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In the Beginning Is Philosophy

On Desire and the Good


Brayton Polka

Philosophy, when understood to embody the values that are fundamental to modernity, is biblical in origin, both historically and ontologically. Central to this idea is the question famously posed by Tertullian: What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem? The answer – as based on a comprehensive and systematic discussion of the key texts and ideas of Spinoza, Vico, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche – is that we can overcome the conventional opposition between reason and faith, between philosophy and theology, and between the secular and the religious only if we learn to see that, as Spinoza shows us, both philosophy (reason) and theology (faith) are based on caritas: love – on the divine command to do unto others what you want others to do unto you. Provided throughout is a commentary on how fundamentally different philosophy is in the Greek and in the biblical traditions (in Athens and in Jerusalem). Whereas Socrates argues that (human) desire and the (divine) good are contradictory opposites, Spinoza shows that it is human desire that truly constitutes the divine good of all.
This book would be indispensable to courses (both undergraduate and graduate) in philosophy, religious studies, and the history of ideas – in interdisciplinary courses in the humanities, generally – that focus on the values that are central, both historically and ontologically, to modernity.
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4 Ethics: What Do I Love? In Beginning with the Neighbor as My Creation


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There is one thing that cannot be thought, by me, the subject, without existing, necessarily, and that is—God. There is one thing that I, the subject, cannot think—will, desire, love…—without existing, necessarily, and that is—the other, the other self, the subject who is other than my self, the subject who is the other of my self: God, the neighbor. What I love—or desire, will, think…—is my good, my self, my God, my neighbor, the one next to or near to me. I do desire or love something, whatever it be. I cannot not desire or love … something. For, as we saw in the last chapter, Nietzsche shows that we would rather desire nothing than not desire. Indeed, not to desire is but the passive, the negative, the self-evasive refusal, the evasion on the part of the self to acknowledge that not to desire is, still, to desire nothing. We are desiring beings: we are beings of desire. Desire is our being. There is no outside desire. There is no being outside of desire (there is no desire outside of being): what we desire, the desire of our being, the being of our desire is our good.

We are, then, in the presence of a double (or even multiple) paradox. The first paradox is that of the subject, the self, the “I.” The second paradox is that of God whose necessary existence as demonstrated by the ontological...

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