A question about evil and the intrinsic independence of the human intellectual, rational, and volitional spirit from the empirical residue. But only a question.

 

by Dr. David Fleischacker

For those who are interested, I have been continuing to work on the topic of my last blogs regarding the male and female.  I am exploring the neurobiology of the brain and its differentation into the male and female orders. It is complicated as you can imagine, and I am waiting for some insights that pull much of it together.  But because it has been some time since I last posted, I thought I would pose another question that I am currently pursuing as well.

Here it is: Does the evil caused by the sin of the human person who is extrinsically dependent but intrinsically independent of the empirical residue transfer its dialectical disorder to the material world?  Does, for example, the knife used by the murderer come to be in a violation of emergent probability when the murderer uses it to murder a victim?

Let me explain the question a bit. Hopefully you are familiar with some traditional thoughts about the nature of evil, such as the affirmation that evil is a “privation of being” or a “privation of the good.”  It lacks intelligiblity.  It is a distortion of a good and is not an intrinsic substance nor does it have any “being.”  (It can be a privation of order that should be.)

The question I pose seeks an insight into the relationship between evil, the spiritual, and the material as these are articulated in INSIGHT. In INSIGHT, Lonergan presents the material as that which is intrinsically conditioned by the empirical residue.  The spiritual is intrinsically independent from the empirical residue.  The human being however is both material and spiritual. As spiritual, the independence from the empirical residue is understood by examining the “notion of being” or to use the language of METHOD IN THEOLOGY, the ‘transcendental notions’–intelligibility, being, and value.  The notion of being makes it possible to abstract intelligibilities and truths from the empirical residue (thus these are intrinsically independent of space and time, of the continuum, etc..), even though judgments of facts are concrete (some philosophers/theologians have thus called these concrete universals because they deal with specific realities and acts of being). One could say the same about judgments of value–these too are intrinsically independent of the empirical residue even if these are concrete as well.

Though the human spirit is intrinsically independent of the empirical residue, it is extrinsically dependent upon that which is intrinsically conditioned by the empirical residue, namely our material psychic and organic schemes of recurrence and schemes of development. One grasps this dependence when understanding the relationship between

  • the image (phantasm) and insight, or
  • the symbolic element in gathering evidence for judgments of the correctness of insights or judgments of fact, or
  • the symbols and affects involved in judgments of value or the good.

Images, symbols, and affects are intrinsically conditioned by the empirical residue.

The question at hand becomes more challenging when we point out the relationship between evil and emergent probability. The coming into being or the elimination from being of a central act or conjugate act is not necessarily a privation, but can be an absence.  If emergent probability can explain the absence or elimination of these acts, then this is no evil.  If evil has meaning, it must be something that actually violates generalized emergent probability and thus falls into the realm of absurdity. This violation would be the meaning of “privation.”

So, where do we find such privations?  In INSIGHT, arguably, the only “real” evil is that which falls under dialectic, because dialectic has introduced an absurdity into the unfolding finality of the human operator.  Generalized emergent probability is violated when there is a failure to pursue the “notion of being” as one should.  Put into the language of METHOD IN THEOLOGY, whenever there is a violation of the transcendental precepts, there is a real privation that takes place. Evil that is ultimately evil arises from the spiritual and only from the spiritual (that which is intrinsically independent of the empirical residue).

As a note, that which is intrinsically dependent upon the empirical residue, namely the material, cannot initiate a violation of emergent probability because it simply does not have the degree of freedom needed to do so. (this is another argument I suppose, but it is rooted upon the need to have this intrinsic independence from the empirical residue, otherwise what emerges always is explained within emergent probability).

Thus, the human person, as spiritual, can initiate an act of evil that is a real violation of the emergent probability. This is “sin.” So, to repeat the question stated at the beginning,

Does the sin of the human person who is extrinsically dependent but intrinsically independent of the empirical residue transfer its dialectical disorder to the material world?  Does, for example, the knife used by the murderer come to be in a violation of emergent probability when the murderer uses it to murder a victim?

An older manner of posing this question is whether physical evils are actually evils in the end (such as natural disasters)?  Can material disruptions and destructions or absences ever be “privations of being or the good” even when these are “caused” by the human person? Or to put this another way, do these “material disruptions” point to genuine evil caused by the spiritual or do these actually participate in the evil caused by that which is spiritual, and hence violate emergent probability?

By the way, the answer to this question has some interesting ramifications for those interested in whether there exists conversions ontologically below the intellectual (eg. affective, neural conversions).

At this point, I only want to raise the question.  I think one could argue that there is a potential that some of that which we call physical evil is itself a violation of emergent probability, however one must turn to a doctrine such as the Fall in original sin to begin exploring that possibility, because then one moves to a spiritual initiation of a larger absence within the whole emergent order of the universe.

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