I hugely enjoyed listening to Neville Symington last night speaking on ‘Ethics: From Socrates to Psychoanalysis’. His thinking as always ranges across the gamut of civilisation and thought. However he located his argument by referring to an intellectual act originating with the pre-socratic philosopher Parmenides that grasps the universe as a singularity, being everything that is. He suggests that since it is ‘everything that is’, it must be ‘good’ since the very notion of ‘bad’ inherently implies something ‘other’.
I woke up this morning thinking there is an element of rhetoric in this that disturbs me. I connected it with the way the psychoanalyst and mathematician Matte Blanco demonstrated one feature of infinite sets, and therefore the unconscious, is that differences between partial sets breaks down – the set of all even numbers is identical to the set of all odd numbers. The world behaves very differently at infinity.
Symington also suggested it has to be a mistake to speak of more than one universe, as the universe is everything and therefore is one. However singularity becomes peculiar at infinity as there ceases to be a distinction between one-ness and two-ness, so there could be more than one universe.
At this level (and the need to be clear about the levels is crucial here) the distinction between good and bad breaks down – the universe is neither good nor bad, and both good and bad, at one and the same moment.
This brought to mind some lines I have remembered since my early teenage years from Archibald McLeish’s brilliant play ‘JB’ based on the life of Job (I may be misquoting this as I remembered it from watching the play and it has perhaps incorporated a certain dimension of “Nachträglichkeit” or afterwardsness):
“I heard upon my dry dungheap,
That man cry out who cannot sleep,
If God is good he is not God,
If God is God he is not good,
Take the even, take the odd.
I would not sleep here if I could
But for the little green leaves on the trees
And the wind on the water.”
This seems to be saying something similar, God, or Being-In-Itself, or the Universe, can be neither good nor bad and is both at the one and the same time … However there is something about life itself (the leaves on the trees and the wind on the water) that is compelling, but perhaps I am back to rhetoric again.