It Is Metaphysically Impossible To Love a Mere Idea

We can love only concrete reals; this because to love is to will the good of another, and we cannot do anything good for an irreal idea, but only for a real being characterized by that idea. You can’t benefit autonomy per se. You can however benefit people, by granting them autonomy; and while that will lead to an increase in the quantity of autonomy present in a people, it will not benefit the notion of autonomy itself.

We can love only things, and ideas only insofar as they are in things. To the extent then that we do love an idea, we love it only insofar as it concretely characterizes reals that we experience. We love ideas because they are properties of concrete things that we love.

So we cannot be loyal to a mere idea, or pledge fealty to a mere proposition, nor by the same token to any system of notions, howsoever noble and beautiful they be. We can be loyal only to concrete reals and their characters: to places, works, objects, persons, or to congeries thereof. Of such objects is the nation that is the object of patriotic devotion constituted.

I say that we cannot love mere ideas, “howsoever noble or beautiful.” But then, nor is it possible for an idea to be holy, beautiful, good, or true except in respect to its implementation as a concrete character of some concrete real. Ideas can have moral, aesthetic, veridical or sacred valence, i.e., only insofar as, being instantiated concretely, they could have effects. Only what is concrete can have effect. Ideas are then good, holy, just, right, proper, elegant, and so forth, only insofar as they are concretely realized, and then known.

We have the impression that we love mere ideas, but this is due only to the fact that we have somehow encountered them in a real that we have loved, or that has loved us.

So likewise also then for the existence of an idea. Ideas can’t have themselves. If they are to be had by anyone, they must first have been had by someone.

So the Platonic Realm is a character of some concrete real. Indeed, because all truths cohere – this being the basis of their agreement and mutual entailment – all of the Platonic Realm is implicit in any instance of any part thereof, so that at least by logical implication, any real is a synecdoche of the whole of it.

But the ideas are eternal; so then is their Original subject.

17 thoughts on “It Is Metaphysically Impossible To Love a Mere Idea

  1. Pingback: It Is Metaphysically Impossible To Love a Mere Idea | Aus-Alt-Right

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      • I may have overstated the case, but it is certainly true that we are inclined to “love” ideas that we believe flatter their possessors, and that we ourselves possess. Ideas are, in this way, very often shibboleths of one’s in-group and accessories of one’s lifestyle.

        But I am beginning to doubt that I altogether agree with your strong claim that one cannot truly love an idea because one cannot do an idea any “good.” This is true in an absolute sense, where all ideas exist in a perfect and incorruptible form, whether in Plato’s ideal realm or in the mind of God. But in this Vale of Tears, ideas can be corrupted by ignorant or malicious men, and to protect ideas from this “harm” is to do them “good.”

        This is a bit like objecting to a bad reproduction of the Mona Lisa, even though the original is safely hung in the Louvre. One objects to the bad reproduction to protect the original from the bad reputation that would be fostered by the bad reproduction.

      • But notice that both the original and the fake Mona Lisa are actual things.

        My point is that while we naturally and indeed necessarily treat of ideas *as if* they were things – this is what language is, after all: the manipulation of symbols – nevertheless the judgements we make about these ideas all derive in the first instance from our feelings about their adstraction in actual things. The corruption of an idea in the popular discourse is not, of course, the corruption of the idea itself, for ideas are eternal and changeless. It is the corruption of men’s minds, misleading them about the truth, and convincing them that the name of one idea refers to quite another.

      • I see that, and am in overall agreement with what you wrote. Personally, I might have said that it is metaphysically impossible to love an abstraction, but I think this comes to the same thing in the end. If a man tells me that he loves “nature” or “wilderness,” I begin to doubt his honesty (unless he is just speaking loosely). He must really love a particular trail, or a particular pond, or a particular mountain top. The same goes for people who claim to love “reading,” or even “books.” For my part, these abstractions encompass some of the all-time highs and lows of my experiences on earth. A great deal of reading is a tremendous bore, and a great many books are contemptible wastes of time and paper.

      • One can’t love humanity, likewise, but rather only particular human beings. — Kristor

        Which is to say, “There is no equality in true love.”

  3. [T]o love is to will the good of another… — Kristor

    To which I will lovingly contend means the impression of Perfection upon those one loves with his utmost inequity.

  4. Our Master enjoins us to love our God and our neighbor. American civil religion enjoins us to love “Equality,” to serve Equality every moment, and to elect Leaders who help us to realize the imperatives of Equality.

  5. Kristor, what about loving God? Is it really possible to will the good of God, unless such is directed toward creation (i.e. “thy will be done”) — but that doesn’t seem to be the normal understanding of willing the good of another. If we go with that special “reflective” meaning of wishing the good of, then loving the ideas makes a lot of sense. I love beauty; hence, I wish the good of beauty — not for the beautiful itself, but for the world — that beauty manifest itself in the world.

    Maybe this way of loving reflectively has something to do with another sense of love — as in eros. Wouldn’t you agree that we might love ideas erotically — as in directing ourselves beyond ourselves toward the ideas, which we desire? In this, we do not wish for the good of the beloved ideas (for themselves) but for the good of the beloved ideas for us — to manifest in us.

    • Good questions. Yes: the prayer that God taught us prays that his will be done in Earth, as it is in Heaven. So it is a prayer for the good of concrete creatures (even if they are not as yet concrete in the world as we yet know it (for in the world as God knows it – the world, i.e., as it most truly is to the eyes of omniscience – those creatures future to us are not future at all; he knows them as real, so they are real, in him; and we can therefore love them in and through him).

      The First Great Commandment God has given us is that we love him with our whole being. What can it mean to will the good of another who is already perfect? Well, what is the good of God? Is it not his loving will toward his creatures? To will the good of another does not mean only to will the correction of his defects. It means also to will that the good of him be magnified, amplified – in a word, glorified – in the world. When I will your good, I do not only will that you be healed, but also that your light might so shine before men that they see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in Heaven. I will, not just your personal enjoyment of your own glorification, but the glory that redounds therefrom to all your fellow creatures. So likewise when I will the good of God, I will not his healing (a silly notion), but that his Name might be glorified in all the world.

      You love beauty, but I challenge you to bring it to mind stripped of any association with a concrete real. Thus stripped, there’s nothing to it. Literally: no thing.

      But not to worry: even if there were no creatures, there would still be God, and *he* is certainly both concrete, and beautiful; so that it is impossible that there should be no thing at all that is beautiful. Our enjoyment of the beautiful at its most abstract, then, and at its farthest remove from this or that beautiful creature, is nevertheless still, and always, enjoyment of God. When we feel that we love ideas as such, then, and not in association with their creaturely instantiations, we nevertheless love them as aspects of a concrete real – indeed, of the *most* concrete real, the ens realisissimum.

      When an idea allures us then, as it were erotically, what is happening is that we are allured by the beauty of God.

      The thing to remember is that unless an idea is present to us as a character of some concrete real, it just isn’t real, period full stop. I would argue further that unless an idea is a character of some concrete real, it metaphysically cannot – as being, just, utterly irreal – be present to us in the first place, at all. But that’s an argument for a different post.

      Hope that answers the questions.

      • “When an idea allures us then, as it were erotically, what is happening is that we are allured by the beauty of God.”

        Exactly! I personally get hives with all this “concrete” talk that frankly smells of the Peripatetics — or worse! I’m a fully dyed in the χώρα Platonist, after all. Yet, if we go all out Great Divorce-style (such a delightful little book), then, yes, God is certainly the most concrete (read “really real”). Indeed, God is the fountain of reality for his creation. Getting to know the ideas — rather, coming to knowledge — is getting to know God better. We might use many images for describing this process — growing in wisdom as we better (noetically) perceive the ideas of God, as the Seraphic Doctor instructed, or getting a glimpse of his life- (reality-) giving Divine Energy, as the Palamites taught. I certainly do not understand the meta-metaphysics of how God’s essence (or being beyond being) relates to the structure of creation other than that God in his perfection is the cause for everything that is — that it is and what it is and for what it is. However, I suspect that our knowledge of an idea is our analytical knowledge of God’s creative energy — focused upon one aspect, one piece of the all-puzzle. This is another way of understanding abstraction.

        I think it is a significant mistake — the original sin of Western philosophy since the Lyceum, in my opinion — to misunderstand the Platonists’ great insight. There is no “third man.” There are not “two worlds.” Rather, there is reality and the appearance of reality to us. When we look at the world, we see “both” (the plural indicating levels of how being discloses itself to the mind, which is another way of saying levels of being), though only a man with understanding realizes what he sees and how he sees it. It is short-sighted to fail to see the really real — the logical force that empowers understanding and the understandable — that shows up in the spectacle of time and space. For when we “see” a mathematical relation, or a manifestation of justice, or a hammer, we are not mindlessly categorizing objects. We call things the same name because the same thing shows up in those things. Every other explanation, nominalism chief among them in its demonic purity, proscribes our ability to know. Human thought and discourse become simply word-play, po-mo style.

        Another form of blindness involves the inability or unwillingness to acknowledge the showings-up of the ideas, as if the appearance of beauty was somehow lacking in beauty. What a bizarre form of misplaced propriety! That is the way of gnostics, nihilists, and other coldly spiritual ne’er-do-wells that populate the nightmares of sensible materialists when they read words like mine. What a shame. The rock is real; kick it to find out. 🙂

        Rather, at least on this side of the eschaton (and I’ll leave it to theologians to argue the details of what happens on the other side), we see only through a glass darkly, and so we typically (with the sages and saints perhaps occasionally excepted) apprehend the ideas by witnessing their manifestations in daily life. In your words, we love only “concretes.”

      • Oh, man, Joseph, you really must write more often. Such delicious stuff. Like an extended raga.

        … we typically (with the sages and saints perhaps occasionally excepted) apprehend the ideas by witnessing their manifestations in daily life. In your words, we love only “concretes.”

        The difference between the sages and saints and prophets and mystics (and some of the poets and musicians), on the one hand, and the rest of us on the other, is that they remember to recognize him in his manifestations in daily life. We forget. The apple that Eve bit? It is the apple of forgetfulness, and of sleep, that Snow White bit.

        Oh, and this: when we recall that God is ens realisissimum, there is no need to put “concretes” in scare quotes. He is the originary event, the euintegral concrescence of all things. He is then not exceptional to creaturity, but exemplary. So, our love of mere concrete creatures is vicarious love of him. That’s why he commands that we love each other. Obedience to the Second Great Commandment is obedience to the First.

  6. At the end, I should have added a reference to the Lord’s parable of the sheep and the goats in the Gospel of St. Matthew (25:31-46). Let us never forget our handmaidenly role. Or, to quote Les Mis, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” Both Christianity and Buddhism allow men to avoid idolatry, but only the Good News makes a place for love. This discussion shows why.


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