Ideas Have Consequences: Human Nature – We’ve Lost that “Loving” Feeling Too
Before we start, put the following question in the back of your mind and let it sit there until we pick it up near the end. Gentlemen, don’t fall into the temptation of answering right away, because anything you say can and will be used against you, and that could get ugly!
Who is more free, the single man or the married man?
In our last article we briefly examined the nature of reason, that human capacity to understand, judge, and intellectually apply the principles of reality that we abstract from our sense knowledge. [i] Due to a shift in how we understand reality, that began in Western culture almost five hundred years ago, we have seen in the last few centuries a more pragmatic approach to philosophy. No longer do we speak of “conforming” our desires to universal truths, rather we use our rational powers to achieve what we desire. The divorce from metaphysical principles has fueled the spread of atheism in the halls of academia and government, which in turn has led to intellectual, social and moral consequences. In a book he co-authored with Benjamin Wiker, entitled “Architects of the Culture of Death”, Professor Donald DeMarco writes the following:
“(Arthur) Shopenhauer was one of the first to understand the full implications of atheism and, as if he were springing an evil genie from a bottle, unleashed the notion of Nature as ‘blind Will’ into the modern world, where it continues to play a significant role in philosophy, though in a variety of curious incarnations. For Friedrich Nietzsche, who read Schopenhauer avidly, it becomes ‘the Will to power’. For Sigmund Freud, it lodges in the instinctive power of the ‘libido’. Wilhelm Reich locates it at the ‘irrational core of sexual desire.’ Jean-Paul Sartre finds it everywhere and experiences it in the form of ‘nausea’. Simone de Beauvoir is sickened by the way it ‘suffocated women biologically’ and makes them its easy prey. Elisabeth Badinter seeks to escape from its ‘oppressiveness’ by escaping into an ‘absolutized Ego’. … Schopenhauer’s Will – the ‘thing-in-itself’, the underlying nature of reality – is thoroughly and completely dissociated from reason.” [ii]
Lest we think that the musing of long dead esoteric philosophers has little to do with modern society, I think the following from a Stanford University website is telling:
“In the first place, Nietzsche has made his way into popular culture. He has been mentioned on The Sopranos and in the film Good Will Hunting, is read by cultural icons like Shaquille O’Neal and Marilyn Manson, and has been fictionalized by Stanford Professor Irvin Yalom, the author of When Nietzsche Wept,” Wilson said. “Secondly, there is something about Nietzsche’s deep understanding of the psychology of power and radical individualism that lends itself to the efforts of some people to reconceptualize their values and morals in an age of downsizing and increasingly incomprehensible global economic trends. On the academic front, Nietzsche has become an invaluable theoretical tool for revisionist historical projects that seek to explore power dynamics in earlier periods from an interdisciplinary perspective.” [iii]
As Pope Benedict has explained, in losing our appreciation of Truth we must by necessity resort to power. [iv]
From Plato to Aquinas, classical (or Realist) metaphysics has held that there is an order to reality, an underlying Logos (order), which remains constant amid all the changes that take place in the material world. Our Christian faith puts a name to this Logos, and it is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ, God made Man. The Will of God therefore, is personal and benevolent. Created in the Image of God therefore, human beings also possess a “will”, the capacity of the soul to choose what Reason has come to know to be Good, True, Just and Beautiful. A proper understanding of Human Will, therefore, gives us a clearer understanding of both “Love” and “Freedom”.
You’ve Got an Appetite!
It is self-evident to almost everyone (except the ‘hard determinists’) [v] that human beings have a capacity for choice. For human beings, this ability is connected on two levels: the senses and the intellect. Let me demonstrate this reality using two examples.
- Every responsible parent remembers “child-proofing” their house when their children were very, very young. These infants and toddlers had an insatiable and persistent need to pick up anything they could get their hands on and immediately put it in their mouth! They don’t know what the object is but it got their attention and viola! Instant food and happiness! Take it away from them and hear them wail! This would be called in philosophical terms the sensitive appetites. These appetites are divided into the irascible appetites: anger, fear, hope, despair, daring and the concupiscible appetites: love, desire, complacency, sorrow, aversion and hate. These appetites we share with all sentient animals.
- What distinguishes humans from animals can be seen from the following parental lament: “Young lady, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll get upstairs and CLEAN YOUR ROOM!” The key phrase here is “if you know what’s good for you.” Animals do not know what is good for them, they just follow their instincts. Human beings however have the capacity to know what is good … and true … and just … and beautiful, and to pursue it. This ability is termed the rational appetite – the faculty by which we seek the good as know by the intellect.
Choose your Targets Carefully!
Here’s a quick lesson in Greek. Hamartia is developed by Aristotle in his work, Poetics. The word is rooted in the notion of missing the mark (hamartanein) and covers a broad spectrum that includes accident and mistake, as well as wrongdoing, error, or sin. Hamartia is usually translated as sin in the New Testament. In Classical Greek, it means “to miss the mark” or “to miss the target” and was used to translate the Aramaic word khatatha which is an archery term for missing the mark, or going astray.
I mention this because I’m going to use the image of archery to help explain human will. An arrow has one purpose and one purpose only, to get from point A (the bow) to point B (the target). The arrow, however, does not have the power to guide itself to the target nor to pick the target. That requires an archer who can pick a target and who has the necessary skill to direct the arrow to the target.
The human will is similar. Its purpose is to get from point A (desire) to point B (the object of desire), but it is blind to what point B should be. All that “will” knows how to do is to “will”.
What makes us different from animals is that human will transcends the merely biological and instinctive. Since it is a spiritual faculty, we call the human act of will, “love”. [vi]
“The proper act of the will is love, or the effective union of the will with a known good. All the movements or partial aspects of the human acts that take place in the will, such as simple volition, efficacious tendencies, consent, active use of the faculties, and fruition, proceed from love, directly or indirectly.” [vii]
In other words, whatever I want, I love. Hence we can say: “I love that car”, “I love pizza”, “I love my wife”, “I love my children”, “I love (insert your desire here).
Now it might seem self evident that some objects of love are of a higher value than others, but we human beings are not perfect. How many girls have lamented to their beau, “You love that car more than you love me!?” Sometimes we just don’t get our priorities right.
Reason, then, is the archer. It finds the target, judges whether or not the target is a good one, determines the requirements needed to hit the target… then the will is loosened and is united with the target.
Sounds great in theory, but alas, life is not so simple. Our reason is weakened by sin, so sometimes we THINK something is good when it isn’t – hence the classic lament: “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” But our will has also been weakened by sin. Like the arrow that has damaged fletching and will miss the target no matter how carefully you aimed it, so too our will sometimes doesn’t want what our reason knows we should want. St. Paul laments about this in Romans 7:15. Addiction is another example of an enslaved will.
And lastly, the human will is voracious. There is no limit to what it wants. As soon as it obtains one target of desire it soon tires of it and desires another target. Only union with an infinite target will satisfy its infinite capacity, which helps us understand, from a philosophical perspective, St. Augustine’s famous line: “O Lord our hearts are restless until they rest in thee!” In heaven, all choice ends. The will ceases to desire, for it is finally united with the only object that can satisfy it: Infinite Love.
Ideas Have Consequences
Due to the fact that we have made reason a slave to our desires, as stated in our last article, we have hindered both our freedom and our ability to love. Our freedom, because we are now slaves to our desires; our ability to love, because we no longer recognize what is good, true, just and beautiful. We have become increasingly materialistic, because we have bought into the lie of advertisers that the latest, newest, gadget will make us happy. We have become more hedonistic, because we no longer trust our reason to know Truth and the only thing we know that gives us the impression of happiness is sensual pleasures. It explains why we have more and more “stuff” (material and sensual) and are less “happy” nonetheless.
Which brings us back to my original question above: Who is more free, the single man or the married man?
While the single man is certainly more free in terms of external liberty of action, the married man is more free in terms of liberty of “union”. A single man can be more spontaneous in terms of going out with friends, to sit around and watch the game or go away for a weekend, but he cannot unite himself to a woman with the same freedom that a married man can. A single man is not “free” to love as a married man is; he is not “free” to become “one flesh” with another.
Love, the exercise of the will, is the desire for the good. Love of another human being is the “desire for the good of the other” for their own sake. In other words, true human love is the sacrificing of my own good for the good of the other, with no expectation for return, hence Jesus saying, “no greater love can a man have that he lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15:13)
The maxim, “The Truth shall set you free”, makes perfect sense here. Since the married man “KNOWS” that his wife is the good his will desires, he is more free to unite himself to that good, as opposed to the single man who does not yet know who that specific woman is. Since human beings are not objects, but persons in their own right, he is more free to love her for herself, not for any other selfish reason. In fact, he is more free to love unconditionally, since he knows that this person is now the one for whom he can sacrifice his “all” for. A single man does not have the same freedom. [viii]
This understanding of marital love, I’m sure you agree, is much more appealing and realistic than the image of marriage as a “ball and chain” or “the end of freedom”.
In summary then, Human Reason and Will are what separate man from brute animals. Human Will is dependent on Human Reason to direct it to the good (what is true, just and beautiful). The more our Human Reason knows the Good, the more free our Will is to unite itself to the Good. The Ultimate Good is God Himself – the source of all Good.
Yet, we do not know enough about our Human Nature to determine what is true and good about us. We will continue this examination next by looking at the Spiritual and Corporeal nature of human beings.
[ii] Donald DeMarco and Benjamin Wiker; Architects of the Culture of Death; Ignatius Press, San Francisco; 2004; pg 29-30.
[iii] John Sanford; 100 Years after Death, Nietzsche’s Popularity keeps Growing; Stanford News Services; 6/5/01; http://news.stanford.edu/pr/01/nietzsche66.html
[iv] Pope Benedict XVI; Jesus of Nazareth, Holy Week: From the entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection; Ignatius, 2011; p.193
[v] Determinism holds that every event or occurrence is “determined,” that is, could not have happened other than it did. In its more strict application this would take away the possibility of human freedom.
[vi] This explanation also helps understand the mythology of Cupid and his arrows. If he shot the wrong heart tragedy (or comedy) could ensue.
[vii] Fr. Jordan Aumann, O.P.; Spiritual Theology; Christian Classics, Inc. Westminster, Maryland, 1987; p190.
[viii] Some may ask about priests, religious or consecrated single persons. In the strict sense they are not “single” but are united in a special way to Jesus and His Church. Their freedom mirrors that of a married person.
This article is a part of the ongoing series, Ideas Have Consequences – by Dennis Buonafede. Please help us in our mission to assist readers to integrate their Catholic faith, family and work. Share this article with your family and friends via email and social media. We value your comments and encourage you to leave your thoughts below. Thank you! – The Editors