Beyond, Between, Before, Good and Evil (again).
On Manifolds, Divisions and Prepositions (All/ Some; Monist, Binary and Plural Manifolds; Prepositions and Temporal Ordering). How some linguistic and logical elements might order our understanding of ontologies and ethics? Or is it naïve even to ask…
Pre-thought (All/Some and Genius Loci)
To each type of space its own resident deity? Implied deity? Certainly a personification, or prosopopoeia (the calling up off the absent, the abstract or the dead) but best perhaps classified as most directly as our human tendency to anthropomorphise spaces we find special as a ‘genius loci’ (‘the spirit of the place’) - but this time the loci is universalized, befitting of the largest fundamental space imaginable… single, binary or plural (God, God and Anti-god, gods).
So the use of the term ‘God’/’the gods’ in what follows, may stand, at once, for the personification of a manifold (I prefer the term ‘genius loci’, so answering the question: whose place? whose space?…on sensing an implied inhabitant). Or the guarantor/originator of the Law or Ethic by which we must live, therefore a theistic understanding of the world as required for an absolute notion of Good and Evil. Again implying the world, the All, as some kind of consciousness (the generalized ‘genius loci’, ‘God’), as well as a simplistic or familiarizing personification.
The broadest range of the term ‘All’, or ‘God’, of course is a meta-set… subject to infinite regress (as we conceptualise the ‘All’ and ourselves conceptualising it…) and the problems and advantages thereof. Or we may approach the issue as the universalisation of a moral understanding… (as in ‘universal’ rights, or ‘universal’ values) a consciousness of right and wrong, or good and evil, with the supporting religion/God/gods functioning as a (Durkheimian) symbol for society or humanity (a ‘totem’ for our species being)… so for us/ourselves/our sense of the world or ’All’.
But if it is a question of ‘not All’ or of ‘Some’, then we must speak of the part, the part which is apart, which part? And what and where, in an ontologically divided manifold? What parts are Good and what parts Evil? The deity as Good, all else as Evil (Other)? Good as Here (Evil is where, outside? As… Entropy…)? Or Good as There, far away… (Evil as Here, Radical Fall, Cathars, Zoastrians)?
The scientific/empirical or anti/ post-metaphysical solution to the above questions is: None/Nowhere. The nothingness of metaphysics. So giving morality, values (and attendant or accompanying deities, intermediaries, and other immortals), the opportunity to be read as a purely human addition to things and behavior. Our gift to the world. And one difficult to know how to bestow?
Temporalisation and Prepositions (Falling ‘in’ and ‘out’ of Ethics).
‘All’ notoriously does not admit of history or time, being abstract and universal until delimited in some manner (so its actual meaning is ‘always’ for all time) ‘Some’ suffers similarly as the eternal ‘Some’ of an eternal ‘All’ also requiring temporal modification, particularization or actualisation… ‘sometimes’) So, if real, their positioning there must be relative to other events or entities - their temporal positionality (sometimes ‘good’ in relation to what comes before or after, so including causality or historical context). Whence the Prepositional Modalities in the title… ‘Before’, ‘Between’ and ‘Beyond’. Or, past, present and… future past (as in ‘after’, as actually experienced and not imagined) prepositions are relative to a given point (so, again in terms of actual experience, the ‘forward point’ here is the present…).
‘Before’ as innocent (no such return possible, and no excuse or solution for problem of bad behaviour). But in the alternative reading of ‘before’ may also mean, standing before, or perceiving, the case of the existence of Good and Evil, as in standing before the totems or symbols or statues or theatre that represents this manner of morality. ‘Beyond’ (if not implying those born ‘after’ all knowledge of Good and Evil) already assumes, already in, so conscious of doing evil even as doing it and half disbelieving its existence - the insistence of the inherited sense of good and evil. ‘Between’ as caught in medias res; as having to choose a path, a Way, whilst conscious of others’ definitions of ‘good’ and ‘evil’… Whence it may be felt to be part of a monism (their difference in value is second order or ranging over, and not prior, or ontological) or a pluralism (we are presented with a variety of choices, the differences are ontological) and so neither a sign, nor an index, of a binary.
So, experientially speaking (as the only model worth anything - the rest is fiction…):
‘Before’ read as facing, looking upon and considering… the fleece in the temple, the offerings on the altar, the stars in the sky, and being before them, drawn; finding oneself debating ones response… (there cannot be a ‘before’ for human experience as a temporal preposition, in the spatial sense employed above, this would be the past, memory… or the void of pre-conciousness).
‘Beyond’ as having experienced and moved on; a change of point of view (but retaining the trace, the marks, the cuts and scars, of the previous order, within oneself). Finding oneself remembering and wondering how to best remember… and how best to forget.
‘Between’ as about to act, but judging, weighing, the received moral sensibilities of one’s culture and the action’s future consequences (infinite, incalculable…). Finding oneself… (torn…).
(‘Our’) Subjectivity as ‘strung-out’ over, or between, bi-polarities… constitutional, binary divisions). But division into spirit/mind and matter; as defining good and evil (‘ought’) and actuality/matter as beyond (‘is’) is going back to a binary (albeit a secular one…). Or the recognition of divisions in the self as part of what it is to be human… our constitution as strung between subject and object… Constitutional contradictions (generally experienced as ‘binary’); the human mind’s way of thinking beyond its limitations… (we switch positions, and imagine options, where necessary…). Finding oneself in different places (at the same time…).
Finding oneself… as ‘strung-out’ over, or between, these bi-polarities…
From All/Some to the One, the Two and the Many.
The whole, the ‘All’ read as a whole, may be opposed to ‘Some’ as indicted in the introductory remarks, as the ranging over all of a manifold or only a lesser part of it (as in the application of the predicate, black haired, or good or evil, to a people, to all people). Or we may depart from the whole in the direction of ‘the part’, to two parts, or to many parts… Is this not how we divide to understand… or how we are divided, how we divide ourselves, in order to understand? There seem to be three basic models for the topography of morality, for the distribution of values.... A Monism (a unitary or undivided manifold); a Binary (divided) manifold; and some manner of Pluralism, the whole is made up of a number of irreducible parts (in theory, this could include only two distinct, discrete parts, as different entities, but our brains very quickly turn one in to the opposite of the other, which is why we often turn to think in quantitative gradients or several subdivisions of quality - so it is better to start with three and then proceed to infinity). However, a plural manifold is often hard to use in practice, as our minds find a monism more logically consistent, but seem to prefer the binary options as ‘naturally’ prior… more instantly intuitive. So in the use of pluralism we often find ourselves sliding back into a consistent monism or a moralist, contradictory or mutually exclusive, binary…
Binary. (Foundational in philosophical methodologies like Structuralism, Logical Semantics, etc.). With respect to Good and Evil, we have the division of the world into two morally, theologically opposed and complementary halves; so dividing-off the sacred from its opposite, including the requirement of the casting down, or abjection of other half (were it simply a question of ‘point of view’ or ‘interest’ the binary would be ‘good’ and ‘bad’, for ‘me/us’…). But this division leaves us with the problem of God as All (see below) and/or as half; so if not logically contradictory, then logically limited (so leaving open the possibility of an inversion of point of view; the denial of the sovereignty of a limited god, transgression, sacrilege, reactive reversal of values). One solution: good and evil gods (gods and devils). With God/Good as ‘here’ with Law as the cure for the Fall and the Fallen – the usual solution. Or if we posit Good as ‘there’, far away, then our world (Here) is read as doubly fallen (as in the case of Cathars, Zoasters, Gnostics, mystics, the Fall in modern ideologies, in melancholy philosophy… and all the lost utopians…).
We may also consider the binary as incarnating, or as a kind of isomorphic mapping onto, the binaries that govern our epistemologies: mind/body; thought/matter; Culture/Nature; Subject/Object; self/other and inside and outside (as within experience/language/culture or outside of it…). The problems here are well known. With a ‘Nature First’ ideology as the chef product of Romantic thought (but previously appearing in Daoism and Mencius in the East and in Antique thought and the tradition of Pastoral in the West), up to and including Nietzsche and Heidegger, the presumption is one of the mind as fallen, with nature, the body as the real source of the active self, authentic desire, which has been perverted by culture and history (see also Rousseau). The ‘Nature First’ model includes models requiring such concepts as alienation, authenticity and ‘essentialism’; and also includes modern (natural) Desire First models (Psychoanalysis and Delueze, Guattari, Lyotard)! These categories are used in determining morality, the true good and bad life, etc… but ultimately are found to be contradictory as we (‘inside’ mind, concept, language, culture) are supposed to prefer, give preference to, our ‘outside’, our ‘Other’, non-sentient matter; with the resulting paradox: thought thinking, puts itself second… (the problem of enunciation, or self-reference, in contradiction with ‘origin’). There is a similar contradiction for materialism.
Binaries; dividing by two… but are not all of the most basic elements of language and logic divided by two: topic/comment; subject/predicate; propositional element and set or class etc. ‘Both’ now readable as the condition of logic’s efficacy and use, and the possibility of its diremption or ‘incompleteness’.
Monism: or All is One. A single manifold, unified (scientific/quantitative) topography or ‘plane of immanence’ (Deluze). Logical. Consistent. But leaving us with the problem of God as both Good and Evil due to the absence of any other (place), as in the case of a binary, as the site of evil; so an equally, both evil and good, God, and all the problematic implications of this for us… for a consistent morality… an ethical Janus. Or worse, much worse; God as ‘All’ as consistent; in which case we have no morality, no Good or Evil (Heraclitus had already suggested this)… or the whole as always as such, so permitting all… And worse still, this insight may be used as an excuse to excuse, to allow, to disavow, all manner of cruelty… ‘the end justifies the means’… ‘evil also is a part of the picture’. Which, come to think of it - all pretended pieties put aside - is this not how we actually live…? Already beyond Good and Evil…?
Pessimistic monism; we may be more consistent than we care to think.
The usual ‘solution’ to the problems of the above, of monist and as well as of binary models, seen from a theological or better deity–requiring point of view, is that we constitutionally cannot understand; we are too limited (cannot understand God - who ‘moves in mysterious ways’). Ironically this argument may also be true of, be used by, an atheistic point of view; as the human species is limited to its own point of view, an imaginary view, way of seeing things (implied, meta-set, again… ever up… and why not!). A guru, shaman or philosopher (intermediary or prophet) may be required for the big picture. So again, the problem is only apparent on our limited and lowly sub-lunary level… (God’s) logic… only works, or can be seen to work, on the level of a larger whole, a higher plane, etc.). Not accessible to mere mortals – even if there is nothing else… (as in the Chan/Zen variant of Buddhism?).
When all deep structure is drowned by nothingness (as empty forms we have ourselves created) then all that remains is the illusion of the surface, or illusions… for they are many - irremediably plural.
Pluralism, then, is the other alternative. The moral universe as a plural manifold (the secular and scientific solution): in which values are read as, or experienced as, a result of situatedness, a matter of point of view and function of a number of attendant uses (many). Good and bad as the result of different interests, points of view… so a thorough-going perspectivism. With ‘evil’ as the theological moralisation of an original sense of bad ’for me’; generalized, as an ‘all’ hiding behind a collective entity; then universalized… for, or into an All (people, space, time) - a monism, over which they (the binaries) range… hiding behind ‘God’, the guarantor or originator. Or by a collective Spirit (Hegel) personifying our collective and cumulative human culture. Before Good and Evil.
And so the binaries are dismissed. But… often surviving as a necessary fiction or lie, as some degree of universalization is ‘assumed’ to be essential as an ‘external’ foundation of civilization as ideal… (to combat exceptionalism and exclusionism with respect to rights). Plural, as with the possession of one’s own political ethic which would at best be ground on (at least include) the recognition and inclusion of others (as in Lyotard and Rawls’, post-modern, post-foundational, post-unitary, political ethics). Including within, a tradition of useful universals (necessary fictions), so retaining ‘good’ and ‘evil’ as provisional in use, as a foundation for the values that support civilisation, as… Between Good and Evil.
Finally (as part of a solution regarding agency, or being active): giving value, ‘making sacred’ as a gift to use… So to consciously use the human psychological organ (dating back to pre-Stone Age times and the source of the sense of the sublime) of making sacred in modern life; our challenge…?
Finding use is finding good.
Making sacred is making Good (bestowing value).
Obviously this exercise is still subject to matters of choice; and so to difference of point of view… and so will be irrevocably, irremediably plural (the cure for a binary fracture, it would seem, is to multiply it to infinity). And so the debate begins…
Beyond Good and Evil…
Copyright Peter Nesteruk, 2015