(Continued from Part 11)
12. Some additional thoughts
In Witt’s response to Fife, Bell saw grace in the midst of war. But it was just a moment, and the question remains: How is that transcendent love we know as grace to be effected more durably in the world? It may be that the only way to more durably effect the transcendent in the world is to effect it more often. This is to say that the question – How is the transcendent to be effected more durably in the world? – may well be the wrong question. Instead, the much more proper question could be: How can the transcendent be effected more often in the world?
The transcendent is often alleged to be ineffable. Some will quickly accept this supposed characteristic of the transcendent and tie it to Wittgenstein’s statement, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” in order to insist on the irrelevance of the transcendent or in order to disdain as nonsense all discussion of and reference to the transcendent. Indeed, in his Lecture on Ethics, Wittgenstein himself appears quite willing to assign matters of the transcendent to the realm of nonsense (without, in his case, being disdainful):
You will say: Well, if certain experiences constantly tempt us to attribute a quality to them which we call absolute or ethical value and importance, this simply shows that by these words we don’t mean nonsense, that after all what we mean by saying that an experience has absolute value is just a fact like other facts and that all it comes to is that we have not yet succeeded in finding the correct logical analysis of what we mean by our ethical and religious expressions. Now when this is urged against me I at once see clearly … that no description that I can think of would do to describe what I mean by absolute value …
That is to say: I see now that these nonsensical expressions were not nonsensical because I had not yet found the correct expressions, but that their nonsensicality was their very essence. For all I wanted to do with them was just to go beyond the world and that is to say beyond significant language. …
Ethics so far as it springs from the desire to say something about the ultimate meaning of life, the absolute good, the absolute valuable, can be no science. What it says does not add to our knowledge in any sense.
To say that there “can be no science” which investigates the transcendent is to reveal the essential nature of science without addressing very much about the transcendent. Inasmuch as science seeks to attain knowledge, and insofar as knowledge regards awareness of truth(s), science is necessarily committed and restricted in its efforts to those matters which are (presumed to be) actually determinate.14
More specifically, science is concerned with determinate matters which recur consistently (and, hence, predictably). This is to say that at the heart of science is the attempt to discern patterns and, in particular, the range of conditions – the limits – within which those patterns occur. Were there no such recurrent patterns – were there not the determinateness which makes those patterns discernible – there could be no science.
With this in mind, it becomes quickly apparent that the absolute to which Wittgenstein refers itself gives the impression of being the sort of condition – a determinate condition – which can be subject to science. However, if “ethical value and importance” are absolute (in the sense of determinate) and, therefore, subjectable to scientific inquiry, it seems to be the case that none of the attempts at ethical values expression has yet managed to provide – as have other scientific endeavors – a sense that the relevant determinate absolute is being conceptually or expressively approached.
Whereas other sciences have been able to impart a sense of progress towards a fuller understanding about many investigated relatively determinate conditions, in the case of “ethical value and importance” there does not seem to be any comparable advancement in understanding. Other sciences have managed to devise consistently applicable formulas, principles, and laws that anticipate specifiable details which themselves are at least practically invariant in otherwise distinctly different situations.
On the other hand, when it comes to principles concerning “ethical value and importance”, the details of different situations seem more often to present exceptions to – rather than confirmation of – these principles, with the result being that for the sake of consistent applicability such principles tend towards more indefinite expressions. Such a tendency is precisely the opposite of what is to be expected if there is some determinate absolute undergirding ethical value and significance and if the principles being devised are moving towards a fuller understanding of this determinate absolute.
However, there is a term other than absolute which has often been used in reference to the transcendent. That other term is the word infinite, a term which Wittgenstein does not address in his lecture. This term indicates (the expectation of) an indefiniteness rather than a determinate absolute. Indefiniteness does not necessarily indicate either chaos or unreality or even an immutability of the indefiniteness, and this term can be epistemic or metaphysical or both.
Infinite as indefiniteness can merely indicate an indeterminateness persisting beyond whatever determinateness there may ever be. Particularly as a not necessarily immutable indefiniteness, to say of the transcendent that it is infinite is to say that it persists with indefiniteness despite all possible knowledge. Although the term infinite can impart a sense about the transcendent which the term absolute in itself does not, when that which is described as absolute is also recognized as infinite, then the term absolute serves primarily to indicate a perpetual and unremitting otherness to the transcendent, and this is to say of the transcendent nothing more than that it does not originate from (nor is it wholly contained) within conditions of this-worldliness.
Even so, the sort of indefiniteness associated with the transcendent tends to support Wittgenstein’s contention that “there can be no science” which establishes “ethical value and importance”. The matter to then be considered is whether an intractable but not necessarily unchanging indefiniteness is necessarily nonsensical and non-important.
For Wittgenstein, nonsensicality only indicates the condition of “not add[ing] to our knowledge”; accordingly it would seem that for Wittgenstein sensicality is – essentially by definition – only a matter of knowledge. Science, by its very nature or by definition, is the pursuit of knowledge. As such, science is related to the philosophical field of epistemology. Accordingly, philosophy is no less interested in knowledge than is science; however, unlike science, philosophy is not limited to matters of knowledge and the determinateness upon which science depends. Instead, philosophy is most properly identified with the pursuit of wisdom.
It is with wisdom rather than with knowledge alone that the indefinite is navigated. So, while science seeks knowledge, it necessarily depends upon wisdom in order to be able to mine the determinateness which science presumes is there to be recognized and described so as to become knowledge. This means that, even if the identification of sensicality with knowledge is accepted, it is nonsensical to insist that what nonsensicality there is within wisdom necessarily renders that wisdom non-important. Indeed, it is arguable that wisdom is more closely tied to importance than is knowledge (alone).
Of course, it seems that wisdom is always to be identified with that which follows from and because of wisdom – which is to say that wisdom is ultimately recognized and identified owing to what it effects. Within science, wisdom becomes recognized and maybe even appreciated only when knowledge is (or seems to have been) produced, but to claim that wisdom attains importance only upon the production of knowledge is simply to deny that there is anything important other than knowledge, and that in turn is simply to insist upon the identification of importance with knowledge without having established the exhaustiveness and, therefore, the necessity of relating or identifying knowledge with importance.
It might be argued that wisdom as the attempt at navigating the indefinite produces knowledge even when that attempt fails to produce a new solution to whatever happens to be the problem being addressed; this attempt at navigating the indefinite would be said to be important because it produces knowledge that the manner of that attempt does not provide a solution. However, by this reasoning, ethical investigations would qualify as having produced knowledge no matter how often these investigations fail to provide solutions in the form of principles which can be applied across differing situational details in a way that eliminates the need for judgment such as occurs when well defined scientific principles or laws are produced.
The knowledge which science seeks to produce is that which can be expressed as principles or laws which having been abstracted from differing already-occurred situations can then be applied in other distinct situations. The ultimate goal of such knowledge is to minimize the need for judgment and, therefore, wisdom. In effect, then, this knowledge is important to the extent that it makes redundant the very wisdom – the judgment – which brought the knowledge to fruition. Even so, it is absurd to insist that only knowledge in terms of principles is important when judgment in wisdom is essential – which is obviously to say important – to the production of knowledge.
This suggests that there is something amiss in exclusively identifying importance with knowledge. In fact, to insist upon what is in effect a tautological relationship between knowledge and importance is to assign a matter such as love to the realm of the non-important. Love, after all, is a very broad and, frankly, an indefinite condition, one which remains apart from the sensicality describable as knowledge. Accordingly, were importance identifiable only with knowledge, love would have to be assuredly unimportant, but to say about love that it is not a matter of knowledge is most definitely not to say that love is unimportant. From this it follows that importance is something other than the attainment of knowledge.
In the case of philosophical focus on the transcendent, it is the this-worldly effecting of the transcendent which is important, and the effecting of the transcendent depends extensively upon wisdom. Furthermore, given the extremely brief duration for each effecting of the transcendent and given the apparent need to be able to more often effect the transcendent, it is correct to say that the this-worldly effecting of the transcendent is perpetually dependent upon the judgment of wisdom which no knowledge can render redundant.
Even if it is the case that love is unremittingly indefinite – certainly in terms of how it can be expressed – this does not mean that there is nothing to be said about love or that nothing should be said about love or that love is non-important. For example, it can be said about love that as grace it is (or produces or effects) an invitation to inter-subjectivity; it is an invitation offered to an other simply because of the fact that the other is an experiencing self; as such, grace is not the result of a preference had for the invited other which is not had for others. At the same time, grace as an invitation to an other is something distinct from a responsibility; grace is more than responsibility – it is love – insofar as it is tailored specifically for some uniqueness recognized about the other. This tailoring is done in order that it will be more likely that the other will respond by participating in the development of inter-subjectivity. As the offering of this invitation, grace is an act which only momentarily effects the transcendent, although the invitation itself can remain open in perpetuity. Because love is an act, and because acts so quickly pass away, in order for love to be effected more durably by being effected more often, there needs to be a another act of love – actually other acts of love – beyond the offering of grace. This is the case whether the other who is invited accepts the invitation, rejects the invitation, or does not respond to being invited.
The development of inter-subjectivity commences when grace is accepted, and that development continues in a series of invitations and responses. Grace is extended, rejuvenated – indeed perpetuated – by another form of love, the act of love known as charity. It is by charity that the loving person opens up his or her own self. At times, this opening up of the self is done as part of the loving person’s attempt at becoming more aware of details about the other, particularly by realizing the perspective of the other. This is done so that the loving person might then be more capable of addressing the other in accord with the current character or condition of the other self. But this is also always done with consideration into how the other might be able to further his or her own self.
Clearly, such a consideration into constructive contribution to the other’s self-furtherance requires judgment on the part of the loving person; hence, judgment is not antithetical to love, and, yet, the loving person never desires to impose his or her own judgment concerning the other upon that other self. Indeed, love cannot be imposed, because the concern which love has is that the loved other respond not as the loving person thinks the loved other should but, instead, the concern which love has is that the loved other respond with his or her own – frankly creative – act of love, one which is creative inasmuch as it effects progress in the development of both the other self and inter-subjectivity.
This is to say that charity is effected in accord not only with the current condition of the other but also with hope for the being of the other. In addition, from charity comes a new, modified grace, another invitation to develop a still deeper inter-subjectivity, a fuller love between persons for one another.
Each point in this iterative and oscillatory procession from grace to charity and hope and back to grace is at risk of mis-judgment not just because the person who actively loves might have insufficient information about the other but also because it can just as well be the case that there is no one way to effect a responsive act of love in a particular situation; for that matter, it need not be the case that there is only one way to actively love in response. In addition, even if the person who actively loves were a perfect self (whatever that might be) and fully aware of his or her own self and capabilities, it could well still be the case that the other person is such that he or she at that time is not capable of constructively responding to the love which is available to that loved person. That said, it is common even for a person wholly devoted to actively loving to mis-judge the context defined by the perspective of the other. This often occurs because the loving person is as of yet insufficiently aware of – or at that time has insufficient information about – the person of the other. But, even a mis-judgment severe enough to result in the loved other taking offense need not put an end to the iteration which effects love. This is because forgiveness – whether in the form of the act of forgiving or in the form of those acts which seek forgiveness – is itself an act of love, an appeal for that greater inter-subjectivity which can only come about by love.
Because love cannot be imposed, it is necessarily patient, but patience is not passivity. That is why neither an outright rejection of – nor a lack of response to – grace or charity puts an end to love and its hope. It is here that another aspect of the opening up of the self which comes with charity is critically important. For the sake of love and its furtherance, the loving person must be open to what the response by the other can indicate about the self (including the acts) of the loving person. The manner in which the transcendent can ever be effected is always context dependent. In the case of love, since it cannot be imposed, it can at first only be offered (as an invitation). Thereafter, the manner in which it can be effected most definitely depends upon the response of the other. That response provides definition to the context, and that context is also defined by the self of the one who loves. But, since love is always for the sake of an other, the response by the other to an act of love will, can, or should effect in the one who loves some consideration into whether there is something about the loving person’s own self which can be constructively modified – improved – so as to produce a changed context, one which can be more conducive to another effecting of love within the world.
Love is appropriately described in terms of acts, but, because of the iterative nature of love, the acts of love are properly unified when, because of the efforts needed to actively love, these acts are recognized as work; hence, acts of love ultimately give way to Kierkegaard’s description in terms of works of love. Acts of love are distinct occurrences, but love is a work which has no non-arbitrary end; no act which effects love ever effects a condition in which love cannot be effected yet again – although, of necessity, differently. Love itself is not determinate, and even when a condition is made determinate with an act of love, how else love is to be effected remains an indefinite, an indeterminate matter. Howsoever efficaciously an act of love evokes a response of love, no act of love ever makes it seem at all more likely that there is a formula or an otherwise expressible principle which would reduce – much less preclude – the need for judgment in the this-worldly effecting of love.
Love is always for the sake of an another, but since the response by the other to an act of love affects the manner in which love can be additionally effected, love is not exclusively for the sake of an other even if it is primarily for the sake of the other. Neither the lack of a response nor a rejection of an act of love puts an end to love. At most, non-response or rejection only frustrates love – if the one who loves remains devoted to the work of love and, accordingly, continues to seek ways to modify the context in such a manner that might make the next invitation more effective. Oftentimes the only aspect of the context which can be changed by the one who loves is the very person of the one who loves; therefore, responses to acts of love will themselves effect in the loving person a self-examination for the purpose of assessing what about that person’s own self might be alternatively presented or improved in order to bring about a modified context. And, yet, it may very well be that there are occasions in which there is no constructive change in the loving self which would modify the context in any way that would elicit a responsive love on the part of the other.
Indeed, it seems too commonly the case that the only love which can be effected is that which is never more than an initial invitation. That invitation can be held open – or stand – until such circumstances occur wherein the other person might be more responsive to an offering of love, but, a standing invitation is operatively an abeyance in the effecting of love, with that abeyance being indicative of the remoteness which persists unremittingly between persons. The loving person can repeatedly present the invitation to love in alternative forms in further attempts to more effectually tailor the address according to the perspective of the other, and these alternative presentations can properly be characterized as acts which effect love, but this is a characterization to which the loving person would not actually accede.
The loving person will not so accede because that characterization supplies a sense of satisfaction for a situation which is most properly rendered in terms of discontent. The loving person effects love for the sake of the other – which is to say in order to bridge (and, thereby, reduce) the remoteness between persons. An act which effects love but does not reduce the remoteness of the other leaves the one who loves discontented – not discontented simply for his or her own ineffectualness but, rather, discontented because of the unallayed relative isolation of the other. And this relative isolation which so bothers the loving person is not necessarily the unmitigated remoteness between the one who loves and the one loved. Since love is effected for the sake of an other, the one who loves is less discontented than satisfied if the loving person’s own act of love effects in the loved other a responsive act which itself effects love for the sake of yet someone else and thereby reduces (at the very least the sense of) isolation, remoteness. The remoteness between the one who first loves and the one loved would not in such a case be (immediately) mitigated by the response of the one loved, and this is a cause of some discontent, but the sense of satisfaction greater than the sense of discontent here rests with there being the opening up of a new route on which love might be effected.
The response by the other to an act which effects love can produce an abeyance in the further effecting of love between the one who loves and the one loved, and it can rightly be said that at such times love has not (yet) succeeded. The fact is that “no one in any time … has succeeded in loving every man he met.”15 But such a lack of success, although invariantly frustrating, is never on any occasion sufficient to do away with love, that aspect of the transcendent which – in its characteristic infiniteness – remains always available to be this-worldly effected.
Buber says that were there a love “without real outgoing to the other … and companying with the other, th[is] love remaining with itself – this [would be] called Lucifer.”16 This raises another question about characteristics of the transcendent, specifically whether the transcendent is only to be identified with such qualities as the good, the constructive, and the like. Is there a transcendent evil or badness, a transcendent destructiveness? This is a topic that might be taken up at some other time, but there is reason to say that the transcendent has no such opposite or negative aspects.
14 See the brief essay, A Characteristic of Truth, for further discussion about the relationship between truth and determinateness.
15 Martin Buber, Between Man and Man (New York: MacMillan Publishing Company, 1975), pp. 20-21.
16 Ibid., p. 21.