God is Not Just the Good, as Plato Claimed But Love

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In the context of human virtue, which some would call the “value dimension,” the final issue in a discussion is between amor dei and amor sui. I would suggest that this was Voegelin’s main interest. It was his call to understand and expose tyranny. He thought that this was a more fundamental issue than, for example, his early interest in economics in the Austrian school with Ludwig von Mises.

Voegelin accepted that subjective values are the ultimate determining factor in economics but he felt a need to pursue these values to their ultimate source. Now, the poles are amor dei and amor sui no matter how one conceives God and what one believes are God’s demands on us. But, how does one decide what God is and wants? Regardless what answer is given the means for finding an answer is only to differentiate aspects of compacted existence. Here, in this process of differentiation, the poles are ignorance and undeciphered existence as it first confronts us.

Historically, the differentiations of what God must be and wants vary widely. The point that Voegelin will make, however, is that the Christian differentiation is the most penetrating. This still, however, leaves the question of virtue. God is not just the Good, as Plato claimed, but Love. What this understanding of God implies has also been a subject of dispute, especially with respect to the finer points. Again the first pole of the issue is ignorance and the end pole is the correct understanding of what God expects based on both what we can decipher from our experiences and, for the devout Christian, from what scripture and tradition imply. However, ignorance here is also amor sui and knowledge is amor dei.

In less far reaching realms, like science, the poles are, again, ignorance and, for example, what the atom is like. The scientist at first differentiates, using the tool of refined observation supported by experimentation and logic, from the compacted experience of the observable universe to theories that stand out as the best guess at a point in time. In practical realms, where the factors affecting outcome are generally understood and the outcome is fully understood (like a goal in hockey), the poles are skill and what is desired (the goal). The outcome is determined by how well skill is applied and the presence of inhibiting factors, so that the desired and achieved poles can vary widely. Again, the human exists as an in-between the current state and where his physical existence strives – here the poles might be hunger on the one side and food as the fulfilling pole.

The point is this: the realm of the soul, metaxy, is a realm of betweens, as Plato understood and Voegelin took from him. Human existence is a reaching out for knowledge, for goodness, and for effective results in a host of contexts. For Aristotle, and more for Aquinas, these examples are but natural implications of contingent existence. Expressed at the most fundamental level, all things except the divine exist between the poles of non-being and grace. Because this is so fundamental to the structure of existence that it plays out that poles of one sort or another are involved in every aspect of existence. Metaxy is the word for the human dimension of the in-between.

This is how I believe Voegelin saw it.

Martin Pagnan

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Martin Pagnan is an Environmental Sciences Consultant.