CHAPTER 7

THE INFINITE:

POSITIVE PROPERTIES

7.1. Activity

[This is discussed in Modes of the Finite, Part 1 Section 4, Chapter 9.]

The idea of the negative properties is that they are one-word distillations of sentences in which you can say, "The Infinite is not like finite existence insofar as finite existence is finite." They deny the various modes of finiteness when referring to the Infinite Obviously, the positive properties are one-word ways of saying, "The Infinite is analogous to finite existence insofar as finite existence is existence."

Of course, the Infinite will only be analogous to finite existence-as-existence, because you can't separate the finite existence from its finiteness (it is this inseparability, in fact, which forms the effect about it); and so, though it is (as we will see) legitimate to say that certain terms are used of finite existence not because they are limited but because they are existence, then somehow these terms apply to the Infinite. Remember, we know this based on the fact that finite existence is a cause (of the finiteness of a finite conscious act), and as a cause it is analogous to the Infinite, which happens to be its cause. So in this case, the cause is analogous to its effect; but that just happens to be so because this particular effect happens also to be a similar type of cause.

But since we don't actually know the points of similarity, we have to be very careful here that we don't say more than we have to. The Infinite will be similar to finite existences as existences, but not as finite.

The first positive property is one we have already seen, in Section 4.5. under the eighth conclusion: Existence and activity are just two different names for the same thing, depending on how you formulate the effect. So every existence is an activity and every activity is an existence. Therefore, the Infinite is infinite activity, or the Infinite is pure activity.

That is, It is "pure" activity in the sense of "just plain old" unqualified and unquantified activity. It is not "doing" this or that, it is not a type of activity or a kind of "doing"; It is just plain "doing." Absolute "doing" or absolute activity.

Now the point of the analogy is that we know that this is true, but this gives us no clue as to in what way this "absolute doing" is like the activities we experience. We know that It is like them in some way, and we put the name "activity" on this similarity; but it's a name that applies to the Infinite and finite activities insofar as they are both causes of similar but not identical effects. So don't be fooled by the fact that we can use a definite name for this "aspect" of the Infinite; all it tells us is that there is a similarity, not what it is.

7.1.1 Omnipotence

The fact that the Infinite is absolute activity allows us to speak clearly about a property that is ordinarily attributed to God: that He is "omnipotent." By the makeup of the word, it means that God "can do everything."

It can't, of course, be said of the Infinite that It can do something that It's not doing at the moment; so the Infinite doesn't have "ability" in the sense that we have the ability to do more than we're actually doing. But of course, this isn't the sense of "can" that is referred to in "omnipotence"; it means that the Infinite is all-powerful.

But then what is "power"? Clearly, if you remove the "can" notion above, it means the ability to cause an effect, to "do" something to something. But that, of course, is just exactly what was intended by calling existence "activity"; it was "cause" in the broadest sense of the term. So in that sense, existence is power.

And, of course, since the Infinite is absolute, unqualified existence, the Infinite is absolute, unqualified power, or is omnipotent.

What that amounts to, from the point of view of the effect, is that the Infinite can do anything that can be done. This excludes, of course, "effects" that are really contradictions in terms (such as a blank page with writing on it). In that sense, the Infinite "can't do" whatever you can formulate as "something to be done," because you can formulate nonsense, and nonsense can't be "done," because nonsense "exists" only in speech; there's no such thing as what the nonsense "describes."

Now in relation to the problem of evil we discussed in the arguments against God's existence, we now have the property of omnipotence attributed to the Infinite. So if the Infinite is both omnipotent and good, we've got to see how this can be reconciled with evil in the world, or there's something wrong with the argument, because then our cause is a contradiction in terms--which means we've been talking nonsense all this time.

Don't count on it.

7.2. Truth

[You can find a more detailed discussion of this topic in Modes of the Finite, Part 1, Section 5.]

Now then, if the Infinite is absolute existence, then it follows that what are called the "transcendental properties" of being will apply to It. The "transcendental properties" are properties all beings have just because they exist; they "transcend" or "go beyond" all categories of being.

The trouble with these properties is that, as applied to being, they don't mean much, or what they normally mean; but there is some sense in which they can be said of things just because they exist, and so we can use them to apply to the Infinite.

DEFINITION: Truth is the relation of agreement of our understanding of the facts about some being with what the facts about that being actually are.

This is actually quite tricky, and could involve us in a long discussion. It is not the matching of our perception of the object with the being which is the object; we saw that the being (the causer) is not like its effect (the perception). No, what it is is an application of Theorems IV and V in Chapter 1 (and a more general version that "related effects have causes related among themselves in the same way"). So if you look to me the same as John looks to me, then you are analogous (similar in color, say, or shape) to John. Or if I see you beside him, this is because your position is beside him.

So what's the big deal? Well, when you get down to things, the causes are often at a distance from the perceiving organs, and are actually at the end of a fairly long causal chain; and it can be that "links" (i.e. intermediate causes) in that chain can sometimes be different and can result in similar effects when what we think the causes are are actually different from each other. Look at this page now and look at it with sunglasses on. It will appear a different color, even though the actual color of the page hasn't changed; it's just that the light coming into your eyes has been filtered.

So we can make mistakes. All the definition of "truth" above says is that when you're not making a mistake, and the relation between the effects is in fact the same relation as the one between the causes, then that situation is called "truth."

For our purposes, however, notice that the truth as such is a relation, and in fact a relation between relations: the relation between the fact (the relation "out there" between the beings) and the understanding (the relation "in here" in my consciousness). Note further that the truth exists as such in my consciousness, not strictly speaking in the facts or beings. That is, it is my understanding which is mistaken or true; the fact can't be "mistaken"; it just is. I have to change my understanding and make it agree with the fact in order to correct a mistake.

But in that case, what sense is there in saying that an object or being is "true"? There is the sense in which you can call an object "false," when it is deceptive. But this involves a different sense of "true."

When we understand something, we tend to want to communicate it to others; and we do so by making a statement which expresses our act of understanding. I say to you, "This page is white," for instance. That means that it is like all the other things that affect my eyes (and so presumably yours) in a certain way.

DEFINITION: A statement is true when it expresses what the fact is.

So, if I were to tell you, "This page is blue," you would (since you can see it) realize that my statement is false. Now I might have blue sunglasses on and have forgotten than I was wearing them, and so I might be telling you what I think is true; but in fact, my statement doesn't match what the fact is; and so my statement is false. (If I know what the fact is and deliberately misstate it in order to deceive you, my statement is a lie.)

This kind of "deceptiveness" sometimes occurs in the real world too. That is, sometimes an object is such that it tends to make the unwary person think that it is like certain things that it's not like. For instance, iron pyrite looks a lot like gold; and that's why it's called "fool's gold" or "false gold." It isn't that it's lying to you; it's just that if you don't know what gold really is, you might think that this yellow rock is a piece of gold ore. Similarly a "false friend" is one who acts as if he's your friend, when actually he's your enemy.

Now then, what is called "ontological truth" takes this sense of "the truth of a statement" and applies it to being as if being were "making statements" to you about what it's like and so on.

DEFINITION: Ontological truth is the "truth" being has when one considers it as "communicating" information to the mind.

So the being is "ontologically true" when it induces you to think that it is the way it actually is; if it somehow induces you to think otherwise, it is "ontologically false."

But of course, the being is just acting on you in a certain way and to a certain degree; and this activity is in fact similar to what it's similar to and different from what it's different from, and so on. So if it deceives you into thinking that it's something different from what it is, this isn't the being's fault; it's your fault for not being sharp enough to tune your mind in to what the activity is. To put this another way, only a person can lie to you, and deliberately say what is the opposite of what (he thinks) the facts are. Being can't do this, because it doesn't formulate statements which express acts of understanding; it just acts.

Therefore being can't really be ontologically false; a being is ontologically true simply because it exists (or acts).

And of course, that immediately allows us to conclude that the Infinite is absolute ontological truth. Since It is absolute activity, It is such that it can cause a true judgment, if you're clever enough to understand It properly. Or, in other words, as a "communicator of information," this act is not in itself deceptive.

Notice that this does not necessarily imply that, if the Infinite is a conscious being and can communicate information by a kind of actual statement (analogous to the way we do it), and not just by the activity itself, then the Infinite couldn't lie to you. It sort of "stands to reason" that It (or He, in this case, since He'd be a person) couldn't consistently do this sort of thing; but I don't think you can establish this just from the fact that the Infinite is pure activity and this very very weak concept of "ontological truth."

Notice further, though, that if Jesus is God, then when Jesus said, "I am truth," he was literally correct, using this ontological sense of truth. He isn't "something true," he is Truth Itself.

But it's interesting to notice that, after the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene in such a way that she thought he was the gardener, he walked miles with the people on the road to Emmaus and "held their eyes" so that they didn't recognize it was Jesus until the breaking of the bread; and so on. He seemed to be having fun with these people, but in such a way that he deliberately seemed to be something he wasn't. So perhaps it doesn't follow that the Infinite would never deliberately communicate to us something false. (I hasten to add that Jesus didn't allow the deception to continue.)

7.3. Beauty

There is another transcendental property of being that involves a pretty trivial sense of the term: that being, insofar as it exists, is beautiful. To discuss this fully would get us deep into the science of aesthetics, and so I'll have to give a vast oversimplification again.

In a nutshell, then, we not only have perceptive understanding, we have aesthetic understanding. The relation between the two is this: All understanding is a recognition of a relation between what is in the mind and its causes in the world "out there." Now perceptive understanding grasps the relations between perceptions or parts of perceptions, which are essentially the mental results of information coming in through the five senses. So it is with perceptive understanding that we know similarities in color, or size, or taste, or odor, or sound, and so on.

But our brains also work as computers, and the "program" of this computer monitors the state the body is in and the information coming into it through the senses; and depending on the relation between the two, it directs energy into various "subroutines" which we call drives, to supply needs from the environment or to avoid dangers there.

DEFINITION: An emotion is the form of consciousness that this operation has when it is working.

So you see a lion running loose, and you tend to run for cover--and this tendency shows up in your consciousness as fear of a certain type. Your blood sugar drops below a certain level and you have to replace nutrients you've lost, and this shows up as hunger, and so on.

The emotions, then, are the conscious aspect of an act that responds not only to what is "out there" but to what is "out there" insofar as it is beneficial or harmful to the organism (based on the "built-in program" we have that automatically "decides" these things). But since it does respond (in part) to what is "out there," (i.e. to what we are responding to through our perceptions), then it is possible to use the emotions themselves as "receiving instruments" indicating something about what is "out there."

Thus, we talk of the "smiling meadow," because seeing a sunny field makes us feel emotionally the same way we do when someone smiles at us. Clearly, there's no perceptive similarity between a meadow and a smiling face; but everybody understands what you mean when you talk about the smiling meadow--and why? Because it makes everybody feel the way they feel when someone smiles at them.

But this indicates that there is something objectively similar between the sunny meadow and a smiling face; both are such that in fact they produce this emotional response in the normal person. It is the recognition of this "aesthetic fact" that is aesthetic understanding.

Very well, then, we can now talk about a kind of "aesthetic truth" by analogy with ontological truth. You can consider the meadow as an "emotive communicator," the way an actor communicates emotions to you (i.e. makes you feel them) by, for instance, crying or laughing during the speech he is reciting. And as such, the meadow is calculated to produce a certain emotional effect on you, which you can then understand using aesthetic understanding.

DEFINITION: Beauty is the characteristic of being as "communicating" aesthetically understandable facts about itself.

[This topic is discussed in Modes of the Finite, Part 4, Section 5.]

Now then, since we have an emotional overtone (depending on the state our body is in) to absolutely everything we perceive, then any being, just because it exists, is beautiful. That is, it is capable of producing an emotion which can be understood in relation to the emotional overtones of some other being.

And of course, from this it follows that the Infinite is absolute beauty. That is, It is not just "something beautiful," because finite being is beautiful because of its activity (its existence); but the Infinite is nothing but activity. Hence It is beauty, not "beautiful."

Note, however, that the degree of beauty of something does not depend on the level of existence it has. Music, for instance, which is nothing ontologically but a bunch of vibrations of the air, is often much more beautiful (because it produces more complex and profound emotions) than, say, a rat, which exists at a much higher level of existence. So the fact that the Infinite is Absolute Beauty does not mean that It is the "most beautiful of all beings." Generally speaking, the Infinite's beauty is rather far down on the scale, because we know of It through abstract reasoning, and there isn't much emotion or very powerful emotions involved in thinking about It. Still, it's true that beauty is something that can (in an analogous sense) be attributed to the Infinite.

7.4. Goodness

[You can find a discussion of this topic in Modes of the Finite, Part 1, Section 5, Chapter 10.]

We come now to the other property which figures in the problem of evil. What is (finite) goodness? Is something good just because it exists? If so, of course, the Infinite is not only good, but Absolute Goodness. But then how can there be evil in the world?

To attempt an answer to the first question, note that when you are talking about good and bad, you are not just describing how things are, you are relating them to a standard. And where do we get this standard? It comes from the fact that we can imagine situations as different from the way they are, and can the compare the actual state of affairs (the facts as perceived and understood) with the situation as we imagine it; and based on this comparison we can say that the actual state of affairs is good if it matches the imagined one (the ideal) and bad if it falls short of the imagined one.

So our ability to evaluate and to think in terms of good and bad is part of our ability to understand. But in ordinary understanding, (which gives us truth and mistakes), the facts are taken as the "independent variable," as it were, and understanding is what has to "bring itself into conformity with" the facts in order for understanding not to be mistaken and truth to occur.

Here, however, we have the same relation, only we are considering it the opposite way round. We have formed a pre-conceived judgment about things (this ideal we have constructed in our imagination), and we expect the facts to live up to (to match) it. If they do, then this (which would be the same as "truth," since the understanding and the facts match), is what we call "good"; and when they don't (i.e. when the relation corresponds to a mistake), instead of "blaming" our understanding and trying to correct it, we hold on to our preconceived idea and "blame" the facts and call them "bad."

DEFINITION: Evil or badness is a mistake looked at backwards.

That is, in both evil and a mistake, there is a discrepancy between the idea I have of the way the world is and the way the world actually is. When I consider the facts as the standard, I consider that I have made a mistake; but when I am in the evaluative mode of thinking, I hang on to the ideal as the way I think "things ought to be," and I then say that the situation is bad and "ought not to be that way."

So, for instance, I make the generalization that human beings can see just because they are human beings. I see a blind man. Now I don't want to give up the generalization that "all human beings can see," and so I say, "That's a defective case of a human being," or "There's something wrong with him," or "He ought to be able to see." There is a kind of contradiction in him: he's a human being, and all human beings can see (and therefore he can see), but he can't see--so he's a kind of sub-human human.

It is this apparently contradictory situation that is what evil consists in. Notice that this apparent contradiction isn't an effect exactly, because if you say, "Well, he can't see because his optic nerve is atrophied," you've given the cause of his blindness; but you haven't satisfied the person who's making the evaluative judgment, because he simply counters with, "What difference does it make why he can't see? Humans ought to have functioning optic nerves. Why have them at all, if they don't work?" That is, even if you explain why the evil situation exists, this doesn't alter the fact that according to the evaluation it ought not to exist.

The first thing to note here, now that we've clarified what's going on in our minds when we think in terms of good and bad instead of true and mistaken is this: The standard (the ideal) as such has no factual basis. You got it from using your imagination and just manipulating what was stored there into a form that satisfied you, for some reason. Now granted, you might have reasons for formulating the ideal; for instance, in the case of blindness, not only can "practically every" human being see, it also doesn't make sense to have eyes that are not functional, since "practically every" organ of "practically every" living thing has a function; and the function of the eyes in "practically everyone" is to see.

But the point is that the fact that "practically every" human being can see is no reason for saying that "therefore, absolutely every human being can see." But that's what the ideal is actually saying. Because practically every human being can see, then you make the leap and say that every human being ought to be able to see. You now set this up, in other words as your idea of the "real true" human being, whether that being exists or not.

And in doing so, what have you done? You form an ideal by mentally removing limitations from the limited cases you observe. That is, each human being (because he is an energy-bundle) is a limited case of "what it is to be human" (that form of existence); and so the ideal human being is the human being who doesn't have any of these particular limitations that some people have and other people don't.

But it's not quite that. Not everyone can play basketball like Michael Jordan; in fact, very, very few can. So these extraordinary talents don't (generally) form part of the ideal human being that most of us formulate for evaluating whether something is a good example of a human being or "there's something wrong with him." The evaluative ideal generally excludes the limitations that only a few have, and so it becomes a kind of "zero" at the bottom of "normality"; and we say that any limitation below this is too great a limitation, and ought not to be there.

In the same way, we say that any temperature below freezing is "badness" as far as heat is concerned, and we don't call it "very little heat," (which it is) we call it the opposite of heat, cold. That is, we (arbitrarily) set the zero of heat at the freezing point, and then call temperatures below that (which are still objectively cases of heat) "too limited," and therefore "negative heat."

Therefore,

DEFINITION: Ontological evil is limitation greater than the lowest limitation that we consider "normal."

But the point I am stressing is twofold: (a) Where you place the zero is arbitrary, and has no objective basis--as can be seen from the fact that the freezing point of water is zero on the Celsius scale, but that same temperature is 32 above zero on the Fahrenheit scale. And neither is "right," objectively; it all depends on how you want to look at things.

Now then, there is nothing in a (limited) being itself which says that it can't be limited in any way or to any degree that this being can be limited in. Obviously. That is, we say that human beings ought to be able to live at least seventy years; but we see that in fact human beings can live as short a time as a year and still be human beings (or ten minutes, for that matter). We see that human beings ought to be able to see, but we also see that there are human being who can't see, and they are human in spite of this extra limitation they have. And so on.

So what can we conclude from this?

Since evil is always a comparison of the real situation with an ideal that does not exist, and since that ideal was subjectively created, there is no objective reason why the ideal "ought" to exist. Therefore, evil is a "problem" only for those who choose to look on things in this way.

Now this is not to deny that things can "be" evil. They are in fact evil when in fact they do not live up to your preconceived expectations. That relation of discrepancy is a fact, but the ideal isn't. That is, evil has an objective and a subjective "pole" to the relation; you set up the subjective pole as the "real true" one (which it isn't, but you want reality to conform to it); and it is this that makes evil basically subjective. Things "become" evil or good simply by your changing your expectations, without their changing at all.

For instance, you doubtless don't consider it bad that you can't play basketball like Michael Jordan--because almost nobody can play basketball that well, and probably you're not interested in having that talent. But notice that Scotty Pippin might consider it bad that he isn't quite that talented (because, one supposes, he wants to be the world's greatest basketball player). Similarly, if you're blind, you can either say, "How terrible!" and complain about all the things you can't do that sighted people can do, or you can say, "Who cares what they can do? I can read braille, I can hear, I can do this, that, and the other, and I'm just not interested in doing those other things." And suddenly, being sighted becomes a kind of "talent" that other people have, like the ability to play basketball, and you don't any longer consider that there's "something wrong" with you, or that it's "bad" to be the way you are. Now I don't say that this sort of shift of the ideal is easy, but in fact it's what makes successful blind people successful; they don't "dwell on" their limitations.

The point is that you're free to make your ideal whatever you want it to be; there's nothing in reality that forces it on you. Hence evil exists or doesn't exist depending on how you choose to look at things, not because of something you discover "out there."

In essence, evil is limitation, taken from the point of view of the fact that the limitation is "too great."

But it follows from this that, since the Infinite is absolutely unlimited existence, then it is impossible to form an ideal about It, conceiving the Infinite as "less limited" than It is, which would allow you to say that "there is something wrong" with It. Hence, the Infinite is absolute ontological goodness.

Notice that the Infinite's goodness says absolutely nothing about the "fact" that evil "ought" not to exist in the world; because evil "ought" not to exist simply because of our arbitrarily set ideals by which we consider some limitations as "too great." But they are always and only subjectively "too great," and there's no sense in which the Infinite should cause finite beings to be less limited than they actually are. Just as, if your son wants you to take him to the amusement park and you don't want to, he says you're bad; but you're bad only according to his standards, and why should you conform to his standards? Similarly, if you say that I am wracking your brain with this book, and I "ought" to make it simple, why should I conform to your standards? I'm making it (believe it or not) clear and intelligible; you work at trying to understand it.

The point, of course, is that the goodness of the Infinite is quite compatible with evil in the world. The goodness of the Infinite just means that there's no way of conceiving It as "falling short" of a greatness it "ought" to have; but that's perfectly compatible with finite beings' falling short of some ideal you set for them; it just happens to be a contradiction in terms to set an ideal for God higher than infinite existence.

But it's not quite that simple, is it? I've been talking about ontological evil, the sense of "badness" in which the thing doesn't conform to your expectations of what it is. But there's also moral evil, which deals with the behavior of persons. A given person might be an extremely talented human being, but if he rapes other people, we consider his behavior wrong and call him an "evil" person.

DEFINITION: A person is morally evil when he acts inconsistently with the reality which he is.

A rapist, for instance, is using a cooperative act against the other person's will (i.e. uncooperatively); a thief is saying "What's mine is mine (because I'm a human being) and what's yours is mine (because I want it to be)."--and this is in effect saying either "I'm superhuman" or "You're subhuman" by his actions, and neither is true. So in moral evil, you are pretending that you aren't what you really are; you are acting as if you were greater than you really are.

And, of course, that's why moral evil is bad. You are, as it were, trying to act as if a subjective ideal of yourself (as, for example, superior to others) is the reality of yourself, when in fact it isn't. So you are not simply evaluating things according to the ideal, you are pretending that the ideal actually exists when it doesn't, because unless it actually exists, your action contradicts your reality.

But of course, since the ideal doesn't exist, the act does contradict your reality; and so everyone else, looking at what the reality is, calls this "morally wrong," and then says that you are morally bad.

The point, of course, is that you can't be morally bad unless you are in some sense or other acting as if you are greater than what you really are, or (if you want to put it that way) you are refusing to accept the limitation you have as human, and acting as if you didn't have it.

But it immediately follows from this that the Infinite cannot be morally bad. No matter what the Infinite does to any finite reality, no matter what limitations It imposes on any finite being, (a) the being is capable of being limited in this way and to this degree (or it couldn't exist), and (b) the Infinite is perfectly capable of doing this. So if a meteor falls down out of the sky and hits you in the head and splatters your brains all over Cincinnati, and if this is in "the providence of God," as they say, what objective complaint do you have? As Isaiah said, "Can the clay talk back to the potter?" You may not like the fact that you are the "earthen dish" St. Paul talks about which was made just to be smashed; but it is perfectly possible for you to exist this way; and so it is perfectly consistent with God to cause you to exist this way.

Notice that we don't even attribute moral evil to ourselves when we step on cockroaches or break sticks or uproot plants or crush rocks--because these things have no rights against us (or in other words, it isn't inconsistent with our reality to destroy them). Well obviously, it's not inconsistent with the reality of the One who causes us to be the finite being which we are to limit us in whatever way It pleases; It doesn't have to conform to our idea of what It "ought" to do to us. So the infinite moral goodness of the Infinite is perfectly compatible with evil in the world.

Of course, the upshot of this is that the Infinite can be said in a meaningful sense to be absolutely good, and still be a complete monster from our point of view. I don't imagine the cockroach you stepped on looks on you with grateful eyes from its place in cockroach-heaven either.

Hence, philosophically speaking, there's no real problem with there being evil in the world. And insofar as it is a problem, a denial of the Infinite doesn't make it go away. Insofar as you say that certain things ought not to exist the way they do, then they ought not to exist that way whether there's a God or not; and if the "ought" is objective, then the world contradicts itself, and nothing makes sense. How is this a more reasonable position than theism--however unpalatable the theism we've come up with looks to our evaluative judgment?

Nevertheless, there is a severe problem for the believer, if God has revealed himself as good. The problem is that, since the Infinite Himself has no ideals (the way he "sees" reality has to be the way reality is caused to be, or He isn't simple), then his "goodness" makes sense only from the point of view of his creatures. And that somehow must mean that in the last analysis they will look at Him and realize that what he is, and what He has done to them is good according to their own standard of goodness.

How this is possible is a tall order; but I think I can construct a scenario that explains how a good God (in the ordinary human-standard sense of "good") can have created a world with evil and suffering in it. But I will do this at the end of the book. Suffice it here that it is legitimate to call the Infinite absolutely good (or rather absolute Goodness) in both the ontological and moral sense, and to have shown that this does not imply that there can't be evil in the world It has caused.

I think I should point out here that this definition of "goodness" and "badness" is not something concocted ad hoc to make the world compatible with the Infinite. It is based, like our definition of "existence," on the conditions under which we use the terms, and the impossibility of our actually having objective knowledge of an ideal (since the ideal would have to be something like the sideways 8, a limited being without the limits). The definition also explains the empirical fact that no one has ever been able to come up with a notion of "good" that everyone agrees on. Why not, if it's something objective that can be discovered?

7.5. Life

[This topic is discussed in Modes of the Finite, Part 3, Section 1.]

Another complicated property that turns out to be applicable to the Infinite is that of life. Aristotle called it "self-initiated process," (which of course would exclude the Infinite, since the Infinite can't change); but (as I show in my book Living Bodies) I think his definition doesn't quite square with the facts as we know them today. If we examine living bodies as opposed to inanimate ones, we find that they maintain themselves at an energy-level too high to be accounted for by the physics and chemistry of the body, and so they are "free" to some extent of the action-and-reaction that inanimate bodies are subject to. When we go up the scale of life, we find living beings performing conscious acts, which can be shown to be spiritual and not to have quantity at all (though the "lowest level" of these acts, sensations, "attach" a quantity to themselves in one of their "reduplications" of themselves).

Making a long story short, we can put all the evidence together and give a dual definition of life, with the two definitions being the two sides, as it were, of the same coin:

DEFINITION: Life is existence insofar as it is not controlled by quantity.

DEFINITION: Life is existence insofar as it is in control of itself.

Life isn't exactly non-quantified existence, since the lowest forms of life have a quantity; it's just that in inanimate bodies, the amount of energy is what determines the state the body is in, while in living bodies, the form of the unifying energy is the controlling factor. But the more this form of unifying energy "escapes" from the quantity it has, the higher the form of life, and the greater control over itself the being has.

So we can extrapolate from that and say that spiritual beings can legitimately be called forms of life (though not embodied life); and presumably, they have greater control over their activity, since (a) they don't have any other object that can affect them, since only bodies can change; and (b) the highest form of embodied life, the human, can actually make choices and change his reality to make it agree with the choice--subject only to what his genetic structure sets to the range of possibilities actually open to him. Presumably, then, totally spiritual forms of existence (which contain themselves within themselves) are in at least as much control of themselves as humans are.

Given all of this, then, we can conclude that the Infinite is absolute Life.

7.5.1. Freedom

[You can find a discussion of this topic in Modes of the Finite, Part 3, Section 3, Chapter 6.]

This brings up the question of whether the Infinite has any real control over what It is, since after all, It can't be anything other than infinite existence. That is, granted that the Infinite is "free" from being affected by any finite being, as we saw (or the cause would depend on its own effect), still isn't the Infinite constrained by Its nature as Infinite, especially since It can't change at all; and so doesn't It "have" to do whatever It is eternally doing? Georg Hegel thinks this is so, and so redefines "freedom" in such a way that this internal (but not external) constraint is freedom. But he's wrong.

To answer this, we must distinguish between the "necessity of a fact," which is just a restatement of the Principle of Contradiction (what is is "necessarily" not what it isn't), and the "necessity" which means "inability to control what the fact is." That is, supposing that I am writing what I am now writing, it is necessarily the case that I am writing it. But that doesn't imply that (if I wanted to) I couldn't be just sitting here without writing. (In fact, just before I wrote the word "couldn't," I sat back and paused--because I am in control over what the fact is.)

Now clearly the Infinite is necessarily doing what It is doing, supposing It to be doing this. But this is the "necessity of a fact," and it doesn't follow that this "necessity" implies that the Infinite isn't eternally controlling what It eternally does. The fact that It can't change is no problem; all this means is that, if the Infinite eternally were making a different choice, then eternally Its activity would be different from what it happens to be because of the choice It eternally makes.

What I am saying here is that the infinity of the Infinite and the eternity and immutability of the Infinite do not argue against the Infinite's having control over what Its act in fact is. And the greater control finite beings have over themselves the more they "escape" from quantity seems to imply that you would expect the Infinite to have the greatest control over Its existence.

So far, then, there's something suggestive, but no real proof one way or the other. But if you add to this that the Infinite's act causes the existence of the finite universe (and the existence of this particular finite universe out of all the possible ones), then we can arrive at a proof. If the Infinite's nature forced It to be the cause of the finite (as Plotinus said, because "being is 'diffusive' of itself" by nature), then it would follow that the Infinite without the finite universe would be incomplete or in some other way a contradiction.

That is, if the Infinite has to cause the universe to be, then the existence of the finite universe is necessary for the Infinite to exist. But that means that the Infinite by Itself is a contradiction. Hence the Infinite would be an effect, whose cause would be the finite universe (since It couldn't exist without it). But that is absurd, since a cause (by Theorem III and Corollary I) is not affected by the fact that it is the cause, and is independent of its effect.

So the Infinite's existence is what it is no matter what the finite universe's existence is like; the finite universe's existence is in no sense necessary to the Infinite. Therefore, the Infinite's act as cause of the finite existences which It causes has to be a free act, not forced either by the nature of the finite universe, or the "internal necessities" of the Infinite existence itself.

Then why does the Infinite cause the finite universe to exist? Because It can. Because it is possible for the Infinite Existence to be the cause of finite cases of existence. Or in other words, Why not? That is the only possible "reason." It can't be because it is "better" that there be a finite universe. Better for the Infinite? Impossible, because the Infinite as Infinite can't be improved. Better for the finite universe? Well yes, of course, but how does this benefit or affect the Infinite in any way? It can't.

That is, there's no reason why the Infinite should or ought to cause finite existences, since there's absolutely nothing in it for It. On the other hand, it's not irrational for It to do so, because It in fact is capable of doing so, and there's no reason not to do it either. So the only possible answer to "Why does It do it?" is, as I said, "Why not?" The act as causing finite beings is a transrational, not irrational act. We will see more of this in the next chapter.

At any rate, what we can conclude from this discussion is that the Infinite Act is in absolute control of Itself, or it is absolute freedom: freedom from both external and internal constraint.

Note that, if we add to this what was said about goodness as applied to the Infinite, then there's no demand either that if the Infinite (freely) creates, then Its goodness necessitates that this be "the best of all possible worlds," as Gottfried Leibniz put it. The Infinite's goodness (at least in the philosophical sense) says nothing whatever about the state the world has to be in. So presumably the Infinite is free to be the cause of any world that is capable of existing (i.e. any world that doesn't have a contradiction in it), not just the "best" one.

But supposing that the Infinite has revealed something about himself, it turns out that it's not quite as simple as all that. We'll see this at the end of the book.

7.6. Consciousness

[This topic is discussed in Modes of the Finite, Part 3 Section 2.]

There are actually two lines of evidence which, I think, taken together establish (though I don't believe they prove conclusively) that the Infinite is a conscious act--or at least that God (the causer) is. What I mean is that it is conceivable that the Infinite is something beyond and greater than consciousness, but that It isn't at all like what we mean by "consciousness." Certainly it isn't like consciousness as we experience it, with a stream of different forms of consciousness all united as one consciousness; we saw that this can only be the case if consciousness is finite.

But you will see the "loophole" when I give the argument. The first line of reasoning is that a conscious act is aware of itself as well as aware of whatever it is "about." In fact, it is aware of its object by being aware of itself as (in this case) not spontaneous, but as "being restricted," which immediately recognizes "being restricted by something else." When we imagine, the act is aware of itself as spontaneous (and so knows that there is no object).

The upshot of this is that an act of consciousness contains the whole of itself within itself as only part of itself--or alternatively, acts directly on (and so reacts directly to) itself. (This, by the way, is why we recognize the conscious act itself as an act, or as existing). But this is only possible if the act has no quantity, because it is both one and more than one. Hence, a conscious act cannot be limited at the quantitative level.

It is therefore reasonable to say that a spiritual act is conscious. But notice that the argument doesn't prove this; all it says is that if you're not spiritual, then you can't be conscious. That is, I can show that you can't talk if you're not alive; but it doesn't follow that if you're alive, you can talk--as is obvious from all the living beings that can't. So it's conceivable that an act could be spiritual and still not conscious.

The other argument (a different effect, but which argues to the same being, the Infinite Act) hearkens back to the discussion on the arguments from morality and design that we saw in Sections 2.4. and 2.6. (and to some extent from Section 2.3.).

The moral argument implies that it makes more sense for a human being to act inhumanly (which in itself is absurd) when it is to his disadvantage in this life to act humanly, unless there is an afterlife in which (a) he will be worse off for the inhuman conduct than any disadvantage he could suffer from acting humanly, and (b) he will be able to achieve his human goals (freely set by him) if he acts in a human way. I said that this proves that there is an afterlife, or human conduct is absurd; but I said that of itself it doesn't prove that there is an Infinite.

But we have now seen that finite existence demands that there be an Infinite which causes it to be the being which it is. Therefore, we can conclude that this Infinite does not cause human beings to be not what they are; and so somehow the state of this afterlife must, like all states of human existence, be caused to be what it is by the Infinite. Now as far as the frustration for immoral conduct is concerned, this does not necessarily imply that the Infinite "knows" in any sense the immoral choice and punishes it, since the "punishment" is just the eternal having of a goal that you eternally are trying to reach, knowing that you'll never get there because it's a contradiction in terms. But for all morally good choices that set up possible goals to reach their actual fulfillment, it would seem necessary that these goals be given to the person who chose them but didn't actually attain them before death. But since these goals depend on the finite being's free choice and therefore are not determined by the laws of the universe, it would seem that the Infinite would have to know what these choices are in order to fulfill them for the person who has chosen them. This isn't a conclusive proof, since there might be some automatic mechanism which would do this; but I can't think of any. So, even though the effect is different, the cause is something about the Infinite.

Secondly, we saw that evolution doesn't go as you would predict from the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which is essentially a description of what's driving it. Further, if you take what I said about life a couple of sections ago, you see that the living being is essentially less limited than the inanimate, and conscious beings are infinite with respect to quantity (i.e. totally beyond quantitative limitation). Granted, some bodies can support an organizing activity which is spiritual (if it has an energy-"reduplication"); but how can a quantitatively limited act be the cause of an effect that is infinitely beyond itself?

Thus, in order to account for the "leaps" into these essentially less limited types of existence, you have to have as a cause something greater than the physical forces of nature. But since we now know that there is an Infinite, Which is the cause of any finite being as finite, and that therefore, all the finite acts of evolution are caused, as finite acts, by the Infinite, it is reasonable to say that the Infinite is directing evolution.

But since evolution is going in a direction different from what you would expect by its natural tendency (organizing itself, advancing in freedom from limitation, etc.), then the cause of this direction, (the Infinite Act) it would seem, has to know what is actually going on in the world, so that the world can be directed by manipulation of chance toward an end that is different from what it would be doing based on the laws driving it.

Therefore, the Infinite (or God) must know what is happening in the universe, so that It can direct its evolution. Presumably, the two effects have the same causer.

But of course, there could conceivably be some automatic mechanism that does this, some force that counteracts the tendency chance would give the direction, and this "force" could be something not infinite but greater than the material universe (some finite spirit, for instance). It is, after all, a different effect from finiteness. But wouldn't that imply knowledge in the finite spirit? So the alternative is pretty far-fetched.

So then we have three lines of reasoning, none of which is conclusive in itself, but all of which only have theoretical possibilities that the facts might conceivably be explained some other way. So we have at least three scientific proofs for the consciousness of the Infinite; and the three together are all but conclusive.

Hence, we can say that the Infinite Being, as a single causer of these effects, is conscious, and somehow knows the finite beings It causes to exist.

But wait. How could the Infinite know them and not be affected by them? Simple. Their existence doesn't cause Its knowledge of their existence; Its knowledge (since It is a simple act) is the act of causing each one to exist as it actually exists; and so It knows the finite being, not by being acted on by it, but by the fact that Its own action produces it (much as a composer knows the music before it's ever played).

But there are many finite existences; and if the Infinite in some sense has an "idea" of each one individually, then doesn't that mean that (a) there is a multiplicity in the Infinite, making It finite, and (b) the limitations of the finite being are within the Infinite, making the Infinite finite?

Neither of these follow. The Infinite, as spiritual, is a "multiple unit," where each "part" is identical with the whole. The "ideas," whatever they are, are simply "reduplications" of the Infinite Act as causing this or that finite being, and don't contain the actual limitations of the finite beings--any more than my idea of my dog Luthien "contains" the body of the dog within it. It contains the knowledge of the body, but the knowledge itself is not corporeal.

Now this is not to say that we understand just how the Infinite does know finite beings, or what Its knowledge is "like." All we can say is that it makes sense to say that the Infinite is conscious, and conscious of the finite universe; and we can prove that this doesn't imply a contradiction to Its infinitude.

7.7. Selfhood

[A discussion of "self" and "person" appears in Modes of the Finite, Part 3, Section 4, Chapter 6.]

We have finally got to a point where we can stop calling the Infinite "It." Again, to discuss the issue would be rather long and complex, so let me just make the following definition:

DEFINITION: A self is a conscious being who consciously controls his own existence.

A self "contains his own existence within him" and "makes his existence be what he wants it to be." But since the Infinite is free and conscious, it immediately follows that

the Infinite is a self.

Since selves are not described (in English, at least) with the neuter pronoun, then it is no longer appropriate to call the Infinite "It." Unfortunately, there is no unequivocally neutral "personal pronoun," and so we have to make a choice between "he" and "she." But since "she" always means only the female person, and to be limited to only one sex or gender is clearly a limitation, and since "he," while it also can mean only the male person, is the one traditionally used in those cases which involve ambiguity, I will henceforth use "He" to refer to the Infinite. It is to be understood that this implies nothing of "masculinity" or analogy with males as opposed to females.

For the Christian, YHWH is literally the "Father" as opposed to the "Mother." The reason is that Christians believe that God is the one who made Mary pregnant with Jesus, and Christians (insofar as they share in the divine life) are in a literal but mystical sense "organs in the body of Jesus"--since an organ lives with the life of the whole body as well as its own life. So the Christian himself has YHWH as his father and Mary as his mother. It is not here a question of a metaphor or symbol or an analogy; God is not like a father; He is the Father.

7.7.1. Personhood

It would seem that if the Infinite is a self, then obviously He is a person; but it's not quite that simple. Persons are the subjects of rights; and so personhood implies interpersonal relations, which actually boil down to selves being affected by (or being able to be affected by) other selves. This is another one of those complicated issues that we can barely touch on.

But if this is so, then, since the Infinite cannot be affected in any way by another being, it follows that the Infinite is not, technically, a person. Most of the time, we mean by "person" a "self"; and in that loose sense, of course, the Infinite is a person.

Nonetheless, we could say this: If the Infinite as conscious "contains himself within himself" (analogously to the way we do when our conscious act is [also] conscious of itself), and if this real multiplicity which is a real identity means something, then the Infinite could be many persons--as Christians, for instance, believe. It's just that, in the strict sense, He couldn't be just one single person.


SUMMARY OF CHAPTER 7

In dealing with the positive "properties" of the Infinite, we only know that the Infinite is analogous (i.e. similar somehow) to the various aspects of finite existence as existence; but we don't know how It is like the finite existence (since the "existence" can't, as we saw, be separated from its finiteness).

But since "existence" and "activity" are different words for the same thing, we can say that the Infinite is pure activity; that is, "just plain doing," unqualified, unquantified acting. And since activity is the ability to cause an effect, and this is another name for "power," then we can also say that the Infinite is omnipotent; that is, It can do whatever can be done.

The "transcendental properties of being" (which "go beyond" all categories) are in effect just different ways of considering existence; and so they will apply to the Infinite. We already saw that the Infinite is one. But the Infinite is also absolute ontological truth. Truth is the fact that my understanding of a being corresponds to what the being actually is; but "ontological truth" is the being considered as "communicating information to my mind." But it does so, of course, insofar as it exists. Therefore, in this sense, the Infinite is not only true, but truth itself (since It, as a being, is nothing but existence). By the same token, aesthetic ideas about reality come about because reality causes emotional reactions, which can be compared, and so the realities can be understood as causing these emotions. Beauty is like ontological truth, the being insofar as it "communicates" an aesthetically understandable fact about itself. But since this is true of existence as existence, it follows that the Infinite is absolute beauty. (Note that this does not mean that It is "more beautiful" than finite beauties, however, because the degree of beauty does not depend on the degree of being.)

Goodness and badness are actually the truth-relation looked at in the reverse direction. I create (with my imagination) some ideal that I then want being to live up to; if it does, I call the being "good"; if not, I call it "bad." Thus, goodness and badness have a subjective basis. Nonetheless, since I call something "bad" if it is more limited than my ideal expects it to be, and since I cannot conceive of anything "less limited" than the Infinite, it follows that the Infinite cannot "fall short" of my idea of It, and so the Infinite is absolute ontological goodness. But this implies nothing about whether finite beings are more limited than I want them to be or not; and hence the Infinite's absolute goodness is compatible with evil in the world. A being is also moral if it acts consistently with itself (and does not pretend that it is greater--less limited--than it really is); but since the Infinite is omnipotent, then nothing that It does can "exceed Its limits," no matter what harm it causes to finite existence, and so the Infinite is absolutely morally good, no matter what It does to finite existences. Hence evil in the world is compatible with a God which is omnipotent and infinitely good, in spite of the fact that what happens to us might be monstrous.

Since life is existence insofar as it is not controlled by quantity, or existence in control of itself, it follows that the less limited you are quantitatively, the more your existence fits the meaning of life. But since the Infinite is not limited at all, then the Infinite is absolute life. By the same token, there is nothing outside the Infinite or within It that could constrain Its activity in any way; and so the Infinite is absolute freedom. This means that there is no necessity for the Infinite to cause a finite world to be (or the cause would depend on its effect, which is absurd), or to cause a given type of finite universe (since the Infinite's act says nothing about the state of the universe as good or bad).

Since consciousness cannot occur unless a being is not limited quantitatively, and since the greater freedom from quantitative limitation implies a greater consciousness, then by this reasoning it is probable that the Infinite act is an act of consciousness; but this is confirmed by the fact that the Infinite must actually reward moral people by giving them the goals they wanted but could not achieve in this life, and also the Infinite must direct the evolving universe along a path that is different from the one which it would spontaneously take; and so, taking all this together, we can say that it is scientifically established that the Infinite is consciousness.

We call a conscious (which "possesses itself") and free (which "controls itself") being a self; and since the Infinite Act does this, the Infinite is a self. A self in relation to (i.e. affected by) other selves is a person. But since the Infinite is not affected by anything finite the Infinite is not in this sense a person; though if He is somehow multiple within Himself (as the act of consciousness contains itself within itself), then perhaps he could be called analogously many persons.

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