With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on. -- William Morris

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Dialogue of the Soul

"Pascal suggests that Atheism displays a certain vigor of soul, but also that there is a religious faith whose vigor exceeds even this atheistic vigor. The dialogue of the soul with itself is the dialogue of the soul with what is other to it, with what exceeds it. Our dialogue with what transcends us will never cease, even when we say there is nothing there. The conversation, holy and unholy, is resurrected in the emptiness. We find vigor for it because we are first invigorated. The promise of being religious is recurrently resurrected because it is constitutive of what we are, what we are given to be, and what we are to be."

-William Desmond, God and the Between, (Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2008), p.xii

The Master...

Pax Christi,


  • At 9/27/2008 4:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    "The dialogue of the soul with itself is the dialogue of the soul with what is other to it, with what exceeds it."

    This passage doesn't make much sense. How can the soul be alien to itself? For that matter, how can a soul at once be smaller than itself and exceed itself? This is contradictory.

  • At 10/23/2008 10:11 PM, Blogger X-Cathedra said…


    Sorry for the late response...

    It depends on how we understand the soul. What Desmond writes makes little sense if the soul is taken in a purely univocal sense of being. But part of Desmond's overall metaphysic is that this is a limited horizon in which to view the self. The self is not just a completely determined, encapsulated thing; it is also a becoming, projecting beyond itself to a self that is in a real sense other to it. This sense of otherness within the soul itself cannot be brushed under the rug. There are univocal, equivocal, dialectical, and even metaxological (or openly dialetical) senses of understanding the self (see his _Being and the Between_).

    I think his point here (and in the context from which I rudely ripped it) is that the self/soul is never constituted merely as a univocal unit but is from the start constituted in relationship with what is other to it; even in the sense that it is other to itself. If this kind of transcendence is native to the soul, then there is something "at home" with it which resembles religious transcendence more than an understanding of being that is closed off to the divine.

    The self is fundamentally open to what is other.

    Pax Christi,

  • At 10/30/2008 9:48 AM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…


    Even though Pat has splendidly explained aspects of Desmond's thought that help to understand the enigma of his remarks on the soul, a few other thoughts might be helpful.

    First, to call something 'contradictory' is to really say that it does not 'speak' to the order necessary to the human mind. But the human mind is not the highest order of intelligibility there is. Art, for example, generates an intelligibility beyond the 'ordered' - i.e., systematic, discursive, conceptual, and abstract - structure of the mind. That is why we delight in it. It frees the mind from its limitations. The side of the mind that must abstract, reflect on images, and use concepts does not fulfill the native promise of the mind - it only gives a thought of the thing, rather than the thing itself. That is why even Aquinas knew that this kind of thinking is imperfect. So to call something contradictory is merely to say - this does not fit my current structure of thinking.

    For Desmond, there is an excess of truth that is always other to what the mind can conceive because truth is fuller, more intelligible and more plentiful than the systems and structure which are necessary to discursive thought. Truth is not the same as correctness, and so contradiction does not necessarily mean error or untruth.

    Consider words from other great teachers. Christ, for example, made many statements that would appear to the discursive, systematic, reasoning of the human mind as contradictory (how can a Kingdom be 'now but not yet'?). But this aspect of mind is not the highest. Desmond appreciates this more than most philosophers.

    More concretely, to respond to the question: how can the soul be alien to itself? consider the following: Aristotle, and Aquinas following him, held that the soul is in a way all things. Now, if one maintains a static, established notion of the soul - as if it were a univocally determined entity, completely self-constituting and self-determining - than this Aristotelian-Thomistic notion is hard to grasp. How can the soul in a way be all things? For, according to the rules of a strict logic, the soul is nothing in itself.

    But if we grant to the soul its proper sense of mystery, and allow it to be an emergent entity rather than a statically determined thing, this notion of the soul becomes more intelligible.

    The soul finds itself in what is other to it. This is not a controversial statement when one considers that it is reflected in the normal process of human development. A person finds himself in what is other. All identity is shaped and molded in relation to what is other. A self as such is a relative term: it is constituted by being a self in relation to what is other to the self (this notion goes all the way back to Plato; see, e.g., his 'Parmenides'). So when a soul is in dialogue with itself, it is in dialogue with what is other to it because it is constantly finding itself in its others.

    The mystery of these words becomes clearer when we let go of the comfortable, though impoverished, modes of thinking that impose upon truth the requirement that it must fit our minds in order to become intelligible.

    Pat -

    nice post. It's small stature kept it hidden from me for too long.


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