Sunday, May 12, 2019

Passion & Reason

Denis Diderot
          Denis Diderot

- 'It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.'
- Karl Marx* being plain wrong.
- Perhaps both are true, consciousness determines social life, and social life determines consciousness.
- How?
- Aristotle, writing in the Ethics, takes the position that consciousness determines social existence: 'What the person of good character loves with right desire and thinks of as an end with right reason must first be perceived as beautiful.' Human beings are social animals. Social existence is formed by habits of desire corrected by reason guided by beauty. You're familiar with arguments against blaming the corporate executive for being concerned only about profit?
- Blaming the individual distracts attention from the institution. Whoever has the job must do the job. It's the institution that has to be changed. Same goes for the sadistic policeman. It's the job. Policing has from its inception been about making a show of violence to discourage rebellion.
- But not everyone becomes a corporate executive. Before this choice can be made wrong desire has been allowed to become habit by wrong reason.
- 'To be clever enough to get all that money you must be dull enough to want it.'**
- Yes. If we don't want to become dull ourselves, our consciousness guided not by beauty but by social existence, we must allow ourselves a passionate response to the ugliness of individuals whose consciousness has been formed by institutions. I like Diderot on passion and reason:
People are forever declaiming against the passions; they attribute to them all the pains that man endures, and forget that they are also the source of all his pleasures. It is an ingredient in man's constitution which cannot sufficiently be blessed and banned. It is considered as an affront to reason if one ventures to say a word in favor of its rivals; yet it is passions alone, and strong passions, that can elevate the soul to great things. Without them, there is no sublime, either in morality or in achievement; the fine arts return to puerility, and virtue becomes a pettifogging thing.***

Further Reading:
* A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Karl Marx 1859
** "Among the rich you will never find a really generous man even by accident. They may give their money away, but they will never give themselves away; they are egotistic, secretive, dry as old bones. To be clever enough to get all that money you must be dull enough to want it." A Miscellany of Men, 
G. K. Chesterton 1912
*** D'Alembert's Dream, Denis Diderot 1769