Although Weilian disinterest may appear morally superior to Pascalian self-interest, I would say that the former is merely an example of a perverse strain in Weil’s thinking. One mistake she makes is to drive a wedge between the question of the good and the question of human happiness, thereby breaking the necessary linkage between the two. This is a mistake because a good out of all relation to the satisfaction of human desire cannot count as a good for us.
What “good” is a good out of all relation to our self-interest? The absolute good must be at least possibly such as to satisfy (purified) human desire. The possibility of such satisfaction is a necessary feature of the absolute good. Otherwise, the absolute good could not be an ideal for us, an object of aspiration or reverence, a norm. But although the absolute good is ideal relative to us, it is real in itself. Once these two aspects (ideal for us, real in itself) are distinguished, it is easy to see how the absoluteness of the absolute good is consistent with its necessary relatedness to the possibility of human happiness. What makes the absolute good absolute is not its being out of all relation to the actual or possible satisfaction of human desire; what makes it absolute is its being self-existent, a reality in itself. The absolute good, existing absolutely (ab solus, a se), is absolute in its existence without prejudice to its being necessarily related to us in its goodness. If God is (agapic) love, then God necessarily bestows His love on any creatures there might be. It is not necessary that there be creatures, but it is necessary that God love the creatures that there are and that they find their final good in Him.
But not only does Weil divorce the absolute good from the possibility of human happiness, she also makes a second mistake by divorcing it from existence. Thus we read:
If God should be an illusion from the point of view of existence, He is the sole reality from the point of view of the good. I know that for certain, because it is a definition. “God is the good” is as certain as “I am.”[viii]
But this is surely incoherent: God cannot be a reality if He does not exist. At most, a nonexistent God could only be an empty and impotent ideal, not a reality but a mere cogitatum, or excogitatum, if you will. To say that a nonexistent God is yet a reality from the point of view of the good is to divorce the good from what exists, while misusing the word “reality.” And although it is certain that “God is the good,” this is a merely analytic truth consistent with the nonexistence of God. As such, “God is the good” is wholly unlike “I am,” the truth of which is obviously not consistent with my nonexistence.
In divorcing the good from existence, Weil makes the opposite mistake of Richard Taylor. Taylor identifies the good with what is desired, thereby collapsing ought into is and eliminating the normativity of the good. Weil, sundering the good from desire, cuts it off from everything that exists thereby exalting the normativity and ideality of the good while rendering it impotent. The truth of the matter is that God, the absolute good, is a unity of ideality and reality. As a real Ideal, the absolute good cannot be identified with any mundane fact; as an ideal Reality, the absolute good must exist.
So although there may be no trace of self-interest in Weil’s Wager, this gives us no reason to suppose it morally superior to Pascal”s Wager. For the very absence of self-interest shows that Weil’s Wager is built upon an incoherent moral doctrine.
There is a reality outside the world, that is to say, outside space and time, outside man's mental universe, outside any sphere whatsoever that is accessible to human faculties.
Corresponding to this reality, at the centre of the human heart, is the longing for an absolute good, a longing which is always there and is never appeased by any object in this world.
Another terrestrial manifestation of this reality lies in the absurd and insoluble contradictions which are always the terminus of human thought when it moves exclusively in this world.
Just as the reality of this world is the sole foundation of facts, so that other reality is the sole foundation of good.
That reality is the unique source of all the good that can exist in this world: that is to say, all beauty, all truth, all justice, all legitimacy, all order, and all human behaviour that is mindful of obligations.
"At the centre of the human heart is the longing for an absolute good, a longing which is always there and is never appeased by any object in this world."
Those minds whose attention and love are turned towards that reality are the sole intermediary through which good can descend from there and come among men.
In the chapter "Atheism as a Purification" in Gravity and Grace (Routledge 1995, tr. Emma Craufurd from the French, first pub. in 1947), the first entry reads as follows:
A case of contradictories which are true. God exists: God does not exist. Where is the problem? I am quite sure that there is a God in the sense that I am quite sure that my love is not illusory. I am quite sure that there is not a God in the sense that I am quite sure nothing real can be anything like what I am able to conceive when I pronounce this word. But that which I cannot conceive is not an illusion. (103)
What are we to make of writing like this? Contradictories cannot both be true and they cannot both be false. By their surface structure, God exists and God does not exist are contradictories. So, obviously, they cannot both be true if taken at face value.
Faced with an apparent contradiction, the time-tested method for relieving the tension is by making a distinction, thereby showing that the apparent contradiction is merely apparent. Suppose we distinguish, as we must in any case, between the concept God and God. Obviously, God is not a concept. This is true even if God does not exist. Interestingly, the truth that God is not a concept is itself a conceptual truth, one that we can know to be true by mere analysis of the concept God. For what we mean by 'God' is precisely a being that does not, like a concept, depend on the possibility or actuality of our mental operations, a being that exists in sublime independence of finite mind.
Now consider these translations:
God does not exist: Nothing in reality falls under the concept God.
God exists: There is an inconceivable reality, God, and it is the target of non-illusory love.
These translations seem to dispose of the contradiction. One is not saying of one and the same thing, God, that he both exists and does not exist; one is saying of a concept that it is not instantiated and of a non-concept that it is inconceivable. That is not a contradiction, or at least not an explicit contradiction. Weil's thesis is that there is a divine reality, but it is inconceivable by us. She is saying that access to the divine reality is possible through love, but not via the discursive intellect. There is an inconceivable reality.
Analogy: just as there are nonsensible realities, there are inconceivable realities. Just as there are realities beyond the reach of the outer senses (however extended via microscopes, etc.), there is a reality beyond the reach of the discursive intellect. Why not?
An objection readily suggests itself:
If you say that God is inconceivable, then you are conceiving God as inconceivable. If you say that nothing can be said about him, then you say something about him, namely, that nothing can be said about him. If you say that there exists an inconceivable reality, then that is different from saying that there does not exist such a reality; hence you are conceiving the inconceivable reality as included in what there is. If you say that God is real, then you are conceiving him as real as opposed to illusory. Long story short, you are contradicting yourself when you claim that there is an inconceivable reality or that God is an inconceivable reality, or that God is utterly beyond all of our concepts, or that no predications of him are true, or that he exists but has no attributes, or that he is real but inconceivable.
The gist of the objection is that my translation defense of Weil is itself contradictory: I defuse the initial contradiction but only by embracing others.
Should we concede defeat and conclude that Weil's position is incoherent and to be rejected because it is incoherent?
Not so fast. The objection is made on the discursive plane and presupposes the non-negotiable and ultimate validity of discursive reason. The objection is valid only if discursive reason is 'valid' as the ultimate approach to reality. So there is a sense in which the objection begs the question, the question of the ultimate validity of the discursive intellect. Weil's intention, however, is to break through the discursive plane. It is therefore no surprise that 'There is an inconceivable reality' is self-contradictory. It is -- but that is no objection to it unless one presupposes the ultimate validity of discursive reason and the Law of Non-Contradiction.
Mystic and logician seem to be at loggerheads.
Mystic: "There is a transdiscursive, inconceivable reality."
Logician: "To claim as much is to embroil yourself in various contradictions."
Mystic: "Yes, but so what?"
Logician: "So what?! That which is or entails a contradiction cannot exist! Absolutely everything is subject to LNC."
Mystic: "You're begging the question against me. You are simply denying what I am asserting, namely, that there is something that is not subject to LNC. Besides, how do you know that LNC is a law of all reality and not merely a law of your discursive thinking? What makes your thinking legislative as to the real and the unreal?"
Logician: "But doesn't it bother you that the very assertions you make, and must make if you are verbally to communicate your view, entail logical contradictions?"
Mystic: "No. That bothers you because you assume the ultimate and non-negotiable validity of the discursive intellect. It doesn't both me because, while I respect the discursive intellect when confined to its proper sphere, I do not imperialistically proclaim it to be legislative for the whole of reality. You go beyond logic proper when you make the metaphysical claim that all of reality is subject to LNC. How are you going to justify that metaphysical leap in a non-circular way?"
Logician: "It looks like we are at an impasse."
Mystic: "Indeed we are. To proceed further you must stop thinking and see!"
How then interpret the Weilian sayings? What Weil is saying is logically nonsense, but important nonsense. It is nonsense in the way that a Zen koan is nonsense. One does not solve a koan by making distinctions, distinctions that presuppose the validity of the Faculty of Distinctions, the discursive intellect; one solves a koan by "breaking through to the other side." Mystical experience is the solution to a koan. Visio intellectualis, not more ratiocination.
A telling phrase from GG 210: "The void which we grasp with the pincers of contradiction . . . ."
But of course my writing and thinking is an operating upon the discursive plane. Mystical philosophy is not mysticism. It is, at best, the discursive propadeutic thereto. One question is whether one can maintain logical coherence by the canons of the discursive plane while introducing the possibility of its transcendence.
Or looking at it the other way round: can the committed and dogmatic discursivist secure his position without simply assuming, groundlessly, its ultimate and non-negotiable validity -- in which event he has not secured it? And if he has not secured it, why is it binding upon us -- by his own lights?
The most ephemeral and fragile of things are yet not nothing: a wisp of cloud, a passing shadow, a baby whose hour of birth is its hour of death. And such seemingly permanent fixtures of the universe as Polaris are yet not entirely being. Both the relatively impermanent and the relatively permanent point beyond themselves to the absolutely permanent. Each is, absolutely considered, impermanent. No finite fixture is finally fixed.
Simone Weil puts the thought like this:
Stars and blossoming fruit-trees: utter permanence and extreme fragility give an equal sense of eternity. (Gravity and Grace, tr. Craufurd, p. 97)
Her formulation, however, is defective: stars are born and die. They are not utterly permanent. They too are impermanent. Under the aspect of eternity, the different time scales of Alpha Ursae Minoris and a bear cub mean nothing.
To what extent is it a sign of self-importance that one regularly draws attention to one's own insignificance? I am thinking of Simone Weil. In self-effacement the ego may find a way to assert itself. "Do you see how pure and penetrating is my love of truth that I am able to realize and admit my own personal nothingness face to face with Truth?"
The ego, wily 'structure' that it is, usually (always?) finds a way to affirm itself.
In one of its senses, superstition involves attributing to an object powers it cannot possess. But the same thing is involved in idolatry. Someone who makes an idol of money, for example, attributes to it a power it cannot possess such as the power to confer happiness on those who have it. So we need to work out the relation between superstition and idolatry.
What is idolatry? I suggest that its essence consists in absolutizing the relative and finite. To make an idol is to take something of limited value and relative being and treat it as if it were of unlimited value and absolute being. Practically anything can be idolized including pleasure, money, property, name and fame, another human being, family, friends, country, the Party, the Revolution. There are theologians who idolize their idea of God.
Money, for example, is instrumentally good, and undeniably so. I think it is a plain mistake to consider money evil or the root of evil, as I argue in Radix Omnium Malorum. But its value cannot be absolute since money is relational in its very nature as a means to an end.
To idolize money, to pursue it as if it were a thing of absolute value, is to commit a philosophical mistake -- even if there is no God. For only something absolute is worthy of worship, and money is not absolute. If there is no absolute reality, then nothing is worthy of worship and everything should be treated as relative and finite including one's own life. If there is an absolute reality, God for example, then everything other than this absolute reality should be treated as relative and finite.
If there is no God, then idolatry is a philosophical mistake. If there is a God, then idolatry is both a philosophical and a religious mistake, and as the latter, a sin. Man is both an idol-erector and an idol-smasher. Our setting up of idols is rooted in a deep spiritual need to worship, honor, respect, and glorify. We need to look up to something. But we are limited sense-bound creatures who tend to latch onto foreground objects in the mistaken hope that they can satisfy us. We think a job, a house, a man, a woman, will satisfy us. What we want they can't provide, but failing to realize this we succumb to the illusion of attributing to them powers to satisfy us that they cannot have. What is romantic love if not the illusion that possession of man or a woman could make one completely happy?
Idolatry gives rise to iconoclasm. Idol-positing leads to idol-smashing. What is revealed as hollow and unsatisfactory is destroyed in the name of the truly valuable. Both our tendency to erect idols and to smash them derives from our being oriented to the Absolute, our being unsatisfiable by the merely finite. Idolatry is the mistake of absolutizing the relative, infinitizing the finite. Iconoclasm tries to undo the mistake by destroying the would-be absolutes in the name of the true Absolute. It runs the risk, however, of falling into nihilism. In the twilight of the idols there arises the specter of nihilism, a specter which, despite all his heroic efforts, Nietzsche could not lay.
In Gravity and Grace (Routledge 1995, p. 53), Simone Weil writes:
Idolatry comes from the fact that, while thirsting for absolute good, we do not possess the power of supernatural attention and we have not the patience to allow it to develop.
What Weil is saying is that the absolute good is accessible only to inner listenting, inner passivity, an attentive stillness of the mind and heart. But cultivating such attention demands a patience we do not possess. So we create idols to do duty for the transcendent and inaccessible Absolute.
True religion is actually the enemy of idolatry and superstition. One who worships the true God sees the finite as finite and is secure against the illusion that the finite is ultimate. The true religionist is a bit of an iconoclast and indeed an atheist since he denies the God made in man's image. As Weil puts it, "Of two men who have no experience of God, he who denies him is perhaps nearer to him than the other." (p. 103)
Both refused to live conventionally. The Laureate of Low Life and the Red Virgin. Both said No to the bourgeois life. But their styles of refusal were diametrically opposed. Both sought a truer and realer life, one by descent, the other by ascent. For one the true life, far from the ideological sham of church and state and family values, is the low life: drinking, gambling, fornicating, drug-taking, petty crime like busting up a room and skipping out on the rent, barroom brawling. Not armed robbery, rape, and murder, but two-bit thievery, whoring and picking fights in dingy dives. Nothing that gets you sent to San Quentin or Sing-Sing.
For the other the true life is not so readily accessible: it is the life in pursuit of the Higher, the existence and nature of which is only glimpsed now and again. (GG 11) The succor of the Glimpse -- this is indeed the perfect word -- is unreliable, a matter of grace. One is granted a glimpse. A matter of grace, not gravity. It is hard to rise, easy to fall -- into the the bed of sloth, the whore's arms, the bottle. The pleasures of the flesh are as reliable as anything in this world. In that reliability lies their addictive power. Satisfaction of crass desire breeds a bad infinity of crass desires. Desire is endlessly reborn in each satisfaction. One is not granted the rush of the lush-kick by a power transcendent of the natural nexus; it is a matter of determinism once you take the plunge. Drink, snort, shoot and the effect follows, which is not to say that one does not freely decide to drink, snort, shoot. The point is that the free agent's input sets in motion a process utterly predictable in its effect. Not so with the "lightning flashes" (GG 11) that reveal the Higher.
At best, one positions oneself so as to enjoy the gusts of divine favor should any come along. Like al-Ghazzali in search of a cooling breeze, you climb the minaret. There you are more likely to catch the breeze than on the ground, though there is no guarantee. One cannot bring it about by one's own efforts, and the positioning and preparing cannot be said to be even a necessary condition of receipt of the divine favor; but the creaturely efforts make it more likely.
Bukowski versus Weil. The Dean of Dissipation versus the Categorical Imperative in skirts. Self-indulgence versus self-denial as opposed paths to the truer and realer life. Dissipation versus concentration, versus Weil's attention. "Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer." (Gravity and Grace, p. 106)
The low life (Buk) will not renounce but dives head first into the most accessible goods of this world, the lowest and basest and commonest. The angel in him celebrates the animal in man thereby degrading himself and 'gravitating' towards food and drink, sex and drugs. You just let yourself go and gravity does the rest. The fall is assured. No self-discipline in matters of money either. Our man worships at the shrine of Lady Luck, betting on the horses at Santa Anita, Del Mar, and Hollywood Park, all within striking distance of his beloved Los Angeles.
The spiritual aspirant who aims high and beyond this life, though tempted by booze and broads and the whole gamut of the palpable and paltry, seeks the Good beyond all finite goods. Pursuit of the Good demands detachment from all finite goods (GG 12 ff.).
The Aporia. Positivistic dissipationism versus a concentrationism that is hard to tell from nihilism. Self-loss via dissipation, the dive into the diaspora of the sensory manifold versus self-loss by absorption into a Transcendence that cancels individuality. Salvation of the self by annihilation of the self. ". . . the object of all our efforts is to become nothing." (GG 30)
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.
Emile Chartier (1868-1951) was a French professor of philosophy among whose students were Raymond Aron and Simone Weil. Chartier's sunny disposition, however, did not rub off on the brooding Weil. Under the pseudonym 'Alain,' Chartier published thousands of two-page essays in newspapers. What follows is a striking sentence from the essay "Maladies of the Mind" in Alain on Happiness, F. Unger, 1973, p. 25:
An old man is not a young man who suffers from old age; a man who dies is not a living man who enters into death.
I think your latest post (Mature Religion: More Quest than Conclusions) misses the mark. For the believer of a revealed religion (I'm a Christian) the issue is not so much quest or conclusions as commitment. It's true we can't know God in the sense you're speaking of but we can have faith that the biblical revelations are true as far as they go, which is to say in defining our relations to God and the terms of our reconciliation with Him. The faith that's required here is not tentative but committed, because it will require action and probably sacrifice. In this arena quest is put behind although theology may remain a kind of quest, for elucidation if not for the meaning supplied by faith.
Thanks for all your thought-provoking posts.
Thank you for writing, Mr. Farrell. You too have a very interesting website.
You are right to point out the important role of faith. I agree that faith, if it is genuine, must manifest itself in action and sacrifice. Faith is not merely a verbal assent to certain propositions but a commitment to live in a certain way. Where we seem to disagree is on the question whether a commitment can be tentative. You write as if commitment excludes tentativeness, whereas I tend to think that a faith-commitment can and indeed must be tentative. A living faith, one that is not a mere convenience, or merely a source of comfort or psychological security, is one that regularly examines itself and is open to question. A living faith is one that needs ongoing examination and renewal, with the possibility left open that the faith-commitment be modified or even abandoned. But that does not imply that one does not act on one's commitments while they are in place.
The point of my post was that religion needs to be rescued from both the despisers and the dogmatists. I expect that you'll agree that the nincompoops of the New Atheism with their flying spaghetti monsters and celestial teapots have no understanding of religion. But neither can religion be reduced to doctrinal formulae that finitize the Infinite. The spirit of my post is adumbrated in these sentences from Simone Weil's Gravity and Grace in the chapter, "Atheism as a Purification": "Of two men who have no experience of God, he who denies him is perhaps nearer to him than the others." (103) "Religion in so far as it is a source of consolation is a hindrance to true faith: in this sense atheism is a purification."
Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, tr. Craufurd, Routledge 1995, p. 75:
The infinite which is in man is at the mercy of a little piece of iron; such is the human condition; space and time are the cause of it. It is impossible to handle this piece of iron without suddenly reducing the infinite which is in man to a point on the pointed part, a point on the handle, at the cost of a harrowing pain. The whole being is stricken in the instant; there is no place left for God, even in the case of Christ, where the thought of God is not more at least [at last?] than that of privation. This stage has to be reached if there is to be incarnation. The whole being becomes privation of God: how can we go beyond? After that there is only the resurrection. To reach this stage the cold touch of naked iron is necessary.
'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' There we have the real proof that Christianity is something divine. (p. 79)
1. The lowest grade is that of petitionary prayer for material benefits. One asks for mundane benefits whether for oneself, or, as in the case of intercessionary prayer, for another. In its crassest forms it borders on idolatry and superstition. A skier who prays for snow, for example, makes of God a supplier of mundane benefits, and this amounts to idolatry, the worshipping of a false god.
Czeslaw Milosz, "The Importance of Simone Weil" in Emperor of the Earth: Modes of Eccentric Vision (University of California Press, 1977), p. 91:
Violent in her judgments and uncompromising, Simone Weil was, at least by temperament, an Albigensian, a Cathar; this is the key to her thought. She drew extreme conclusions from the Platonic current in Christianity. Here we touch upon hidden ties between her and Albert Camus. The first work by Camus was his university dissertation on St. Augustine. Camus, in my opinion, was also a Cathar, a pure one, ['Cathar' from Gr. katharos, pure] and if he rejected God it was out of love for God because he was not able to justify Him. The last novel written by Camus, The Fall, is nothing else but a treatise on Grace — absent grace — though it is also a satire: the talkative hero, Jean-Baptiste Clamence, who reverses the words of Jesus and instead of "Judge not and ye shall not be judged: gives the advice "Judge, and ye shall not be judged," could be, I have reason to suspect, Jean-Paul Sartre.
In her New York Notebook from 1942, Simone Weil presents an argument which she claims “...is greatly preferable to Pascal’s wager.”[i] One of her commentators agrees, finding her argument “obviously both morally and intellectually” superior to Pascal’s.[ii] I will call this argument “Weil’s Wager.” As far as I know, it has yet to be subjected to a close examination. The argument runs as follows:
Despite her infuriating extremism, Simone Weil may well be the purest incarnation of religious sensibility in the twentieth century. "It's not up to us to believe in God, but only not to grant our love to false gods." As Weil understands, essential to genuine religion, though not exhaustive of it, is the realization that nothing here below can satisfy us, and that the things we zealously pursue as if they could satisfy us are false gods. The following statement of Weil's is exactly right:
First, not to believe that the future is a place capable of fulfilling us. The future is made of the same stuff as the present. We well know that what we have that is good, wealth, power, esteem, knowledge, love of those we love, prosperity of those we love, and so on, does not suffice to satisfy us. But we believe that the day when we will have a little more, we will be satisfied. We believe it because we are lying to ourselves. For if we really think about it for a while we know it's false. Or again if we are suffering affliction, we believe that the day when this suffering will cease, we will be satisfied. There again we know it's untrue; as soon as we have gotten used to the cessation of suffering we want something else.
Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, tr. Emma Craufurd, Routledge 1995, p. 70:
The extreme affliction which overtakes human beings does not create human misery, it merely reveals it.
This suggests one of several tests you might apply to yourself to see if you have a religious 'bent' or sensibility, or orientation toward life, or however you wish to phrase it. If, upon reading the Weilian line, a 'yes!' wells up in you, then the chances are excellent that you are religiously inclined. If your response is in the negative, however, or if you are just puzzled, then that indicates that you lack the religious attitude.
I offer the following, from an earlier post, as a partial unpacking of the Weil quotation:
Man's wretchedness is 'structural': man qua man is wretched. Wretched are not merely the sick, the unloved, and the destitute; all of us are wretched, even those of us who count as well off. Some of us are aware of this, our condition, the rest hide it from themselves by losing themselves in Pascalian divertissement, diversion. We are as if fallen from a higher state, our true and rightful state, into a lower one, and the sense of wretchedness is an indicator of our having fallen. We are in a dire state from which we need salvation but are incapable of saving ourselves by our own efforts, whether individual or collective.
An interesting thing about the Red Virgin is that, though she remained a virgin until death, she came to see though the illusions of the Left. This begs raises the question whether speaking strictly there could be a religious Left. To tackle this question properly, however, would involve explaining what ought to be meant by 'religion,' what ought to be meant by 'Left,' and then arranging a confrontation of their respective denotata.
Kenneth Rexroth's essay Simone Weil first appeared in The Nation in 1957. Rexroth hits upon an image more striking than apt when he describes Weil's "tortured prowling outside the doors of the Catholic Church — like a starving wild animal." Definitely worth reading, but of little value in understanding what is of lasting value in Weil.
To understand Simone Weil, you must understand her beloved master, Plato. So let's interpret a passage from the Phaedo, and then compare it to some statements of Weil.
At St. 83 we read, "...the perceptions of the eye, and the ear, and the the senses are full of deceit." The point is presumably not that the senses are sometimes nonveridical, but that they tie us to a world that is not ultimately real, and that distracts us from the one that is. The point is not epistemological but axiological and ontological. It is not that the senses are unreliable, whether episodically or globally, in respect of the information they provide us about an external world of spatiotemporal particulars. They are reliable enough in providing us such information. The point is rather that the senses deceive us into conferring high value on what is of low value, and into taking as ultimately real what is derivatively real.
It would be a mistake, therefore, to read the passage as an anticipation of the modern problematic of the external world. The point is much deeper. The Platonic inquiry call into question, not human knowledge of a physical world taken to be ultimately real, but the reality and importance of the physical world itself.
Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, tr. Emma Craufurd, Routledge 1995, p. 77, emphasis added.
Non-violence is no good unless it is effective. Hence the young man's question to Ghandi about his sister. The answer should have been: use force unless you are such that you can defend her with as much chance of success without violence. Unless you possess a radiance of which the energy (that is to say, the possible effectiveness in the most material sense of the word) is equal to that contained in your muscles.
We should strive to become such that we are able to be nonviolent.