Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Mike McElroyMike McElroy has been living in Toronto for many years. He has a life-long interest in literature, philosophy and spirituality. As well he has always been interested in music and once played guitar in a punk band. He learned to meditate at a Zen temple in the late 1980's. In 1980 the works of Dostoevsky's and Camus caught his interest. In 1995 he walked into his local bookstore and saw a big, bulging book called Sex, Ecology, Spirituality and has been studying Wilber's work ever since.

Job, suffering
Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away, blessed be the name of the LORD. (Job 1:21)

Theodicy: A Missing Piece

Mike McElroy

All religions offer a theodicy—taken in the broadest possible way—what purpose or meaning do we give to our most difficult sufferings?

There is much talk within the Integral Community of the importance of meaning making and some talk of a meaning crisis. We see this in the work of Bonnitta Roy, Daniel Schmachtenberger, Jordan Hall, Jamie Wheal, Zak Stein and Hanzi Freinacht amongst others. Ken Wilber has, as well, weighed in at various times on these issues. The Rebel Wisdom crew have also been presenting thoughtful videos and conferences around these topics. Then there is the amazing series on the meaning crisis by cognitive psychologist John Vervaeke who presents a description and assessment of the crisis that while not specifically informed by Integral Theory is quite integral in its orientation.

As interesting as these thinkers have been I feel that what is missing from these discussions is a full inquiry into the meaning of our suffering.

Meaning making and the meaning crisis - with its concepts such as sovereignty, sense making, anti-fragility and coherence - seem to refer primarily to issues around our knowledge of technology and social and cultural systems. These are analyses about the relationship of the Lower Left quadrant to the Lower Right quadrant, of the importance of 2nd person understanding and 3rd person as well. There are also issues about the relationship of 1st person understanding to these other areas but the 2nd and 3rd person aspects tend to dominate. Questions about ontology and epistemology (3rd person), morality (2nd person) are raised and even questions about aesthetics (tending to emphasize the 1st person). What Wilber refers to as issues around “The True, the Good, and the Beautiful (or the aesthetic more broadly construed).” And these are all very important questions.

But I wish to focus here on the meanings we give to our suffering while undergoing all these other processes. As such this is meant as a meta-inquiry into what we feel our suffering means. What is it all for and can we find peace or contentment with our answers? This will take us into questions about the purpose or telos, teleology, around suffering. Are there sufferings that have no good purpose, are there sufferings that are dysteleological (serve no purpose whatsoever)? That are completely unacceptable?

Teleology or the study of purpose became more and more unfashionable as we entered the modern world. Science left Aristotle's final cause (purpose) out of the picture.

But what meaning have we given to our sufferings, particularly our most difficult sufferings, in these modern/ postmodern/metamodern times?

Those who have any kind of background in theology will recognize this as the issue of theodicy. Theodicy was the fancy Latin term that the famous philosopher and mathematician (co-discoverer of the calculus along with Isaac Newton) Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz created in the only full length book he published in his lifetime. Theodicy means the justification of God (from theo, God, and dike, justice).

This issue, theodicy, is a staple in theological studies and is widely considered the most difficult issue for religion to tackle: if there is a God then why is there so much suffering? Nor is this just an issue for the Western religions with their more anthropomorphic conceptions of a human-like great spirit. For Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Taoism the question can be raised as well: what is the point of all these manifestations and transformations of life and consciousness if the price is so much suffering? Is the game worth the candle (to use an old question from earlier times)?

We see these questions raised throughout time. In the Book of Job from the Hebrew Bible, in the Bhagavad Gita in Hinduism, and indeed the whole basis of Buddhism is to ask what is the origin and nature of suffering and how can we reduce our suffering? All religions offer a theodicy—taken in the broadest possible way—what purpose or meaning do we give to our most difficult sufferings? The answers may vary somewhat but nonetheless some kind of answer is given.

Now I won't be dealing with the issue of theodicy and its implications in only an academic manner. Part of the problem, and why the issue of theodicy is so easily swept aside, is that we avoid asking what meaning we each and all can give to any examples of suffering. We are aware now more than ever that it is wrong to explain away the sufferings of others as somehow explicable or justifiable. Indeed as modern and postmodern analyses of various historical injustices have highlighted one of the worst things anyone can do is to justify the sufferings of others (or the Other). Be it class and labour issues, the civil rights movement, feminism, gay rights, environmentalism including animal rights, disability issues and now the rainbow of issues around LGBTQ+, issues of suffering by many individuals and groups must be addressed in any society claiming to be democratic and just.

And notice immediately the challenge for the integral outlook. If racism and sexism are unacceptable forms of suffering then how do we explain those in any kind of Hegelian developmental/ evolutionarily scheme? What purpose did these unacceptable sufferings serve? Hegel explicitly claimed in his Philosophy of History that he was offering a theodicy. He basically proffered the classic bromide: you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. The logic of omelette making requires broken eggs. Needless to say this wouldn't be acceptable to the vegan crowd today!

Though history was a “slaughterbench” Hegel admitted, what were the sufferings of any individual compared to the working out of the World-Spirit's world-historical “cunning of reason” as he called it. Reason had triumphed while working through the stages of historical development and who were we to question why? Shades of the Book of Job and the Bhagavad Gita (where God/Spirit appears at the end but offers no explanation per se only overwhelming our protagonists with His/Its presence)! The point of those two stories it could be argued is that the answer for theodicy is the experience of enlightenment but just reading the books will not give you that experience.

Augustinian and Irenaean Theodicies

For better or worse the issue of theodicy has also come to be called the problem of evil. This reflects our preoccupation, perhaps genetically based, with understanding the actions of our fellow humans. But a better appellation for it is the problem of suffering. For not all suffering we experience is at the hands of other people.

The theologian John Hick authored a modern classic of theology with his book Evil and The God of Love in 1966. Hick begins the book pointing out there are three types of suffering or evil that are usually covered in a theodicy: natural evil (earthquakes, hurricanes, disease, death), moral evil (the evil actions people commit), and what Leibniz dubbed metaphysical evil - evils that occur due to limitations on the part of God or the universe or logic in regards to what is possible and what is not, for example, (allegedly) not even an all-powerful God or Spirit can make the past not to have been.

Hick then points out that theodicies take the form of either being monistic or dualistic:

“Monism, the philosophical view that the universe forms an ultimate harmonious unity, suggests the theodicy that evil is only apparent and would be recognized as good if we could but see it in its full context… Dualism as a theodicy, on the other hand, rejects this final harmony, insisting that good and evil are utterly and irreconcilably opposed to one another and that their duality can be overcome only by one destroying the other.” (p.15)

The monist case fully fleshed out suggests that evil is authorized by God/Spirit. The dualist case suggests that not all things are subject to the activity of the Creator/God/Spirit.

Various solutions have been put forward to deal with the issues of theodicy. The two primary versions of theodicy Hick calls the Augustinian theodicy and the Irenaean (Eer-uh-nayun) theodicy.

The Augustinian theodicy, made famous by St. Augustine, is that human beings have free will and have chosen to do evil (cause suffering). Because of this we no longer live in a perfect Edenic paradise but a fallen world. This then explains why there is both human evil and natural evil. This is also known as the free-will defence of God: evil exists because humankind has freely chosen to disobey God's wishes. Notice that human and natural evil exist because of the metaphysical restriction that God/Spirit could not create us as both free and unable to choose evil i.e. God cannot avoid the logic of free choice—if we are truly free to choose evil then not even God can influence our free choice without rendering us less than human.

The Augustinian theodicy emphasizes that because we freely choose to do evil we must be punished in order to influence us to behave more morally. This makes a certain sense from a human perspective. We understand that in human psychology punishment will sometimes incentivize us to behave better. This is used in regards to children, prisoners and moral norm-breakers. All societies without exception have used punishment to change other people's behaviours.

Ultimately Hick finds the Augustinian theodicy lacking. It is too impersonal and fails to make room for the important personal developments we all experience during our lifetime's growth.

“The emphasis is not that man is valued and loved for his own sake as finite personal life capable of personal relationship with the infinite divine Person, but upon the thought that man is created to complete the range of a dependent realm which exists to give external expression to God's glory.” (p. 194)

This is a deep problem for any kind of dualistic theodicy. If we are peons (or should that be pee-ons?) in a vast struggle between opposing forces then we do not have any adequate intrinsic value but are only extrinsically valuable in showing God's magnificence (as in the Book of Job and the Bhagavad Gita?). Human all too human.

The Irenaean theodicy, inspired by the early Christian church father St. Irenaeus, though not explicitly advocated by him, is the position that we exist at a distance from God/Spirit and must gradually learn to be better persons and be more fully in relationship with God. Suffering happens because we lack knowledge as to how to improve our characters or how to proceed in our actions towards God and others. The world is not a battle of good forces vs. evil as in the Augustinian theodicy. Rather the world is a place of soul-making (“a vale of soul-making” as Keats put it). We are at a distance (Hick calls it an “epistemic distance”) from God in order for us not to be too overwhelmed by His Presence (or Her or Their depending on your preference) and we must learn to grow as self-directing, self-growing autonomous individuals to have deeper relations to other people and to God/Spirit.

This feels right in that we all have experienced the importance of learning and growing through adversity. We are composed of complex psychological tendencies and need time and effort to grow and it feels good and right to grow.

The Irenaean theodicy implies a purpose to be realized in suffering though it is often not found in the moment but at a later time. Thus there is an eschatological meaning (end point) to suffering - at some point (not necessarily the final historical or linear point). There is experienced a purposeful meaning to our suffering (a simple example - postponing momentary hedonic happiness for effort that will only pay off later). To that degree there is an element of consolation experienced in our (self) discovery of the meaning of our sufferings. Further this meaning and purpose that develop/evolve over time are not necessarily just personal (though they may be deeply personal as well) but involve our realization of connections to the transpersonal aspects of our existence. We might say that the meaning of the self is to some degree the maintenance of the meaning of our suffering. These realizations through time are not necessarily only in our lifetime but, importantly to Hick, may be felt or understood only in the afterlife.

Metaphysical presuppositions exist for the Irenaean theodicy too. God's power as in all theodicies seems to be limited. And there is a great chain of being, indeed a great chain of purposeful meaning to suffering assumed in this scheme (the stages of psychological growth).

Process theodicy

An important addition to the various types of theodicy has been that of process theodicy. This comes out of Alfred North Whitehead's brilliant development of a process philosophy: the world is not a collection of thing-like (ontological) essences but of existential processes, “the One and the Many and the creative advance into novelty”, working themselves out through interactions of parts and wholes (in integral parlance via holons per Wilber borrowing from Koestler). Whitehead's process philosophy was developed into a full-blown process theology by Charles Hartshorne. A process theodicy has been written about extensively by theologians David Ray Griffin and Barry Whitney.

In a process theodicy God's power is seen as limited (whereas His goodness is still seen as limitless). God does not have all the power and we have none. For us to have free will we must have real power to choose and not just be a pawn in God's plan. God cannot override our power of choosing (while in some Augustinian theodicies God could do so but out of respect for our individuality does not). God is not omnipotent but a very potent centre of power processes amongst other lesser powers. Indeed if god were truly omnipotent then we could have no power. We are dependent upon God/Spirit but creative in our own right Thus God/Spirit is not some dictatorial overseer that acts coercively but acts through gentle persuasion.

The metaphysics of process theology seem to imply a logical restriction on God/Spirit. For example, in order for processes to have their own power that is not controlled by God these processes must have been created from events that were not subject to God/Spirit's control. In short there is no creatio ex nihilo—creation out of nothing. God/Spirit did not create a universe out of nothing but out of a primordial chaos that offered some resistance to God but which God manages to mould to His designs (so He didn't gently persuade the primordial chaos?).

Here process theology and theodicy seem to offer a dualistic theory. There is a struggle between God/Spirit and other processes of existence. To its credit process theodicy argues that evil, suffering is real not merely apparent or illusory. But also according to Griffin there is no eschatology (end goal or purpose in history) that God has designed ahead of time. So to that degree God is an only immanent God and not a transcendent God? More this-worldly than other-worldly? So the process god reflects an example of the modernist/ postmodernist Dominance of the Descenders (the this-worldly types) per Wilber's contention about our times?

Yet Griffin and Whitney have no problem with the idea of an afterlife so to that degree remain in touch with the transcendent and other-worldly. But then unlike Western personalistic accounts and more like Eastern impersonalistic accounts they take a more gnostic impersonal view of transcendence and the afterlife (pace Vervaeke where there is gnosticism there grows the threat of impersonalism). We survive into the afterlife (and hence undergo both consolation and further growth) yet our survival is not subjective but we are taken in (or up) to be objectively part of Godhead/Spirit.

Griffin explicitly states that a process theology and theodicy are nondual in nature (“According to the non-dualistic position which I accept but cannot defend here…” God, Power and Evil: A Process Theodicy 1st edition, p.106). But is it really non-dual? Per Hick's quote above dualism rejects the ultimate harmonization of good and evil yet Griffin maintains

“What is meant by the 'holy' or the 'sacred' probably cannot be adequately defined, but certain pointers can be given. The holy is that which evokes awe, worship, commitment. It is that which has ultimate intrinsic value, and in relation to which other things have their value. To sense something as being holy is to want to be in harmony with it. This, in fact, is the basic religious drive of human beings—the desire to be in harmony with the holy reality.” (p.116)

Then again process theology is widely recognized as being panentheistic in nature. Wilber has often stated that part of the nondual approach is to be a panentheist (believing God/Spirit contains the universe/existence but exists beyond them as well). Hick has objected though that a process god is a god that is too weak and not worthy of awe and worship nor makes complete sense (God/Spirit creates the universe but doesn't have the power to help us individually?) He has less power than a policeman says Berdyaev—a Russian forerunner of process thinking).

I think that ultimately it can be argued that all theodicies are a type of Irenaean theodicy. Even the Augustinian theodicy is a form of soul-making in that we define ourselves in relation to how we choose to freely respond to either be for or against God's wishes and either grow as an individually responsible (and responsive) being in that regard or fail to grow individually thusly.

The history of theodicies

It is usually maintained in Western theology that God is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnibenevolent (all-good or loving). Also added at times is that God is omnipresent (present everywhere). Much ink has been spilled over the years trying to understand exactly how all these “omnis” fit together. Never more so than with the issue of theodicy. In the famous words of David Hume, borrowing from Epicurus:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?”

When the Great Schism occurred between the Catholic and Orthodox churches, the Orthodox felt that the Catholic church failed to grasp the importance of the Orthodox distinction between God's Essence and God's Energies. God's Essence is the source of all creation while God's energies are the particular manifestations and modes of His creative acts. This was not the direct source of the split. Though I've not read of any connection posited between the two I think it possible that this was a source for the battles of medieval theology.

In medieval theology there rose a great battle between the via antiqua (the old way) and the via moderna (the new way—indeed the first people to be called modern were medieval theologians). This was the battle of the books between the realists and the nominalists. The realists maintained that there were universal aspects of reality. Despite the different existences of people or animals or stars as examples, there were universal characteristics that allowed these individual examples to manifest. The nominalists maintained that there were no actual universal features of reality but only individual existing entities. There was no essence of people, animals or stars; only existing individual examples. They only had linguistic names in common. All were instead individual creations of the omnipotent God. A middle position existed that maintained that while actual existing things were individuals, universals did exist in our minds (math and logic for example).

This battle raged for centuries. Eventually it is usually said the nominalists triumphed. Aquinas was supplanted by Duns Scotus and William of Ockham. This can be seen partly as a continuation of the battle between the Platonists (with their belief in universal ideas) versus the Aristotelians (with their emphasis on experiment and observation). Indeed it has often been said that the triumph of nominalism helped pave the way for the rise of modern science.

But this battle between the realists and the nominalists was also connected to the issue of theodicy. There was much debate about what was possible or not possible for the omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent god to do or not do. Could an omnipotent God have power over logic and make a square circle? Could an omniscient God know ahead of time what our free choices would be (if so then are we truly free and can we be truly guilty of causing suffering)? If God is omnibenevolent then why is there so much suffering? Usually it was decided (even by Scotus and Ockham) that to say that God was omnipotent meant that God could do or will (voluntarism) all that was possible but that even God could not do the impossible like make a square circle, 2 + 2 equal something other than four, or make the past disappear (there was an on-going debate about whether God could restore innocence to a virgin after she—of course!—had lost her virginity—don't ask).

As part of the solution to these problems, similar to the Orthodox distinction, the nominalists argued that God had two powers: the potentia absoluta (God's absolute power) and the potentia ordinata (God's ordained power). The absolute power of God gave Him (this was a debate amongst men after all) power over all that was possible (but not over the impossible). For example God's creation of the universe and its laws of nature. The ordained power of God was whatever He had ordained to be the case. For example that you could not enter heaven unless you had been baptized. The ordinata was subject to God's absoluta but God usually restricted His activities to be in harmony with the ordinata. God could perform miracles that would supersede the ordinata (but not the impossibilia) but usually chose not to. But He could change whatever He wanted about the ordinata because of His absoluta (e.g. whether one could eat meat or fish on Fridays).

I will come back to these two aspects of God's power when I come to Wilber's stance on theodicy (and his statements about the nature of Involutionary Givens—his equivalent of God's potentia ahsoluta I will argue).

To summarize, though, the triumph of nominalism helped pave the way for deep changes in Western culture. The rise of science and more pervasive technology but with its emphasis on individuals helped pave the way for the rise of modern art, the Romantic movement, as well as modern politics with its concerns about democracy and the rights of individuals. Nominalism even influenced the postmodernists (Foucault for example).

Not that nominalism caused these great changes directly but helped sow the seeds for such changes. Back of these later historical developments were earlier factors like the (heroic) individualism emphasised by the Greeks and Romans (amongst others—part of the move from traditional cultures to more modern cultures integral would say) and also the pervasive influence of the concern for individual relationship and destiny raised by the entire Judeo/Christian/Islamic tradition. I'll conclude this section by mentioning two important individuals that were both influenced by nominalism: Martin Luther (“Here I stand; I can do no other”) and Rene Descartes. Descartes was an arch-rationalist, of course, but, despite his quest for clear and distinct ideas influencing the Enlightenment, his private letters show he was also a nominalist believing that God could even do the impossible e.g. make 2 + 2 equal something other than 4, make a hill without a valley—these things didn't make rational sense to him but his faith allowed him to believe it. See his letters to his friend Mersenne.

The issues for theodicy

The Noble prize winning biologist Jacques Monod had published in 1971 a famous little book called Chance and Necessity that outlined the stark heritage of the scientific materialist mindset. Freedom, if it existed at all, was very limited and our lives were dominated by the twin gods of Necessity and Chance. These were not particularly accommodating to our free human comprehension or to any sense of purpose to existence. In fact there was no purpose to nature, just the tyranny of chance and necessity. As Bertrand Russell famously concluded his essay A Free Man's Worship:

“Brief and powerless is Man's life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way, for Man, condemned today to lose his dearest, tomorrow himself to pass through the gateway of darkness, it remains only to cherish, ere yet the blow falls, the lofty thoughts that enable his little day; disdaining the coward terrors of the slave of Fate, to worship at the shrine that his own hands have built; undismayed by the empire of chance, to preserve a mind free from the wanton tyranny that rules his outward life, proudly defiant of the irresistible forces that tolerate, for a moment, his knowledge and his condemnation, to sustain alone, a weary but unyielding Atlas, the world that his own ideals have fashioned despite the trampling march of unconscious power.”

Here despite the poetry is the bleak assessment in accord with a large percentage of the scientific world.

Theodicy is widely regarded as a problem that has always existed for all religions (not just the Western ones—other religions struggle to explain the meaning of our sufferings as well) but has especially become a problem with the rise of the modern era. How can religion seem believable in modern times? How can suffering be justified when we are able to seemingly question any dogmas formerly not allowed to be questioned in less democratic and scientific times? We humans can after all question both individually and culturally in ways that are counter-factual indeed even contra-factual. We can posit other possibilities and reject what exists. To that degree I would argue our individuality and creativity of mutual agreement, our interior significations, are more important than our exterior developments (1st and 2nd person are more significant than the 3rd person).

All religions are a theodicy. They have to be. The “age-old” problem of suffering or evil has always dogged our existence whether it be in tribal times (we suffer because we have been cursed by the gods or by some other person), in traditional cultures (the Book of Job, the Bhagavad Gita, the Heart Sutra), early modern culture (Greek tragedies), the Middle Ages (Dante's Divine Comedy), the Enlightenment (Milton's Paradise Lost, Goethe's Faust, Leibniz's Theodicy), right up to these modern/ postmodern times (the Holocaust being the quintessential example of an event that causes people to question their spiritual beliefs).

We all question both inside ourselves and through our cultures what the purpose of our sufferings are for. Never more so in these modern days when we have a greater ability to question these things by taking a 3rd person objective view of events. Putting aside our subjective preferences and our cultural conditioning (2nd person in integral terms) how do we come to understand these things when our 3rd person perspective allows us to question these things not just now for ourselves but for everyone over vast lengths of time? Wilber has pointed out many times that there are some matters that we can only come to understand or come to grips with over long periods of time that only after much study and reflection start to reveal their place in the process of stage development of culture and self. You won't find the meaning of (or the existence of) scientific developments, artistic trends or political changes by looking at your own consciousness, your individual state awareness and development, while sitting on your meditation cushion. This is part of the dignity of modernity: we learn to question both as individuals and make room as a culture for the questioning of previous beliefs and values.

So what is the meaning or purpose of suffering and any attendant theodicy attached to it (upon refection)? Immediately we are plunged into problems. Linguistic problems for example. In English the word “purpose” can mean any number of things—goal, aim, direction, trend, and all too often “reason”, which can mislead us to think that suffering must have some kind of “reasonable” purpose (just think of how many times anyone connected to New Age culture has heard the phrase “there's a reason for everything”). The term “meaning” can mean just about anything as well and basically becomes interchangeable with the meanings for “purpose.”

But some have contended that theodicy itself is an evil practice. The danger of theodicy is that it can be a rationalization for other people's suffering. Indeed a rationalization for the suffering of the Other. The various concerns of postmodernists for the plight of the Other only make sense if the violation of the rights and experiences of the Other are seen as a form of suffering. But the postmods tend not to emphasize that oppression causes suffering but that oppression is the absence of liberation. They quickly pass over the suffering part to get to the political aspect. The point though is that we all (more or less) realize that one of the worst things we can do is to explain away and hence justify the suffering of others.

Theodicies are dangerous because they can lead to an instrumentalist view of suffering. Instrumentalization means (see) that suffering serves a purpose (see) for other processes. Hegel in his Philosophy of History explicitly states that his work constitutes a theodicy. You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. There it could be argued he disregarded Kant's staunch (and correct) dictum that we should not turn other human beings into a means to an end (a dictum very much agreed upon by both Kant's Enlightenment and Romantic inheritors). Indeed Kant's imperative indicates the emergence of a world-centric worldview in modern times (and appropriately Kant wrote a famous essay about the futility of engaging in any kind of theodicy).

Related to this concern for instrumentalization is the danger of the aesthetic motive for a theodicy. With the Irenaean theodicy, but also with the Augustinian, there is the peril of brushing off suffering as one more necessary ingredient for the full picture of life's (all-too) rich pageant. In the Irenaean mode that suffering is part of the picture of self-growth. For the Augustinian solution, that suffering is part of the greater good required for freedom (the freedom to chose evil is greater and deeper than the lesser freedom not to be able to do evil).

Here we come to the central issue for any theodicy. I used the phrase “necessary ingredient” in the previous paragraph. The word “necessary” is the key danger here. All descriptions of enlightenment whether Western or Eastern use the word “freedom” at some point. Our goal, our purpose, our meaning is to achieve a state (and stage) of greater freedom. But what is the stumbling block to this greater freedom? That we end up being captives to some deterministic form of necessity. The Western Enlightenment thinkers warned of the danger of our freedom being truncated by iron clad laws of government or social organization in general. As well we worry that we will be too closely circumscribed by the scientific impulse to explain everything including explaining away human freedom. Similarly Eastern thinkers admonish us not to fall prey to the conditioned i.e. law-like aspects of our makeup and realize our true freedom through expanded awareness.

But down through intellectual history there has been the contention that some things happen by necessity. And there is no use squabbling about it. One must stoically recognize Necessity's claims to truth. Plato and Euripides both wrote that even the gods must capitulate to necessity and Aristotle said that all must cry halt before necessity.

At the same time there was the danger of chance/chaos/randomness/accident. It was personified as Tyche in Greek mythology, Fortuna in Roman and Lady Luck in more modern times (of course, the question arises as to why the personification of chance is always symbolized as female—a tad sexist it would seem—perhaps part of the tendency in patriarchy to associate men with culture and women with nature).

In modern times necessity is typified by the Newtonian laws of nature. Chance by the more slippery laws of quantum physics and statistics. And the interrelation of these two concepts is grasped nicely in the idea of chaos dynamics where the outcomes of laws of nature are altered by fluctuations (randomness) in initial conditions.

It is interesting that we seek to see laws in both necessity and chance. We must stoically capitulate not just to necessity but also to chance. “The genius reveals fate everywhere” wrote Kierkegaard. We might more accurately say that the intellectual type reveals necessity and chance everywhere. We seek certainty to capitulate to, be it the certainty of necessity or chance (not that chance implies certainty but that we must certainly undergo it). Many novels and plays have been written that show that capitulation to either necessity or chance (Camus' Caligula, Sartre's Nausea, Orwell's 1984, John Barth's hilarious early novels The Floating Opera and The End of The Road).

Note this dialectic: freedom vs. necessity and chance. But necessity and chance, though one may seek laws for them to capitulate to are contraries so it is more like a trialectic. Not so much a dualistic thesis vs. antithesis that is resolved in a synthesis but a situation where there is a thesis (freedom) vs. antitheses of either necessity or chance. Theodicy is either a statement of our freedom or our capitulation to necessity or chance or both. But ultimately a statement of capitulation to our freedom as well as our bondage to necessity and chance?

We come closer to Nagarjuna's teralemma of both/and and neither/nor. Either A or notA or both A and notA or neither A nor notA. But, of course, Nagarjuna's ultimate thesis was the Spirit is none of the above (as we shall now see).

But from a theodicic vs. nihilist point of view must our answer not be a form of non-dualism but a non-triadicism?

Wilber and Gafni on theodicy

At Rabbi Marc Gafni's website The Center For Integral Wisdom, there is posted a dialogue between Gafni and Ken Wilber on the problem of suffering called “Ken Wilber and Marc Gafni on evil.” The dialogue can be listened to as an audio file and has been typed out as a transcript (from which I will quote). No date is given for the dialogue (but I think it is from the early to mid 2000's).

Early into the exchange Gafni points out that the three main omni's—omnipotence, omniscience and omnibenevolence—can seem contradictory:

“Marc: Now, the problem is that these three propositions were challenged by a fourth reality, and the reality was evil, bad things happening to good people.

Ken: Which made the three contradictory.

Marc: Which made the three contradictory exactly.”

Now logically speaking this need not be true. Indeed the theologian Alvin Plantinga has done much work to argue that the three omni's are not logically contradictory. And lots of other theologians have agreed with his work. But taken from a point of view of experience and evidence we can agree certainly that there seems to be a contradiction. If an actively powerful God/Spirit is knowledgeable and loving in intention then why is there so much suffering? The answer they point out comes usually in abandoning one of the omni's most typically omnipotence (God/Spirit's power is restricted metaphysically to prevent impossibilities) or omniscience (God's knowledge is restricted metaphysically to allow our free will).

Wilber points out there are dangers in trying to establish any methodology to give us knowledge of God/Spirit. In the mystical traditions of all the major religions God/Spirit is felt to be radically unqualifiable. Trying to nail down what exactly the extent of the omni's existence are can end up being a way of qualifying God/Spirit.

Wilber points out that historically in premodern times God/Spirit was thought of as a very special type of substance. And so was good or evil. Amusingly he states:

“Ken: It's almost like you can buy a six pack of it [evil] down at the local store, and if you drink three of those then you might get to Heaven, but if you drink four you're going to Hell, and that's it.”

But in the Axial Age and forward there rises a sceptical questioning of the omni's that becomes a huge aspect of the mystical vision and medieval theology.

“Ken: You find some schools, for example, will challenge the omni part of God, and in some cases [the mystical especially] it's because just no qualifications in general are really large enough to contain Ultimate Spirit. So, even something like omnipotent isn't big enough to contain all kinds of capacities. Simply being all-powerful doesn't necessarily say anything about being the most creative or the most artistic or the most musical or even being the most caring or the most loving. You could be damn near powerful and not very loving at all.”

Certainly that is the case for earlier more anthropomorphic, ethnocentric conceptions of God/Spirit (Zeus as an example). But it doesn't seem obvious to me that with later more enlightened ideas of God/Spirit that there would be any disconnect between the omni's (or even in some earlier notions, like in the Upanishads as an example, where they are seen as aspects of the ultimate Self of Brahman). Traditionally it is maintained that God would possess all of the omni's i.e. omnipotence, omniscience and omnibenevolence. And isn't it part of integral psychology that there are various lines of development of the self including various artistic lines (creativity per se, musicality, etc.) and the moral line which would include compassion?

But now Wilber and Gafni get to the heart of the matter. In an actual nondual experience of God/Spirit we encounter the radically unqualifiable ineffable nature of God/Spirit. Nagarjuna the great Buddhist sage gives us the logic of the language of this encounter. Aristotle's logic tells us that our language and events must follow the laws of noncontradiction (things can't be both A and not-A, true and not true say, at the same time) and he also adds the principle of the excluded middle (things can't be both true and false at the same time). Nagarjuna goes Western logic one better and says there are four possibilities in all: things are either A or not A, or both A and not A, or neither A nor not A. This covers both the possible and seeming impossible. And then Nagarjuna points out that Spirit being radically unqualifiable cannot be said to be any of these things (even saying Spirit is radically unqualifiable is not sayable but we say it in order to be able to speak and dialogue with each other about these ultimate matters).

Through these experiences (our mystical experiences of self and Spirit) we can move from the old mythological worldviews to the Axial Age's more holistic worldview.

Gafni points out that the problem of suffering is not just a logical problem but also a problem of the evidence of experience, the existential reality of suffering. This is the true and urgent problem we need to solve:

“Gafni …it's not that we've solved the problem of evil, but it's disappeared, because the problem of evil is a function of this old worldview…it comes from the world of the manifest and the relative…It's not that the conceptual problem is also solved, because the problem of evil isn't actually just a structural logical one from within the mythological worldview, it's an experiential one. That's, how I can love a god that seems profoundly unlovable?...How do I have experiences of love? How do I have experiences of loyalty when I have the contradictory experiences in my first person of evil?”

We are struck by the contradiction between our experience of unacceptable suffering and our experience of something transcendent in our lives. But

“Gafni: ...we've actually fully solved the experiential issue, because actually my understanding of non-duality is non-conceptual in its essence. I'm actually having an experience of the Ultimate Ground of Reality. So that the experience of the Ultimate Ground of Reality in first person, revealed and discernible by the eye of the heart or the eye of the spirit, as a genuine lived reality which is unmediated and direct, and therefore absolutely certain, actually approaches the great problem of what do I do about evil?”

We move from earlier mythological conceptions of evil that evil is a lack or absence of good as a shadow is not the presence of darkness but the absence of light to a more modern understanding that evil is a genuine and troubling presence experienced in all our lives. Scepticism and uncertainty enter into our evaluations of the status of our experiences (creating another from of a dualistic theodicy).

“Ken: Now, as God in particular is also evolving and starting to be understood, versions of Spirit from all three perspectives, first person and second person and third person, then activity that keeps me away from Spirit in first person is activity that keeps me away from my own highest and truest Self. So it's activity where I am, in a sense, not being true to my deepest Self which is also the deepest self of the Kosmos at large. And so the basic activity that does that is the self-contraction or the Separate Self sense, or the breaking apart of awareness into subject or object or a seer and a seen, knower and a known. That throws me into the world of the pairs [dualism], throws me into good and evil, and in a certain sense opens me to an experience of unpleasant evilness, as it's also opening me to an experience of relative goodness. Both of these are only relatively real. Neither of them have any ultimate reality, but what's generating the whole thing is the activity of self-contraction, of the Separate Self. So what both Job and Nagarjuna have in common is the discovery of that deeper being, and that discovery is what is known with a certainty.

Marc: That's where certainty comes back on line.

Ken: Right. And that's rather the whole point at that juncture, is that that's what we were looking for. If evil had made it hard for us, or in fact was the action by which we negated God or failed to be related to God or failed to find our own Higher Self, then that is negated by this other kind of experience, this direct immediate experience of oneness with the Ground of All Being which, looked at in second person, is a great Tao, looked at in first person is my own deepest Self, but the activity of evil was the action that I took that drove me away from that awareness or any of those understandings or any of those relationships, and so it's real in that extent that it generates this illusory condition in which I am actually uncertain of the reality of this Ultimate Ground. So I can come up with all sorts of reasons for this uncertainty. So, well, this horrible thing happened, or, well, Auschwitz happened, or, well, my daughter died, was run over by a car, whatever it is, but none of those are the actual cause of what is separating me from the Ultimate Ground. In other words, the ultimate evil isn't in any of those particular things. It's in the action that I have taken that separates me from my own deepest Self and my own highest Ground of All Being. Overcoming that activity reinserts a certainty of an ultimate reality that these other things had questioned, but prior to those other things was my separating my self from this Ground to begin with.” (italics added)

Here we must pause. Auschwitz and death are not forms of ultimate evil but separating oneself from the Ground of All Being (whatever that means) is the form of ultimate evil? But note what Wilber and Gafni are actually saying. They are not saying neither Auschwitz nor death are not real forms of suffering. Quite obviously and experientially, existentially they are. But the whole context of the experience is one of form and suffering witnessed in relation to the formless ground of all being.

A question arises: is this not though to privilege or choose to value the whole (Formlessness, the Unqualifiable Ground of All Being and Becoming) over the part (the part that suffers)?

“Marc: …the absolute distinction between the relative and the absolute is, of course, itself a form of duality…That's just to state the obvious in some way. In other words, the absolute and relative, that's a way of speaking about things in order to get a sense of what we mean by this distinction, but of course in a deep non-dual realization, when we're actually sahaj samadhi, we're turiya turiyatita [states of higher awareness in meditation], then it's all reality, unqualified Spirit, all the way up, all the way down, with ultimately no distinction between the absolute and the relative.

Ken: Right.”

Gafni then profoundly points out that in this distinction between relative and absolute awareness the problem of suffering, the problem of evil, returns. We become cognisant of both the painful relative world and unqualifiable absolute awareness.

Shankara and Ramana Maharshi have put it this way “The world is illusory. Brahman alone is real. Brahman is the world.”

“Ken: So, okay Brahman is the world. Wait a minute, but this is a different world. This is a world that's not made of world, it's made of Brahman. And so now there can be a certain kind of pain, but it's lacking a certain kind of suffering. There can be a certain type of evil, but it's lacking a certain type of ultimateness or radical is-ness or it's being on its own …So is there evil in that world? Yes, but it's also part of an overall reality called God, and so it's not something that's threatening God, it's not something that's separate from God. It's like in any painting where there's light and dark. These are the colors of the manifest world and they're all direct manifestations of Spirit, and so that doesn't mean you're supposed to choose all the nasty ones and avoid all the good ones. You're supposed to choose all the good ones, so that comes back in a set of, well, in a sense, regulative behaviours. So is it good to rip apart a young child? No, that's wrong. But why if everything's empty? Well, because it's wrong and empty, but it's still wrong. But now you're not going to be shredded by an experience of that, because you also know the emptiness of it.”

Gafni: Fullness and emptiness now become expressions of ultimate reality, and so it's wrong and empty doesn't mean it's just relatively wrong, which is the way Buddhists misunderstand it when they teach it. They say, no, it's only relatively wrong. That's the way they say it. It's only relatively wrong. No, that's not what it means. It's not only relatively wrong, as if there's a big wrong and that's just a little wrong…No, actually it's wrongness, which is an expression of emptiness.”

So let's try and understand this profound attempt to construct a theodicy through dialogue that Wilber and Gafni undertake.

Both Wilber and Gafni are attempting to frame God/Spirit as the Ground of All Being (and Becoming). When we have an experience of God/Spirit we find It is radically unqualifiable. No words or concepts can adequately describe the experience. Even to say that God/Spirit is omnipotent, omniscient or omnibenevolent is inadequate. Rather our experience is one of radical nonduality. It is neti neti as the Brahmanic tradition puts it—not this not that. God/Spirit is beyond Nagarjuna's famous tetralemma of A or notA nor both nor neither. But in order to talk about it at all we have to use language which is a dualistic medium (like all other media).

Any attempt to construct a theodicy will have to use language to be communicated to with others but will then not be able to convey the deeply radical release from suffering that we can experience in the highest (and deepest) levels of consciousness. The answer to the request for a theodicy, purpose or teleology to the suffering, can only be that the lack of a theodicy dissolves in the radical release of nondual awareness.

To further understand what Wilber and Gafni accomplish here we need to appreciate Gafni's profound teaching on Unique Self that Wilber has incorporated into his Integral Theory. In a good integral manner Gafni brings together Eastern ideas of enlightenment with Western notions of enlightenment and individualism. Eastern enlightenment dealing with the higher transpersonal levels of consciousness rejects ideas of the importance of the ego and individuation. But the Western religions (the Judaic/Christian/Islamic heritage) are all about the individual's growth through conventional stages of development from pre-personal (pre-egoic to ego-centric) to personal individuation (ethno-centric to world-centric) which entail a more complex and morally responsible relationship to others and to God. I'm borrowing here from Jean Piaget's and Lawrence Kohlberg's theories of self-development of course. With the rise of the modern age during the Enlightenment there was further fleshing out of the complexity of the individual and the society's accommodation of the growing impact of mature individuation—moves towards greater autonomy for all individuals (in theory anyway) and towards greater liberty for all (again in theory—practice being a different struggle altogether).

Gafni points out that to the Western approaches credit it's not like the personal aspects of our identity disappear after we experience transpersonal enlightenment. We were still born when we were born, had the family members that we had, lived in the places and went to the schools that we did, had the friends we had and worked with the colleagues that we did. All those personal details remain part of our self-development. But in the enlightenment experience we realize that's not all that we are. Yet that unique developmental path we each have grown through also gives us a clue as to how to further realize our fullest and unique potential. Gafni puts it this way:

“…unique self enlightenment demands that you move beyond your separate self to True Self [in the experience of enlightenment], while understanding that the realization of True Self is the ground for the awakening of your Unique Self [the True Self plus your unique perspective is the Unique Self]. As an individual you correctly sense that the source of your dignity and value is your irreducible uniqueness. And, the Unique Self teachings confirm that the enlightenment is not a loss of individuality. It is the reclaiming of your infinite individuality as the unique expression of essence that lives as you. To be enlightened means to realize your True Nature as an utterly unique perspective and manifestation of consciousness. It is to live at the energized edge of your evolutionary creativity and your capacity for becoming that is both indivisibly part of the greater One, and, at the same time, ecstatically You…personality should not be confused with the personal. We seek to move beyond the personality, but not beyond the personal. Unique self is your personal response to the call of the transpersonal.” Your Unique Self: The Radical Path To Personal Enlightenment, p. 27—8.

Another aspect of the background for Wilber and Gafni's analysis of theodicy are the notions of involution and evolution. The nondual outlook posits that the universe comes into being through God/Spirit's overflowing fecundity—it's involution—it's unfolding of its higher potentials down into lower levels of (lesser) instantiation. Evolution then is the growth back to the higher potentials from which we have come. In Plotinus' thought it is the flight of the one (all the ones i.e. the Many) back to the One.

In "Excerpt A: An Integral Age at the Leading Edge" from Wilber's forthcoming volume 2 of the Kosmos trilogy there is a footnote number 26 that deals with involution and evolution. There Wilber asks if there are any necessary involutionary and evolutionary givens that are required to allow these processes to mesh together. He concludes that there are no evolutionary givens merely habits of evolutionary development that are put in place to facilitate the successful evolutionary movement to full potential. There are however a few involutionary givens required to allow the process to manifest. These include Eros, Agape and some morphogenetic gradients and prototypical forms. There are not purposes or an overarching Omega point or goal to the evolutionary processes. Rather the evolutionary pathways pursued are reflective of this particular round of evolutionary development. The next round of involution/evolution might well involve entirely different evolutionary paths. Here are some quotes from footnote 26:

“Still, these blindingly brilliant, philosophical avatars of Eros saw one, overwhelming, awe-inducing fact: Spirit is your own Original Face. It is not something that is socially constructed, or that is created for the first time when you happen to stumble upon it, or that pops out at the end of a temporal sequence, or that is nothing but some sort of Omega that can only be realized at the end of the universe. Spirit is your own ever-present, radically all-inclusive, always-already-the-case-reality, which is why some notion of involution, or return to a Spirit that was never lost, is an inescapable part of the theoria of every great philosopher-sage, bar none. There is one, staggering, screamingly undeniable involutionary given: the ever-present Ground of all grounds, Nature of all natures, Condition of all conditions…But the notion of involutionary givens is a necessary framework with which the human mind, itself a product of evolution, must use in order to construe evolution in a noncontradictory way…But aside from those relatively few involutionary givens, keep in mind that what most theorists postulate to be involutionary givens or eternal archetypes (i.e. involutionary a priori, given for all time) are actually evolutionary a priori, or forms chaotically created in temporal unfolding and then handed down to the future, not as forms that were predetermined even before they unfolded, but simply as Kosmic habits that various forms happened to take in their AQAL evolution, forms that were then handed as a priori to the next moment, an a priori determined not by eternal archetypes but by temporal history…But two points: be as careful as you can that you are not confusing evolutionary givens—which are not eternally given but are created by temporal, chaotic, evolutionary history and bequeathed to the future as habits that are then givens or a priori in a temporal sense—and involutionary givens, which are what you must have before you can have anything else, and which therefore appear to be exist at or before the Big Bang. [sic]”

So we can perhaps fit these musings into the notions of potentia absoluta (the involutionary aspects) and potentia ordinata (the evolutionary aspects). That would also parallel Whiteheads' distinction between the primordial (absoluta) and consequent (ordinata) nature of God. But note the notions of necessity and noncontradiction used in the quote. This will come back to haunt us when we discuss what nihilism really is about.

One last thing. In a talk called “Integral Purpose” that can be viewed on YouTube Wilber distinguishes between relative purpose and absolute purpose. Relative purpose implies a lack that we are seeking to remedy:

“Purpose means that you want to get from now which is lacking something to a future which has found that missing something. And the drive to get that missing something is purpose. But the ultimate, the absolute has nothing lacking, nothing missing…There is nothing that is outside you and therefore desire as such simply ceases to exist as any sort of agitated drive or need. And purpose likewise tends to evaporate because at this deepest level of reality you are already one with absolutely everything that arises or that will arise…

So in this state of oneness where I do not feel the earth I am the earth, and I do not watch the clouds I am the clouds. And in that state I do indeed love the mountain, and I love the earth, and I love those clouds. But in the same awareness I love global warming, I love toxic pollution, and I love terrorist attacks, I love murder and I love crime, and I love deadly accidents, and I love my own faults and I love the evil in you and I love hatred wherever I see it. All-inclusive means all-inclusive…

The only way you can get the infinite with its radical and ultimate great perfection to manifest in this relative limited finite world is to have each finite thing agitate to become infinite, to become more unified and more whole, to be one with spirit itself, to return to its own source and ground.”

Wilber likes to distinguish between the Freedom of the Absolute and the Fullness of the Relative. And enlightenment, unity consciousness, is the unification of both Freedom and Fullness in the Ground of Being. But notice that the Freedom of the Ground of Being is really the predominate factor.

“So those are the two major drives or purposes that you as a human holon have: (1) to awaken to your own ultimate ground of being, your own Great Perfection and Big Mind driven by a choice-less awareness of all-inclusive Love and (2) fulfil your own relative existence by moving through all of its own growth and development and evolution. In other words to wake up and to grow up - to wake up to the ultimate realm and to grow up in the relative realm.”

We must know/have both the Freedom of the Absolute and the Fullness of the Relative. Wilber and Gafni's theodicy involves an aesthetic element of needing both dark and light to paint the full picture. But is this logic of duality, the logic of the non-dual perhaps problematic in its all-inclusiveness?. We shall see about this when we encounter Ivan Karamazov's rebellion against the “devilish” logic of good and evil.

The History of Ideas

The history of ideas is a sub-branch of philosophy that likes to trace the nuances of ideas throughout human history. A famous book in that genre is Arthur O. Lovejoy's The Great Chain of Being. There Lovejoy points out that both West and East have typically formulated an ontology of levels of being. Generally a hierarchy of matter to mind to spirit. The theologian Huston Smith has also written much about this tendency. Wilber likes to quote from Lovejoy's book “…it has, in one form or another, been the dominant official philosophy of the larger part of civilized mankind throughout most of its history (p. 26)”. This ontology of being has usually rested on an involutionary/ evolutionary model. Called emanationism in the West reality is said to have unfolded or flowed forth from the Ground of All Being. God/Spirit unfolds its higher potentials and steps down into successively lower rungs of existence. God's potentia absoluta unfolds as God's potentia ordinata.

Along with a duality of involution/ evolution there is also a duality of other-worldly/this-worldly: thinkers tend to emphasize trying to realize our higher potentials and getting in contact with the source of all being and so be other-worldy (as in Gnosticism) or emphasize becoming more grounded in our fullness of being in this current manifestation of being and so be this-worldly in orientation (as in the Epicureans).

Importantly the notion of successively lower manifestations of being was known as the principle of plenitude by Plato and Plotinus and others. And Lovejoy points out throughout his book that there is a theodicy motive in that conception: “…the term 'the chain of being'…provided the chief basis for most of the more serious attempts to solve the problem of evil (p. viii).” The fact that there were gradations of less perfect manifestations of existence (e.g. from angelic beings to humans to animals to matter) were all examples of God/Spirit unfolding in its full complexity. Hence the seeming imperfections of being such as animals that went extinct were simply God/Spirit's fullness of manifestation of all its potentials. These were metaphysical necessities of God/Spirit's fullness of being through all the levels of imperfection to full perfection. From Lovejoy:

“The traditional divisions of evil into three classes—evils of limitation or imperfection, 'natural' evils, and moral evils—provides the general scheme of the argument, which is, in brief, that there could not conceivably have been any creation at all without the first sort of evil [imperfection]; and that all of the second sort, at least, follow with strict logical necessity from the first. Even Omnipotence could not create its own double; if any beings other than God were to exist they must in the nature of the case be differentiated from him through the 'evil of defect'—and, as is assumed, be differentiated from one another by the diversity of their defects. Evil, in short, is primarily privation; and privation is involved in the very concept of all beings except one (p. 213)…For the purposes of a theodicy, the principle of plenitude served most directly and obviously as an 'explanation' of the 'evil of defect.' The limitations of each species of creature, which defines its place in the scale, are indispensable to that infinite differentiation of things in which the 'fullness' of the universe consists, and are therefore necessary to the realization of the greatest of goods (p. 216).”

The principle of plenitude was a source of either optimism, as in Leibniz's case (God did all that was possible so this is the best of all possible worlds) or pessimism as in Voltaire's case (he found it gloomy that all these defects were so necessary).

Missing from integral thought though also pervading it in mostly only semi-conscious ways is the influence of the Romantic Movement in the arts. By the Romantic Movement I mean the rise of modern art from the mid to late 18th century right through the 19th and 20th centuries and into the 21st (though we mustn't forget precursors such as the Greek tragedians and the Elizabethan dramatists—Shakespeare especially of course). Romanticism pervades much of Western and indeed world culture.

That other arguably even more famous historian of ideas, Isaiah Berlin, always insisted that not only the Enlightenment but also the Romantic Movement (or Movements since it was a very eclectic series of affairs) were the two lasting modern influences on our thought. And this has been echoed by many including, for example, Charles Taylor, Jurgen Habermas and Ken Wilber as well.

In a note to his wonderful series of lectures called The Roots of Romanticism Berlin puts it this way:

“…I hope to show that this [Romantic] revolution is the deepest and most lasting of all changes in the life of the West, no less far-reaching than the three great revolutions whose impact is not questioned—the industrial in England, the political in France, and the social and economic in Russia—with which, indeed, the movement with which I am concerned is connected at every level.” (p. xiii)

I said that Romanticism is mostly only semi-consciously understood to influence integral and modern/postmodern spirituality because the whole vocabulary with which today's spirituality is pervaded is deeply in debt to the Romantic Movement (though there are countless earlier precedents in the religious and philosophical systems of all the worlds great religious traditions and particularly in the mystical aspects of those traditions). Talk of a higher self, a fuller more realized self, the importance of consciousness and self-consciousness, and the development and evolution of spirit were staples of romanticism.

Berlin doesn't shy away from underscoring the importance of the influence of romanticism.

“The importance of romanticism is that it is the largest recent movement to transform the lives and the thought of the Western world. It seems to me to be the greatest single shift in the consciousness of the West that has occurred, and all the other shifts which have occurred in the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries appear to me in comparison less important, and at any rate deeply influenced by it.” (p. 1—2)

At the end of the book talking of romanticism's lasting influence he writes:

“What can we be said to owe to romanticism? A great deal. We owe to romanticism the notion of the freedom of the artist, and the fact that neither he nor human beings in general can be explained by oversimplified views such as were prevalent in the eighteenth century and such as are still enunciated by over-rational and over-scientific analysts either of human beings or of all groups. We also owe to romanticism the notion that a unified answer in human affairs is likely to be ruinous, that if you really believe that there is one single solution to all human ills, and that you must impose this solution at no matter what the cost, you are likely to become a violent and despotic tyrant in the name of your solution, because your desire to remove all obstacles to it will end by destroying those creatures for whose benefit you offer the solution. The notion that there are many values, and that they are incompatible, the whole notion of plurality, of inexhaustibility, of the imperfections of all human answers and arrangements; the notion that no single answer which claims to be perfect and true, whether in art or in life, can in principle be perfect or true—all this we owe to the romantics.”

What else characterised romanticism? Above all else the desire for freedom. Not to be able to be free was to suffer. But what is freedom? For Berlin there were two freedoms. Berlin's famous essay “Two Concepts of Liberty” outlines his position. Negative freedom, the most important freedom, was not to be interfered with by another; positive freedom was the ability to realize your desires and grow as a person. Positive liberty was secondary as one's desires could be influenced by, indeed misled by another (totalitarian communism being the ultimate example). Berlin goes so far as to imply that positive freedom leads one to contract in the face of negative liberty: if the king takes one's land or crops the positive libertarian decides that land or crops are not important. In an increasingly stoic shrinking life becomes emptier and emptier of phenomena. One retreats from the world to the “inner citadel.” All that matters ultimately in positive liberty is that one remain unperturbed by the outer world. This, maintains Berlin, is a case of sour grapes. Or more precisely I would argue an advanced theodicy motive.

Kant originates the idea of the importance of moral choice for the romantics. One must never choose to use another as a means to an end. That would be to deny the true freedom of choice that we all have as autonomous individuals. Kant's notion of reason was one that was anti-authoritarian—we can only preserve our freedom when we use impartial reason as our guide (rather than being swayed by the interests of charismatic individuals or stale tradition). Kant hated any form of necessity that forced us to choose or do things we wished not to do. Nature, Kant felt, was the ultimate form of necessity foisted upon us. Ironically though Kant felt that necessarily one's free choice must be guided by the universality of reason so that one chooses the same values that harmonize with others.

Fichte continued Kant's attack upon nature as the enemy of the individual. Necessity forces upon us the consciousness of our awareness of suffering. Schiller the greatest father of romanticism also extoled the importance of individual subjectivity in our drive to playfully create. The Schlegel brothers and Schleiermacher continued this assertion of the importance of individual romantic subjectivity for art, morality and religion. Schelling tried to get romanticism on a less adversarial track by arguing that nature was not some form of dead matter of necessity but a vital spirit that found echoes in our own self-growth and realization. Thus we could see the contradictory aspects of romanticism - it's acknowledgement of our finitude as well as our resonance with the infinity of nature and God.

We might think of this as the romantic aspiration for both Freedom and Fullness. We wish to be both free and to realize the ever-changing dynamics of existence: to be free in our becoming and to experience the warp and woof of the roiling of necessity and chaos. Only both the feeling of freedom and the fullness of its realization and expression will reconcile us to the sufferings (to suffer is to undergo) of life. Romanticism is thus a meta-move to accommodate both the rational awareness of the Enlightenment of our experience of necessity and chaos and the Romantic move to express our individual moral and creative choices in their fullest expression. From art being a mirror as the ancients saw it, to art being a lamp as Abrams famously put it in his book on romanticism The Mirror and The Lamp. From mimesis to expression and creation in art. Additionally Abrams in Natural Supernaturalism; Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature, found the issue of theodicy to be a central concern for the Romantics including the Idealist philosophers (Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel).

Berlin, not being particularly theologically minded, never wrote extensively on theodicy though he acknowledges its presence throughout his writings. In a letter to a colleague he once expressed his affinity to Ivan Karamazov's rebellion against God and theodicy.

Romanticism as Adversary Culture

For good or ill, Berlin saw existentialism as being the “the truest heir of romanticism.” (p. 139). Existentialism was very much a reaction to the overly simplistic (and naïve) rationalism of analytic philosophy just as the romantic movement was partly a reaction against the overly optimistic harmonization proffered by the some of the philosophes. Berlin truly saw us as inheritors of the twin legacies of the West—ancient and Enlightenment universalism and the revolutionary subjectivity and individualism of the romantic movement (the rise of modern art).

Dealing with the messy inheritance of both the Enlightenment and the Romantics was the central impetus behind literary criticism and existential philosophy particularly after the Second World War. In the United States as well as in Europe there arose in criticism countless attempts to reframe the inheritances in terms of modernism, Marxism, and Freudianism as well as existentialism. Berlin, like Lovejoy and Weber, influenced others such as Charles Taylor. Horkheimer & Adorno influenced Jurgen Habermas. Wilber absorbed Weber, Habermas and Taylor in this regard.

Philosopher William Barrett, a member of the New York Intellectuals, in his great book Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy, wrote in a section called “Integral vs. Rational Man” that existentialism is the Counter-Enlightenment come to full philosophical expression. We must acknowledge the dark side of humans and life and the world itself. We must address not just the ideal part of humanity but the whole. He also writes of “the modern revolt against theodicy (or, equally, the modern recognition of its impossibility).”

Berlin too, perhaps borrowing from Barrett, wrote much of the Counter-Enlightenment. Indeed he wrote so much about its importance that he was accused at times of being a closet irrationalist. But in true integral fashion he wrote also of the important accomplishments of the Enlightenment thinkers (as well as their deficiencies) but also of the importance of the Counter-Enlightenment thinkers (and their deficiencies).

The New York Intellectuals were a group of writers and artists that were very influential from the late 1930's through to the 1970's. Though splintered between right and left both sides wrote extensively about politics, the new insights of Freudian depth psychology, and modernism in the arts (and what would be later recognized as post-modernism) in stylish but accessible essays and books stilled admired to this day.

One of the most famous and celebrated of the New York Intellectuals was Lionel Trilling. His graceful, supple essays appeared most frequently in the most highly regarded of the literary journals of the times the Partisan Review which looked at politics and modernism from a leftist stance.

Trilling first came to fame with his collection of essays in 1950 called The Liberal Imagination. There he pointed out that modern art defended liberal tendencies with its advocacy of “variousness, possibility, complexity and difficulty.” But he warned that these were hard won accomplishments and couldn't be taken fro granted. In his next collection of essays, 1955's The Opposing Self, he notes how modern art (again art since the rise of the Romantic movement) found itself in opposition to conventional bourgeois society. Trilling starts to wonder if the opposing self had not become something of a standard trope or even a cliché in modern times.

But it is in his 1965 book Beyond Culture that Trilling really starts to worry at length about a standard rebellious/ oppositional streak in modern culture. In the short but controversial preface of the book he points to the dangers of a set adversarial tradition (“adversary culture” becomes the notorious term he designates it as). He realizes full well that we are all to a significant degree products of the culture we come from but there is a sense in which the adversarial type tries to stand “beyond culture” in a critical way.

“Even when a person rejects his culture (as the phrase goes) and rebels against it, he does so in a culturally determined way: we identify the substance and style of his rebellion as having been provided by the culture against which it is directed…The belief that it is possible to stand beyond the culture is some decisive way is a commonly and easily held belief. In the modern world it is perhaps a necessary belief…Any historian of the literature of the modern age will take virtually for granted the adversary intention, the actually subversive intention, that characterizes modern writing - he will perceive its clear purpose of detaching the reader from the habits of thought and feeling that the larger culture imposes, of giving him a ground and a vantage point from which to judge and condemn, and perhaps revise, the culture that produced him.” (p. xii—xiii)

Note that Trilling in no way is putting forth some naïve pre-postmodern position that the individual can exist uninfluenced by his or her culture. Any good writer in modern times is aware that culture has a huge effect on ones worldview. But something new came into being with the modern (Romantic) arts more adversarial position to the rest of culture: “It is a belief still pre-eminently honored that a primary function of art and thought is to liberate the individual from the tyranny of his culture in the environmental sense and to permit him to stand beyond it in an autonomy of perception and judgment.” It might have lessened the controversy around the book if he had not used the metaphor of “beyond” but instead stuck to his notion of being in opposition to, or adversarial to, ones culture.

Trilling goes on to point out how the adversarial culture has become a new position in society (Forgive this unforgivably long quote):

“…around the adversary culture there has formed what I have called a class. If I am right then we can say of it, as we say of any other class, that is has developed characteristic habitual responses to the stimuli of its environment. It is not without power, and we can say of it, as we can say of any other class with a degree of power, that it seeks to aggrandize and perpetuate itself. And, as with any other class, the relation it has to the autonomy of its members makes a relevant question, and the more, of course, by reason of the part that is played in the history of its ideology by the ideal of autonomy. There is reason to believe that the relation is ambiguous… Some of them [the essays in the book] propose the thought that we cannot count upon the adversary culture to sustain us in such efforts toward autonomy of perception and judgment as we might be impelled to make, that an adversary culture of art and thought, when it becomes well established, shares something of the character of the larger culture to which it was—to which it still is—adversary, and that it generates its own assumptions and preconceptions, and contrives its own sanctions to protect them…Several of the essays touch on the especial difficulty of making oneself aware of the assumptions and preconceptions od the adversary culture by reason of the dominant part that is played in it by art. My sense of this difficulty leads me to approach a view which will seem disastrous to many readers and which, indeed, rather surprises me. This is the view that art does not always tell the truth or the best kind of truth and does not always point out the right way, that it can even generate falsehood and habituate us to it, and that, on frequent occasions, it might well be subject, in the interests of autonomy, to the scrutiny of the rational intellect.” (p. xv—xvii)

Some could not forgive him that last sentence not so much because of the suggestion that the rational intellect had something to contribute to artistic criticism so much as the implication that artistic culture could lead us at times on to a false path and might habituate us to falsehood.

Central to Trilling's writings was his belief that our conceptions of our self could remain insufficiently scrutinized. He worried greatly that modernists were forging a self—identity that conformed to certain accepted styles without fully critiquing such styles. This would lead to an insufficiently critical stance on thinking about the self in relation to its culture.

In the first essay of the book “On the Teaching of Modern Literature” he describes how students were clamouring to be taught the best in modern literature. Early in the essay he outlines what he thought was one of the deepest threads of modern culture:

“I can identify it by calling it the disenchantment of our culture with culture itself—it seems to me that the characteristic element of modern literature, or at least of the most highly developed modern literature, is the bitter line of hostility to civilization that runs through it.” (3)

Despite his reservations about teaching modernists writers that ask so many personal questions about our lives (“if we are content with our marriages, with our family lives, with our professional lives, with our friends”) he decides to teach the course at the highest possible level. This includes teaching writers such as Nietzsche, Freud, Thomas Mann, Joseph Conrad and many others and most challengingly Dostoevsky's novella Notes From Underground. Trilling is stunned and taken aback by the students response:

“One response I have already described - the readiness of the students to engage in the process we might call the socialization of the anti-social, or the acculturation of the anti-cultural, or the legitimization of the subversive. When the term essays come in, it is plain to me that almost none of the students have been taken aback by what they have read: they have wholly contained the attack…[the students] move through the terrors and mysteries of modern literature like so many Parsifals, asking no questions at the behest of wonder and fear. Or like so many seminarists who have been systematically instructed in the constitution of Hell and the ways of damnation. Or like so many readers, entertained by moral horror stories. I asked them to look into the Abyss, and the Abyss has greeted them with the grave courtesy of all objects of serious study, saying 'Interesting, am I not? And exciting, if you consider how deep I am and what dread beasts lie at my bottom. Have it well in mind that a knowledge of me contributes materially to your being whole, or well-rounded men.'” (26-7)

Earlier in the book Trilling had written:

“…to some of us who teach and think of our students as the creators of the intellectual life of the future, there comes a kind of despair. It does not come because our students fail to respond to ideas, rather because they respond to ideas with a happy vagueness, a delighted glibness, a joyous sense of power in the use of received or receivable generalizations, a grateful wonder at how easy it is to formulate and judge, at how little resistance language offers to their intentions.” (4-5)

In another well known essay from the book “The Two Environments: Reflections on the Study of English” he outlines how there are two camps found in the academic liberal arts—the more classical and humanistic approach and the newer more adversarial approach to analysing culture and self. The more adversarial approach wishes to gain control of the “sources of life” (Trilling borrows here from W. B. Yeats).

“A true relation to the sources of life does not refer to rational criteria; it is expressed not in doctrine, not in systems, ethics, and creeds, but in manner and style. We know whether or not a person is in touch with the sources of life not by what he says, by its doctrinal correctness, but by the way he says it, the tone of his voice, the look in his eye, by his manner and style. So too with a society; we know if it is really in touch with the sources of life not by its mere practical arrangements but by the style of life it fosters—in short, by its culture, which we judge as a whole rather as if it were a work of art.” (222-3)

We become more obsessed with the presentation of the self and how well that self is reflectively understood.

“The impulse to choose, define, and indicate what kind of person one is can scarcely be thought new, and we shall regard it more charitably if we are aware of how deeply rooted it is in human nature, and how we love the charm of spirit it can often display. What is new is the moralizing attitude which now supports this impulse, and the boldness with which it is offered with a principle of social organization; increasingly people find it possible to escape from the old categories of class and to come together in categories of taste.” (224-5)

Education is seen to be more and more a case of a force for countering the trivial nature of bourgeois society. The second more adversarial environment

“…defines itself by its difference from and its antagonism to the first, by its commitments to the 'sources of life,' by its adherence to the imagination of fullness, freedom, and potency of life, and to what goes with this imagination, the concern with moralized taste and with the styles which indicate that one has successfully gained control of the sources of life or which are themselves a means of gaining that control.” (227)

Trilling notices

“…as our students find it ever easier to take their place in the second cultural environment, as they are ever sure of finding comfort and companions in it, we have to see that it shows the essential traits of any cultural environment; firm presuppositions, received ideas, approved attitudes, and a system of rewards and punishments.” (227)

In noting the conventions of the adversarial approach Trilling most controversially notes that would-be rebels against (bourgeois) society might fail to question fully their own presuppositions about themselves (and culture). In this regard Trilling who was sometimes criticized by some of his colleagues for being a bit too conservative was actually proving to be more radical (getting to the root of the matter) than his more adversarial peers. More than they were, Trilling was questioning their assumptions about their sense of self especially in relation to the culture they wished to critique. What did it mean for everyone to be claiming to be alienated from the culture around them?

Trilling writes of novelist Saul Bellow winning an award for his famous novel about a literary professor called Herzog.

“Bellow made fully explicit and polemical a view of modern literature that had already found expression in his novel. With considerable severity he remarked upon a long-established assumption of the 'advanced' part of culture, that man is most accurately and significantly represented as being in a state of 'alienation,' that the extent of a writer's own alienation is a first measure of his interest and importance. And Mr. Bellow referred to the judgment which naturally goes along with the doctrine of alienation, that 'modern society is frightful, brutal, hostile…a waste land and a horror.” (229)

But Bellow's challenge was quickly rebuked by the left. Bellow would go on to become increasingly conservative over the years. Trilling writes

“The occasions are few when criticism has met this doctrine on its own fierce terms. Of modern criticism it can be said that it has instructed us in an intelligent passivity before the beneficent aggression of literature. Attributing to literature virtually angelic powers, it has passed the word to the readers of literature that the one thing you do not do when you meet an angel is wrestle with him.” (231)

This reference to fighting angels was a misstep on Trilling's part. If anything writers, especially on the left, would prefer to attribute demonic powers to literature. Literature did not encourage passivity because it possessed beneficent powers but disturbing powers of discontent with ones self and culture.

The most interesting essay in Beyond Culture is probably “The Fate of Pleasure.” Here Trilling notes how there had been two aspects, two stages, to the development of Romanticism. One aspect was in celebration of the desire for pleasure as part of the native and naked dignity of humankind. Wordsworth was a brilliant exemplar of that approach which was quite consonant with the Enlightenment critique of the anti-liberal tendencies of traditional religion and morality.

The other aspect of Romanticism was the questioning of pleasure and the “sublime and beautiful” (especially of aiming towards the pleasurable and beautiful in ones life). To be motivated by the pleasurable was to put oneself in danger of being superficial, trivial and predictable. Carlyle and Keats were the exemplars Trilling cites for this tendency though countless others could be cited (e.g. to some degree or other Goethe, Schiller, Byron, Shelley and so many more).

Trilling feels that the work that most explicitly makes this apparent was Dostoevsky's Notes From Underground.

Trilling quotes how Thomas Mann maintains that the Notes “…have 'long become [part] of our moral culture.' Mann's statement is accurate but minimal—the painful and scornful conclusions of Dostoevski's story have established themselves not only as parts of our moral culture but as its essence, at least so far as that culture makes itself explicit in literature. ” (73)

The true Romantic wants challenge, adventure, risk and even danger. The Romantic rebellious adversarial type

“…does not have because he does not wish to have; he has arranged his own misery—arranged it in the interest of his dignity, which is to say, of his freedom. For to want what is commonly thought to be appropriate to men, to want whatever it is, high or low, that is believed to yield pleasure, to be active about securing it, to use common sense and prudence to the end of gaining it, this is to admit and consent to the conditioned nature of man. What a distance we have come in the six decades since Wordsworth wrote his Preface! To know and feel and live and move at the behest of the principle of pleasure—this, for the Underground Man, so far from constituting his native and naked dignity, constitutes his humiliation in bondage. It makes him, he believes, a mechanic thing, the puppet of whoever or whatever can offer him the means of pleasure. If pleasure is indeed the measure of his being, he is known as the sum of 2 and 2; he is a mere object of reason, of that rationality of the [French] revolution which is established upon the primacy of the principle of pleasure.” (73-4)

Such is the centrality of Dostoevsky's Notes, feels Trilling, that he dares to assert that Dostoevsky's Underground Man is more challenging that the Overman (or Supeman) of Nietzsche. Forgive me this long set of quotes but it really does set out Trilling's conceptions about the heart of the (Romantic) adversarial matter:

More life: perhaps it was this boast of the Underground Man that Nietzsche recalled when he said 'Dostoevski's Underman and my Overman are the same person clawing his way out of the pit [of modern thought and feeling] into the sunlight.' One understands what Nietzsche meant, but he is mistaken in the identification, for his own imagination is bounded on one side by that word sunlight, by the Mediterranean world which he loved; by the tradition of humanism with its recognition of the value of pleasure. He is ineluctably constrained by considerations of society and culture, but the Underground Man is not…it is the essence of the Underground Man's position that his antagonism to society arises not in response to the deficiencies of social life, but rather in response to the insult society offers his freedom by aspiring to be beneficent, to embody 'the sublime and the beautiful' as elements of its being…The anger Dostoevski expresses in Notes From Underground was activated not by the bad social condition of Russia in 1864 but by the avowed hope of some people that a good social condition could be brought into being…His disgust was aroused by the novel's assumption that man would be better for a rationally organized society, by which was meant, of course, a society organized in the service of pleasure. Dostoevski's reprobation of this idea, begun in Notes From Underground, reached its climax in Ivan Karamazov's poem of the Grand Inquisitor, in which again, but this time without the brilliant perversities of the earlier work, the disgust with the specious good of pleasure serves for the affirmation of spiritual freedom…In the characteristically modern conception of the spiritual life, the influence of Dostoevski is definitive. By comparison with it, the influence of Nietzsche is marginal…It is because of this humanism of his, this naturalistic acceptance of power and pleasure, that Nietzsche is held at a distance by the modern spiritual sensibility. And the converse of what explains Nietzsche's relative marginality explains Dostoevski's position at the very heart of the modern spiritual life.” (various quotes from pages 74-8)

Pleasure and beauty cannot be the goal of the adversarial Romantic type. We see this in so much of Romantic and modernist art. Its anti-bourgeois nature is evident in everything from Dada to Surrealism to abstract art, the beatnik vs. the Philistine, in movies and TV even and quite obviously in rock and roll (rap/hip hop/ punk/ alternative rock and even heavy metal). There can be an advocacy for pleasure but never as only the main goal - the other main goal is always to protest in favour of freedom and against suffering. The adversarial type protests against any justification of suffering that is justified by any type of necessity or is just too random and horrible. The adversarial type, the nihilist turns all of culture into a theodicy. And rejects any justification of unacceptable suffering or any conception of a self that justifies unacceptable suffering.

Trilling adds

“The impulse to go beyond the pleasure principle is certainly to be observed not only in modern literature but in all literature, and of course not only in literature but in the emotional economy of at least some persons in all epochs. But what we can indeed call an event in culture is that at a particular moment in history, in our moment, this fact of the psychic life became a salient and dominant theme in literature…' (84)

Trilling writes “those psychic energies which are linked with unpleasure” are elements in our “self-definition and self-affirmation.” (85). Rock and roll baby!!

Finally Trilling very tellingly notes

“What I have called the spirituality of modern literature can scarcely be immune to irony, and the less so as we see it advancing in the easy comprehension of increasing numbers of people, to the point of its becoming, through the medium of the stage and cinema, the stuff of popular entertainment—how can irony be withheld from an accredited subversiveness, an established moral radicalism, a respectable violence? But although the anomalies of the culture of the educated middle class do indeed justify an adversary response, and perhaps a weightier one than that of irony, a response that is nothing but adversary will not be adequate.” (85-6)

This essay was written in 1963 and sadly its message was not at all heeded. Note how Trilling cites “subversiveness”, “radicalism” and “violence” as standard tropes of adversary culture (as they were of romanticism). Years before post-modernism reared its contrarian head and insisted upon its “subversion”, “transgression”, and “trespass” Trilling implies that these kinds of moves were already standard fare.

The response to Trilling's notion of an adversary culture were divided on political lines. The right mostly used the notion as a way to argue against change and for American capitalist hegemony because of the Cold War. To be fair, the conservative impulse recognized (and continues to recognize) that the accomplishments of a (relatively) stable advanced civilization need to be preserved. But the right mostly failed to appreciate Trilling's understanding of the significance of the artistic accomplishments of adversary culture.

The left on the other hand totally rejected Trilling's notion that somehow there was a standard adversary culture. They appreciated his recognition of modern/postmodern arts cultural sophistication but did not like the implication that this was somehow a necessity for the avant-garde's self image. Jurgen Habermas wrote in a couple of essays about adversary culture but failed to mention Trilling and did not get into its cultural significance and only wrote about the right's adoption of the term to justify a neoconservative agenda.

For more on this right/left reception of Trilling's idea of adversary culture (and its relation to Dostoevsky's Notes From Underground) you could check out my book Notes From Aboveground where I contend, amongst other things, that the underground has long ago come up to live aboveground if somewhat in the shadows (of the academy and the museums and galleries).

Most significantly note that Trilling was pointing out the dual aspects of Romanticism's cultural heritage. The aspect that thrives on freedom and pleasure and the aspect that rejects any sense of contentment with our lot in life (because of the sufferings that suffuse life). These contradictory aspects could be found in most of the Romantics be they Carlyle or Keats or even to some degree in Wordsworth himself. These twin aspects are, I would contend, nothing less than our attempts to struggle with the meaning of our suffering: should we celebrate our freedom and delight in how we find and live our lives, in short, do we find our lives acceptable?; or do we find too much of our life lacking in freedom and too suffused with unacceptable suffering?

To broaden the framework even more we might say these are the twin aspects of our human/modern heritage. On one hand the life affirming aspects of our religious heritages and the Enlightenment growth into humanistic modernity; and on the other the age-old contention against unacceptable suffering and the resistance to contentment and self-satisfaction. These twin themes (in association with others) are constantly echoed in culture: faith and hope vs. corrosive scepticism; Enlightenment humanistic optimism vs. Romantic pessimism; bourgeois happiness and contentment vs. avant-garde restlessness and rebellion.

I might add that Trilling's notion of adversary culture accords with the notions put forward by Isaiah Berlin of Counter-Enlightenment and by Charles Taylor of Counter-Romanticism (in Sources of The Self).

The nihilist turns all of culture (and nature and self) into a theodicy (which is rejected). And note that the nihilist is not just a species of relativism or pluralism, though those elements are part of it as well, but is rather a species of full-blooded, full-bodied, full-throated assertion of freedom against the sufferings of life.

Theodicy and The History of Ideas

During the pivotal Axial Age (8th century BCE to the 3rd century BCE) we saw the rise of Platonism with its belief in universal forms and laws. Emerging over the next number of centuries were further schools of thought that helped carve out various stories of cosmology and spiritual growth. These included Neoplatonic sources, as well as Jewish and Christian mystical schools. These all gave birth to various outbreaks of Gnostic thought which proved very influential and became widespread. In Gnosticism the one true god creates the world in an act of emanation where varying degrees of lesser existence, from Spirit then down to angelic beings to humans to animals and matter, are unfolded. The goal of the spiritual seeker becomes that of returning to the One. Almost invariably there was a dualistic other-worldly (good) vs. this-worldly (evil) dualism underneath the seeming unity.

In a lengthy but fairly readable and justly famous book by philosopher Hans Blumenberg called The Legitimacy of the Modern Age from 1966, Blumenberg outlines how Gnosticism particularly under Marcion created an influential version of Christianity that had a strong gnostic emphasis. At the beginning of the Middle Ages with Augustine we had the first attempt to refute the Marcion heresy which was the idea that Yahweh was an evil demigod that created a bad imitation of the our real spiritual home in the afterlife that is ruled by a loving, omnipotent creator god. Our way to get there was through following the true knowledge of spiritual growth and wisdom. This gnostic notion was above all else an attempt to shift the blame for evil and suffering from the One True God to the pernicious Yahweh (an assessment fuelled partly by Yahweh's all to often abominable behaviour in the Hebrew Bible). Humans failed to recognize the true path to spiritual insight and were thus guilty of misuse of our free will. In short, this was a version of Augustine's theodicy—the free-will defence of evil—but one that actually emphasised more the Irenaean notion of self-growth.

But, Blumenberg was at pains to point out, this attempt at overcoming the Marcion heresy failed because of the rise of nominalism which shattered any idea of a good omnipotent god. Instead nominalism left us with a god that is not a promoter of universal law and truth but rather a valuer of individual uniqueness. This nominalistic god valued the principle of plenitude (another version of emanationism as an explanation for the existence of evil). The influence of Aristotelian empiricism on top of nominalism helped pave the way for the rise of science in our modern age.

A friend of Blumenberg's and another German philosopher, Odo Marquard has argued that it was this failure to solve the question of theodicy that gave us in the Enlightenment era the creation of three important new philosophical approaches: the philosophy of history, philosophical anthropology (and anthropology in general) and aesthetic philosophy. These disciplines sought to absolve God/Spirit for the existence of suffering/evil and thus put humankind on trial for the problem of evil. Once again the focus on human evil and free will sought to construct a theodicy. “Where there is theodicy, there is modernity, and where there is modernity there is theodicy” Marquard has written. Or as I would put it the nihilist turns all of culture into a theodicy (a would be but failed theodicy).

Blumenberg's central thesis was that modernity was not a continuation of theological thought but instead “reoccupied” a space left open by the nominalist destruction of traditional religion. In this space modernity has pushed a narrative not of eschatology (destiny) or progress towards a set omega point (goal or purpose) but instead modernity helped establish the legitimacy of the self-assertion of humanity. Michael Allen Gillespie in his books Nihilism Before Nietzsche and The Theological Origins of Modernity has argued that Blumenberg while correct about the influence of nominalism on the spread of modernity also ushered in an aspect of nihilism by emphasizing the importance of self-assertive will as the highest example of psychological efficacy. And that this came from nominalism's voluntaristic stress on God's omnipotence and his ordinata (which, to reiterate, came a lot from attempts to solve the problem of evil). Habermas has cited Gillespie's book on modernity for its recognition of the role nominalism has played in helping create modern individualism, the rise of science, the undermining of natural law theories, and fostering of an anthropocentric turn by developing a more rational and naturalistic worldview.

Hot of the presses is Eric Nelson's book The Theology of Liberalism: Political Philosophy and the Justice of God. There Nelson argues that the (early Christian) Palegian heresy (that humans possess free will, were not necessarily inclined to evil, and do not need to follow laws to obtain salvation) arose as part of an attempt to solve the problem of evil and that this influenced the development of liberal theology and liberal political philosophy. Nelson also contends that this Palegian liberalism of thought was an influence on John Rawl's famous theory of liberal justice.

In her beautifully written book, Evil In Modern Thought: An Alternative History Of Philosophy, Susan Neiman, who was a student of Rawls', also argues that the problem of evil was a serious influence on Rawls' theory of liberal justice as well as an influence on others including Blumenberg, Habermas and Hannah Arendt (who felt that 20th century philosophy should be dominated by the problem of evil).

Neiman deeply feels that theodicy, the problem of evil, is the best way to make sense of and classify and understand the history of philosophy. I'll just give some short quotes from the introduction to her book:

“The picture of modern philosophy as centered in epistemology and driven by the desire to ground our representations is so tenacious that some philosophers are prepared to bite the bullet and declare the effort simply wasted. Rorty, for example (page 5-6)…On literary grounds alone, the narrative is flawed, for it lacks what is central to dramatic movement anywhere: a compelling motive [i.e. reason, purpose, telos]… Kant's conclusion that speculative labors are moved by practical ends should not be read narrowly. For the last thing I wish to argue is that in addition to epistemology, the history of philosophy was also concerned with ethics. It was, of course, as contemporary work on the history of ethics has shown well. But the problem of evil shows the hopelessness of twentieth-century attempts to divide philosophy into areas that may or may not be connected. (p. 6)…The demand that the world be intelligible is a demand of practical and of theoretical reason, the ground of thought that philosophy is called to provide. The question of whether this is an ethical or a metaphysical problem is as unimportant as it is undecidable, for in some moments it is hard to view as a philosophical problem at all. Stated with the right degree of generality, it is but unhappy description…Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century philosophy was guided by the problem of evil.(7)…The problem of evil can be expressed in theological or secular terms, but it is fundamentally a problem about the intelligibility of the world as a whole. That it belongs neither to ethics nor to metaphysics but forms a link between the two. (7-8)…If I am even close to correct, the problem of evil is so pervasive that an exhaustive and systematic treatment of it would require an exhaustive and systematic treatment of most of the history of philosophy.(10)…Grouping philosophers this way overlooks many crucial differences between them. But it's no cruder than the division of thinkers into rationalists and empiricists, a schema with which it is partly coexstensive.(11)…The only consolation for the resulting inadequacy is the way in which it confirms my initial claim: the history of philosophy is so steeped in the problem of evil that the question is not where to being but where to stop.(12)”

But the professional deformations of the academy soon killed any impulse to understand the over-arching problems of philosophy in relation to life.

“Like many others, I came to philosophy to study matters of life and death, and was taught that professionalization required forgetting them. (13)”

Towards the end of the book she writes about how Emmanuel Levinas, who experienced the concentration camps of WW2 understandably saw the problem of evil as central to philosophy and gives this quote from one of his essays:

“The first metaphysical question is no longer Leibniz's question why is there something rather than nothing? But why is there evil rather than good? The ontological difference is preceded by the difference between good and evil. Difference itself is this latter; it is the origin of the meaningful.” Levinas, “Transcendence and Evil”

I will inject here that the problem of suffering makes us to understand that the ultimate question, contra Leibniz and Heidegger et al, is not “why is there something rather than nothing?” nor even the penultimate question “why is there this something rather than something else?” but instead the question “why does this something hurt so much?”

Those who have never read his essay and another by Levinas called “Useless Suffering” might have missed theodicy's importance to Levinas. This points to the failure of modernist/postmodernist writers at situating their concerns about difference and suffering and how it relates to the long history of the problem of evil.

Dostoevsky and the Irrational

Happy stories are all alike. And unhappy stories are similarly the same. It could be argued that all stories are about conflict and suffering. Even happy or comedic stories will feature some kind of conflict, hence suffering, as part of its plot structure. Even non-directly representational art like music can be said to involve some struggling if only in finding an adequate measure of expression. More centrally, as I've touched on before, the turn from the Romantic movement's emphasis on freedom and joyful expression was towards a greater realism which involved underlining the difficulties and sufferings of life. Yet literary theory has never carved out any kind of assessment of the meaning of our sufferings. There is an absence of any analysis of the problem of evil, theodicy, in artistic commentary and literary theory. A strange absence lurks at the heart of art: art continually reflects suffering and struggle yet no overarching theory of the meaning of suffering is explicated. Art usually fears justifying the meaning of someone's suffering.

Another strange absence is notable in literary theory. It is widely understood that the arts celebrate not just humankind's rational capacities but also its irrational energies. So there are two kinds of irrational at play here: the negative irrational which is the criticism of our tendencies towards superstition, magical thinking and unwarranted fears (all justly criticised by and in harmony with Enlightenment thought); and the positive irrational that pushes back against the containment of humanity within an only rational schema, pushing back to recognize a greater freedom for our imagination, intuitions and will. So for example the negatively irrational is critiqued in the “She's a witch! Burn her!” scene in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”; and the positively irrational is celebrated in Keats' notion of “negative capability”—where “a man is capable of remaining in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubt without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.” One of the reasons for literary theory not being more explicit about the importance of the positive irrational was a fear and an envy of science's domination of the academy.

Wilber is rightly famous for his pre/trans (or pre/post) fallacy: the post-conventional aspect of a line of development is all too often confused with the pre-conventional stage of a line of development because neither of them are at the conventional level of development and so the two stages are conflated. This is especially relevant when looking at rationality (as made famous by Piaget). Per Wilber the pre-rational level of cognition (where rationality has not been competently enough developed) is confused with the trans-rational level of development (where rationality is most fully developed and combined with appreciation of subtle energies and causal awareness).

John Vervaeke is at great pains in his wonderful Meaning Crisis series to point out that there are different types or aspects of rationality. There is logical rationality and there is performative rationality, as another example, that affords us a less rigid, more fluid conception of rationality. Wilber too has often insisted that rationality should not be construed in a narrow only logical sense but also in a much broader manner (critical reason after all has helped give us higher standards of morality and politics).But what's good for the rational goose is good for the irrational gander.

So I would argue just as there are different types of rationality there are different types of the irrational. The negative irrational is pre-rational in nature and the positive irrational is trans-rational. This accords I would contend with Wilber's assertion, often stated in his writing, that the stage after the rational is the trans-rational. We move beyond the rational when we become aware of the existential paradoxes and difficulties of the irrational particularly with regard to our desires to resolve the problem of evil suffering. We transcend and include the irrational when we get to the trans-rational where a kind of theodicy or harmony is proffered.


The most famous exponents of the irrational were Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky and Nietzsche. Though it was saturated throughout all his work, Dostoevsky's most explicit assertion of the irrational was, of course, in Notes From Underground. It has been said by a number of writers that the true critique of reason was not Kant's but Dostoevsky's in the Notes. Being a fictional monologue it was a much more vigorous critique than Kant's measured prose.

After all reason is only a fraction of who we are. A very significant and useful fraction but a fraction none the less. The fullness of our minds is more fully expressed through our faculties like the imagination and will:

“You see, gentlemen, reason is an excellent thing. There is no doubt about it. But reason is only reason, and it can only satisfy the reasoning ability of man, whereas volition is a manifestation of the whole of life…For my part, I quite naturally want to live to satisfy all my faculties and not my reasoning faculty alone, that is to say, only some twentieth part of my capacity for living.” (I'm using David Magarshack's biting translation)

Contrary to the neo-Platonists, philosophes and rationalists like the utilitarians, reason is not always the best judge of what is best for us. The central question is “what is really to our advantage?”

“Advantage! What is advantage? Can you possibly give an exact definition of the nature of human advantage? And what if sometimes a man's ultimate advantage not only may, but even must, in certain cases consist in his desiring something that is immediately harmful and not advantageous to himself? If that is so, if such a case can arise, then the whole rule becomes utterly worthless…That's the trouble, gentlemen, that there exists something that is dearer to almost every man than this greatest good, or (not to upset the logic of my argument) that there exists one most valuable good (and one, too, that is constantly being overlooked, namely, the one we are talking about) which is greater and more desirable than all other goods, and for the sake of which a man, if need be is ready to challenge all laws, that is to say, reason, honour, peace, prosperity—in short, all those useful and excellent things, provided that he can obtain the primary and most useful good which is dearer to him than anything else in the world.”

Dostoevsky has the Underground Man being awkward and verbose in his use of language on purpose. As we will see Dostoevsky while not on the side of the “gentlemen” the Underground Man is addressing is also not entirely on the side of his anti-hero either.

The rationalistic would-be lovers and helpers of mankind crucially fail to take into account the real “good” that we seek in our choosing and this real purpose always wrecks havoc with the systematizers.

“What is important is that this good is so remarkable just because it sets at naught all our classifications and shatters all our systems set up by the lovers of the human race for the happiness of the human race. In fact, it plays havoc with everything…all those theories that try to explain to man his normal interests so that, in attempting to obtain them by every possible means, he should at once become good and honourable, are in my opinion nothing but exercises in logic. Yes, exercises in logic…because man has always and everywhere—whoever he may be—preferred to do as he chose, and not in the least how his reason or his logic dictated, and one may choose to do something even if it is against one's own advantage, sometimes one positively should (that is my idea). One's own free and unfettered choice, one's own fancy, overwrought though it sometimes may be to the point of madness—that is the most desirable good which we overlooked and does not fit into any classification, and against which all theories and systems are continually wrecked. And why on earth do all these sages assume that man must needs strive, after some normal, some rationally desirable good? All man wants is some absolutely free choice, however dear that freedom may cost him and wherever it may lead him to.” [emphasis added]

Our free and unfettered choice is essential to our sense of individual personality.

“I cannot help thinking, gentlemen, that you look upon me with pity; you go on telling me over and over again that an enlightened and mentally developed man, such a man, in short, as the future man can be expected to be, cannot possibly desire deliberately something which is not a real 'good' and that, you say, is mathematics. I quite agree. It is mathematics. But I repeat for the hundredth time that here is one case, one case only, where man can deliberately and consciously will something that is injurious, stupid, even outrageously stupid, just because he wants to have the right to desire for himself even what is very stupid and not to be bound by an obligation to desire that which is only sensible. For this outrageously stupid thing, gentlemen, this whim of ours, may really be more accounted by us than by anything else on earth, especially in certain cases. And in particular it may be more valuable than any good when it is quite obviously bad for us and contradicts the soundest conclusions of our reason as to what is to our advantage, for at all events it preserves what is most precious and most important to us, namely, our personality and our individuality. Indeed some people maintain that is the more precious than anything else to man. Desire, of course, can, it if chooses, come to terms with reason, especially if people do not abuse it and make use of it in moderation; this is useful and sometimes praiseworthy. But very often and even mostly desire is utterly and obstinately at loggerheads with reason and—do you know, that too is useful and sometimes even praiseworthy.” [italics added]

The would-be benefactors of humankind fail to grasp how unsuited we are to contentment. After all, that would make us a conditioned, known thing like a mechanical contraption or law of nature.

“Why, shower all the earthly blessings upon him, drown him in happiness, head over our ears, so that only bubbles will be visible on the surface, as on the surface of water; bestow such economic prosperity on him as would leave him with nothing else to do but sleep, eat cakes, and only worry about keeping world history going—and even then he will, man will, out of sheer ingratitude, out of sheer desire to injure you personally, play a dirty trick on you. He would even risk his cakes and ale and deliberately set his heart on the most deadly trash, the most uneconomic absurdity, and do it, if you please, for the sole purpose of infusing into this positive good sense his deadly fantastic element. It is just his fantastic dreams, his most patent absurdities, that he will desire above all else for the sole purpose of trying to prove to himself (as though that were so necessary) that men are still men and not the keys of a piano on which the laws of nature are indeed playing any tune that they like, but are in danger of going on playing until no one is able to desire anything except a mathematical table.” (italics added)

The “gentlemen” may protest that they have no wish to take away our free will:

“You shout at me (if, that is, you will deign to favour me with raising your voice) that no one wants to deprive me of my free will, that all they are concerned with is to arrange things in such a way that my will should of itself, of its own will, coincide with my normal interests, with the laws of nature and arithmetic…

“But, good Lord, gentlemen, what sort of free will can it be once it is all a matter of mathematical tables and arithmetic, when the only thing to be taken into account will be that twice-two-makes-four? Twice two makes four even without my free will. Surely free will does not mean that!”

Joseph Frank's five-volume literary biography of Dostoevsky is one of the greatest literary biographies ever written. Its comprehensive survey of Dostoevsky's life and work and the critical debates around its meanings forms the very epicentre of Dostoevsky criticism. And his analysis of the Notes is one of the best ever.

He points out that too many people consider only the more philosophical and adversarial “Part One: The Underground” of the Notes. Its hard hitting attack gives the satisfaction the adversarial type seeks. But, as Frank points out, Dostoevsky has the second part “Part Two: Apropos of the Wet Snow” follow in order to show that the grand philosophical intellectualizing actually comes out of earlier episodes in his life. Whereas “Part One” presents a fearless advocate of human freedom, in “Part Two” we see a person who is deeply unfree. Anyone who thinks Dostoevsky is putting forth his unreliable narrator as some kind of model for us all misses the obvious point that this, as Frank puts it, “would require us to consider Dostoevsky as just about the worst polemicist in all of literary history.” The Underground Man is deliberately trying to be unappealing and he succeeds at it. We feel him to be abrasive and confrontational.

In “Part Two” our narrator recounts three incidents that were indicative, indeed formative, of his current mental state: numerous comically obsessive attempts to bump into a military officer and thereby get revenge; forcing himself upon a party of “friends” and then trying but failing to show them nothing but disdain; and a sad and then tragic encounter with the prostitute Liza whom he tries to dominate and when she comes to visit him later he seeks to humiliate even though she is trying to offer him genuine relationship. The Underground Man tries to argue in “Part Two” how these incidents show his courageously defiant defence of freedom but clearly as Frank and many other critics point out are actually rationalizations of his anti-social motivations. The irony is palpable: he who is so concerned to argue against a rational encompassing of the human psyche is revealed to be guilty of rationalizing his own behaviour (however unconsciously).

The Underground Man is the first of Dostoevsky's great nihilists in the mature period of his writing. Others include Raskolnikov and Svidrigailov in Crime And Punishment, a plethora of characters in The Idiot, Stavrogin and Peter Verkhovensky (amongst others) in Demons (a.k.a The Possessed, The Devils), and Fyodor, Ivan and Smerdyakov in The Brothers Karamazov.

While traveling to college when he was around sixteen Dostoevsky witnessed an event that was experienced as both a great shock and a great insight to him. He saw a governmental official beat his coachman and then watched as the coachman immediately started whipping his horses in return.

Edward Wasiolek in his dark but brilliant little book, Dostoevsky: The Major Fiction, has outlined what he calls the “moral dialectic” of Dostoevsky's work that is meant to apply to humankind in general but applies even more to the nihilistic type. It is a cycle of being hurt and then inflicting hurt on others. What we might call the “kick-the-cat syndrome.” A boss kicks his worker, the worker goes home and kicks his spouse, the spouse kicks her child and the child kicks the cat. But that the cat then takes a swipe at the other cat shows that this might be a natural feature of all creatures. When hurt an organism strikes back in self-defence or in cathartic venting of stress and suffering. Wasiolek points out that for Dostoevsky “The rhythm of hurt passing from one being to another was an early instance of what was to be a premise of his mature psychology.” (p.92)

It might be explained as a standard feature of animal psychology but with humans there is an additional feature that Dostoevsky often took note of. Not only do we wish to hurt others for being hurt but we also seek to hurt ourselves when we have been hurt. How can evolutionary psychology explain that?

“But why does he do this? We can explain why the Dostoevskian hero hurts others by the law of self-preservation, but the desire to be hurt contradicts the same law. The answer lies in Dostoevsky's conception of the will as an unqualified first premise of existence. It finds satisfaction in hurting others, it is conscious of its power over others; in hurting itself it is conscious of itself, and it will subvert every motive to gain this satisfaction.” (54-5)

Not only does our will contradict the rational understanding of science but we also can turn our good intentions to harm and can even have our hurtful intentions produce good. His fiction is filled with characters that do just that especially in The Brothers Karamazov.

“Dostoevsky saw the world through the prism of a highly conscious metaphysic: man striving to express his will upon man and seeking confirmation of self in injuring and being injured; man meeting at every victory over himself a transmuted image and temptation of his self; man pursuing evil up the ladder of good, using the highest goods for the deepest injuries, and man, with God, occasionally wrenching himself out of these traps into selflessness.” (57)

Not only are we irrational but creation is too for it seems structured to let us turn good to evil or evil to good.

While composing The Brothers Karamazov Dostoevsky wrote to his editor:

“In the text which I have sent you I express the basic convictions of one of the most important characters of the novel. These convictions are precisely what I consider the synthesis of Russian anarchism. The denial not of God but of the meaning of His creation.”

To one acquaintance at that time he wrote:

“Our socialists [for Dostoevsky a specific type of nihilist] today are not concerned with the scientific and philosophical arguments against the existence of God as were the last century and the first half of this century; these have been given up. Rather, they are interested in denying as strongly as possible the creation of God, His world and His meaning. Only in these questions does contemporary civilization find meaning.” (italics added)

Contrary to those who feel that Dostoevsky was a great artist but not necessarily a great thinker his writings and these letters show otherwise. No one else grasped the issues of the death of God more deeply than he did. And he knew it:

“The villains teased me for my uneducated and reactionary faith in God. Those blockheads did not even dream of such a powerful negation of God as was put into the Inquisitor and in the preceding chapter [Ivan's rebellion], to which the whole novel serves as an answer.”

He was fully aware too of the unique contribution he was making in sounding out the depths of the nihilist underground adversarial type:

“Tolstoy, Goncharov, thought that they were describing the life of the majority—in my opinion, what they were describing were the exceptions. Quite to the contrary, their life is the life of some exceptions, while mine is the life of the general rule. Future generations will find that out, as they will be more objective, and the truth will be on my side. In this, I believe…I have been the only one to bring out the tragedy of the underground, which consists of suffering, self-laceration, and awareness of a better life coupled with the impossibility of attaining it, and most important of all, a strong conviction on the part of these unfortunate people that everybody else is like them, and that it is, therefore, not worth while to improve oneself. What can sustain those who do try to improve themselves? A reward, faith? Nobody is offering any reward, and in whom could one have faith? Another step from this position and you have extreme depravity, crime (murder). A mystery.” And Dostoevsky once wrote “The only possible answer to a mystery is another mystery.”

The connection between how suffering gives rise to nihilism is laid out in stark clarity with this quote from The Diary of A Writer:

“I maintain that awareness of your inability to help or bring any benefit or relief to suffering mankind, at the same time that you are fully convinced of the suffering of mankind, can turn the love in you for mankind to hatred for it.”

Through resentment (the bitter remembrance of past suffering) the sufferer turns into the nihilist. Life isn't easy. We all suffer desperately. But each of us must make a choice whether to repay suffering with more suffering or, as Wasiolek points out, Dostoevsky in his “moral dialectic” states that we can choose to not repay suffering with further suffering. The nihilist hates to be reminded that he/she has made a choice to resentfully carry on the vicious cycle of returning suffering for suffering. He cynically contends that suffering is passed on through our corrupt natures and our weak minded submission to convention. He is just being realistic he claims. He offers no hopeful assessment of our situation. He denies he has made any choice about whether to cause more suffering as per the moral dialectic. It is wrong to make a virtue out of necessity but the nihilist goes a step further: suffering is inevitable when we are confronted with necessity and chance.

In the chapter “Rebellion” of The Brothers Karamazov Dostoevsky tackles the problem of theodicy head on. Two of the brothers, Ivan, the intellectual, and the saintly novice monk Alyosha (a.k.a. Alexy) sit in a tavern talking about the big issues (as Russian characters especially Dostoevsky's were wont to do). Ivan goes on at length about the suffering of humankind but especially about the suffering of children. The poetry of Ivan's expression (of Dostoevsky's writing) must be appreciated to fully feel the argument's impact.

He gives a number of poignant examples of terrible sufferings that children have undergone. The lengthiest story is of a young child of a serf mother. The child while playing throws a stone that accidentally injures the paw of one of the favourite hunting dogs of the general who owns the estate on which the serfs live and work. When the general hears of this incident he calls the mother and child before him. He tells the mother to get the child to strip naked and to start running. The general then sics his hunting dogs on the terrified child and they rip him to pieces. What is one to do about such horrible suffering?

At one point Alyosha tells Ivan that one must love life more than the meaning of life. Even if that doesn't seem to make logical sense.

“I understand too well, Ivan. One longs to love with one's inside, with one's guts. You said that so well and I am awfully glad that you have such a longing for life” cried Alyosha. “I think everyone should love life above everything in the world.

“Love life more than the meaning of it?”

“Certainly, love it regardless of logic as you say, it must be regardless of logic, and it's only then one will understand the meaning of it. I have thought so a long time. Half your work has been done and has been acquired, Ivan, now you've only to try to do the second half and you are saved.”

“You are trying to save me, but perhaps I am not lost!”

Ivan carves out his moral/spiritual stance. He puts it in terms of being able to accept suffering or not being able to accept it. Though he claims to be wiling to believe in God (or Spirit or the Ground of All Being if you prefer) he finds the unacceptable suffering especially of children to be too big a stumbling block to consent to the Creator's creation. Ivan attempts to imagine being religiously committed

“And so I accept God and am glad to, and what's more I accept His wisdom, His purpose—which are utterly beyond our ken; I believe in the underlying order and the meaning of life; I believe in the eternal harmony in which they say we shall one day be blended. I believe in the Word to Which the universe is striving, and Which Itself was 'with God,' and Which Itself is God and so on, and so on, to infinity. There are all sorts of phrases for it. I seem to be on the right path, don't I? Yet would you believe it, in the final result I don't accept this world of God's, and, although I know it exists, I don't accept it all. It's not that I don't accept God, you must understand, it's the world created by Him that I don't and cannot accept. Let me make it plain. I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world's finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood they've shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened with men—but though all that may come to pass, I don't accept it, I won't accept it. Even if parallel lines do meet and I see it myself, I shall see it and say they've met, but still I won't accept it. That's what's at the root of me…” (italics added)

Ivan a(d)vers:

“Why should we get to know this diabolical good and evil when it costs so much?”

Doesn't non-duality in its monistic embrace also end up accepting the unacceptable? Doesn't integrating duality leave us in a position that is dualistic in that it accepts that devilish logic of duality especially in regards to the issue of theodicy since the integral move of transcending and including includes evil (just as in Unique Self we transcend and include both the individual and the universal)? Non-dualists would argue that language and our psyches necessarily leave us with a world that seems both evil and good: you can't conceive of one without the other. But as Ivan asks just above “Why this devilish logic?” Couldn't a God/Spirit that transcends logic, that can do the impossible, not create a world that prevents unacceptable suffering from coming into being?

Ivan then asks how can suffering be said to have an acceptable purpose if one never finds out what an acceptable purpose means?

“What comfort is it to me that there are none guilty and that cause follows effect simply and directly, and that I know it [the issue of karma?]—I must have retribution, or I will destroy myself. And not retribution in some remote infinite time and space, but here on earth, and that I could see myself. I have believed in it. I want to see it, and if I am dead by then, let me rise again, for if it all happens without me, it will be too unfair. Surely I haven't suffered, simply that I, my crimes and my sufferings, may manure the soil of the future harmony for somebody else [similar to what Hippolyte says in The Idiot]. I want to see with my own eyes the lamb lie down with the lion and the victim rise up and embrace the murderer. I want to be there when everyone suddenly understands what it has all been for. All the religions of the world are built on this longing, and I am a believer…”

If suffering remains unacceptable we can only affirm our inability to accept such suffering. There is something somewhere deep inside us where we must decide what we find acceptable or unacceptable. Within each individual there is some still small space/voice where we decide between the acceptable and the unacceptable (Jean Amery writes about this particularly in regards to resentment in his devastating little book on the Holocaust, At The Mind's Limits). If we find we can't accept certain sufferings then we must say with Ivan that no purpose or higher harmony, no transcendent state, should make us accept it. We must make a stand within where we have to still register that suffering as unacceptable. Inside we must decide for unacceptability “even if I were wrong” as Dostoevsky emphasizes in italics.

“Oh, Alyosha, I am not blaspheming! I understand, of course, what an upheaval of the universe it will be, when everything that lives and has lived cries aloud: 'Thou art just, O Lord, for Thy ways are revealed.' When the mother embraces the fiend who threw her child to the dogs, and all three cry aloud with tears, 'Thou art just, O Lord!' then, of course, the crown of knowledge will be reached and all will be made clear. But what pulls me up here is that I can't accept such harmony. And while I am on earth, I make haste to take my own measures. You see, Alyosha, perhaps it may really happen that if I live till that moment, or rise again to see it, I too, perhaps, may cry aloud with the rest, looking at the mother embracing the child's torturer, 'Thou art just, O Lord!' but I don't want to cry out loud then. While there is still time, I hasten to protect myself and so I renounce the higher harmony altogether. It's not worth the tears of that one tortured child who beat itself on the breast with its little fist and prayed in its stinking outhouse, with its unexpiated tears to 'dear, kind God.' It's not worth it because those tears are unatoned for. They must be atoned for, or there can be no harmony. But how? How are you going to atone for them? Is it possible? By their being avenged? But what do I care for avenging them? What do I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony if there is a hell? I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don't want more sufferings. And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price. I don't want the mother to embrace the oppressor who threw her son to the dogs! She dare not forgive him! Let her forgive him for herself, if she will, let her forgive the torturer for the immeasurable suffering of her mother's heart. But the suffering of her tortured child she has no right to forgive; she dare not forgive the torturer, even if the child were to forgive him! And if that is so, if they dare not forgive, what becomes of harmony?! Is there in the whole world a being who would have the right to forgive and could forgive?

“I don't want harmony. From the love of humanity I don't want it. I would rather be left with the unrequited suffering. I would rather remain with my unrequited suffering and unquenched indignation, even if I were wrong. Besides, too high a price is asked for harmony; we can't afford to pay so much for admission. And so I hasten to give back my entrance ticket, and if I am an honest man I am bound to give it back as soon as possible. And that I am doing. It's not God that I don't accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return Him the ticket.

“That's rebellion,” murmured Alyosha, looking down.

“Rebellion? I am sorry you call it that,” said Ivan earnestly. “One can hardly live in rebellion, and I want to live.”

In all the Dostoevsky criticism I have ever read no one ever faults Ivan or Dostoevsky for saying that Ivan or anyone of us has the right not to accept certain sufferings. Not one commentator. Not one (not two!). It is a hallmark of our culture and how far it has evolved over time that we can allow the individual for him or herself decide what he or she finds acceptable or unacceptable. But note that this then leaves room for support for an adversarial approach to culture. The nihilist turns all of culture into a theodicy. Or all of culture, nature and life into a theodicy. So in a truly Integral conception and experience of society there must be a place for the 1st person judgment of what things (and beings) all are for. But not only a 1st person perspective. For there is a 2nd person aspect to the full experience of theodicy and its acceptance or rejection as we will see as we turn to Camus.

Camus vs. Adversary Culture

With the triumph of postmodernism we saw a decline in existential interpretations of culture. The postmods wished to point out the sufferings inflicted by society on various groups and justly critiqued oppression caused by racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, etc. Postmodernism, being a leftist phenomenon, in proper sociological acumen pointed out that most of these forms of oppression are exacerbated by capitalism's greedy materialism. Existentialism was deemed (for a time at least) as passé because it seemed to only emphasize individual rebellion and not leave room for collective action. But the postmods seem to forget the foundations of rebellion in the individual's demand for justice as Dostoevsky pointed out from the Underground Man to Ivan's rebellion. One person on the left who understood this well was Albert Camus.

Camus was deeply influenced by Dostoevsky. He wrote a theatrical play version of Demons. In a theatrical version of The Brothers Karamazov Camus played the part of Ivan. And it has been widely acknowledged that his final published novel The Fall was essentially a rewrite of Notes From Underground (with its unreliable narrator unleashing a lengthy monologue).

Though Camus often insisted that he was not an existentialist per se his oeuvre is replete with and engages especially the concerns of other existential writers. He was I would argue putting himself at a distance from the more adversarial aspects of existential culture (just as Dostoevsky fought against the adversarial implications of his nihilist gallery).

The central book of Camus' mature position is, obviously enough, The Rebel. By rebellion Camus is not just referring to political rebellion but very much to metaphysical rebellion a term which was inspired by Ivan's rebellion. The essence of nihilism is metaphysical rebellion (not relativism or pluralism). And the crucial statement of rebellion is Camus' “I rebel, therefore, we exist.” His best definition of nihilism I believe lies in these lines:

“If nihilism is the inability to believe, then its most serious symptom is not found in atheism, but in the inability to believe in what is, to see what is happening, and to live life as it is offered…A nihilist is not one who believes in nothing, but one who does not believe in what exists.” (p. 67 & 69)

It should be clear enough that Camus is saying nihilism arises because of the problem of suffering. We can't accept our sufferings or any meanings proffered to help us accept our sufferings.

Despite the seeming Cartesian formulation of his “I rebel, therefore, we exist” Camus is going beyond any merely subjectivistic position to an intersubjective moral and political position to put it in integral terms. Note that this involves both the Upper Left “I” and the Lower Left “We.” The rebel realizes within her/himself that she/he is being subjected to unacceptable suffering but quickly realizes this suffering would be unacceptable to others too. The rebel exists morally at the world-centric level (or kosmo-centric—concerned with the suffering of all sentient beings.). Her/his position includes the individual subjective awareness of suffering but also transcends and is aware of the suffering of others. And this is happening at an irrational stage of awareness:

“As we have seen in regard to surrealism, the desire for unity not only demands that everything should be rational. It also wishes that the irrational should not be sacrificed …The irrational imposes limits on the rational, which, in its turn, gives it its moderation.” (p. 296-7).

If we look throughout Camus' works we can see his concern to check the excesses of adversarial culture. This was part of the source of his quarrel with Sartre I believe. I go into this in more depth in my book.

Shestov tackles all the issues

In his earlier book The Myth of Sisyphus Camus focused on our interpretation of the world as absurd. The Absurd was not a thing out there in the world but the subjective and intersubjective relationship between our desire for understanding and “the unreasonable silence of the world.” Camus felt we must never lose sight of our feeling of estrangement from reality. To lose track of these feelings was to deny what is most central to humanity. He chastised other thinkers for committing what he called “philosophical suicide.” This occurred when feeling our desire for transcendence we let go of our sense of estrangement and take a leap of faith into the transcendent to give us an answer and resolve the difficult tension of acknowledging fully that we are both in estrangement and desire to transcend that situation. Camus was a believer in the middle way between extremes. The ancient Greeks were his exemplars keeping their understanding at a balanced this-worldly human level rather than going to the extreme of other-worldly transcendence. To not let go of the human and sink into barbaric cruelty (like Caligula) nor to embrace the nihilism of resentful indulgence (like so many of the romantics). This was one reason why he quarrelled with Sartre and his crowd who he felt were too nihilistic (adversarial) in their judgmentalism.

Camus discusses several thinkers that he thinks are guilty of the philosophically suicidal leap of faith including Kierkegaard, Karl Jaspers and Edmund Husserl(!). Another thinker central to this diagnosis that he cites was the great Russian-Jewish existential religious philosopher Lev Shestov.

Shestov is unfortunately almost a forgotten figure nowadays. He was amongst the Russian generation of 19th-to-20th century God-seekers such as Vladimir Solovyov (who in his younger days knew Dostoevsky personally), Nikolai Berdyaev, and Sergei Bulgakov. But he was a favourite of a later European generation of writers including Isaiah Berlin, George Steiner and Csezlaw Milosz amongst others.

Camus in the Myth stated that Shestov's work was “wonderfully monotonous.” Readers of Shestov would immediately understand that Camus was getting at Shestov's inevitable railing against Necessity in all its forms. For Shestov our original sin was humanity's capitulation to necessity. Shestov throughout his works constantly fretted about “the horrors of life” (a phrase he used in all his books—the problem of suffering no?). To capitulate to necessity was to make a virtue of necessity. That is, virtue above all else implied capitulating to the necessities of reason. Reason inevitably tells us how to think and feel about the suffering we go through and deem alignment, accommodation to the suffering to be virtuous. This submission to the “you must” of reason and virtue were intolerable to Shestov. He preferred to align himself with the objections of the Underground Man and Ivan. Only a few quotes I promise (though in my book I quote this neglected writer at great length):

“But this is precisely the heart of the riddle: what is the point of the whole world-comedy? Why does the One, which is so self-satisfied, so peaceful, so all-comprehensive, need to split itself into myriads of souls, to throw them out into the world, to lodge them in these mysterious, alluring body-cells, if it turns out afterwards that the best that souls could do would be to leave their bodies and return to the One whence they came? It is impossible, with the worst will in the world, to conceive anything more senseless—and the One of the Greeks, in face of all this, is primarily a rational principle.” (In Job's Balances: On the Sources of the Eternal Truths, p. 165)

The answer to that from the Integral point of view is that of the Unique Self as posited by Gafni and Wilber. In our experience as the many we each learn to become our Unique Self and in that way can be both part of the One and still unique within it. The One becomes the Unique One. This accords to some degree with another important quote of Shestov's:

“Or another deduction: we must renounce traditional presuppositions, cease to value passionlessness and to hold the absence of wishes for the basic quality, the true nature of the Supreme Being, and allow the passions to do their work openly. Then it will appear that the soul is not nearly so wicked as it commonly appears, and the reason not so unreasonable and weak, and it will not let itself be betrayed so easily as the 'connoisseurs' of man's spiritual life have taught us to think. Then philosophy will perhaps breathe more freely. And then it will seek ontology no longer in logic but in psychology [contrary to Hegel and the other rationalists]. And it will restore to psychology the soul, the true, living soul, with its passions, its hopes; in short, with all the 'sensuality' which has been so long and so fruitlessly persecuted by the best representatives of human thought … Suddenly the 'last' will become the 'first'. Even the Supreme Being will be revealed as 'passionate' and will not only not be ashamed of its passions, but will see in them the first characteristic of spirituality and life. And just as 'suddenly' we shall at last understand the enigmatic words of the Bible: 'God created man in His image'…” (p. 206, italics added)

While this seems to agree not only with Wilber et al and even with Vervaeke's demand for the fullness of rationality, we must beware of the rationalistic impulse and its desire to impose limitations upon all. Shestov was the greatest of all the irrationalist philosophers I would argue. But Shestov equates (mistakenly I believe) theodicy with rationality (thinking as he did of Hegel):

“Wisdom never went beyond the boundaries of that freedom which expressed itself in the joyful readiness to submit to the inevitable, for wisdom always based itself on gnosis, and where gnosis revealed 'necessity' wisdom uncomplainingly set up its 'you ought' and saw in this the essence of freedom.” (Speculation and Revelation, p. 245)

Shestov arrived at his stance separately from Kierkegaard but was delighted to find a soulmate in the great Dane. Echoing Kierkegaard (and reflecting the triumphing of nominalism in the West's heritage and its existential legacy):

“Freedom is possibility. And faith is a mad struggle for the impossible—precisely that which Job undertook and about which Berdyaev and Kant are silent.” (p.248)

In The Euthyphro Plato raises the fateful question: “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” Reason demands that the pious or holy or good be loved by the gods or God/Spirit because it is pious/holy/ good. Otherwise God/Spirit could determine what is pious/holy/good by His/Its will. If God/Spirit wanted under those conditions then He/It could decree murder or torture (even of children) to be good if He/It so desired. But, Shestov rejoinds, this is to look upon the pious/holy of good as not being created by God/Spirit but that they were created out of Nothingness.

“Plato was right; if we renounce knowledge, we doom ourselves to the greatest misfortune. He was also right when, anticipating almost prophetically what his remote spiritual descendants, Duns Scotus and Ockham, would find in scripture, he authoritatively declared in Euthyphro, speaking in the name of Socrates, that the idea of the good was not created, that it is above the gods, that what is holy is not holy because the gods love it; rather, the gods love and must love what is holy. Plato realized quite clearly that morality is the guardian of truth and that, if it deserts its post, truth will meet with disaster. Truth and good are uncreated; God has been sentenced to obey the norms of truth and morality, both in His understanding and in His evaluation, to no less a degree than man. Non ridere, non lugere, neque detestari—sed intelligere ('do not laugh, do not weep, do not curse—but understand'—a phrase of Spinoza's that Shestov scorned): this is the first commandment of divine thinking, before which all the Biblical commandments must take second place.” Kierkegaard and the Existential Philosophy, p. 299, italics added)

The True, the Good and the Beautiful (aesthetic) must be created out of Nothingness, but not a Nothingness that offered no resistance to God/Spirit, but a Nothingness of Reason that limits the possibilities of the omnis. Otherwise we are supposedly left at the mercy of a divine but arbitrary (contingent, chance-like) will.

“The heartless or indifferent power of Nothingness seems terrible to us, but we do not have the strength to partake of the freedom proclaimed in Scripture. We fear it even more than Nothingness. A God bound by nothing, not even truth and good, a God Who created truth and good by His own will! We take this to be arbitrariness, we think that the limited certainty of Nothingness is still preferable to the limitlessness of divine possibilities.” ( p. 308-9)

But is it really a matter of God creating out of Nothingness? Does not God/Spirit create out of Him/Her/Itself? This would agree with the involutionary reading of Spirit in action. Spirit is as much the Groundlessness of Being as the Ground of Being.

“He (God) does not need, as mortals do, a reason, a support, a firm ground. Groundlessness is the basic, most enviable, and to us most incomprehensible privilege of the Divine.” In Job's Balances, p. 218

But too many have preferred the idea of God/Spirit, like us, being subject to Necessity and Chance. The twin metaphysical gods of Chance and Necessity are set above the God/Spirit of the flowing Divine.

“This is how we must understand Plato's words about the two causes—the divine and the necessary. He was merely clarifying the idea of the Atomists; for him, Nothingness has become Necessity. The conviction that Necessity is separate from divine power over what exists was, for the Hellenists, one of the most insuperable of self-evidencies and even, perhaps, the fundamental postulate of Hellenic thinking. And so it has remained down to our own day. In modern philosophy it has been expressed in the Hegelian dialectic; where it is called 'the self-movement of the concept.'” Kierkegaard and the Existential Philosophy, p. 110)

We must seek the source of the Divine in ontology an ontology based in the logic of Necessity or Chance not based in psychology.

“There is no 'who' at the sources of being…If true reality is found on the two-dimensional plane of the 'what' and if the thought expressive of this reality knows only two dimensions [enai (being)—noein (thought)] then there is no escape: we must give up free choice, submit to Necessity, and no longer receive any truths without its consent and authorization. Necessity does not authorize choice. If you wish to acquire the right and freedom to choose, you must abandon the plane where Necessity realizes its power, without allowing yourself to be stopped by any possibilities…” Athens and Jerusalem, p. 111-2)

Athens and Jerusalem (reason and revelation) are both required according to Shestov. But we tend to make Jerusalem submit to Athens (and so make a virtue out of the necessity of reason):

“[The free man's] relationship to God is expressed not in knowledge but in faith. Faith is that freedom which the Creator breathed into man along with life.” Speculation and Revelation (p. 258)

True freedom for man is the same as that of God's: the freedom, beyond logic, beyond good and evil, to prevent evil from entering into creation. Freedom beyond the devilish logic of duality as Ivan insisted. The rationalists will insist “you must” submit to the authority of reason (which knows and desires nothing!) and contra Hegel (and Wilber et al?) that your suffering is part of the price of your ticket. In his most famous essay on Dostoevsky Shestov quotes from The Idiot and the character of Hippolyte who is young and dying of tuberculosis with his dreams unrealized (last quote I swear):

“What tribunal is judge here? For whose sake must I not only be condemned, but suffer my condemnation without protest? Does it really benefit any one?...What is the good of my humility? Is it not possible simply to eat me up without insisting that I should sing the praises of my devourer?”

The rise of reason while of enormous benefit, and of great importance pointing out the evidence for suffering and the concomitant need for greater freedom from such suffering, has always had its shadow side. From the sophists to Machiavelli, the guillotines and gulags, and in our current times the game-theoretic rationality of economics, the intelligence state and corporate capitalistic surveillance, reason happily tries to fetter us with its “mind- forged manacles.” To make of us a thing, something that is known. To make a virtue of necessity or to make necessity (or chaos) a virtue.

Perhaps the road to nihilism has stages to it like anything else. First comes scepticism (where questions are more important than answers); then comes cynicism (where the truth about the moral failings of human beings is deemed more important than their possibilities); then (stoic) pessimism (where having no expectations from humanity or creation is more important than hope or faith disappointed). Scepticism, cynicism, and (stoic) pessimism are not necessarily bad in and of themselves but when pursued as an end rather than a means leads to a resolutely always already contrarian standpoint that opens the way to the adversarial approach. The culmination point in all these processes (in both individuals and culture) is nihilism. Everything comes at us all at once and it is overwhelming. Too many processes threaten to encompass us so the best answer is to reject them all. The nihilist turns all of culture (and the self that would fit into culture and nature as well) into a theodicy- something that “we must” accept. The True, The Good and The Beautiful (more broadly construed the aesthetic) cannot compensate or console us for our unacceptable sufferings. Nothing can—even if I/we were wrong!!

Adversary culture sets up its home. Nihilism can find no theodicy that makes our sufferings acceptable. Who dares justify the Holocaust, the terrible sufferings of black slavery, the horrors of the destruction of indigenous cultures, or the ages-old repressions of women and LGBTQ+ people?

And only the notions of the acceptable and unacceptable can accommodate the pre-rational to rational to trans-rational dynamics of the irrational. Joy can turn to sorrow, sorrow to joy, pleasure to pain and vice versa. Sometimes we want The Brothers Karamazov other times we want the Marx Brothers. Sometimes we want what we want and sometimes we do not want what we want. We want both the Absolute and the Relative. We want Freedom (the True Self) and we want Fullness (the Unique Self).

It is there in the devilish duality of freedom vs. suffering. The problem of suffering and the problem of freedom mirror each other exactly (like Indra's net?). We suffer when we don't feel free (per the Underground Man) and we feel free when we don't suffer (unacceptably that is—some suffering is tolerable others not). We spin round and round. The relationship of Absolute to Relative, of Freedom to Fullness, of True Self to Unique Self, of Theodicy to Nihilism is dizzying.

Wilber has always maintained that the stages of development go from pre-rational to rational to trans-rational. But what of the irrational? Does it come in between the rational and trans-rational? Or is it the holding of all those stages in a truly transcendent but inclusive embrace? Only by fully explicating, critiquing and evaluating adversary culture will we find out I suspect.

Implications for Integral

An absence lurks at the heart of culture: no one says what the meaning of suffering is.

If I'm at all right about the importance of theodicy vs. nihilism, the acceptable vs. the unacceptable and the significance of adversary culture then Integral must set a place for adversary culture at its table. And I think only integral metamodernism has the breadth and depth do that. To do this it must fully incorporate literary criticism and theory into its palate. The literary criticism and theory that leave room for an existential assessment of self and culture. Postmodern theory while having contributed a lot towards pointing out instances of suffering has been done to death which is ironic since unlike existentialism it generally fails to incorporate musings on theodicy (the meanings we try to give to our worst sufferings) and death as well.

The central point is that realizing the importance of there being both acceptable and unacceptable suffering means that any worldview or theory should help reduce the amount of unacceptable suffering in this world. This can help us clarify the dynamics of the culture wars. We can understand them better by realizing in what ways the do or do not help reduce suffering and how the various emphases they put on their theory and praxis (e.g. whether its on the liberatory political aspect or on the existential meaning) either help or hinder in reducing suffering.

To use Spiral Dynamics traditionalism (blue) feels the need to replace the power view (red) because it causes too much violent suffering; modernism (orange) critiques traditionalism because its lack of freedom causes suffering for too many; postmodernism (green) loathes modernism because of the awareness of the suffering it still causes (class, race, sex, gender, ableism, etc.).

Yet none of these worldviews tries to explicate the meaning of our worst sufferings. An absence lurks at the heart of culture: no one says what the meaning of suffering is. Further magnified by the realization that one of the worst things anyone can do is to rationalize or justify the suffering of others.

Ken Wilber wrote two nice essays on literary criticism/theory for his book The Eye of Spirit but much more is needed. Stepping into literature and criticism/theory will prove challenging for integral communities. Integral generally likes to aim for a healthy sense of self but literature (and much other art as well) focuses on the less edifying aspects of our existence. The integral community has been good at incorporating shadow work as one of its essential practices (cleaning up). But literature and art also focus on the existential realities of the world that can't be easily dealt with or accepted if at all by the self.

Wilber has stressed the importance of looking at the AQAL map via the Integral Semiotics of 1st, 2nd and 3rd person. But just there lies a problem. Ivan's rebellion, the culmination of the literary novel I have been arguing, is experientially a 1st person perspective (at a world-centric level)—“I will not accept this suffering even if I were wrong” - but one as Camus pointed out that has 2nd person resonances—“I rebel, therefore, we exist.” But what of that pesky 3rd person aspect? The issue of theodicy crops up whenever the 1st and 2nd person (subjectivity and intersubjectivity) have to deal with the necessity or chance implied by the 3rd person perspective (objectivity and interobjectivity) and the attendant sufferings it brings. Marquard had it right: wherever there is modernity (e.g. semiotics, systems and information theories) there is theodicy.

1st and 2nd person are more significant (contain more complexity) that 3rd person (significant not fundamental—3rd person is more fundamental as Wilber has pointed out). Integral must explore theodicy vs. nihilism for not to explore these issues fails to allow us to explore and explicate the fullness of our 1st and 2nd person existences. Only by incorporating theodicy vs. nihilism into its worldview will Integral provide an adequate motive for investigating the fullness of the Good, the True and the Beautiful (aesthetic). Integral metatheory must face the problem of theodicy and the 3rd person in relation to the theodicic and anti-theodicic aspects of the 1st and 2nd person selves. Hanzi Freinacht has come closest to doing that so far but a fuller sounding out is needed by any society that is truly listening.

Integral can help us to construct a more fully worked out adversary culture. One that engages the issues of suffering without the ressentiment (Nietzsche's term that he introduced into philosophy) that causes the adversarial type to engage in the all too typical kick-the-cat/having-suffered-to-strike-back-in-revenge mode. And the striking back can happen over a very long time, be more unconscious that conscious and as Trilling implies become part of a reflexive attitude. (The long term nature of resentment and how intellectuals are prone to it is explicated by philosopher Robert C. Solomon in his essay “Nietzsche, Postmodernism, and Resentment: A Genealogical Hypothesis” in a book collection of essays called Nietzsche As Postmodernist: Essays Pro and Contra. As well the literary critic and poet Frederick Turner argues well that postmodernism is prone to resentment and an inability to face shame in his beautiful book The Culture of Hope.)

Put plainly an integral culture must acknowledge the adversarial aspect that finds it hates life, the world, the universe, existence. (Must we always have to say “Yes?” Can't we sometimes for moments at least say “No” like Ivan and Hippolyte or Carlyle's Teufelsdrockh?)

Working out the complexities of adversary culture will involve understanding how modernism, postmodernism and metamodernism, while concerned about the suffering that traditional and lower levels of stage development have inflicted on people, have failed to address the 1st and 2nd person meanings of suffering. It is a well established development in culture to realize that one of the worst things anyone can do is to justify the sufferings of others (and the Other). But ironically not justifying the sufferings of others has also led us to not explore the meanings of our suffering (and theodicy and nihilism). And this further explication of the position of adversary culture in the rest of culture must be explored in regard to how adversary culture (the lack of acceptance of certain sufferings and the resulting hostility to established culture) shows up in non-Western cultures too. That should prove very instructive.

Again Ivan's rebellion along with Camus' must underline that real metaphysical rebellion must be stated in terms of the acceptable vs. the unacceptable. Other terms could be used (e.g. the unbearable, the inadmissible) but I think acceptable vs. unacceptable works particularly well as they imply a degree of agency to 1st and 2nd person. But the delineation of what is acceptable or unacceptable will not be easy or obvious. What we deem acceptable or unacceptable can change over time, is fluid in its dynamics and must incorporate the (positive) irrational aspects of our judgments. It won't be a straightforward task.

But then again would we want it to be? Do we not wish to preserve a sense of the Mysterious? Is that not partly the point of the transcendent? No it won't be a rational process only. It will include but transcend our Fullness of Form. Integral in its desire to include all valid paths of experience (“everybody's right”) can sometimes be in danger of justifying suffering that should not be justified. Integral can fall into a kind of Hegelian compromise justifying the general/ universal trends and losing sight of the horrendous suffering of individuals and smaller groups. That is when theodicy can actually be an evil in itself. For example, as more and more wealth gets transferred to the 1% it should not say “Well they should be included too.” Hard choices about what is acceptable or unacceptable will have to be made if we are to survive with an intact but working civilization that includes a contributing adversarial element.

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