I posed the question in the aftermath of the election and because of the pleasure many of us are feeling at the Left's comeuppance:
Is there a righteous form of Schadenfreude or is it in every one of its forms as morally objectionable as I make it out to be here?
Edward Feser supplies an affirmative Thomistic answer. Ed concludes:
Putting the question of hell to one side, though, we can note that if schadenfreude can be legitimate even in that case, then a fortiori it can be legitimate in the case of lesser instances of someone getting his just deserts, in this life rather than the afterlife. For example – and to take the case Bill has in mind -- suppose someone’s suffering is a consequence of anti-Catholic bigotry, brazen corruption, unbearable smugness, a sense of entitlement, groupthink, and in general from hubris virtually begging nemesis to pay a visit. When you’re really asking for it, you can’t blame others for enjoying seeing you get it.
Worry and regret form a pair in that each involves flight from the present; worry flees the present toward an unknown future, regret toward an unchangeable past. The door to Reality, however, is hinged on the axis of the Now. If access is to be had to the nunc stans it is only via the nunc movens. Past and future are but representations in comparison to the reality of the moving now.
You envy me? What a wretch you must be to feel diminished in your sense of self-worth by comparison with me! I have something you lack? Why isn't that compensated for by what you have that I lack? You feel bad that I have achieved something by my hard work? Don't you realize that you waste time and energy that could be used to improve your own lot?
You ought to feel bad, not because I do well, but because you are so foolish as to indulge envy. Vices vitiate, they weaken. You weaken yourself and make yourself even more of a wretch by succumbing to envy.
"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.
If you can see the moral necessity of controlling the head, why then can't you see the moral necessity of controlling the heart? With all due respect to 'the King,' you can help falling in love with her.
The older I get, the more two things impress me. One is the suggestibility of human beings, their tendency to imbibe and repeat ideas and attitudes from their social environment with nary an attempt at critical examination. The other is the major role envy plays in human affairs. Today my topic is envy.
Envy and Jealousy
People commonly confuse envy with jealousy. To feel envy is to feel diminished in one’s sense of self-worth by another’s success or well-being or attributes. Thus if A feels bad because B won an award, then A envies B his winning of the award. It is a misuse of language to say that A is jealous of B in a situation like this. Jealousy requires three people, whereas envy requires only two. Suppose A and B are married, and C shows an amatory interest in B. A may well come to feel jealous of C. To use ‘envy’ and ‘jealousy’ interchangeably is to ride roughshod over a simple distinction, and that is something that clear-headed people will want to avoid.
You say that language is always changing? No doubt, but not all change is progress. Progress is change for the good. The elision of distinctions is not good. Distinctions are the lifeblood of thought. Confusing envy with jealousy, inference with implication, lying with making false statements, a dilemma with any old problem, chauvinism with male chauvinism, and so on is not progress, but regress.
Envy and Schadenfreude
If to feel envy is to feel bad when another does well, what should we call the emotion of feeling good when another suffers misfortune? There is no word in English for this as far as I know, but in German it is called Schadenfreude. This word is used in English from time to time, and is one every educated person should know. It means joy (Freude) at another's injuries (Schaden). Arthur Schopenhauer, somewhere in Aphorismen zur Lebensweisheit, remarks that while envy (Neid) is human, Schadenfreude is diabolical. Exactly right. There is something fiendish in feeling positive glee at another’s misery. This is not to imply that envy is not a hateful emotion. It is and ought to be avoided as far as possible. Invidia, after all, is one of the seven deadly sins. From the Latin invidia comes ‘invidious comparison’ which just means an envious comparison. Envy is bad but Schadenfreude is worse.
There can be comparison without envy, but every case of envy involves comparison. So one way to avoid envy is to avoid comparing yourself with others. Just be yourself and do your best, and don’t worry too much about what others are doing. Try to live your own incomparable life from out of your own inner resources. Strive for individuation, not for clone status.
There is the folk wisdom saying that comparisons are odious, to which I add that comparisons are often invidious.
"But isn't it good to compare yourself with your superiors in order to emulate them?" It is, if one can avoid succumbing to envy. The best course is not to compare oneself with any individual but with the high standards of which individuals are mere examples whether the standards be intellectual, moral, or physical. Many exemplify the cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, courage, and temperance) in greater measure than I do, but I ought not compare myself to these individuals but to the standards they exemplify. The admirable individuals are merely proof that the ideals are realizable, and the extent to which they are realizable. As I have argued more than once in these pages, an ideal that is not humanly realizable cannot count as a genine ideal for humans. This is a generalization of the ought implies can principle.
Comparison and Envy in the Islamic World
If the Islamic world avoided comparison and envy, they wouldn’t waste so much time and energy hating the USA, the 'great Satan' and Israel the 'little Satan.' Surely part of the explanation of the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks is sheer envy. It is also part of the explanation of the Arab hatred of Israel. Arabs, and Muslims generally, need to learn that envy is totally unproductive, besides being evil. One cannot improve one’s lot in life by tearing other people down. You cannot add one cubit to your stature by cursing me for being taller.
My publishing more articles than you does not reduce the number of your publications, or prevent you from publishing. My increase in net worth is not at your expense. If I become wealthier than you, that is a real change in me, but only a relational change in you, one consistent with your not losing a cent. (The economy is not a zero sum game.) One of my trees is now taller than my house. The tree grew; the house did not shrink. The house became shorter than the tree, but without suffering any real change in respect of height.
The superiority of the superiors over the inferiors redounds to the latter's benefit. The superiority of the tree to the house in respect of height shades the house. If the house could kill the tree it would eliminate the shade that cools it. If the Arab states could destroy Israel it would make the entire region more miserable and backward than it already is. If leftists could could destroy free markets, then we would all be poor.
One of the things that has made the USA a successful nation is that Americans are a positive, forward-looking people not as a rule given to envy. We generally do not compare ourselves with others, but do our own thing, thereby setting the standard. We are builders, not destroyers.
A perfect illustration of mindless destructiveness is the behavior of the terrorist entity, Hamas. They acquire cement not to build above ground for life but to tunnel underground so as to undermine Israel and deliver death. It is more than evil, it is irrational. It is morally and intellectually insane. What accounts for this insanity? A deep nihilism. Whence the nihilism? That question is above my paygrade, but Goethe in Faust may provide a clue in the passage where he characterizes Mephistopheles as the spirit that always negates, der Geist der stets verneint.
Envy as Partial Explanation of Jew Hatred
I don't know what the whole explanation is, but surely a good part of it is envy. Muslims in particular, but other groups as well, cannot stand Jewish superiority. Instead of being rational and appreciating that this superiority redounds to their benefit, they succumb to the basest and most vile forms of envy. They feel so diminished in their sense of self-worth by Jewish superiority that they would do anything to destroy the Jews even though that would accomplish precisely nothing by way of raising their status. On the contrary, it would diminish it. Suppose Hamas destroyed Israel. Then the whole area would be as backward and impoverished as the Gaza Strip.
It is Not Good to be an Object of Envy
Some people think that it is good to be an object of envy. They overlook the fact that envy is a kind of hate directed at what is good and productive and positive in a person. Envy is not a form of admiration but a perversion of admiration. Only a fool would want to be envied, for only fools want to be hated. There is no way to avoid being hated in this life, but to seek the hatred of others is folly.
How to Avoid being Envied
One way is to avoid ostentation. The ordinary schmuck doesn't excite envy, so try to pass yourself off as one. Be careful of self-revelation. Stay away from envious people. In a world of lies and deceit, one must know and practice the arts of dissembling. Just as civility is for the civil, honesty is for the honest. Among the evil and mendacious, one must be careful and some dissembling is justified.
We must learn to accept people's love, good wishes, and benevolence as gifts without worrying whether we deserve these things or not, and without worrying whether we will ever be in a position to compensate the donors. Similarly, we must learn to accept people's hate and malevolence as a sort of reverse gratuitous donation whether we deserve them or not.
We are often unjustly loved and admired. So why should it bother us that we are often unjustly hated and contemned? Try to see the latter as balancing the former.
A man planted a tree to shade his house from the desert sun. The tree, a palo verde, grew like a weed and was soon taller than the house. The house became envious, feeling diminished by the tree’s stature. The house said to the tree: "How dare you outstrip me, you who were once so puny! I towered above you, but you have made me small."
The tree replied to the house: "Why, Mr. House, do you begrudge me the natural unfolding of my potentiality, especially when I provide you with cooling shade? I have not made you small. It is not in my power to add or subtract one cubit from your stature. The change you have ‘undergone’ is a mere Cambridge change. You have gone from being taller than me to being shorter; but this implies no real change in you: all the real change is in me. What’s more, the real change in me accrues to your benefit. As I rise and spread my branches, you are sheltered and cooled. The real change in me causes a real change in you in respect of temperature."
Heed well this parable, my brothers and sisters. When your neighbor outstrips you in health and wealth, in virtue and vigor, in blog posts or the length of his curriculum vitae – hate him not. For his successes, which are real changes in him, need induce no real changes in you. His advance diminishes you not one iota. Indeed, his real changes work to your benefit. You will not have to tend him in sickness, nor loan him money; your tax dollars will not be used to subsidize his dissoluteness; the more hits his weblog receives, the more yours will receive; and the longer his CV the better and more helpful a colleague he is likely to be.
To feel envy is to feel diminished in one's sense of self-worth by the positive attributes or success or well-being of another. It is in a certain sense the opposite of Schadenfreude. The envier is pained by another's success or well-being, sometimes to the extent of wanting to destroy what the other has. The 'schadenfreudian,' to coin a word, is pleasured by another's failure or ill-being.
Envy is classified as one of the Seven Deadly Sins, and rightly so. Much of the mindless rage against Jews and Israel is the product of envy. Superiority almost always excites envy in those who, for whatever reason, and in whichever respect, are inferior.
This is why it is inadvisable to flaunt one's superiority and a good idea to keep it hidden in most situations. Don't wear a Rolex in public, wear a Timex. It is better to appear to be an average schmuck than a man of means. In some circumstances it is better to hide one's light under a bushel.
If greed is the vice of the capitalist, envy is the vice of the socialist. This is not to say that greed is a necessary product of capitalism or that envy is a necessary product of socialism. There was greed long before there was capitalism and envy long before there was socialism.
One cure for envy is moderate, the other radical. I recommend the moderate cure.
Consider the entire life of the person you envy, not just the possession or attribute or success that excites your envy. You say you want what he or she has? Well, do you want everything that comes with it and led up to it, the hard work, the trials and tribulations, the doubts and despairs and disappointments and disasters? Unless you are morally corrupt, your envious feelings won't be able to survive a wide-angled view.
The radical cure is to avoid all comparisons. Comparison is a necessary condition of envy. You can't envy me unless you compare yourself to me, noting what I have and am as compared to what you have and are. So if you never compare yourself to anyone, you will never feel envy for anyone.
The radical cure ignores the fact that not all comparisons are odious, that some are salutary. If I am your inferior in this respect or that, and I compare myself to you, I may come to appreciate where I fall short and what I could be if I were to emulate you.
That being said, "Comparisons are odious" remains a useful piece of folk wisdom. You can avoid a lot of unhappiness by appreciating what you have and not comparing yourself to others.
As for the bombshells at the top of the page, the blond is Jayne Mansfield and the other Sophia Loren. The picture illustrates the fact that, typically, envy involves two persons, one envying the other in respect of some attribute. Jealousy, however involves three persons. This why you shouldn't confuse envy with jealousy. This is jealousy, not envy:
Can one learn all about human sexuality by studying the human organs of generation? The very notion is risible. Can one learn all about human affectivity by studying that most reliable and indefatigable of pumps, the human heart? Risible again. It is similarly risible to think that one can learn all about the mind by studying that marvellously complex hunk of meat, the brain.
1. There is the fear of nonbeing, of annihilation. The best expression of this fear that I am aware of is contained in Philip Larkin's great poem "Aubade" which I reproduce and comment upon in Philip Larkin on Death. Susan Sontag is another who was gripped by a terrible fear of annihilation.
There is the fear of becoming nothing, but there is also, by my count, five types of fear predicated on not becoming nothing.
2. There is the fear of surviving one's bodily death as a ghost, unable to cut earthly attachments and enter nonbeing and oblivion. This fear is expressed in the third stanza of D. H. Lawrence's poem "All Souls' Day" which I give together with the fourth and fifth (The Oxford Book of Death, ed. D. J. Enright, Oxford UP, 1987, pp. 48-49).
They linger in the shadow of the earth. The earth's long conical shadow is full of souls that cannot find the way across the sea of change.
Be kind, Oh be kind to your dead and give them a little encouragement and help them to build their little ship of death.
For the soul has a long, long journey after death to the sweet home of pure oblivion. Each needs a little ship, a little ship and the proper store of meal for the longest journey.
3. There is the fear of post-mortem horrors. For this the Epicurean cure was concocted. In a sentence: When death is, I am not; when I am, death is not. Here too the fear is not of extinction, but of surviving.
4. There is the fear of the unknown. This is not a fear with a definite object, but an indefinite fear of one-knows-not-what.
5. There is the fear of the Lord and his judgment. Timor domini initium sapientiae. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." (Proverbs 9:10, Psalms 111:10) A certain fear is ingredient in religious faith. Ludwig Wittgenstein was one who believed and feared that he would be judged by God. He took the notion of the Last Judgment with the utmost seriousness as both Paul Engelmann and Norman Malcolm relate in their respective memoirs. In 1951, near the end of his life, Wittgenstein wrote,
God may say to me: I am judging you out of your own mouth. Your own actions have made you shudder with disgust when you have seen other people do them." (Culture and Value, p. 87)
Wittgenstein had trouble with the notion of God as cosmic cause, but had a lively sense of God as final Judge and source of an absolute moral demand.
6. Fear of one's own judgment or the judgment of posterity.
In this fine piece, Marilyn Penn takes Thomas Friedman to task. Her article begins thusly (emphasis added):
In Thomas Friedman’s op ed on the Boston marathon massacre (Bring On the Next Marathon, NYT 4/17), the boldface caption insists “We’re just not afraid anymore.” Perhaps this is true for a traveling journalist who doesn’t use the subway daily or who isn’t forced to spend all his days in the 9/11 city of New York, but for most thinking people who work and live here, there is a great deal to fear. We live in a porous society where criminals roam free yet politicians complain about the “discriminatory” stop and frisk policies of the police, even though they have successfully reduced crime precisely in the neighborhoods that most affect the complaining minorities and their liberal champions. If you ride the subways, you know how many passengers wear enormous back-packs, large enough to conceal an arsenal of weapons. These are allowed to be carried into movie theaters, playgrounds, parks, sports arenas, shopping centers, department stores and restaurants with no security checks whatsoever. On the national front, immigration policies are more concerned with politically correct equality than with the reality of which groups are fomenting most of the terror around the world today. Our northern and southern borders are infiltrated daily by undocumented people slipping in beyond the government’s surveillance or control.
I agree with her entire piece. Read it.
It has been a week since the Boston Marathon bombing. There was a moment of silence today in remembrance of the victims. But let's keep things in perspective. Only three people were killed. I know you are supposed to gush over these relatively minor events and the undoubtedly horrendous suffering of the victims, but most of the gushing is the false and foolish response of feel-good liberals who have no intention of doing what is necessary to protect against the threat of radical Islam. The Patriot's Day event was nothing compared to what could happen. How about half of Manhattan being rendered uninhabitable by dirty bombs?
When that or something similar happens, will you liberals start yammering about how 'unimaginable' it was? Look, I'm imagining it right now. Liberals can imagine the utopian nonsense imagined by John Lennon in his asinine "Imagine." Is their imagination 'selective'? They can imagine the impossible but not the likely. It is worth recalling that Teddy Kennedy's favorite song was Impossible Dream.
There are courageous souls who will say publically what others think but are afraid to say. True. But the courageousness of the saying does not underwrite the truth of what is said. Courage does not validate content.
Muhammad Atta and the 9/11 terrorists had the courage of their false and murderous convictions.
As a corollary, passion is not probative. The passion with which a proposition is propounded is no proof of it. It is scant praise of a person, and perhaps no praise at all, to say, as is often nowadays said, that so-and-so is passionate about his beliefs. So what? Hitler was passionate.
We have need of dispassion these days, not passion. William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming, first stanza:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the
falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.
I pointed out earlier that forgiving is triadic: x forgives y for z. There is the forgiver, the one to whom forgiveness is proffered, and that which is forgiven. Nominative, dative, accusative. It is of course correct English to say 'I forgive you,' but this fact about usage cuts no ice since 'I forgive you' is elliptical for 'I forgive you for what you did or what you failed to do.' 'I forgive you' is not evidence that forgiving is in some cases dyadic any more than 'Tom is married' is evidence that marriage is monadic. Forgiving is then at least triadic: it is a three-place relation. 'X forgives y for z' has three argument-places. But it doesn't follow that forgiving is in every case a three-term or three-relata relation. For if one one can forgive oneself, then x and y are the same person. Compare identity, which is a two-place, but one-term relation.
Why did I write "at least triadic"? Because we need to think about such examples as 'I forgive you both for conspiring against me.' That appears to involve three persons and one action. I set this issue aside for later discussion.
At the moment, the following aporetic triad is at the cynosure of my interest:
1. There are cases of self-forgiveness and they are instances of genuine forgiveness.
2. If a person forgives himself at time t for doing or failing to do z , then he cannot help but be aware of and admit his own guilt at t for doing or failing to do z.
3. Genuine forgiveness is unconditional: it is consistent with a non-admission of guilt on the part of the one who is forgiven.
Each limb of the triad is plausible. But the limbs cannot all be true: the conjunction of ( 1) and (2) entails the negation of (3). Indeed, the conjunction of any two limbs entails the negation of the remaining limb.
To solve the problem, we must reject one of the limbs.
(1)-Rejection. One might maintain that cases of self-forgiveness are not instances of genuine forgiveness. One might hold that 'forgiveness' in 'self-forgiveness' and 'other-forgiveness' is being used in different ways, and that the difference between the two phenomena is papered over by the sameness of word.
(2)-Rejection. I would say that (2) is self-evident and cannot be reasonably rejected.
(3)-Rejection. One might maintain that genuine forgiveness need not be unconditional, that there are cases when it depends on the satisfaction of the condition that the one forgiven admit his guilt.
I would solve the problem by rejecting both (1) and (3). As I see it at the moment, genuine forgiveness is an interpersonal transaction: it involves at least two distinct persons. Self-forgiveness, however, remains intra-personal. What is called self-forgiveness is therefore a distinct, albeit related, phenomenon. It is not genuine forgiveness the paradigm case of which is one person forgiving another for an action or omission that is in some sense wrong, that injures the first person, and that the second person admits is wrong.
I also maintain that forgveness cannot be unconditional. For forgiveness to transpire as between A and B, B must accept the forgiveness that A offers. But B cannot do this unless he admits that he has done something (or left something undone) that is morally or legally or in some other way (e.g., etiquette-wise) censurable. Thus B must admit guilt. That is a condition that must be met if forgiveness is to occur.
One who accepts both (1) and (3) will, via (2), land himself in a contradiction.
In my last post on this topic I advanced a double-barreled thesis to the effect that (i) unconditional forgiveness is in most cases morally objectionable, and (ii) in most cases conditional forgiveness is genuine forgiveness. But now we need to back up and focus on the very concept of forgiveness since deciding whether (i) and (ii) are correct depends on what exactly we take forgiveness to be. So here is my preliminary stab at an analysis. After this task is completed, it may be necessary to back up once more and ask how I arrived at my analysis. Ain't philosophy fun?
1. Forgiveness has a triadic structure: to forgive is for someone to forgive someone for something. X forgives y for z, where x and y are persons (usually but not necessarily human) and z is typically an action or an action-omission. We typically forgive deeds and misdeeds, but perhaps states can be forgiven, for example, the state of being insufferably arrogant. An interesting side-question is whether x and y could be the same person. Is it possible to forgive oneself for something? I mention this question only to set it aside.
2. Only those we perceive to be guilty can be forgiven. Necessarily, if x forgives y for z, then x perceive, whether rightly or wrongly, y to be guilty of doing or having done z, or guilty of failing or having failed to do z. The necessity of this necessary truth is grounded in the very concept of forgiveness.
3. It follows from (2) that only what one rightly or wrongly takes to be a moral agent can be forgiven or not forgiven. For anything one takes to be morally guilty one must take to be a moral agent. I can neither forgive nor not forgive my cat for sampling my lasagne. Not being a moral agent, my cat cannot incur guilt.
4. It also follows from (2) that what I forgive a person for must be a wrongful act or act-omission. Tom, unlike my cat, is a moral agent; but it is not possible to forgive Tom for feeding his kids.
5. Forgiving works a salutary change in the forgiver: it alters his mental attitude toward the one forgiven. True forgiveness is not merely verbal but involves a genuine change of heart/mind (a metanoia if you will) that is good for the forgiver.
6. Forgiving cannot remove the guilt of the one forgiven if he is indeed guilty. Suppose you steal my money. You don't admit guilt or make restitution. But I forgive you anyway. Clearly, my forgiving you does not remove your moral guilt. You remain objectively guilty of theft. The demands of justice have not been satisfied.
7. Forgiving cannot retroactively make a person innocent of a crime he has committed. Suppose again that you steal my money. You admit guilt and you make restitution. My forgiving you does not and cannot change the fact that you wrongfully took my money. Forgiveness does not retroactively confer innocence. It follows that you remain guilty of having committed the crime even if you do admit guilt and satisfy the objectve demands of justice by making restitution, etc.
Assuming that the above analysis is correct, albeit not complete, does it allow for the possibility of unconditional forgiveness? It does. Suppose again that you steal my money, but don't admit guilt let alone make restitution. If I forgive you nonetheless, then I do so unconditionally, as opposed to on condition that you admit guilt, make restitution, etc.
Note that unconditional forgiveness is not an inter-personal transaction between the forgiver and the person forgiven, but something that transpires intrapsychically in the forgiver. This is because unconditional forgiveness doesn't require the one forgiven to acknowledge anything or even to be aware that he is the recipient of forgiveness. One can unconditionally forgive dead persons and persons with whom one has no contact. Since unconditional forgiveness is merely intra-personal as opposed to inter-personal, one may question whether it is forgiveness in the strict sense at all. Accordingly, one might add to the list of the concept's features:
8. Necessarily, if x forgives y, then y perceives himself as having done something wrong and admits his wrongdoing to x.
Now I don't think that features 1-7 are controversial, but #8 is. For it rules out unconditional forgiveness. The underlying issue is whether forgiveness is an inter-personal transaction or merely an attitude change within the mind/heart of the forgiver. If forgiveness is inter-personal, the one forgiven must accept forgiveness. But he can do that only if he acknowledges guilt.
But if unconditional forgiveness is possible, and not ruled out by the very concept of forgiveness, it doesn't follow that it is morally acceptable. I say it is not. To forgive unconditionally is to refuse to take a stand against it. But I will leave the elaboration of this point for later.
The other main question is whether conditional forgiveness is genuine forgiveness. I say it is.
One might think that there is nothing left to forgive after the offender has admitted guilt, made reparations, etc. But there is something left to forgive, namely, his having committed the offense in the first place.
A second consideration. If unconditional forgiveness is possible, then what makes forgiveness forgiveness has nothing to do with the the one forgiven: it does not require his admission of guilt, his doing penance, or even his being guilty. If I forgive a person, I must take him to be guilty, but he needn't be in fact. Unconditional forgiveness is merely an alteration of the forgiver's mental state. Now if forgiveness is what it is whether or not there is any non-relational change in the one forgiven, then it doesn't matter whether or not the conditions are satisfied. So conditional forgiveness will be just as much forgiveness as unconditional forgiveness is.
So for these two reasons conditional forgiveness counts as genuine forgiveness.
Finally, a post on forgiveness. :-) But my spirit within me won't permit me to forgo responding to what you've written. You characterize the paradox this way: It is morally objectionable to forgive those who will not admit wrongdoing, show no remorse, make no amends, do not pay restitution, etc. But if forgiveness is made conditional upon the doing of these things, then what is to forgive? Conditional forgiveness is not forgiveness. That is the gist of the putative paradox, assuming I have understood it.
That is not quite right.
The problem is this. Forgiving unconditionally -- forgiving someone without their apology, repentance, penance, etc. -- seems to amount to little more than condoning what they've done; it's hardly forgiveness but more of an acceptance of the wrong. On the other hand, forgiving on the condition that the wrong has been atoned -- the wrongdoer has apologized, repented, made reparations, performed penances, etc -- seems to be superfluous, insofar as after atonement has been made, the wrongdoer is not guilty of anything any longer and thus there is nothing to forgive, nor would continued resentment be appropriate.
BV: That's exactly what I said, though in a lapidary manner. So I think we agree as to what the putative paradox is. I call it 'putative' because I don't see it as a genuine paradox.
You write that, The first limb strikes me as self-evident: it is indeed morally objectionable to forgive those who will not admit wrongdoing, etc. But this is contentious; not everyone sees this the way you do. For instance, Jesus seems to forgive wrongdoers unconditionally on two occasions, once in the pericope adulterae (at John 7.53-8.11) and again at Luke 23.34 when he is being crucified. A significant number of contemporary philosophers (e.g., David Garrard, Eve McNaughton, Leo Zaibert, Christopher McCowley, Cheshire Calhoun, Glen Pettigrove) defend the practice of unconditional forgiveness, as well. So it's unacceptable simply to accept the first horn of the paradox as is; there is the argumentation of all these philosophers to deal with!
BV: Yes, my assertion is debatable, but then so is almost everything in philosophy and plenty of what is outside of philosophy. I don't think bringing Jesus in advances your argument. Either Jesus is God or he is not. If he is not, then he lacks the authority to contravene the existing law and forgive the adulteress. If he is God, then two problems. First, your argument then rests on a highly contentious theological presupposition. (I will remind you that in conversation you said that you were not trying to work out the Christian concept of forgiveness, but the concept of forgiveness in general.) Second, granting that God has the authority to forgive and forgive unconditionally, that has no relevance to the human condition, to forgiveness as it plays out among mere mortals such as us. For one thing, God can afford to forgive unconditionally; nothing can touch him. But for us to adopt a policy of forgiving unconditionally would be disastrous.
At Luke 23:34, Jesus is reported to have said, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." Note that Jesus is not forgiving his tormenters; he is asking God the Father to forgive them. So this passage is not relevant to our discussion. Besides, there is nothing here about unconditional forgiveness. Jesus could have been requesting his Father to forgive the killers after punishing them appropriately.
Your mention of contemporary philosophers who support your position is just name-dropping. To drop a name is not to give an argument. I would have to see their arguments. Is it unacceptable for me to hold to my understanding of forgiveness according to which it is morally objectionable to forgive the unrepentant in advance of studying the arguments of those you mention? No more unacceptable than holding to the view that motion is possible in advance of studying the arguments of Zeno and his school, or holding to the reality of time despite my inability decisively to refute McTaggart. I might just stand my Moorean ground: "Look, I just ate lunch; therefore time is real!" Similarly with forgiveness: "Look, it is a wonderful thing to forgive, but only on condition that the offender own up to his wrongdoing, make amends, etc."
You also write, I admit that once the miscreant has paid his debt, he is morally in the clear. His guilt has been removed. But I can still forgive him because forgiveness does not take away guilt, it merely alters the attitude of the one violated to the one who violated him. You are forgetting another important aspect of forgiveness beyond the change in attitude, however, namely that it is a way of responding to wrongdoers as wrongdoers. Another way of putting this is that forgiveness is only possible when someone stands before us as guilty for some wrong done and is thus an appropriate candidate for resentment, anger, etc. If someone has atoned for their wrong and is no longer guilty, then there's no ground for resentment and thus there's nothing more to forgive! So the change in attitude after atonement has been made may resemble forgiveness, but it's hardly genuine forgiveness since there's no wrong to forgive any longer.
BV: This is an interesting and weighty point, but I disagree nonetheless. You may be conflating two separate claims. I would say that it is a conceptual truth that if X forgives Y, then X perceives Y as having done wrong, whether or not Y has in fact done wrong. This truth is analytic in that it merely unpacks our ordinary understanding of 'forgiveness.' But it doesn't follow from this conceptual truth that there is nothing left to forgive with respect to a person who has atoned for his misdeed. I say there is: the mere fact that he has done me wrong in the first place. Suppose he stole my money, but then apologized and made restitution. In that case the demands of justice have been met. But there is still something left to forgive, namely, his having stolen my money in the first place. The apology and restitution do not eliminate the whole of the guilt, for the offender remains guilty of the misdeed. After all, his apology and restitution do not retroactively make him innocent. He remains guilty as charged. The fact of his having committed the misdeed can in no way be altered. Though contingent at the time, it now has the modal status of necessitas per accidens.
There is obviously a difference between one who is guilty of an offence and one who is innocent of it. That distinction remains in place even after the guilty party pays for his crime. Your position seems to imply that punishment retroactively renders the criminal innocent -- which is absurd.
Consider this. Forgiveness is commonly thought of as gracious; it is a generous way of responding to wrongdoers that goes beyond strictly what they deserve. How is it at all generous to change one's attitude towards a wrongdoer only once atonement has been made and she is effectively no longer a wrongdoer?
BV: I agree that forgiveness is gracious and not strictly a matter of desert. It is nevertheless generous to forgive even after atonement has been made. For one is forgiving the offender of having committed the misdeed in he first place. I deny that the offender is no longer a wrongdoer after the penalty has been paid. Again, your position seems to imply that punishment retroactively renders the criminal innocent.
Remember the Derrida quote I cited:
Imagine, then, that I forgive on the condition that the guilty one repents, mends his ways, asks forgiveness, and thus would be changed by a new obligation, and that from then on he would no longer be exactly the same as the one who was found to be culpable. In this case, can one still speak of forgiveness? This would be too simple on both sides: one forgives someone other than the guilty one. In order for there to be forgiveness, must one not on the contrary forgive both the fault and the guilty as such, where the one and the other remain as irreversible as the evil, as evil itself, and being capable of repeating itself, unforgivably, without transformation, without amelioration, without repentance or promise? Must one not maintain that an act of forgiveness worthy of its name, if there ever is such a thing, must forgive the unforgivable, and without condition? (On cosmopolitanism and forgiveness, pp. 38-9)
BV: John Searle once said of Derrida that he gives bullshit a bad name. So an appeal to the authority of Derrida will have as little effect on me as an appeal the supposed authority of Paul Krugman in an economic connection. The Derrida passage smacks of sophistry what with the rhetorical questions and the typically French amorphousness. He seems to be advancing the following sophism. If one forgives the one who has atoned, then "one forgives someone other than the guilty one." But that is to confuse numerical identity with qualitative identity.
Thus I have to hold, pace tua, that genuine forgiveness must be unconditional, and conditionalized forgiveness is less than true.
BV: And I continue to maintain, pace tua, that only conditional forgiveness is morally unobjectionable and that conditional forgiveness counts as genuine forgiveness.
What makes for a good marriage? It is not enough to like your spouse. It is not enough to love her. The partners must also admire one another. There has to be some attribute in your spouse that you don't find in yourself (or not in the same measure) and that you aspire to possess or possess more fully. Must I add that we are not talking mainly about physical attributes?
What is admiration?
To love is not to admire. If God exists, he loves us. But he certainly doesn't admire us. For what does he lack? He doesn't aspire to possess any attribute that we have and that he lacks. Closer to the ground, one can easily love a sentient being, whether animal or human, without admiration.
To value is not to admire. Prudence is a valuable attribute; so if you are prudent, I will value you in respect of your prudence; but if I am as prudent as you, then I don't admire you in respect of your prudence. Admiration is for attributes the admirer does not possess, or does not possess in the measure the admired possesses them.
To respect is not to admire. I can and ethically must respect the rights of those who are inferior to me in respect of admirable attributes.
My suggestion, then, is that a necessary though not sufficient condition of a good marriage is that it be a two-membered mutual admiration society.
Your first mistake was to admire him inordinately, your second, after he proved less than wholly admirable, was to swing over to contempt. No one is worthy of unqualified admiration, and no one is wholly contemptible.
Wishing and hoping are both intentional attitudes: they take an object. One cannot just wish, or just hope, in the way one can just feel miserable or elated. If I wish, I wish for something. The same holds for hoping. How then do the two attitudes differ? They differ in terms of time, modality, and justification.
1. The object of hope lies in the future, of necessity. One cannot hope for what was or what is. In his dream, Dylan wished to be together again with his long lost friends. But he didn't hope to be together with them again. Coherent: 'I wish I had never been born.' Incoherent: 'I hope I had never been born.' Coherent: 'I wish I was with her right now.' Incoherent: 'I hope I was with her right now.'
Although hope is always and of necessity future-directed, wishing is not temporally restricted. 'I wish I were 30 again.' 'I wish I were in Hawaii now.' 'I wish to live to be a hundred.' I cannot hope to be 30 again or hope to be in Hawaii now. But I can both wish and hope to live to be a hundred.
Can I hope to be young again? That's ambiguous. I could hope for a medical breakthrough that would rejuvenate a person in the sense of making him physiologically young and I could hope to undergo such a rejuvenation. But I cannot hope to be calendrically young again.
2. One can hope only for what one considers to be possible. (What one considers to be possible may or may be possible.) But one can wish for both what one considers to be the possible and what one consider to be impossible. I can hope for a stay of execution, but not that I should continue to exist as a live animal after being hanged. ('Hanged' not 'hung'!) I can hope to survive my bodily death, but only if I consider it possible that I survive my bodily death. But I can wish for what I know to be impossible such as being young again, being able to run a 2:30 marathon, visiting Mars next year.
3. There is no sense in demanding of one who wishes to be cured of cancer that he supply his grounds or justification for so wishing. "Are you justified in wishing to be cancer-free?" But if he hopes to beat his cancer, then one can appropriately request the grounds of the hope.
If I both wish and hope for something I consider possible that lies in the future, then the difference between wishing and hoping rests on the fact that one can appropriately request grounds for hoping but not grounds for wishing.
I'll end with my favorite counterfactual conditional: 'If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.'
Existence elicited nausea from Sartre's Roquentin, but wonder from Bryan Magee:
. . . no matter what it was that existed, it seemed to me extraordinary beyond all wonderment that it should. It was astounding that anything existed at all. Why wasn't there nothing? By all the normal rules of expectation — the least unlikely state of affairs, the most economical solution to all possible problems, the simplest explanation — nothing is what you would have expected there to be. But such was not the case, self-evidently. (Confessions of a Philosopher, p. 13)
We find something similar in Wittgenstein: Wie erstaunlich, dass ueberhaupt etwas existiert. "How astonishing that anything at all exists." (Geheime Tagebuecher 1914-1916, p. 82.)
What elicited Magee's and Wittgenstein's wonderment was the self-evident sheer existence of things in general: their being as opposed to their nonbeing. How strange that anything at all exists! Now what could a partisan of the thin conception of Being or existence make of this wonderment at existence? Or at Sartre's/Roquentin's nausea at existence? I will try to show that no thin theorist qua thin theorist can accommodate wonderment/nausea at existence, and that this fact tells against the thin theory.
I have already exposited the thin theory ad nauseam, if you will forgive the pun. So let's simply consider what the head honcho of the thin theorists, Peter van Inwagen, has to say about wonder at existence in "Being, Existence, and Ontological Commitment" (in Metametaphysics: New Essays on the Foundations of Ontology, eds. Chalmers et al., Oxford 2009, pp. 472-506) He begins by pointing out (478) that everything we say using 'exists' and its cognates can be said without using 'exists'and its cognates. 'Dragons do not exist' can be put by saying 'Nothing is a dragon,' or 'Everything is not a dragon.' 'God exists' can be put in terms of the equivalent 'It is not the case that everything is not (a) God.' 'I think, therefore I am' is equivalent to 'I think, therefore not everything is not I.' Here are some further examples of my own. 'An honest politican does not exist' is equivalent to 'No politician is honest.' 'A sober Irishman does exist' is equivalent to 'Some Irishman is sober.' 'An impolite New Yorker does not exist' is equivalent to 'Every New Yorker is polite.'
From examples like these it appears that every sentence containing 'exists' or 'is' (used existentially) or cognates, can be be replaced by an equivalent sentence in which 'exists' or 'is' (used existentially), or cognates does not appear.
Now let's see how this works when it comes to the sentences we use to express our wonder at our own existence or at the existence of things in general.
Suppose I am struck by a sudden sense of my contingency. I exclaim, 'I might never have existed.' That is equivalent to 'I might never have been identical to anything' or, as van Inwagen has it, 'it might have been the case that everything was always not I.' (479)
To wonder why there is anything at all is to wonder "why it is not the case that everything is not (identical with) anything." (479)
Now I could mock these amazing contortions whereby van Inwagen tries to hold onto his thin theory, but I won't. Mockery and derision have a place in polemical writing, as when I am battling the lunkheads of the Left, but they have no place in philosophy proper. But really, has anyone ever expressed his wonder at the sheer existence of the world using the sentence I just quoted from PvI? But of course I need a more substantial objection that this, and I have one.
When I wonder at the sheer existence of things I am not wondering at the fact that everything is identical to something, or wondering at its not being the case that everything is not identical with anything.
Why not? Well, the truth of 'Everything is identical to something' presupposes a domain of quantification the members of which are existing items. Surely what I find wonder-inducing is not the fact that every item x in that presupposed domain is identical to some item y in that very same presupposed domain! That miserable triviality is not what I am wondering at. I am wondering at the existence of anything at all including the domain and everything in it.
What I am wondering at is that there is something and not nothing. How can a Quinean such as PvI express that something exists? Is 'Something exists' equivalent to 'For some x, x = x'? No. Existence is not self-identity. For x to exist is not for x to be self-identical. Otherwise, for x not to exist would be for x to be self-diverse -- which is absurd. My possible nonexistence is not my possible self-diversity.
Suppose there is only only one thing, a, and that I am wondering at the existence of a. Why is there a and not rather nothing? Am I wondering at a's self-identity? Obviously not. I am wondering at a's sheer existence, that it is 'there,' that it is not nothing, that is it, that it has Being.
And so I conclude that a thin theorist qua thin theorist cannot experience wonder at the sheer existence of things. All he can experience wonder at -- if you want to call it wonder -- is that things presupposed as existing are self-identical -- which is surely not all that marvellous. Of course they are self-identical! Necessarily if a thing exists, it is self-identical. But existence is not self-identity. If existence were self-identity, then nonexistence would be self-diversity and possble existence would be possible self-diversity.
Some of us experience wonder at the sheer existence of things. As old Ludwig puts it, Ich staune dass die Welt existiert! When I experience this wonder I am not experiencing wonder at the trivial fact that each of the things presupposed as existing is identical to something or other. I am wondering at the existence of everything including the presupposed domain of existents. This then is yet another argument against the thin theory. The thin theory cannot accommodate wonder at existence, or Sartrean nausea at existence either.
I like Dennis Prager, but he is sometimes sloppy in his use of language. He will often say that high self esteem is not a value, or words to that effect. It sounds as if he is against people having high self esteem. But what he really wants to oppose, or rather what he ought to oppose, is not self esteem or high self esteem, but the silly notion of many liberals that high self esteem is a value, a good thing, regardless of whether or not it is grounded in any actual accomplishment.
Suppose my high self-esteem, in general, or in some particular respect, is justified by actual achievement. Then I am entitled to my high self esteem, and my having it is a good. When a person of high achievement suffers from low self esteem we consider that an unfortunate state of affairs.
Another example of Prager's sloppiness is his use of 'Ponzi scheme.' He said one day on his show that the welfare state is a Ponzi scheme. I know what he means, and what he means to say is true, but he ought to say what he means. What he means is that the welfare state is economically unsustainable in the long run like a Ponzi scheme. But if X is like Y, it doesn't follow that X is Y.
Ponzi schemes are set up by people with fraudulent intent. But neither the architects of the modern welfare state nor the architects of the Social Security system in particular had fraudulent intent. Nor do current supporters of the welfare state or SS have fraudulent intent. They really think that these schemes are good and workable.
Why is this important? Well, because one ought not demonize one's opponents, or, less drastically, impute to them unsavory motives, unless one has very good evidence of the unsavoriness of their motives. I am not saying that one ought never impute evil motives to one's opponents, but that one ought to be very careful about doing so.
That we grieve over the loss of a finite good shows our wretchedness. But the cure for grief is not the substitution of attachment to another finite good. We should not distract ourselves from our grief, but experience it and try to grasp the root of it, which is our inner emptiness, rather than the loss of a particular finite good. The proximate cause of my grief, the death of a beloved companion, is not grief’s ultimate cause. The inner emptiness, infinite in that nothing finite can assuage it, has but one anodyne: the infinite good, God.
If God be denied, then either the inner emptiness must be extinguished, or we must learn to fill it with finite goods. The latter, common as it is, is a miserable stop-gap measure and no ultimate solution. But to extinguish the inner emptiness, we must extinguish desire itself. This, the solution of Pali Buddhism, cuts but does not untie the Gordian knot.
So I count three solutions to grief: seek God; Pascalian divertissement; Buddhist extinction. Perhaps there are others.
The evil event will either occur or it will not. If it occurs, and one worries beforehand, then one suffers twice, from the event and from the worry. If the evil event does not occur, and one worries beforehand, one suffers once, but needlessly. If the event does not occur, and one does not worry beforehand, then one suffers not at all. Therefore, worry is irrational. Don't worry, be happy.
Am I saying that that one ought not take reasonable precautions and exercise what is pleonastically called 'due diligence'? Of course not. Rational concern is not worry. I never drive without my seat belt fastened. Never! I never ride my mountain bike without donning helmet and gloves. But I never crash and I never worry about it. And if one day I do crash, I will suffer only once: from the crash.
Worry is a worthless emotion, a wastebasket emotion. So self-apply some cognitive therapy and send it packing. You say you can't help but worry? Then I say you are making no attempt to get your mind under control. It's your mind, control it! It's within your power. Suppose what I have just said is false. No matter: it is useful to believe it. The proof is in the pragmatics.
You envy me? What a wretch you must be to feel diminished in your sense of self-worth by comparison to me! I have something you lack? Why isn't that compensated for by what you have that I lack? You feel bad that I have achieved something by my hard work? Don't you realize that you waste time and energy by comparing yourself to me, time and energy that could be used to improve your own lot?
Feeling compassion for the earthquake victims, he was pleased by his sensitivity, but his warm feeling did not motivate him to do anything such as make a monetary contribution to the Red Cross. His feeling remained mere sentiment and to that extent mere self-indulgence.
Better to feel compassion than to define it. Better still to act upon the feeling. But now an interesting question arises. Would it not be even better to act in alleviation of the other's suffering without feeling the negative affect? This line of thought is explored in Spinoza on Commiseratio.
I buried my little female cat Caissa at sunrise this morning in a beautiful spot in the Superstition Mountains in the same place where I buried my male cat Zeno in October of 2002. When I buried Zeno, just before leaving the burial site, I prayed, "May we love the perishable as perishable and not idolatrously, as if it were imperishable." I recalled and repeated the thought this morning. I think it is important to reflect on the moral and spiritual dubiousness of any excessive love of the finite and transient, especially if the object of one's love cannot reciprocate it except in a highly attenuated and analogous manner.
Related to the idolatry question is the question of attachment. Attachment breeds suffering. This is not an argument against any and all attachment, but it is an argument against excessive attachment. One must keep within bounds one's attachment to what must perish. A whole-hearted love of what barely exists is surely a mistake. There is such a thing as inordinate attachment. Compare Simone Weil: "The objects of our love barely exist." She's a Platonist, of course, and so if you do not share the Platonic sense of the relative unreality of the transient you are not likely to accept her or my line of thought.
How can attachment to something be inordinate? It is in ordinate when it is out of proportion to the reality/value of the object of attachment. My cat, for example. I would not be grieving now if I were not attached to my cat, and the question arises whether my attachment is within proper bounds. If the attachment is within proper bounds, then the grief will be as well.
To hazard a definition of grief: Grief is a mental state of intense sadness brought about by the death or absence of something, typically animate, to which one has become strongly attached. In typical cases, grief arises from a physical separation, often abrupt, from an object to which one is mentally attached. But if the beloved withdraws her love, while remaining physically near, can the lover be said to experience grief? Or is it a necessary condition of grief that the beloved dies? Can one experience grief at a state of affairs that does not involve the death or destruction of a particular sentient being such as a pet or a child or a spouse? "I am grieved at the transitoriness of things," Nietzsche complained in a letter to Franz Overbeck. Can a fundamental metaphysical structure of the phenomenal world be an object of grief? Yes, insofar as the transitoriness of things entails the death of sentient beings including those sentient beings to which one becomes attached. But something less grand than a fundamental metaphysical structure of the phenomenal world could be the object of grief, e.g., a state of war at a given time and place. So perhaps we should say this:
Grief is a mental state of intense sadness brought about by (i) the death or absence of some particular thing, typically animate, to which one has become strongly attached; or (ii) the unrequiting or withdrawal of the love of the beloved; or (iii) some general circumstance that entails the death or destruction or emotional withdrawal of beings, typically sentient, to which one has become strongly attached.
I began by speaking of attachment to pets and how it ought to be kept within bounds. But attachment to persons must also be kept within bounds. There is an old song by the 'British invasion' artist, Cilla Black, You're My World. "You're my world, you're every move I make; you're my world, you're every breath I take." This is romantic nonsense whether or not God exists. The nonexistence of an infinite good could not possibly justify loving a finite good infinitely. If another human being is your very world, then I say you are succumbing to idolatry even if there is nothing genuinely worthy of worship.
For characterizations of idolatry, see the Idolatry category.
It is true that that to live is is to be attached: there is no (normatively) human life without attachment. There are forms of asceticism which seek to sever the root of all attachment, but such a radical withdrawal from life amounts to a refusal to learn its lessons, lessons it can teach only to those who participate in it. So just as there can be inordinate attachment, there can be inordinate nonattachment. Nevertheless, no one can live wisely who gives free rein to his attachment, investing the loved object with properties it cannot possess.
We try to be satisfied with finite objects, but we cannot be, at least not completely or in the long run. (I should argue that we could not be satisfied even by an unending series of finite goods.) Can we adjust our desire so that it will be satisfied by the finite? Can we learn to accept the finite and not hanker after something more? Can we scale back or moderate desire? Not if it is the nature of desire to desire the infinite. If this is the nature of desire, then it must always and everywhere fall into idolatry in the absence of an infinite object. The only complete solution to the problem of the insatiability of desire by the finite, given the nonexistence or inaccessibility of an infinite object, would then be the extinction of desire. See Buddhism category.
But one could also take the insatiability of desire by the finite as a premise in an Argument from Desire for the existence of God or the Absolute Good. Schematically: (i) The nature of desire as we humans experience it in ourselves is such that, ultimately, nothing finite can satisfy it completely; (ii) even though the fact of a particular desire by X for Y is no guarantee of the availability of Y to X (Stranded Sam's need/desire for water is no guarantee that he will receive the water he needs/desires), the general fact that there are desires of a specified sort is good evidence of the existence and availability of objects what will satisfy the desires. Therefore, (iii) there exists and is available an Object that will satisfy the desire that is insatiable by any finite object.
That desire is ultimately desire for something beyond the finite is indicated by the fact that when a beloved animal or person dies, the void one experiences seems infinite or indefinite: it is not the mere absence of that particular animal or person. It is more than a specific absence one experiences in grief, but an absence that is 'wider' than the absence of a particular cat or woman, a sort of general emptiness. It is the nullity of all things that one experiences in intense grief over the absence of one particular thing. When a parent loses a child, it is not merely the son or daughter that he loses, but the significance and value of everything.
This suggests that love of a finite object is at bottom love a of an Infinite Good, but a love that is not aware of itself as a love of such a good, but misconstrues itself as a love wholly directed to a finite object and satisfiable by such an object. Otherwise, why would the void that is experienced when a finite object is taken away be experienced as a general void as opposed to the specific absence of a particular person, say? One invests a finite object with more reality and importance than it can carry, which fact is made evident when the object is removed: the 'hole in one's soul' that it leaves is much bigger than it.
These ruminations are of course Augustinian in tenor. See his Confessions, Book IV: "For whence had that former grief [the one concerning his friend who had died] so easily reached my inmost soul, but that I had poured out my soul upon the dust, in loving one who must die, as if he would never die?"
The inordinate love of the finite leads to inordinate attachment which then issues in inordinate grief when the object of attachment is removed, as every finite object (including one's own body) must eventually be removed. We fill our inner emptiness by becoming inordinately attached to objects that must pass away. When such an objectof inordinate love is taken away, our inner emptiness is brought out of its concealment. Augustine again: ". . . unjustly is anything loved which is from Him, if He be forsaken for it." (Pusey tr. 57-58)
We ought to love the finite as finite, without investing it with more reality and importance than it can bear. We ought to love the finite in God, but not as God. Trouble is, the the finite is all too available for our love and soon elicits an illicit and inordinate love, whereas God or the Good is largely absent and all too easy to doubt or deny.
The dreaded event will either occur or it will not. If it occurs, then the worrier suffers twice, once from the event, and once from the worry. If it does not occur, then the person suffers from neither. Therefore, worry is irrational. Make provision for the future, be aware of the possibilities of mishap, take reasonable precautions -- but don't worry.
Jim Ryan of Philosoblog posts infrequently, but always interestingly. Ryan is both a conservative and an atheist. Being a conservative, he appreciates the importance of gratitude. Being an atheist, he sees no reason to take gratitude and its importance as supportive of theistic belief. Herewith, some commentary on his post A New Error Theory for Theism.
1. Gratitude and human flourishing. Ryan rightly suspects a connection between gratitude and human flourishing: "The ordering of attitudes and dispositions in the soul is dysfunctional if at or near the center of these there is no deep gratitude, by which I mean gratitude that this world exists and that one lives in it." I believe this is a genuine insight.
2. The nature of gratitude. Let us first note that gratitude exhibits a triadic structure. To feel grateful is for someone X to feel grateful to someone Y for something or someone Z. If I receive a gift, I am grateful to the donor for the gift. 'To whom?' and 'For what?' are both questions it is appropriate to ask in ordinary cases of gratitude. And as the grammar of 'To whom?' suggests, the donor must be a person. I cannot be grateful to a vending machine for disgorging a can of Pepsi upon the insertion of a few coins. Here too we have a triadic relation: the machine gave me a can of soda. But I cannot be grateful to a machine, though I could perhaps be grateful to its installer or manufacturer or inventor. It would be a case of incorrect or inappropriate emotion were one to feel grateful to a vending machine. I hold, with Brentano, that one can distinguish between correct and incorrect emotion.
Note also that what one is grateful for, the gift, must be gratuitously given. I can be appropriately grateful only for that which is freely given, which implies that the donor is both a free agent and an uncoerced free agent. If Robin Hood forces you to give me your money, I cannot be appropriately grateful to you, though I may be to Robin Hood. For there to be gratitude, there must be a donor, and it is necessary that the donor be a person; but it is not sufficient that the donor be a person: the donor's donation must be a free act.
3. Can one be grateful to a not presently existing donor? If I am grateful to a person P at time t does it follow that P exists at t? Or can one appropriately feel gratitude only to persons who presently exist? Suppose someone likes what I write and mails me a check as a gift for my blogging endeavours. Unbeknownst to me, the donor dies before I receive the check. I am grateful to him for the check even though at the time of receiving the check and feeling the gratitude he no longer exists. This suggests that gratitude to a person P does not entail the present existence of P. And certainly it does seem that gratitude to past persons is appropriately felt. A child, student, philosopher might appropriately feel gratitude in respect of his deceased parents, teachers, predecessors. If one feels grateful to a person surely the gratitude does not end when the person does. My gratitude to you can survive your death though it cannot survive mine. (I am assuming for the moment that we are not immortal souls.)
4. Gratitude to a never existing donor? Can one appropriately feel grateful to a nonexistent person? A child, for example, feels grateful to Santa Claus for her Christmas presents. This looks to be a genuine case of gratitude despite the nonexistence of the person to whom the child feels grateful. But note that for the child the existence of Santa Claus is an epistemic possibility. If the child were convinced of the nonexistence of the fat guy, then she couldn't feel grateful to him. Note also that the triadic structure is preserved. The girl is grateful to Santa Claus for her presents despite his nonexistence. If a theist is grateful to God for his existence, his gratitude is what it is whether or not God exists. But a person who disbelieves in God cannot be grateful to God.
5. Must the relata of a relation all of them exist? #4 points up a fiendishly difficult philosophical question that turns up in many different contexts: Can a relation obtain if one or more of its relata do not exist? #3 points up the same problem on the assumption of presentism, the doctrine that (the contents of) the present alone exist, that past and furture items to do not exist.
6. Metaphysical gratitude. What Jim Ryan is talking about, however, is not ordinary gratitude -- gratitude to some intramundane person for some intramundane object -- but what we might call metaphysical gratitude or what he calls "deep gratitude": gratitude for the existence of the world and our lives within it. Now if this is a genuine case of gratitude, it seems appropriate to ask to whom we feel grateful. This person can only be God, as Ryan realizes, since only God could bestow the gift of the world's existence. So it would seem that a metaphysically grateful person is grateful to God. A theist might try to argue from gratitude to God as follows:
a. We are appropriately grateful for the existence of the world b. To be grateful is to be grateful to someone c. The only person to whom one can be appropriately grateful for the existence of the world is God ----- d. God exists.
7. Ryan's rejection of this argument. Ryan will of course reject this argument by rejecting premise (b). He maintains:
P: There is no entailment from the proposition that one feels gratitude to the proposition that there is someone to whom one feels gratitude.
That could be read, not as a denial of the triadic structure of gratitude, but as saying that, from the mere fact that one feels grateful, it does not follow that the person to whom one feels grateful exists. (Compare the Santa Claus example above. The child is grateful to someone, namely, Santa Claus; but it does not follow that Santa Claus exists. Or consider the situation in which presentism is true and one is grateful to a dead parent. One would then be grateful to a nonexistent donor.) So from the mere fact that one feels grateful for the existence of the world, it does not follow that God exists, even in the presence of the auxiliary premises that gratitude is by its very nature gratitude to a person, and the only possible donor of the world is God.
This seems right and refutes the (a)-(d) argument. But it raises an interesting question. Suppose the following: subject S is grateful for some object O; O can only be the gift of some person P and S knows this to be the case; S either knows or else is subjectively certain that P does not exist. Are these suppositions consistent? Can I be grateful to a person I am subjectively certain does not exist? Ryan is subjectively certain that God does not exist. How then can he feel grateful for the existence of the world given that he knows that gratitude is by its very nature gratitude to a person and that in the present case the person can only be God?
8. Gratitude and Gladness. I say that Ryan cannot be grateful that the world exists given his atheism. For if he is grateful, he is grateful to someone, and this someone can only be God given that the object of the gratitude is the existence of the world. I grant that gratitude for the existence of the world does not prove the existence of God. But the gratitude to be gratitude must allow the existence of God: the existence of God must be epistemically possible for the subject of gratitude. But Ryan's 'gratitude' is blended with subjective certainty of God's nonexistence: the existence of God is not an epistemic possibility for Ryan. So I say that what Ryan feels is not gratitude. Ryan concludes,
Atheists can feel deep gratitude, as well, however. When we construe the emotion as deep gladness and modesty, the personal object (God) drops out. One is simply glad that this universe exists and that one lives in it. There need be no one to whom one is grateful. So, the error theory doesn't cast any aspersions on deep gratitude. It is perfectly consistent with holding, as I do, that deep gratitude is indeed part of proper functioning for human beings.
I deny that atheists can feel deep (metaphysical) gratitude, gratitude for the very existence of the world and our lives in it. An atheist is one who explicitly denies the existence of God. For such a person it is not epistemically possible that there be a person to whom to be grateful for the existence of the world. Since the existence of God is a priori ruled out, what the atheist feels cannot be gratitude. Gratitude by its very nature is gratitude to a person. Granted, the existence of the person is not guaranteed by the presence of the emotion; but it can't be excluded by it either. It is incoherent to feel gratitude to a person one believes did not ever exist. Ryan can no more feel gratitude for the existence of the world than I can feel gratitude for Christmas presents whose existence could only be explained by Santa's having dropped them down my chimney.
An atheist can be glad that the world exists, but gladness is not gratitude.
There was a time when I thought that the expression, 'He/She turned green with envy,' was just an expression with no fundamentum in re. But one day in graduate school, at a dissertation defense, I observed a particularly vain professor's face acquire a decidedly greenish tinge as he watched a somewhat pompous but very bright doctoral candidate hold forth in defense of his thesis. The vain professor literally became green with envy as his vanity was outshone by the student's brilliance.
I then knew that the expression had a basis in reality. But I have never seen the phenomenon since. The facial color change, that is. If only the emotion were as rare.
The older I get, the more two things impress me. One is the suggestibility of human beings, their tendency to imbibe and repeat ideas and attitudes from their social environment with nary an attempt at critical examination. The other is the major role envy plays in human affairs. Suggestibility is best left for another occasion as part of an analysis of political correctness.
To feel envy is to feel diminished by another's success or well-being. Schadenfreude is in a certain sense the opposite: it is to take pleasure or satisfaction in another's misfortune. An interesting case of Schadenfreude is pleasure in having incited envy in another.
Envy is a vice of propinquity. Envy erupts only among people who compare themselves with one another, and for comparison there must be propinquity or social proximity whether it be that of friends, relatives, neighbors, co-workers. Suppose A and B work in the same office, and A gets a promotion. That is a situation in which envy may arise. Suppose it does: B comes to feel diminished by A's success. Even though the change in B is 'merely Cambridge,' as the philosophers say, merely relational, and thus no real change at all, the real change occurring in A, B nonetheless and quite perversely feels bad that A has done well even though B's feeling bad does nothing to improve his lot, and indeed harms him by befouling his mind and predisposing him to acts worse than envy.
A, noting B's envy, takes umbrage at being the object of B's hateful attitude. Realizing that B has befouled himself -- has shat his own mental pants as it were -- A takes pleasure in this fact. A's pleasure, I want to say, is schadenfreudlich. A takes satisfaction in the harm B has inflicted upon himself by succumbing to envy.
If A were a better man he would feel pity for B's self-harm. If he were better still, he would not even feel pity. See Spinoza on Commiseratio.
To commiserate, to feel compassion, to pity — these come to the same. Might compassion be a mistake? Suppose an evil befalls you. If I am in a position to help, then perhaps I ought to. But it is unnecessary that I 'feel your pain' to use a Clintonian expression. Indeed, my allowing myself to be affected might interfere with my rendering of aid. And even if it doesn't, the affect of pity is bad in itself. Why should I feel bad that you feel bad? Of course, I should not feel good that you feel bad; that would be the diabolical emotion of Schadenfreude. The point is that I should not feel bad that you feel bad. For it is better if only one of us suffer. Better that I should remain unaffected and unperturbed. That way, at least one of us displays ataraxia.
Often it is like this. He is not admirable; it is your unadmirable propensity to admire that confers upon him a quality he does not possess. She is not contemptible; it is your contemptible tendency to contemn that makes of her what she is not.
One ideal is to so apportion admiration and contempt that it is only the intrinsically admirable and contemptible that become the objects of these attitudes. An ideal Stoic and stricter is to regard nothing as admirable or the opposite, not even the propensities to admire and contemn. Is this what Horace meant by nil admirari?
How far should we take the mortification of desire and aversion? You could take it all the way into a world-denying asceticism. But I suspect the Sage is a man of balance. Able to control desire and aversion, he has no need to extirpate them. Why uproot a tree that you can trim and manage? You say it is messy when its blossoms fall. But before they fell were they not beautiful and fragrant? The leaves are a bother to rake, but is not the shade they afford agreeable?
The Sage can enjoy the transient in its transiency without clinging and without hankering after the absent transient. He can oppose the bad and the disagreeable without losing his equanimity or exaggerating their negativity. He neither idolizes nor demonizes.