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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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6 Politics: What Do I Will? In Beginning with Relationship as the Freedom and Equality of All


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“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” So Rousseau dramatically opens Chapter 1 of Book 1 of his Social Contract, which was published in 1762. He forthwith poses two questions. First: How did this change come about? He answers: I do not know. Second: What can make this change legitimate? He answers: That I shall proceed to show in this my present work. All of the issues that are fundamental to my study are comprehended—not altogether self-consciously by Rousseau, as we shall see—in the stunning declaration with which he initiates his presentation of the social contract. He appears, from the beginning, to presuppose two beginnings for human beings. They are born free; yet they are not free, for everywhere, it is apparent, they are in chains. Still, these chains are the very bonds by which human beings legitimate, make lawful, justify, render just their relationships as constituting the social contract.

I initiate this chapter on politics—in response to the question: What do I will?—with Rousseau because, as the last of our four great contract theorists (following Hobbes, Spinoza, and Locke), he like them never deviates, in principle, from demonstrating that, in order for human freedom to be grasped as truly individual, it must be understood to be, from the beginning, in the beginning, social, not natural. We begin with the chains that constitute the bonds of relationship ← 175 | 176 → as the freedom and equality of...

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