it phenomenologically undeniable. If the beer example doesn't move you, think of lust. Lust is an intentional state: one cannot lust unless one lusts after someone or something. But although lust flees itself, voids itself in a rush towards its object — as Sartre might have said — there is nonetheless something 'it is like' (T. Nagel) to be in the state of lust. In this respect, desire is more like the non-intentional state of pain than it is like the intentional state of belief. There is most decidedly something it is like for me to desire X; but what is is like for me to believe that you desire X? Is it like anything? Not so clear.
What is idolatry? I suggest that the essence of idolatry lies in the illicit absolutizing of the relative. A finite good becomes an idol when it is treated as if it were an infinite good, i.e., one capable of satisfying our infinite desire. But is our desire infinite? That our desire is infinite is shown by the fact that it is never satisfied by any finite object or series of finite objects. Not even an infinite series of finite objects could satisfy it since what we really want is not an endless series of finite satisfactions -- say a different black-eyed virgin every night as in popular Islam's depiction of paradise — but a satisfaction in which one could finally rest. "Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee." (Augustine) What we really want, though we don't know it, is the absolute good which is goodness itself, namely God. This idea is common to Plato, Augustine, Malebranche, and Simone Weil.