Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Modernity: Better to Reign in Hell Than Serve in Heaven

I'm still reading Gillespie. I've got to finish today and get on to other projects that have to be finished up before vacation. But this stuff is so good.

In his chapter on Hobbes, Gillespie notes the fact that scholasticism made use of Aristotle's four causes, but that Hobbes "reworks this Aristotelian notion of causality. He recognizes only a material and an efficient cause." (230) Hobbes does not believe in an unmoved mover, but is a first cause who himself is in perpetual motion. Gillespie writes:

"Hobbes thus rejects the Platonic claim essential to medieval Christianity that God and thus true being are unchanging. Rest in Hobbes' view cannot be attributed to God . . . Motion is the action of God, and this action in nominalistic fashion is not governed by any reason or purpose other than God's omnipotent and indifferent will. The cosmological consequence of this position is that there is no rational or natural goal of bodily motion. Effectively then for Hobbes, God is the same as the causal process or, in the words of Leviathan, nature is God's artifice, his continuing activity." (229)

Hobbes rejects the Christian idea of a personal God who personally creates the world and governs it by Providence so as to bring it to its eschatological conclusion. But he does not leave the world drifting aimlessly without guidance. Man takes the place of God. As Gillespie notes: "The goal of Hobbes' science is thus not merely to understand the world but to change it, to give human beings the power to preserve themselves and improve their earthly lot." (231) He quotes Hobbes' De Corpore as follows: "The end of knowledge is power." (231)

If the goal is to understand nature including human nature, then one needs to consider the final cause. However, if the goal is not to understand, but to change and dominate nature including human nature, then final cause is not just irrelevant but an actual impediment that must be done away with! To the extent that, say human sexuality to pick one currently relevant example, has a purpose - a natural end - designed by the Creator, there are limits on how man can change it, manipulate it, use it etc. Humans cannot, however, be prevented from asking "why" questions and so the idea of a final cause can never be banished from human thought entirely. The demonic genius of modernity (as seen here in Hobbes) is that it re-assigns final causation from the nature and acts of God to the will of man. In an inversion worthy of the imagination of the greatest of poets, man takes over God's role of determining ultimate ends and God (understood as motion in nature) takes man's role of conforming to the will of another.

It is surely fitting that Gillespie quotes from Milton's Paradise Lost at the beginning of his book the passage from 1.242-63 which ends with the words:

"We shall be free; th' Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav'n.

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