Tuesday 22 November 2016

The polarity of love and agency

Christianity is based upon love and agency (that is, autonomy of free will); yet these concepts are often understood superficially. In fact, they are deep, metaphysical principles: they are, indeed, a polarity - which means that we can distinguish between love and agency, yet they cannot be divided (the one requires the other).

And this is important because love and agency are both active processes, and it is the interaction of these active processes of love and agency that we can call creation - which is what leads to more love, and more agency.

The importance of love to Christianity scarcely needs emphasis; but it is neglected that love entails agency. Love is not a state of being, rather love is a thing that happens (a process) between agents, and by choice of these agents.

Love can only be a product of free will, and if there is no choice there is no love. One thing cannot love itself, two things cannot love unless that is chosen - a coerced love is not love. So for Christians, for this reason alone as well as other reasons, agency is a necessity.

I think this is fairly clear; but the fact of agency being dependent on love is less clear; because we have tendency to emphasise that agency is not predictable from the causes impinging on an entity (agency entails an uncaused cause, an unmoved mover); and then this truth is misunderstood to mean that agency is arbitrary and 'random'. Then agency gets confused with the models of unpredictable randomness form science - such as quantum theory.

But agency is not randomness; agency comes from the self, it is an 'expression' of the self - indeed agency is when the self is active (not merely responsive). (We are not always agent; but it is only when we are agent that we are as we are ourselves.)

Indeed, agency comes-from the already-existing state of love - which is what binds the universe of agents.

Agency alone (a situation which is impossible) would indeed be randomness (indistinguishable from randomness) - it would be multiple selves simply doing unpredictable things for no reason comprehensible to anything else.

But agency is in a pre-existent situation of love - agency operates from a universe which coheres because of love; therefore agency is expressed from a background in love.

Love is what makes agency agent and purposive; without love there would not be agency but only unpredictability and meaninglessness.

We can indeed see that meaning and purpose are themselves dependent on the continued reality and interaction of love and agency - agency is what divides things so they can be in relation to one another (rather than just being the same thing) while love is what maintains these divided things into a cohesion which is not unity; agency points the direction while love makes coherent that which goes in any direction.

My impression is that most Christians acknowledge the reality of agency, but in a falsely superficial way; they see agency as a gift bestowed y God upon an already-existing situation; they regard agency rather as if it were an 'optional extra' for Man. Yet, if agency is understood as polar with love, then agency is built into the fundamental nature of reality - it is part of the basic design of the universe of creation.

Just as love without agency is not merely flawed but incoherent - not love at all! So agency without love is not merely flawed, but ceases to be agency.

Those (many) people and religions which tend to deny the one (whether it be love or agency) will find that they are gravitationally impelled towards denying the other; because that is the direction which explanation pushes them.

...Love and agency need to be held together in the imagination as a dynamic dyad - distinguishable, but indivisible.


TheDoctorofOdoIsland said...

Emphatically so.

The Book of Mormon calls the love of God "the most desirable above all things". The apostle John goes further and says that everyone who loves knows God because God is love.

Meanwhile, agency, precisely as you say, comes from the self. Agency really IS the Self, the most basic definition of what an independent personal being is: an agent. And these two things, love and agency, cannot exist without each other- they are two aspects of a single concept. Now what you've hit upon is maybe the most critical, vitally important aspect of the Christian religion.

The various schools of thought in Hinduism revolve around two principle ideas, Brahman (which is ultimate reality) and atman (which is the self), and in every sect which emerged from Hinduism the central question on which they differed was how to understand the relationship between these two things. The way they tried to understand these concepts are described as the interplay of masculine and feminine energies, potential and actual forces, material and immaterial substances, etc. In your blog you have sometimes described concepts like this as being 'physics-y'; they sound reasonable, but it's an awfully impersonal view of the cosmos when you get down to it.

But we've been talking about these same ideas all along and calling them love and agency! The great truth of Christianity that sets it apart from all other religions is that it teaches God is love. Love is the ultimate reality. Love is the source of all relationships and the relationships are the foundation of the cosmos.

The importance of this connection cannot be overstated. This is the bedrock of the Gospel's metaphysics, the truth that informs all other truths moral or material.

Some LDS authors have meditated on this idea of the push and pull between oppositional forces in relation to agency (David Littlefield springs to mind) but I can't think of anyone who has bull's eyed the role love plays as you have Dr. Carlton.

- Carter Craft

Bruce Charlton said...

@Carter - Yes, that's it.

whitestone said...

You`re definitely on to something Mr Charlton:-)how about goodness truth and beauty as divisible yet indistinguishable, is there a polarity here and what role might love play in the integrity of this trinity?

Mister Jorge said...

Hi Bruce,

Not trying to be difficult.... but do these two statements contradict each other?
"Love is not a state of being, rather love is a thing that happens (a process) between agents, and by choice of these agents."

and then:

"Indeed, agency comes-from the already-existing state of love - which is what binds the universe of agents."

Mister Jorge said...

Hi again, Bruce...

Would it be right to say then that love is the end (final cause) of agency?
Or am I being too broad with the relation between love and agency?


Bruce Charlton said...

@w - I think that (what I term) Truth, Beauty and Virtue are three wyas of describing a unity which is The Good - so, not a polarity IMO.

Bruce Charlton said...

@MJ - Not a contradict by intent, merely I havent expressed it very well!

Bruce Charlton said...

"Would it be right to say then that love is the end (final cause) of agency?"

That's not what Im trying to say - I am trying to say they are opposite ends of the same polarity - can't have one without the other, despite that they can be separately described.

This seems obvious enough for love (one must have agents to have love) but isn't so obvious for agency (most people assume there can be agency without love - I'm saying that in actuality there can'y be any agency without love).

whitestone said...

ofcourse they are three and a polarity is two. But that's just numbers. Polarity can unite numerous actors, think electromagnetism. And what is truth without goodness and what is goodness truth and beauty without love?

Bruce Charlton said...

@W - That's not it - TB&V are one, there is no opposition between them.

But there is opposition between agency and love - yet they are indivisible; which makes them a polarity.

(Most things are Not polarieties - anly a few, fundamental, things are.)

whitestone said...

You right no polarity there. Just a thought. Wondering what united goodness truth and beauty. Or as you say the good. Perhaps it's evil that unites them? The opposition as it were?

Bruce Charlton said...

A deep question. I would say that the three transcendental values of TBV are merely a shorthand partial and distorted summary of the values within God's creation, which are built into us embryonically as children of God, and which we can choose to opt into. Or we can stay outside in the void and live alone in our own world. This would be neutral, Nirvanah; but evil is to persuade other children of God to live by the arbitrary values of your own private world - which is what Satan etc does.