Thursday, 18 September 2014

Use and Enjoyment

St. Augustine
I am reading St. Augustine's On Christian Doctrine for the first time. A question that this reading often raises in my mind is whether there is any legitimate sense in which one may love something other than God for its own sake. Charity, as Augustine defines it, is - and I paraphrase - a love of God, neighbor, and anything else, for the sake of God; whereas cupidity, a vice to be condemned, is the love of neighbor and any other object for the sake of something other than God, say for its own sake. For Augustine, unless all other loves are channeled into the one love with which God Himself is love, they are vain, useless, perhaps even harmful. From this notion Augustine draws a distinction between those things which are to be enjoyed - which by his account really includes God alone - and those things which are to be used for the sake of attain That which is to be enjoyed. Enjoyment is the love of a thing for its own sake. Use is the employment, and sometimes love, of a thing, not for its own sake but for the sake of that attaining that which is to be enjoyed.

By this account, there is no legitimate sort of friendship in which the friends love each other purely for their own sake, for no man is to be enjoyed. Men are only to be used. At first this may sound degrading, but I think Augustine means it in a higher sense. The use of men by no means excludes the love of them, but that love must be for the sake of God, and not for the sake of the men themselves. In one place, Augustine does say that in this sort of love, namely charity, one is in fact simply loving God through these men. Love does not terminate simply in these men themselves. Again, however, this doesn't seem to me to necessarily imply that men are to be compared simply to transparent and hence rather unnoticed objects through which one sees the sole object of one's love. Rather, this love, charity, does give rise to some form of action that does benefit the men themselves. Nonetheless, it is ultimately not for their sake, but for the sake of God.

Augustine hints at a similar treatment of non-personal objects of love, such as the arts - music, astronomy, and so forth. He does not explicitly treat the arts within the context of the love of God, but within that of the study of scripture. Only those arts may be used, says he, which can contribute to the betterment of one's understanding of scripture, and only in the extent that they can so contribute. He concedes, of course, the use of arts for non-scriptural purposes if they pertain to the practical necessities of human life. But such arts, it seems by his account, are not to be enjoyed, i.e. loved for their own sake. They are always to be directed to the study of scripture, which is itself of course directed to the love of God for His own sake. 

Being an ardent musician and student of the liberal arts, I was naturally led to wonder about these principles. In classical academic and artistic circles one frequently hears of the fine arts and liberal arts being praised as things which have speculative, rather than practical, value. The distinction between speculative and practical value corresponds nicely with Augustine's distinction between enjoyment and use - only, the speculative value of the fine and liberal arts is precisely such that they are viewed as enjoyable for their own sakes, where Augustine would seem to say not so (at least in this particular work; Augustine does have words of high praise for music elsewhere).

I wonder likewise about the question of friendship, or the enjoyment (or use) of man. Is Augustine's conception of the love of man overly cold, inhuman, or harsh?

It is difficult for me (at the moment) to deny what Augustine says, when I think about it rationally. I wonder whether it is necessarily the case that a love of things for their own sake necessarily detracts from the degree of love which one must have for God, or is it possible to have a full love for God and other things simultaneously? Is it as if the will of man has a defined quantity of power which cannot be directed at more than one object unless it is divided, such that one part is directed to God and another to man? Or is there some sense of various "levels" at which one may love different things for their own sake? 

I have not yet done an in-depth study of the nature of the will - I have only the basics of the Thomistic conception - so perhaps these questions will be answered when I do that study. Nonetheless it is interesting to think about...

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