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Previous: 11.2 Love and substance Up: 11. God is Love Next: 11.4 Summary

11.3 Love and thought

Although we have not discussed thinking and thoughts in this chapter, we can here usefully remind the reader of some of the important differences between love and thought following the discussion of Section 6.1.2. This will help to elucidate the claim of this chapter that love (not thought) is the fundamental substance.

We first note that in introspection it is thoughts and perceptions which are immediately apparent, rather than loves. Loves provide a kind of background tenor to our conscious life, where this includes thinking as well as feeling. A second level of interior inspection reveals our feelings and emotions to us, especially if we have sufficient emotional self-awareness or emotional literacy.

Neither thoughts nor feelings, however, are the loves themselves that lead us to do and enjoy what we do. The loves are the underlying motivations that exist even before we act. Feelings and emotions tend to be the affections generated according to whether or not our loves are successful. It is thus difficult to discern our own loves.

To see our loves, we have to follow similar methods to those used in the sciences to discover dispositions. The relation between loves and thoughts is analogous to the relation between dispositions and structures: loves and dispositions determine what we would do, whereas thoughts and structures show what we are now. The loves are that which determine what we would do in various situations, just as are the dispositions and potentialities of physics.

Our loves may thus be discerned by one of the following procedures:

  1. Seeing what we have done,
  2. Seeing what we do now, especially when free,
  3. Seeing what appears to us to be good,
  4. Seeing our bodily and affective tone and responsiveness when various courses of action are considered,
  5. Seeing where our desires take us when they are given free reign, and
  6. Seeing where our imagination leads us when it is free to wander.
All these methods are like scientific experiments, in that they require us to infer from events (real or imagined) back to their causes. In our mental life, we are fortunate to have available the last three non-destructive methods.11.4 It is interesting to reflect on the role of freedom in the above procedures, whether freedom of action or freedom of imagination. Some kind of freedom often turns out to be necessary if we are to discern even our own loves.

Another analogy to help distinguish love from thoughts is to think of loves as being like heat or energy and thoughts as being like light or illumination. There is a long history of seeing ‘light’ as a metaphor for thinking and ‘insight’ as referring to understanding. Remember, there is also energy, which we cannot see, though (as heat) it produces light. The sun produces both heat and light, or energy and illumination, which, though carried by the one set of particles (photons) may be intellectually distinguished. This is because the energy of light is not itself visible qua energy.

The constitutive role of love has been controversial in philosophical history. It was traditionally recognized by the importance of the will in mental life, but the relative importance of will and understanding (where love and thought are considered to reside, respectively) has fluctuated. Descartes was prominent in defining the essence of the human soul to be rational thought. According to Descartes, the will was defined as the actions of the soul, which, as effects, are rather different from the view in theism of love as the cause. The view of mind being developed here is very non-Cartesian, because of the substantial role being given to love rather than to rational thought. Descartes was never able to say what was the substance of the soul other than that rational thought was an essential activity. F.W.J. Schelling extended dualism somewhat along the lines of theism, or, we should say, consistently with the logic that we need in theism. According to Schelling, the world consists of ‘will and representation’: the will has the part of love, as substance, and representation has the part of form, as features of that substance.


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