Skip to main content

Good, Love, Power


Why cannot I not do the Good?

It's never a question of a moral upbringing or of education or of religion; on the contrary, these only provide the rational framework for our actions. I did this because of this, did not do that because of that--but either way the deed has been done, and only then do I deploy my reasons to explain for any such action. Yet at the moment of decision, of choosing to do this instead of that, in those moments which Jaspers called "limit situations," when reason is stretched to its limits (and eventually broken) and finally set aside, at that moment, I do not have a hold on these frameworks, do not have a hold on anything--precisely when I am staring at an abyss that attracts me--I still could not but act--jump or stay?--not because, but even in spite of such reasons that can easily be supplied after the fact. Hence delayed wisdom: we only learn something when it is done, when I have seen the consequences of my actions. There is profound meaning to Hegel's words that the Owl of Minerva flies only at the coming of the night.

If reasons only come after, then could I nevertheless be called "good" a priori, perhaps because of the accumulated good actions that I have done before, after learning--always too late--what good actions are and what are immoral? This was Aristotle's point on one's "moral disposition" or that internal compass which guides us in our actions. Yet while Aristotle may be correct in saying that one must habitually do the good in order to be called a good man, or a virtuous man, the Philosopher himself says that every opportunity for action presents itself with a whole new set of circumstances which may only challenge that moral disposition, if not, break it. In a word, one must and cannot but think anew, decide anew, or choose to do the good anew, carry it again with its whole new weight, because the Good is not decided upon a priori through categorical or universal reason--against Kant--but is always slippery, always elusive and surprising, or a moving target.

If the Good then, as described above, could neither be determined through an a posteriori rationalization nor an a priori inclination; if, to be clear, the Good can only and solely be done through a thundering decision at each moment; what then is its origin and vector, or its logic or passion? How does one carry the weight of the Good?--buttressing it without yet a reason, suspending itself without already an assurance. But to be sure, what other absurdity or danger could there be in order to do the Good other than the logic and assurance of Love--a love which carries the whole weight of the Good, or rather, a love which is the weight itself of the Good. "Pondus meum est" or "My love is my weight," as Augustine has said. The Good can only acquire an impossible weight because it is weakly supported by an impossible love.

Yet again, why Love and not any other?--like reason, morality, justice, etc. Because any other formulation of the Good would, by definition, only be formal, that is, could only give definition to an action which nevertheless must be have been done--at that precise moment--without explanation, that is, without rational form: I just do it.

When I see a drowning woman, I do not first think of the categorical imperative, or of the Christian commandment to lay down one's life for another; on the contrary, I do not at all think, yet that does not mean to say that I jump into the water because of my "instincts." Very much, it is not instinctual, that is, not for the betterment of my own survival, to endanger my life for another. But if the essence of such an instinct could be retained, one which does not have to originate from a survival instinct but from perhaps another source--like love, as it is explored here--then such an irrational origin could perhaps shed light on the question here on why one cannot not do the good. Without knowing why or where it comes from, I am ordered by the commandment, at least negatively, "Thou shall not kill" (Levinas). Put positively, I am called to love and do the Good. But ordered by whom and by what right?

Levinas would say that the call comes nowhere else but from the Other. The face of the Other is what could not be grasped, and thus could not be explained rationally or subsumed under my categories. Phenomenologically: when the Other faces up to me, I do not see him but I experience myself being seen. Thus the Other escapes the intention of my consciousness, shatters any possible intuition, making me, finally, lose my consciousness. As if in a daze, the I turns into a me, a me which suddenly only refers to the Other who calls me. This is what Levinas calls responsibility: that I could not but not respond to the Other who calls on me.

Beyond reason or any moral obligation, between freedom and instinct, the call from the Other invites me to respond. And this only means that I can also block the call, ignore it, and finally reject it. What could it mean to hear the call and ignore it? What would it mean to reject the call? How is such a rejection possible? In a word, how could the call to do the Good be neutralized--as indifference--or even inverted?--as in the inverted Love which comes by the name of Hate.

To ignore the call is easy: this simply means hearing but not listening, knowing but feigning ignorance, seeing the opportunity to love yet deciding to keep that love to oneself--saving it? keeping it safe? or finally fleeing the Other as the priest or the Levite left the man who was abducted by robbers on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho. All that is necessary to ignore that call is to do nothing; yet doing nothing, as always, is a decision; in this case, a decision to leave the call unheard. The Good beckons me, and I, to be sure, recognize it, understand it if not only because I first tried to listen to it, but after I hear it calling on me, I so decide that it was not meant for me, that another could respond for me, that another is better suited for the call--like a Samaritan perhaps. Someone already said that all it takes for evil to happen is for good men to do nothing.

But to reject the call and not just ignore it: this means "going out of my way" and "taking the trouble" to not only ignore the call to do the Good but to also invert it, distort it or even destroy it. It is no longer a question here of indifference; while apathy is the inertia that keeps me in my stead and leaves me safe, I require force and energy to deliberately leave my safety not to endanger myself but to already endanger the Other. In other words, I need a force to propel me toward that which calls on me: to stop him, to block him, even kill him. But why would I do such a thing to what just calls on me?

Such is the force of malice which goes out of its way to silence all calls--calls which it cannot afford to hear or no longer wishes to hear as it questions its superiority over all beings. Jean-Luc Marion speaks of ennui or a hatred of all beings: since beings are all the same in the eyes of profound boredom--they do not bedazzle anymore and deliver me to the threshold of the Nothing--I may take revenge by annihilating all beings, whichever, no longer matters--even my own being. Yet again, why such malice or evil when the call of the Good could still be heard even if it is intentionally blocked? Precisely because that call only feeds the burning desire of evil to destroy; and as long as there is still something to destroy--and this is all that evil can do as it can never build--evil shall always be "busy" and can never rest. Like Estragon and Vladimir who wait on nothing, merely pretending they heard the call of Godot, whiling away the time, killing it, and contemplate hanging themselves every evening. Evil is that patient contemplation suspending the call from elsewhere.


It was asked at the beginning how one cannot but not do the Good; yet now we have ended up with the possibility of evil as the rejection of the call from elsewhere (from the Other, Being, God, etc.). The logical conclusion that has to be made then is this: that one can always not do the Good, with or without a reason, with or without malice, with or without a decision. The Good then, thought this way, is reduced to my arbitrary decisions and subjective perceptions: sometimes I do the Good, sometimes I don't; sometimes I see the Good, sometimes I don't.

The Good then ultimately no longer qualifies or retains its distinct name as the Good; the ability to easily choose between good and evil upon my arbitrary decision levels both to what I alone will. No longer does it matter that this is good and that is evil and that I choose between them with this or that reason, that I respond to this call or ignore that--no; to the contrary, when good and evil only take their measure and stance from me, that is, they are only possibilities because I make them so, they become undifferentiated. Thus, by being "free" to choose either over the other, and if this freedom be absolute (and freedom cannot but be absolute), good and evil, forever thought to be "values" in themselves, even metaphysical "truths," simply become instruments for my will: to heighten my will even if it opposes it. In a word, because my powerful will is that which decides between good and evil, then my will necessarily has to be that which goes beyond both. Ultimately, and with Nietzsche: my will to power is beyond good and evil.

For Nietzsche, the categories of "good" and "evil" no longer hold after the "death of God." And if there is longer any God who would guarantee morality, good and evil, therefore, become values which no longer carry any weight. Or as Zarathustra ordered, such tables of values must be broken in order to create new values--values that the Overman of the future would exemplify. Shattered by a hammer and shown to only have feet of clay, good and evil are but hollow idols which expose the Nothing--or Nietzsche's Nihilism.

Hence the confusion contemporary man lives in as he no longer recognizes which is which--the good takes the form of evil, the evil as good--a masquerade, a hologram, a simulacrum. And such a confused state of affairs can only lead to, again, man's arbitrary decision which finds no other source or origin but one's own autonomous will. I will this so--without a reason, without good or evil. Now it is no longer a question of morality or ethics, of love or hate; as Nietzsche already said, power is autistic. Blocking all calls from elsewhere, and concerned only in heightening itself, power cannot but be on the way to becoming absolute power.

And an absolute power can never afford to expose itself to a love that will always have to weaken it. Unlike the weakened God who could not but love.

. . . obviously I don't know where this is going. Maybe I'll stop here.


Popular posts from this blog

The Fields of Amorsolo

The first National Artist in Philippine history, referred to warmly as the “Grand Old Man of Philippine Art,” Fernando Amorsolo (1892–1972) still stands today as a looming figure in Philippine art responsible for being one of the artists who helped define what we up to now visually imagine as essentially Filipino. The images of rural life, of golden fields below clear blue, blue skies; the smiles of farmers which diminish their weariness as they plant, harvest, and winnow rice;most especially the iconic figure of the Filipina maiden working in the fields—the beloved dalagang bukid--; these, I believe, even after generations of Filipino painters since Amorsolo, have remained in our hearts and memory. Amorsolo did what great masters do for their country: bestow upon it its own icons, represent its native beauty, that is, to give its people and lands an identity and a face. There are, however, as many intentions for art as there are works of art. And these intentions will always remain in…

[Payapang Daigdig]

Written by Pat Nogoy, S.J.

Payapang Daigdig Felipe de Leon, Sr. 
Ang gabi'y payapa Lahat ay tahimik  Pati mga tala      Sa bughaw na langit 

Kay hinhin ng hangin Waring umiibig          Sa kapayapaan          Ng buong daigdig     
Payapang panahon    Ay diwa ng buhay Biyaya ng Diyos       Sa sangkatauhan
Ang gabi'y payapa Lahat ay tahimik Pati mga tala Sa bughaw na langit  
Pati mga tala           Sa bughaw na langit

The gift delivers Being/being Jean Luc Marion

There is something about the night.
The blanket of darkness hovering the other half of the day sparks ambivalence. Everything is the same in darkness—fear, joy, pain, triumph, doubt, glory, sorrow. Identities recede unto the vast anonymity. There is a pervading anxiety where existence slips into nothingness. One is never certain what to make out of darkness; maybe that is why the night shakes us because we never know. One cannot avoid imagining a something that is greater, higher, mightier, (even sinister) that lurks (hence the power of ghos…

A Love Sooner than Later

BROWN PENNY William Butler YeatsI whispered, 'I am too young,' And then, 'I am old enough'; Wherefore I threw a penny To find out if I might love. 'Go and love, go and love, young man, If the lady be young and fair.' Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny, I am looped in the loops of her hair. O love is the crooked thing, There is nobody wise enough To find out all that is in it, For he would be thinking of love Till the stars had run away And the shadows eaten the moon. Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny, One cannot begin it too soon.

One cannot begin to love too soon--conversely, one should not love too late or in life's demise. That waiting for the "right time," or the "right person" to love, what are these but the cries or sighs of an unready, even tired, heart? One becomes ready only when one begins to understand love slowly (or again), and one understands love progressively when one, simply, performs the act of love. Love, like mos…