What makes our desires and action intelligible
by Ken Myers
Hart believes this viewpoint is not only” among the most defective understandings of Christianity imaginable,” but finally intellectually incoherent. As he writes, “I would go so far as to day that a spiritual creature can possess no purely natural end at all, not even as a penultimate station along the way, and certainly none to which a supernatural end is merely contingently or gratuitously superadded. Quite the contrary: a spiritual creature is capable of a rational desire for a natural end only within the embrace of a prior supernatural longing, and hence a spiritual creature appropriates any given natural good not merely as an end in itself, but as more originally an expression of the supernatural Good. A finite intention of intellect and will is possible only as the effect of a prior infinite intentionality. Any intellectual predilection toward a merely immediate terminus of longing can be nothing other than a mediating modality and local contraction of a total spiritual volition toward the divine. One cannot contemplate a flower, watch a play, or pluck a strawberry from a punnet without being situated within an irrefrangible intentional continuum that extends all the way to God in his fullness.
“This may seem an extravagant claim, but its denial is something worse. The very notion that a rational spiritual creature could conceivably inhabit a realm of pure nature, in which it could rest satisfied and in which its only intellectual concern regarding God would consist in a purely speculative, purely aetiological curiosity posteriorly elicited from finite cognitions, is a logical nonsense. Those finite cognitions, to the degree they could be comprehended and then interpreted as implying further logical entailments, would have to be acts of intentionality and rational evaluation undertaken in light of an intelligibility supplied by the mind’s prior preoccupation with wholly transcendental indices of meaning, and so would also have to be a proleptic intentional awareness of and desire for the supernatural in its essence as an intelligible. Neither doctrine nor metaphysics need be immediately invoked to see the impossibility of rational agency within a sphere of pure nature; a simple phenomenology of what it is we do when we act intentionally should suffice. The rational will, when freely moved, is always purposive; it acts always toward an end: conceived, perceived, imagined, hoped for, resolved upon. Its every movement is already, necessarily, an act of recognition, judgment, evaluation, and decision, and is therefore also a tacit or explicit reference to a larger, more transcendent realm of values, meanings, and rational longings. Desire and knowledge are always, in a single impulse, directed to some purpose present to the mind, even if only vaguely. Any act lacking such purposiveness is by definition not an act of rational freedom. There are, moreover, only two possible ways of pursuing a purpose: either as an end in itself or as a provisional end pursued for the sake of an end beyond itself. But no finite object or purpose can wholly attract the rational will in the latter way, and no finite thing is desirable in the former. A finite object may, in relative terms, constitute a more compelling end that makes a less compelling end nonetheless instrumentally desirable, but it can never constitute an end in itself. It too requires an end beyond itself to be compelling in any measure; it too can evoke desire only on account of some yet higher, more primordial, more general disposition of reason’s appetites. If not for some always more original orientation toward an always more final end, the will would never act in regard to finite objects at all. Even what pleases us most immediately can be intentionally desired only within the context of a rational longing for the Good in its own fullness. Immanent desires are always at a higher level deferred toward some more remote, more transcendent purpose. All concretely limited aspirations of the will are sustained within formally limitless aspirations of the will. In the end, the only objects of desire that are not reducible to other, more general objects of desire, and that are thus desirable entirely in and of themselves, are those universal, unconditional, and exalted ideals, those transcendentals, that constitute being’s abstract perfections. One may not be, in any given instant, immediately. conscious that one's rational appetites have been excited by these transcendental ends; I am not talking about a psychological state of the empirical ego; but those ends are the constant and pervasive preoccupation of the rational will in the deepest springs of its nature, the source of that ‘delectable perturbation’ that grants us a conceptual grasp of finite realities precisely by carrying us restlessly beyond them and thereby denying them even a provisional ultimacy.”