Monthly Archives: April 2023

Love Is More Than Willing the Good of The Other

Some of us are distressed with so much talk of God’s love in religious and theological discussions.

Below is a paragraph I copied from a source I respect. It is a series of reflection from Paradisus Dei, which sponsors the That Man Is You program. The reflections are on the life of St. Joseph for each day in May 2023

“The secret passage to love, to paradise, is an open door to the Sacred Heart of Christ. His heart was wounded and opened by a sword, so that ours may be healed. An infinite love flows perpetually from his heart. Love is the strongest power in both the world and the heavens. Yes, love is more powerful than even the grips of death. It transcends this life and passes to everlasting life in heaven. Our actions, when done in and through love, transcend this life and have everlasting significance. This is precisely why we can and should find paradise at the School of Nazareth. Quite simply, the daily life of the Holy Family was an explosion of love. When we find pure love and the absence of evil, we find paradise‚Ķeven on earth.”

Perhaps, I should speak only for myself when I write of being distressed with so much talk of God’s love.

So, I speak only for myself. But I speak for everyone when I argue that “love” does not mean “willing the good of the other.”

Note added later : I started to write on love because of my unease of so much talk of God’s love. However, I actually write only of personal love between human beings. I should also add that I strongly approve of stipulating that love is willing the good of the other when talking of what “love” means when talking of any love we are obliged to have.

How can I speak for everyone? For those who might be interest, I offer a statement of my methodological assumption. See Semantic Knowledge is Synthetic & Apriori.

As noted above, I would be happy to have most talk of love be reduced to talking of willing the good of others. I am glad that many Catholic preachers say that what they mean by love in their sermons is willing the good of others.

My semantic point about the meaning of “love” is quite simple.

If “love” meant “willing the good of the other,” then “love” does not designate something fundamental. It is the terms “will” and “good” which designate some fundamental realities. In principle, all uses of “love” could be replaced by talking of willing and what is good. Even my semantic intuitions conflict with such an reductive elimination of “love.” To be sure , in many contexts I can express almost, but not quite, what I mean by “love” using “will” and “good.” For instance, see my Love of God is Essentially Love of Neighbor wherein I argue that helping the distressed because of a sense of duty is almost the same as helping the distressed from a sense of love. I think that willing the good of the other is a necessary condition for calling any relationship “love.”

The linguistic uneliminability of “love” does not imply that “love” designates some unique basic highly valuable reality. The triviality on many yard signs “Love is love” is intended to tell the lie that the affection of a man for his wife is the same as the affection of one man for another because “love” is primarily a noun designating a basic feature. The need to modify “love” with various adjectives as “maternal,” “paternal,” “fraternal,” “romantic,” “erotic,” “homoerotic,” “platonic,” illicit, etc., bring out that the semantical fact that “love” is a relative term. To speak more precisely, we should use terms such as “the love of a mother for . . ,” “the love of sexual desire for. . ,” etc.,.

See Bonding Necessary for Love for my proposal that willing the good of the other plus the proper bonding to another provide necessary and sufficient conditions for personal love. Also the type of bonding indicates the type of loving.

What is Catholic Philosophy?

Long ago, in the mid-twentieth century, when I was starting out as a professional philosopher in the Universities of Minnesota and Ohio State, the short and, presumably, most honest answer was “There is no such thing as Catholic Philosophy.” However, since it is clearly grammatically and semantically correct to modify “philosophy” with “Catholic.” the answer “Catholic philosophy is philosophy done by a Catholic” was offered as an interpretation of “Catholic philosophy.” Nonetheless, the implication was that there was no clearly philosophical material that could be usefully labeled “Catholic.”

Actually, the view applied to any adjective, even “Greek.” There was simply philosophy. Greek philosophy was philosophy done by Greeks. Indian philosophy was philosophy done in the India sub-continent, Chinese philosophy was that done in China and so forth. There was speculation that philosophy could be found in the cultures of indigneous peoples throughout the world both in the past and present. To be sure, we might have to search carefully to find the philosophical thought mixed in with all sorts of other types of thinking. But mixed in with all sorts of religious and practical thinking we might find thinking of which we could make claims such as: In these passages they were wondering about free will, personal identity, mind/body connection etc. Perhaps, philosophical thinking cannot be precisely defined. To some extent, “we know it when we see it” or read it. I write “to some extent” because philosophy is more than an intellectual exercise. It is one of the human ways of trying to get the truth. We need to make a judgment about an intent to “get it right” to label a text or discourse philosophical. There is a philosophia perennis – a cultural universal usefully labeled “philosophy.” It is what I call “philosophy” when I conclude that Reason Alone cannot set aside nihilism.

Philosophy itself deals with topics which cannot be fully understood, viz., standard philosophical problems such as mind/body connection and knowledge of other minds. But philosophical problems are not religious mysteries; they are not posed as part of a religious tradition. In any application of philosophy to religious doctrines, the basic philosophical problems will be there; unresolved as always.

The universal style of philosophical thinking can be applied to religious mysteries. The religious mysteries are open to all as mysteries. As mysteries they are not any better understood by believers than non-believers. I am writing only of religious which do not have esoteric doctrines. The mysteries are available for those who want to understand them as well as to all who are merely curious about how intelligent people could take them seriously. If there is a religious tradition, eg., Catholicism, which contains a mysterious concept, such as angels, then use of the philosophical way of thinking to gain partial understanding of this concept is part of the religious philosophy of that religion. A paradigm of Catholic philosophy is Thomas Aquinas’ teaching on angels.

Catholic philosophy, then, is use of philosophical methods to understand a mystery of Catholicism with the intent of at least getting partial truth about it. In Catholic philosophy scripture may be cited; but only as a motivation for dealing with the topic. It is unlikely that a non-Catholic would engage in Catholic philosophy. A non-Catholic might read through Aquinas’ arguments about the existence of angels merely to appreciate how Aquinas reasoned. You cannot read the philosophy of a Catholic philosopher without thinking philosophcally. But the philosophical thinking required to read Catholic philosophy is not by itself Catholic philosophy A Catholic philosopher is a faithful Catholic who engages in Catholic philosophy. I hope that I am a Catholic philosopher.

What about my own work?

My effort to provide Conceptual Model of Satan is an example of Catholic philosophy. My effort to articulate a notion of Moral Harm to provide a model of moral thinking in which there is a place for retributive punishment is by itself simply philosophy. I am only trying to bring out all the implications of human moral thought. However, my inclusion of this notion of moral harm in trying to build a model for Jesus suffering punishment for our faults is Catholic philosophy. See my Cur Deus Homo?

Faith, With & Without Mysteries vs. Nihilism

Reason alone does not overcome nihilism. Indeed, not even if reason establishes divine command morality, is nihilism decisively overcome. See results of my: Overview of Posts Confronting Nihilism . There are two dimensions in overcoming nihilism: attitudinal and intellectual. A firm sense of purpose for living provides an attitudinal antidote to nihilism. A firm sense of purpose is faith. The stability of faith is based on a purpose which is a fixed point. Reason fixes the point by closing the question of for what purpose the purpose is pursued. For instance, a person can live a purpose driven life by striving in thought, word and deed to be on the right side of the history of human development. Such a person, consciously or unconsciously, resolves not to undercut the existential significance of the purpose by dwelling on questions about what exactly it is to be on the right side of history and why it matters. Another might live to do what is right because it is right. This stoic believer in morality brushes aside any question about the purpose of living for duties sake. A third might live to do what God commands because God commands it. In this case, questioning the purpose of obeying God is dismissed as blasphemous.

The proposed purposes are universal: for all human beings. We, individually, have these purposes because that purpose is the purpose of being human. Suppose the purpose for life is said to be only for me or only for a particular society. The questions: Why me? Why us? are obviously open questions.

Although it is odd to ask for what purpose the purposes are pursued sense can be made of asking for what purpose they are pursued. The reality which give rise to the problem of evil is available to undercut even the most firm faith. See The Problem of Evil as the Cornerstone of a Christian World View and The Problem of Evil as a Cornerstone of a Nihilistic World View. Sense can be made of asking for what purpose we pursue them because reason shows that they are unattainable. Reason shows us that we are subject to sin and death. We cannot live up to these ideals. We simply have not been and are not now in pursuit of these ideals. Individually and collectively we are hopeless failures. In any event, death eventually takes away every individual and civilization. Because of intellectual knowledge of death and sin, the attitudinal antidotes to nihilism are vulnerable.

I have come to the end of what philosophy, including natural theology and natural moral theology, can accomplish in regard to providing an antidote to nihilism. Philosophy, via the reality underlying the problem of evil undercuts any purpose for life proposed by philosophy as ideology.

What is to be done? One can accept nihilism. But intellectual honesty does not require accepting nihilism even if nihilism cannot be set aside by human intelligence alone. See Does Respect for Truth Require Nihilism? William James argued well for this point in his well known The will to believe. The other alternative is to “tough it out” by holding fast to faith in some proposed purpose for life. There are two ways of holding fast to a faith. One way is to stay within the limits of reason and shut down the critical reflection that serves only to undercut that in which you have faith. These are secular confrontations with nihilism . Note that any antidote to nihilism requires shutting down the suicidal critical reflection which serves only to undercut that in which you have faith. The other is to be open to revelation which provides insights which reason could never produce by itself but which we can try to understand with reason even if we can never completely understand them. This is religious confrontation with nihilism. These revealed insights are properly called mysteries.

We get revelations from historical religions. There is a need for subsequent posts to support the thesis that revelation comes only via historical or traditional religions. Acceptance of mysteries involves less intellectual suppression than secularism for we have mysteries to think about.