English makes it easy to refer to a whole group of things as if it were a substantial entity in its own right, whether or not it really is. It then allows us to assign such things as motives, plans, and behavior to that merely notional entity. Thus, e.g., “Baseball been very very good to me;” “The Wehrmacht has taken Paris;” “Godless Communism killed 100 million.”
It’s handy. But difficulty can ensue when we take our shorthand references to such groups as if they indicated something concretely real. The game of baseball can’t do anything, nor can the Wehrmacht, or Communism. Clemente was treated well by actual people involved in baseball, Paris was taken by German soldiers, and the victims of the Communist holocaust were destroyed by real men and women. It’s a category error to blame or credit merely notional entities. AN Whitehead called it the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness. It arises when we treat ideas as if they were actual and concrete. Concrete entities do all inherit ideas from their past, embody them, and propose them to the future. But without a concrete entity to do the inheriting, embodying, and proposing, nothing happens with the ideas. Ideas don’t have themselves.
Ideas are indeed causes, to be sure; the final, formal and material causes of events are all ideas, in the final analysis. But the inputs to an event are not yet the event. Only agents can respond to the ideas that are their factors. It behooves us then to remember to assign responsibility to natural persons, rather than to movements or schools, to philosophies or merely legal persons.
When a complex orderly phenomenon such as consciousness arises in matter, it is these days often ascribed to a mysterious emergence of properties implicit in those of its material substrates. But really it goes the other way. Consciousness – ordered form in general – does not emerge from the material substrate of our world. It rather immerges thereto, from elsewhere. Novelty of all sorts is added to history from without.
Bruce Charlton suggests in a recent post that the eternal pre-mortem existence of the human soul might be a way to provide room for our free agency in a system of things that seems otherwise, as wholly determinate in and by its derivation from some past, and ultimately by and from God, to provide none. If we are eternal, he argues, then obviously we are not determined by anything other than ourselves, and so are free – free, among other things, to Fall.
There are some fatal problems with this suggestion. But hidden within it is the germ of a solution to the problem Dr. Charlton has noticed. All that is needed to unpack it is to apply certain distinctions.
“The instability of evil,” said Whitehead, “is the morality of the universe.”
Evil is autophagous, is self-vitiating. It subjects itself to an ontological expression of the argument from retortion. This is easy to see if we look at the very most evil acts, as murder, aggressive violence, and so forth; who lives by the sword dies by the sword, for his fellows cannot ultimately tolerate the risk he poses to them.
Again, with respect to abortion, the logic of the gedanken policy test is difficult to assail: a society that abjures abortion will outbreed one that does not, all other things being held equal. The logic of being is such that tolerance of abortion is disastrous for the toleration of abortion. Because pro-lifers outbreed pro-choicers, the latter are going to vanish, sooner or later. That’s all. For pro-choicers who take advantage of their choice are preventing the reproduction of their view of the world.
These results demonstrate that the order of the universe, the very math of reality, contravenes evil. We are free to conduct our lives in disagreement with that order of things, but there is no escape from it; so that such disagreements must eventually end in disaster. Against such disasters, when they arrive, any arguments we might propose will be bootless.
Liberalism may indeed take the whole of society. Such things are possible, at least in principle. But it cannot then but destroy itself, by destroying society. The liberal society, that does not believe it is right to defend itself, will be crushed by some other society, that does.
Jeremy Smith posted a trenchant comment to one of my essays here, Liberals Anonymous. In that essay, I said:
Liberalism errs about the order of being, and so disagrees with the world. It’s poor policy to argue with the universe, no? Yet that is just what liberalism does …
Jeremy made a really excellent point:
But the world is fallen. Nature is fallen. The UNIVERSE is fallen. … Not just liberalism, but Christianity itself “disagrees with the world.” “The order of being” of the world is also fallen. The world is not the final authority.
He’s perfectly correct, of course. “My Kingdom is not from this world.” What then is all this traditionalist talk about how the Good Society conforms itself to the Order of Being? Ought we not to live away from this world, and toward Heaven?
But this is just what the world is doing; that’s the only reason it still manages to constitute itself a world from one moment to the next. If in order to continue in being the Fallen world were referring only to its own depraved past, and relying only on its own creative resources to cobble together a future, it would devolve almost instantly into chaos, as disparate creatures went each like sheep to his own disparate way. So it would dissolve. But it doesn’t dissolve. So that’s not what it’s doing. What the heck is going on, then?
Let’s unpack this.
You’ll have an easier time taking in this post if you have first read Part I of this series. I there proposed some novel arguments, which this post relies upon and develops.
Perhaps purgatory is a full repayment of our debt to the other creatures we have injured, that they have not forgiven us in the way Betty forgave Lester’s debt; a de-leveraging of our moral books. The suffering we do in purgatory could be credited to the books of our moral creditors. And it would ipso facto cleanse our own books of moral stain, fitting us to Heaven. In purgatory, the body of death, the body of debt, is calcined away, leaving and liberating the spirit, so that he may put on his true and originally intended resurrection body.
Note then that the currency by which we repay our debt in purgatory – the way we purge our books of debt – is through suffering. Measure for measure; nothing either omitted or left over. In the final analysis, the divine omniscience cannot abide anything less than a full accounting.
The currency of coinherence, then, the medium of coinherence, may be suffering. A bit of pain suffered in the payment of a moral debt releases a bit of one’s own love from the service of that debt and liberates it for higher use, and for a permanent increase in enjoyment by the whole system of things; when a member of the communion grows stronger, the community grows stronger. A bit of redemption is an increase in ontological actuality, and likewise in capacity for goodness, not just of the redeemed, but of his community and cosmos – of his City, as Williams would have it. As the US Navy SEALs say of their training, “pain is weakness leaving the body.” What is left is a bigger, fitter, stronger body, harder, healthier, more dense, more capable, more real.