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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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7 Conclusion: In Ending with Philosophy as Beginning with the Good of Desire


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I have undertaken in my study to show that in the beginning is philosophy as the covenantal knowledge of creation or, we may equally say, as the creative knowledge of the covenant. We end, consequently, with philosophy as beginning with the good of desire. I have made central to my book, in arguing that in the beginning philosophy is biblical and the Bible is philosophical, the critical issue of the relationship of desire—will, thinking, love, practice …—and the good—justice, freedom, love, existence. … I thus made use specifically of the demonstration on the part of Spinoza that we do not desire something because it is the good (in itself) but that, on the contrary, what we desire, i.e., desire itself, is the good. In a fundamental sense, then, my study involves an exploration, an essaying, of the extraordinary implications, of the astonishing consequences, both historical and ontological, that emerge from a comprehensive explication of the relationship of desire and the good. In addition to attaining an all-embracing comprehension of the relationship of history and ontology—that to be human is to be historical and that to be historical is to be human—we have seen that the existence of history and the history of existence are, at one and the same time, ethical, hermeneutical, and political, to recall the sequence of chapters that constitute my book.

Spinoza’s demonstration that to seek the good—to desire, to love, to think, to engage, to do the...

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