Posted on: May 12th, 2018 Desire above Reason (and Desire)

Any any student of philosophy knows, Plato and Aristotle both had accounts the human soul such that the soul can be seen as consisting of three basic “parts.” What’s more, even though the two renditions differ in important ways, in each case the respective thinker argues that, in some sense, human reason is “above” desire. That is, both Plato and Aristotle think that the flourishing of the human individual involves some kind of “program” in which reason’s  proper role is to somehow manage, control, oversee, or discipline human desire in all its manifold variety.

It has taken me a long time to grasp a certain way in which this picture, nevertheless, gets “tweaked” in an important way, at least by the mainstream neoplatonist tradition, and I’m shocked that I have not explicitly blogged about this before.

According to neoplatonism, and in particular Christian neoplatonism, while it is true in terms of traditional “faculty theory” that it is the  job of rationality to keep human desire in check, what’s equally true is that there is an additional kind of “desire” which is “above” both psychic faculties of reason (logos; ratio) and desire (horexis; epithumia; thumos). (Somewhat related to this is this.)

Now, why does all this matter, and why should you care? Two reasons: mythos and mysticism.

First, mythos. More and more, I’m convinced that for the Christian mythos is privileged over logos. That is, it is the Christian story into which we as Christians are called super deeply to delve. With the Feast of the Ascension ringing in my imagination (and its amazing collect), it is truly mind blowing to affirm that Christ ascended into the clouds, and then continued to rise beyond the ability of the disciples to see. Where did he go? The answer to this question, it seems to me, stumps rationality. And yet, it makes for a really good story, which is a way of saying that mythos is closely connected to desire. It is myth, over and over again throughout Christian intellectual history (according to folks like Bonaventure and CS Lewis) which supremely is able to stimulate (and satisfy?) Christian desire.

Second, mysticism. My nifty nutshell “definition” of a mystic is one who is convinced that God wants us to experience God. Not primarily to think about him, but to experience him. If this is the case, if the mystic is correct, then the central role of desire in the Christian life, occupying a position even superior to that of reason, is a very big deal.

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Posted on: July 10th, 2017 Reason & Desire in Dostoevsky

When I read / assess a thinker, I’m always asking the question: does he or she  privilege reason, or does he or she privilege thumos / desire? (I am thinking here of the tripartite schemas of the human soul, according to Aristotle and Plato.)
For example, I’m pretty convinced now that while Thomas privileges reason, Bonaventure privileges desire.
Reading _the Brothers Karamazov_, it is pretty clear that Dostoevsky privileges desire.
For example, consider the comments from the narrator on Alyosha, who, having just left the monastery in despair, is struggling with the way certain religious figures in the monastery are gloating over the “premature” putrefaction of Father Zosima’s remains:
… I am glad my young hero did not turn out to be too rational at such a moment, since there will always be plenty of opportunity for an intelligent person to employ his intellect, but if love did not hold sway in his heart at such an exceptional moment, would it ever do so? – Part III, Bk. 7, §2, “Here’s an opportunity.”
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