[The material of this chapter can be found in Modes of the Finite, Part 4, Section 1 and Part 1, Section 5, Chapter 13 (with some background from the chapters immediately preceding this).]

6.1. The mystical experience

Now that we have established what existence and being are, it turns out that there are some things that can be said of being simply because it exists. These properties being has simply follow from it by definition as the "whatever it is that causes a subject to have an appearance." (i.e., as causer of an appearance).

Let me state at the outset, however, that there is one theoretically possible appearance that is not a case of consciousness as finite. You remember that we got at existence and being by discovering that we had many appearances, each different from the others, and so any given appearance was "your consciousness plus something else which is not different from your consciousness" (or alternatively "your consciousness as the same as yet less than what it is for you to be conscious"). This is clearly an effect, and the only thing that can be its cause is something outside consciousness and the mind. This will need some refining, because we know that our minds exist, and we know that the appearance itself exists. But let us table that for the moment.

What I am interested in right now is this: What if there were an appearance which exhausts what it is for you to be conscious: one that is equal to your consciousness? In fact, at one time you had such an appearance: the very first appearance you had, whatever it actually was. At that time, there was no other appearance for comparison, and so in this one case this appearance (let us say it actually was a pain in your left foot) was all there was to your consciousness; and you wouldn't be able to realize that it was actually finite, or that your consciousness even could be anything else. Naturally, you wouldn't be able to describe its contents either, since you can only describe something by saying what it is like, and this (as far as you knew at the time) was not like anything else at all, since you didn't know there was anything else.

Now, supposing that appearance lasted unchanged your whole life long, then for you the problem of finite consciousness would never come up. You would just be conscious, and it would be a fact, not an effect.

In that case, there would be no distinction between subject and object, since you only get that distinction by being able to compare appearances and periods of consciousness; but your consciousness in this hypothetical case is always the same. Anyone else who knew what it was would say that it was a finite consciousness (since the other person would know that it was only one of the many possibilities open to your consciousness), but there would be no way for you to know this. So in this case, "your consciousness" and "this appearance" would be absolutely identical. Hence, in this case, "existence," "being," "consciousness," "appearance," "mind,"and "you" would all collapse into exactly the same thing (because we got at these distinct terms only as solutions of the problems connected with the multiplicity within consciousness).

DEFINITION: The mystical experience is the experience of the act of consciousness as not finite: i.e. as not "one distinct appearance among many different appearances."

We all began being conscious as mystics, then; but as soon as we had a recognizably different experience (say, the sensation connected with moving the foot), then it ceased to become a mystical experience, because it was no longer self-sufficient: it was your consciousness as not the same as your consciousness.

Even now, it is theoretically possible to have a mystical experience; and in fact there are two sorts of them. The first is the intellectual equivalent of opening your eyes in a perfectly dark room, where there's nothing to see. Since your act of consciousness is (also) the consciousness of itself, then the "black volume" you see is simply your consciousness that your eyes are active, though they aren't reacting to anything.

Similarly, it is possible to be either so tired or so focused on something that you simply do not notice anything at all to compare the appearance with, not even that there is a "you" doing the experiencing, or that it is an experience of something. You're mulling over some problem, for instance, and you "lose yourself" in it: you're not actually going through a set of steps, you're not paying attention to anything around you, you just sort of vanish into this black hole and are startled to find that a whole hour has passed, almost as if you were asleep. Except you weren't asleep; you were just very concentrated, and you were aware of that. But you couldn't specify just what you were aware of. You were just conscious--though it's almost like being unconscious.

So this type of impoverished experience (which can be very intense, by the way), in which there isn't a multiplicity in your consciousness that you can compare parts of, deserves the name of a mystical experience. And in fact, there are whole philosophies, such as Zen, whose purpose is to practice having this experience.

The trouble with it is that, while it is (in a sense) the whole of experience when you're having it, it really tells you nothing at all about either reality or your mind or your consciousness. Refer back to the first moment of consciousness, where all of reality and yourself and your consciousness is summed up in what you will later discover to be nothing but a pain in your left foot. It's because you don't know more that this sort of mystical experience seems to be all there is to the universe.

But there is a different kind of mystical experience that some people talk about: one that "expands" your consciousness infinitely, so to speak, into a consciousness that is greater than any definite limited appearance: an appearance that is equal to all the consciousness you could have, and is unrestricted in itself.

In this experience too, there would be no consciousness of subject and object, since for you to be aware of this, you would have to have a consciousness that limited itself to being only one definite period of consciousness (today's) among many, or that limited itself to being only one appearance among many. So the subject and object "melt together" in this consciousness and become one and the same thing, which is the consciousness of infinite being. And since it is the consciousness of infinite being, it is also infinite consciousness, and is one and the same thing as the infinite being which it is the consciousness of. This is a distinct appearance, perhaps pervading one's finite appearances; it is "one among many" in the sense that it is the one that exhausts what it means for you to be conscious, while none of your other appearances do that: they are all finite versions, as it were, of this one.

St. John, in one of his letters, says, "We will be like Him, because we will see Him as He is," and in his Gospel, asserts, "I pray that they may be one thing, in the same sense as I am one and the same as You and You are one and the same as I." Some Christian mystics, such as St. John of the Cross, report that they have had this kind of experience even here on earth; and some of them have also had the other kind that I talked about, and so are aware of the profound difference between the two.

For our purposes, it doesn't matter whether such an experience ever has occurred, or is even in practice possible. We are just trying to cover all bases here, so as not to leave ourselves open to "Yes, but you didn't consider..." If there is such a thing as a mystical experience (apart from the silly one of the first experience you ever had), then this is what it would be like. But having said that, I think we've said enough on this score.

6.1.1. The existence of consciousness and the mind

But before getting to the properties that all beings have as such, let's go back to what I tabled when I began the discussion of the mystical experience. What about the existence of the appearance itself, and of the mind? How can the appearance be an object, or how can the subject be an object?

The solution to this problem consists in the fact that the appearance (the definite act of consciousness) is the consciousness of itself as well as the consciousness of its object. That is, when you are aware, you are by definition aware that you are aware (as well as being aware of whatever it is you're aware of).

Now you can, if you want, take this "awareness-of-the-awareness" as if it were a kind of "separate" consciousness which is aware of the appearance (as when you contemplate what the blue unicorn you imagine looks like--remember, the unicorn is not "something which" you are imagining, it is the "shape" of the very act of imagining; it is its finiteness). In that case, even though in reality it is identical with the "awareness," it becomes a kind of pseudo-object of it; and so it is aware of itself as existing. That is, it is as if the consciousness "caused itself" to be just this particular "awareness-of-the-awareness" (i.e. the awareness that I am imagining a blue unicorn).

This doesn't contradict the theorem that no effect can be the cause of itself, because the effect in this case is the particularity of the "awareness-of-the-awareness," which happens to be caused by what is in reality the same as itself (the awareness), but is not abstractly the same; and effects are abstractions. That is, there is a difference in formality, if you will, between imagining a unicorn and being aware that you are imagining a unicorn.

In any case, that's how we know that the appearance exists. How else could we?

As to the existence of the mind, the answer is simple. We got at the mind by noting the different separated periods of consciousness, and realizing that something had to unify them into a single consciousness. Now that experience (the particular reasoning process) has as its cause the mind, as we saw. So we know that the mind exists because (a) we are aware of the reality of our many periods of consciousness which are in reality only one consciousness, and (b) we know that there are no real contradictions, and so something has to resolve this problem.

But this leads us to stress something which we mentioned in passing in talking about imagining as opposed to perceiving.

Existence can be known indirectly, as the cause of something we directly experience.

That is, if something directly experienced is impossible without something else, it is legitimate to say that this something else exists. Well, thrills! But the point is that we have legitimate phenomenological grounds now for saying this. Remember, once we have defined "existence" technically, it is no longer legitimate to use it in its ordinary sense. We have to justify ourselves every time we use a technical term in one of its (analogous) ordinary senses, and show that it is legitimate, based on our evidence, to do so.

It's a tedious process, but you can't be secure in what you say unless you go through it.

6.2. Activity

Now then, let us move on to the properties that being has just because it is being, and not because it is this or that kind of being: the properties it has just because it exists. These are called the "transcendental properties of being," because they "transcend" (go beyond) any particular category of being, and are things that can be said of being as being.

Actually, what they are are just different terms or names for being (or existence) depending on the point of view you take in approaching it.

First of all, then, I used "act" of my mind and "reaction" advisedly in the last chapter in describing consciousness as finite. The most primitive thing for us is consciousness as "talking about" existence; and what I have proved is that (as long as you have more than one conscious act) consciousness always "talks about" existence at least in some sense (we will see another refinement of this in the next chapter). So the act of consciousness is never "by itself" in any absolute sense; it is always an act that is responding to some existence or other.

Therefore, as an act, it is a reaction.

But a re-action is a response to an act.

Therefore, it is legitimate to make the following definition:

DEFINITION: Existence is activity. Being is whatever is active.

That is, existence (as the cause of the finiteness of a finite case of consciousness) is whatever it is that can cause a mind to react; and so any sort of activity would fall under this way of considering existence. This is "activity," then, in the broadest possible sense; it would include passivity, since being passive is actually reacting to something that's acting on you; and this is a (perceptible) activity. This, in fact, is how we know that perceptive consciousness exists; in perceiving, the activity recognizes itself as a passivity, a "reacting-to..."

Similarly, "just sitting there" apparently doing nothing has to involve some kind of activity, or you couldn't be perceived as "just sitting there." If you weren't doing anything at all in any sense, then no mind could react to you, and so there'd be no difference between you as "absolutely inactive" and nothing at all.

Let's do a kind of "thought experiment" to test this. Suppose we have the absolutely perfect knower, one who could be aware of any existence there was. We are not like this; for instance, until radios were invented, we had no idea that there was such a thing as radio radiation, since it didn't affect our senses in any way. And who knows how many other acts there are that we just can't pick up because we don't have the instruments to do so? But let us suppose a knower who doesn't have this limitation, and anything real can be detected by him.

Now suppose there's a "lump of totally inactive being" in front of him, and to its left, an area of just nothing at all. How could he distinguish the one from the other. Clearly, neither of them will be acting on him in any way; the nothing, because there's nothing to act; and the "inactive being" because it's doing nothing at all. So he can't perceive it by being affected by it.

Well, let him move his metaphysical hand and try to touch the two or knock them out of the way, or something. In the case of the nothingness, his hand will of course meet with no resistance, because there's nothing there. But in the case of the "lump of inactivity," if his hand meets with any resistance of any kind, the "lump" will have done something to his hand; and if it's doing nothing at all, it won't move out of the way or resist his motion in any way whatsoever.

So there's no way the perfectly knowing knower could distinguish between a "being" that wasn't doing anything at all in any sense, and absolute nothingness. Which means that if he can't make the distinction, there's no distinction. So "existence" is just another word for "activity" in the broadest possible sense of the term.

It follows that being is whatever is active.

Whether being is anything other than activity or anything in addition to activity (or something less than activity as an appearance is consciousness as less than consciousness) is for us to investigate in the next chapter.

Suffice it here to say that "activity" is a transcendental property of being.

6.3. Unity

One of the traditional transcendental properties of being is that of unity. Being, just because it exists, is one, or a unit. "One" is traditionally defined as "undivided in itself, and divided from every other."

The reasoning to establish this goes this way. The appearance is a single appearance. As effect, it has a single fact (existence) as its cause. Insofar as you break up a given concrete appearance into various parts (such as seeing and also hearing your mother, who is talking to you), then each of these "parts" of the appearance immediately separates itself into a finite case of consciousness, with its own "formal object," the color of your mother and the sound of her voice, respectively.

But insofar as these "parts" are not separate appearances, but are united into a single appearance, then obviously the "formal objects" in question are just aspects of the one being who is your mother. There is a problem here, which we will address in later chapters; but it turns out to be a mode of the finiteness of being, in which the "manyness" is contained in the "oneness" and vice versa.

In any case, it is legitimate to say that, insofar as being acts on consciousness (i.e. insofar as it can be known to exist), then it is one something that acts, even if it is a kind of multiple unit. If two or more act on us, then they produce the appearance of different, separate objects.

6.4. Truth

The trouble with these transcendental properties is that, as you can see, when applied to being, they don't mean much, or what they normally mean; but there is some sense in which they can be said of things just because they exist.

DEFINITION: Truth is the relation of agreement of our understanding of the facts about some being with what the facts about that being actually are.

This is actually quite tricky, and could involve us in a long discussion. It is not the matching of our perception of the object with the being which is the object; we saw that the being (the causer) is not like its effect (the perception). No, what it is is an application of Theorems V and VI in Chapter 3 (and a more general version that "related effects have causes related among themselves in the same way"). So if you look to me the same as John looks to me, then you are analogous (similar in color, say, or shape) to John. Or if I see you beside him, this is because your position is beside him.

So what's the big deal? Well, when you get down to things, the causes are often at a distance from the perceiving organs, and are actually at the end of a fairly long causal chain; and it can be that "links" (i.e. intermediate causes) in that chain can sometimes be different and can result in similar effects when what we think the causes are are actually different from each other. Look at this page now and look at it with sunglasses on. It will appear a different color, even though the actual color of the page hasn't changed; it's just that the light coming into your eyes has been filtered.

So we can make mistakes. All the definition of "truth" above says is that when you're not making a mistake, and the relation between the effects is in fact the same relation as the one between the causes, then that situation is called "truth."

For our purposes, however, notice that the truth as such is a relation, and in fact a relation between relations: the relation between the fact (the relation "out there" between the beings) and the understanding (the relation "in here" in my consciousness). Note further that the truth exists as such in my consciousness, not strictly speaking in the facts or beings. That is, it is my understanding which is mistaken or true; the fact can't be "mistaken"; it just is. I have to change my understanding and make it agree with the fact in order to correct a mistake.

But in that case, what sense is there in saying that an object or being is "true"? There is the sense in which you can call an object "false," when it is deceptive. But this involves a different sense of "true."

When we understand something, we tend to want to communicate it to others; and we do so by making a statement which expresses our act of understanding. I say to you, "This page is white," for instance. That means that it is like all the other things that affect my eyes (and so presumably yours) in a certain way.

DEFINITION: A statement is true when it expresses what the fact is.

So, if I were to tell you, "This page is blue," you would (since you can see it) realize that my statement is false. Now I might have blue sunglasses on and have forgotten than I was wearing them, and so I might be telling you what I think is true; but in fact, my statement doesn't match what the fact is; and so my statement is false. (If I know what the fact is and deliberately misstate it in order to deceive you, my statement is a lie.)

This kind of "deceptiveness" sometimes occurs in the real world too. That is, sometimes an object is such that it tends to make the unwary person think that it is like certain things that it's not like. For instance, iron pyrite looks a lot like gold; and that's why it's called "fool's gold" or "false gold." It isn't that it's lying to you; it's just that if you don't know what gold really is, you might think that this yellow rock is a piece of gold ore. Similarly a "false friend" is one who acts as if he's your friend, when actually he's your enemy.

Now then, what is called "ontological truth" takes this sense of "the truth of a statement" and applies it to being as if being were "making statements" to you about what it's like and so on.

DEFINITION: Ontological truth is the "truth" being has when one considers it as "communicating" information to the mind.

So the being is "ontologically true" when it induces you to think that it is the way it actually is; if it somehow induces you to think otherwise, it is "ontologically false."

But of course, the being is just acting on you in a certain way and to a certain degree; and this activity is in fact similar to what it's similar to and different from what it's different from, and so on. So if it deceives you into thinking that it's something different from what it is, this isn't the being's fault; it's your fault for not being sharp enough to tune your mind in to what the activity is. To put this another way, only a person can lie to you, and deliberately say what is the opposite of what (he thinks) the facts are. Being can't do this, because it doesn't formulate statements which express acts of understanding; it just acts.

Therefore being can't really be ontologically false; a being is ontologically true simply because it exists (or acts). In other words, just as whatever is is a unit, and whatever is a unit is, so whatever is is true, and whatever is true is. Truth, like unity, is a transcendental property of being.

6.5. Beauty

Before getting on to the third most common transcendental property of being, that of goodness, there is another one which is not universally recognized as one, and which is closely related to truth (at least in my system of philosophy) : that being, insofar as it exists, is beautiful. This, like "ontological truth," involves an analogous and pretty trivial sense of the term. To discuss it fully would get us deep into the science of aesthetics, and so I'll have to give a vast oversimplification again.

In a nutshell, then, we not only have perceptive understanding, we have aesthetic understanding. The relation between the two is this: All understanding is a recognition of a relation between what is in the mind and its causes in the world "out there." Now perceptive understanding grasps the relations between perceptions or parts of perceptions, which are essentially the mental results of information coming in through the five senses. So it is with perceptive understanding that we know similarities in color, or size, or taste, or odor, or sound, and so on.

But our brains also work as computers, and the "program" of this computer monitors the state the body is in and the information coming into it through the senses; and depending on the relation between the two, it directs energy into various "subroutines" which we call drives, to supply needs from the environment or to avoid dangers there.

DEFINITION: An emotion is the form of consciousness that this operation has when it is working.

So you see a lion running loose, and you tend to run for cover--and this tendency shows up in your consciousness as fear of a certain type. Your blood sugar drops below a certain level and you have to replace nutrients you've lost, and this shows up as hunger, and so on.

The emotions, then, are the conscious aspect of an act that responds not only to what is "out there" but to what is "out there" insofar as it is beneficial or harmful to the organism (based on the "built-in program" we have that automatically "decides" these things). But since it does respond (in part) to what is "out there," (i.e. to what we are responding to through our perceptions), then it is possible to use the emotions themselves as "receiving instruments" indicating something about what is "out there."

Thus, we talk of the "smiling meadow," because seeing a sunny field makes us feel emotionally the same way we do when someone smiles at us. Clearly, there's no perceptive similarity between a meadow and a smiling face; but everybody understands what you mean when you talk about the smiling meadow--and why? Because it makes everybody feel the way they feel when someone smiles at them.

But this indicates that there is something objectively similar between the sunny meadow and a smiling face; both are such that in fact they produce this emotional response in the normal person. It is the recognition of this "aesthetic fact" that is aesthetic understanding.

Very well, then, we can now talk about a kind of "aesthetic truth" by analogy with ontological truth. You can consider the meadow as an "emotive communicator," the way an actor communicates emotions to you (i.e. makes you feel them) by, for instance, crying or laughing during the speech he is reciting. And as such, the meadow is calculated to produce a certain emotional effect on you, which you can then understand using aesthetic understanding.

DEFINITION: Beauty is the characteristic of being as "communicating" aesthetically understandable facts about itself.

Now then, since we have an emotional overtone (depending on the state our body is in) to absolutely everything we perceive, then any being, just because it exists, is beautiful. That is, it is capable of producing an emotion which can be understood in relation to the emotional overtones of some other being.

Note, however, that the degree of beauty of something does not depend on the level of existence it has. Music, for instance, which is nothing ontologically but a bunch of vibrations of the air, is often much more beautiful (because it produces more complex and profound emotions) than, say, a rat, which exists at a much higher level of existence. So, for instance, God (supposing there to be an Infinite Being) would be "absolute Beauty," since He would be the being which is unlimited Existence. But interestingly, the fact that He is the greatest being does not mean that He is the "most beautiful of all beings." Generally speaking, God's beauty is rather far down on the scale, because we know of Him through abstract reasoning, and there isn't much emotion or very powerful emotions involved in thinking about Him. Hence, the emotional impact is not terribly strong, and so the beauty (the "emotion-based facts" known about Him) is not apt to be terribly significant.

What I am saying is that the level or degree to which something is beautiful does not depend on the degree it actually exists at, but how strong or complex an emotional reaction it provokes in us.

Nonetheless, since every being that acts on us inevitably does produce some kind of emotional reaction in us (because our "program" never shuts off when we are conscious), it follows that every being "communicates itself" to us in this mode, just because it is active; and so every being, just because it exists, is beautiful.

6.6. Goodness

We come now to questions that have been in dispute for thousands of years. What is goodness? Is something good just because it exists? To attempt an answer to the first question, note that when you are talking about good and bad, you are not just describing how things are, you are relating them to a standard. And where do we get this standard?

My view is that you can't get it from perceptive experience, because a standard is an ideal that is beyond anything you have experienced. There are those who say, "Well, yes, but our minds are capable of 'abstracting the true essence' of something from the (imperfect) example we see; and so we actually do get the ideal from experience, and it's objective, not subjective."

My problem with this is that if we got into our minds the "true essence" of a thing, how could we disagree on what it is? But there's nothing (including being itself) whose "essence" (what the thing in question is) has not been hotly disputed throughout the history of philosophy.

Based on what I said about truth, in "abstracting the essence," what we are doing, really, is noticing relationships among objects based on the relationships between their effects on our minds (i.e. relationships between the appearances they produce in us)--and in this process, it's quite possible to make mistakes. Since the relationship of similarity, say, leaves out or ignores the points at which the objects differ, it "abstracts" from all that can be known about the object, and just picks out the one aspect that it chooses to understand. That's why concepts are abstractions. The "common trait" that objects have doesn't exist as such in any object, since it exists in the relation between them.

But this means that any ideal of "the perfect human being," or "the tree that is the perfect tree" has no real objective validity to it, and wasn't "discovered" in reality at all. Where the ideal comes from the fact that we can imagine situations as different from the way they are, and can the compare the actual state of affairs (the facts as perceived and understood) with the situation as we imagine it; and based on this comparison we can say that the actual state of affairs is good if it matches the imagined one (the ideal) and bad if it falls short of the imagined one.

So our ability to evaluate and to think in terms of good and bad is part of our ability to understand. But in ordinary understanding, (which gives us truth and mistakes), the facts are taken as the "independent variable," as it were, and understanding is what has to "bring itself into conformity with" the facts in order for understanding not to be mistaken and truth to occur.

Here, however, we have the same relation, only we are considering it the opposite way round. We have formed a pre-conceived judgment about things (this ideal we have constructed in our imagination), and we expect the facts to live up to (to match) it. If they do, then this (which would be the same as "truth," since the understanding and the facts match), is what we call "good"; and when they don't (i.e. when the relation corresponds to a mistake), instead of "blaming" our understanding and trying to correct it, we hold on to our preconceived idea and "blame" the facts and call them "bad."

DEFINITION: An object is good when it matches the preconceived notion we have set up as a "standard" it is supposed to conform to. Ontological goodness is the fact that the object "lives up to" our notion of what it "ought" to be (i.e. it matches the subjective ideal). It is truth looked at backwards.

DEFINITION: Ontological badness is a mistake looked at backwards. It is the inability of the object to "live up to" the subjectively set standard.

That is, in both evil and a mistake, there is a discrepancy between the idea I have of the way the world is and the way the world actually is. When I consider the facts as the standard, I consider that I have made a mistake; but when I am in the evaluative mode of thinking, I hang on to the ideal as the way I think "things ought to be," and I then say that the situation is bad and "ought not to be that way."

So, for instance, I make the generalization that human beings can see just because they are human beings. I see a blind man. Now I don't want to give up the generalization that "all human beings can see," and so I say, "That's a defective case of a human being," or "There's something wrong with him," or "He ought to be able to see." There is a kind of contradiction in him: he's a human being, and all human beings can see (and therefore he can see), but he can't see--so he's a kind of sub-human human.

It is this apparently contradictory situation that is what badness consists in. Notice that this apparent contradiction isn't an effect exactly, because if you say, "Well, he can't see because his optic nerve is atrophied," you've given the cause of his blindness; but you haven't satisfied the person who's making the evaluative judgment, because he simply counters with, "What difference does it make why he can't see? Humans ought to have functioning optic nerves. Why have them at all, if they don't work?" That is, even if you explain why the evil situation exists, this doesn't alter the fact that according to the evaluation it ought not to exist.

The thing to stress here, when we think in terms of good and bad instead of true and mistaken, is this: The standard (the ideal) as such has no factual basis. You got it from using your imagination and just manipulating what was stored there into a form that satisfied you, for some reason. Now granted, you might have reasons for formulating the ideal; for instance, in the case of blindness, not only can "practically every" human being see, it also doesn't make sense to have eyes that are not functional, since "practically every" organ of "practically every" living thing has a function; and the function of the eyes in "practically everyone" is to see.

But the point is that the fact that "practically every" human being can see is no reason for saying that "therefore, absolutely every human being can see." But that's what the ideal is actually saying. Because practically every human being can see, then you make the leap and say that every human being ought to be able to see. You now set this up, in other words as your idea of the "real true" human being, whether that being exists or not.

And in doing so, what have you done? You form an ideal by mentally removing limitations from the limited cases you observe. That is, each human being (because he is an energy-bundle) is a limited case of "what it is to be human" (that form of existence); and so the ideal human being is the human being who doesn't have any of these particular limitations that some people have and other people don't.

But it's not quite that. Not everyone can play basketball like Michael Jordan; in fact, very, very few can. So these extraordinary talents don't (generally) form part of the ideal human being that most of us formulate for evaluating whether something is a good example of a human being or "there's something wrong with him." The evaluative ideal generally excludes the limitations that only a few have, and so it becomes a kind of "zero" at the bottom of "normality"; and we say that any limitation below this is too great a limitation, and ought not to be there.

In the same way, we say that any temperature below freezing is "badness" as far as heat is concerned, and we don't call it "very little heat," (which it is) we call it the opposite of heat, cold. That is, we (arbitrarily) set the zero of heat at the freezing point, and then call temperatures below that (which are still objectively cases of heat) "too limited," and therefore "negative heat."


DEFINITION: Ontological badness is really limitation greater than the lowest limitation that we consider "normal."

But the point I am stressing is twofold: (a) Where you place the zero is arbitrary, and has no objective basis--as can be seen from the fact that the freezing point of water is zero on the Celsius scale, but that same temperature is 32 above zero on the Fahrenheit scale. And neither is "right," objectively; it all depends on how you want to look at things.

Now then, there is nothing in a (limited) being itself which says that it can't be limited in any way or to any degree that this being can be limited in. Obviously. That is, we say that human beings ought to be able to live at least seventy years; but we see that in fact human beings can live as short a time as a year and still be human beings (or ten minutes, for that matter). We see that human beings ought to be able to see, but we also see that there are human being who can't see, and they are human in spite of this extra limitation they have. And so on.

So what can we conclude from this?

Since ontological badness is always a comparison of the real situation with an ideal that does not exist, and since that ideal was subjectively created, there is no objective reason why the ideal "ought" to exist. Therefore, this kind of badness (a) doesn't really exist as such, and (b) is a "problem" only for those who choose to look on things in this way.

Now this is not to deny that things can "be" bad. They are in fact evil when in fact they do not live up to your preconceived expectations. That relation of discrepancy is a fact, but the ideal isn't. That is, badness has an objective and a subjective "pole" to the relation; you set up the subjective pole as the "real true" one (which it isn't, but you want reality to conform to it); and it is this that makes badness basically subjective. Things "become" bad or good simply by your changing your expectations, without their changing at all.

For instance, you doubtless don't consider it bad that you can't play basketball like Michael Jordan--because almost nobody can play basketball that well, and probably you're not interested in having that talent. But notice that Scotty Pippin might consider it bad that he isn't quite that talented (because, one supposes, he wants to be the world's greatest basketball player). Similarly, if you're blind, you can either say, "How terrible!" and complain about all the things you can't do that sighted people can do, or you can say, "Who cares what they can do? I can read braille, I can hear, I can do this, that, and the other, and I'm just not interested in doing those other things." And suddenly, being sighted becomes a kind of "talent" that other people have, like the ability to play basketball, and you don't any longer consider that there's "something wrong" with you, or that it's "bad" to be the way you are. Now I don't say that this sort of shift of the ideal is easy, but in fact it's what makes successful blind people successful; they don't "dwell on" their limitations.

The point is that you're free to make your ideal whatever you want it to be; there's nothing in reality that forces it on you. Hence badness "exists" or "doesn't exist" depending on how you choose to look at things, not because of something you discover "out there." In essence, badness is limitation, taken from the point of view of the fact that the limitation is "too great."

Now then, it follows from this that goodness doesn't exist as such either, because it is simply the fact that the object matches your preconceived expectations about it.

But it's not quite that simple, is it? I've been talking about ontological badness, the sense of "badness" in which the thing doesn't conform to your expectations of what it is. But there's also moral evil, which deals with the behavior of persons. A given person might be an extremely talented human being, but if he rapes other people, we consider his behavior wrong and call him an "evil" person.

DEFINITION: A person is morally bad (evil) when he acts inconsistently with the reality which he is.

DEFINITION: A person is morally good when he acts consistently with what he is.

A rapist, for instance, is using a cooperative act against the other person's will (i.e. uncooperatively); a thief is saying "What's mine is mine (because I'm a human being) and what's yours is mine (because I want it to be)."--and this is in effect saying either "I'm superhuman" or "You're subhuman" by his actions, and neither is true. So in moral evil, you are pretending that you aren't what you really are; you are acting as if you were greater than you really are.

And, of course, that's why moral evil is bad. You are, as it were, trying to act as if a subjective ideal of yourself (as, for example, superior to others) is the reality of yourself, when in fact it isn't. So you are not simply evaluating things according to the ideal, you are pretending that the ideal actually exists when it doesn't, because unless it actually exists, your action contradicts your reality.

But of course, since the ideal doesn't exist, the act does contradict your reality; and so everyone else, looking at what the reality is, calls this "morally wrong," and then says that you are morally bad.

DEFINITION: Evil is the name given to moral badness.

The point, of course, is that you can't be evil unless you are in some sense or other acting as if you are greater than what you really are, or (if you want to put it that way) you are refusing to accept the limitation you have as human, and acting as if you didn't have it.

By the same token, you are a good person when you accept yourself for what you really are, and act accordingly.

Now then, does this make goodness a transcendental property of being? Not in the case of moral goodness; because it is possible for a person actually to be evil, since that depends on a person's free choice. But ontological goodness is a transcendental, since all that kind of goodness is is reality insofar as it matches our preconceived notion of what it is. But when the two don't match, it's not reality's fault; it's because our imagination has set our expectations too high (we are set up so that the relation is one of a mistake rather than truth, if you look at the relation from the other direction).

Hence, if we look at things as they actually are, we will call them good. Therefore, it follows that every being, insofar as it exists, is ontologically good. Or, in other words, ontological goodness is a transcendental property of being.

To sum up: being, since it is what we react to, can be called "what is active"; since it produces a single impression, it can be called a "one"; since it produces an appearance, which will reveal what it is (unless there is interference along the chain of causality), it can be called "true"; since it produces an emotional reaction, which leads to aesthetic truth, it can be called "beautiful"; and since it will live up to our expectations if they are realistic, it can be called "good."

All of these are just ways of describing the fact that being causes an appearance in us.


There is the possibility of an experience that is not just one among many appearances, but is (or is perceived as) the only experience you have. In that case, you could not get a distinction of subject or object or any differentiation within the experience; and so it would be all there was known about being itself. This is the mystical experience. Our first experience (before we know of others to compare) is mystical, and so are experiences when we are so concentrated that we notice nothing but the one thing we are focused on. These experiences do not actually reveal anything about reality, since they are mystical by not noticing the specific traits of the experience. There is a possible positive mystical experience, which would be an appearance which was equal to what it was for you to be conscious; but we don't know if such an experience could actually occur.

We can say that the appearance itself exists, because it "causes" the "awareness of the awareness" which consciousness is, and so is a kind of pseudo-object of the same act of consciousness. We can say that the mind exists, because we know that our interrupted periods of consciousness exist (by the reasoning just above), and they could not exist as they do without a mind. Hence, we indirectly know the mind also. Therefore, existence can be known indirectly, as the cause of something we directly experience.

There are certain properties that any being has just because it exists, and not because it exists in this or that way. These are called the "transcendental" properties of being, because they transcend (go beyond) any specific category of being and belong to being as such.

Since we experience our perceptive experience as caused by something outside it, we experience it as passive (i.e. as a reaction-to something). It follows from this that existence, just because it is the cause of a reaction, can be called "activity," in the broadest possible sense of the word: as "doing" anything at all. This is confirmed by the fact that a "being" that did absolutely nothing couldn't be distinguished from nothing at all even by a perfect knower. Hence, every being, just because it exists, is active.

Since every being produces a single appearance, then it follows that every being is one. Even if it has parts, then the parts as known separately, are known by separate appearances, and each of them is known as a unit.

Truth is actually the matching of relationships (e.g. similarities) among appearances with the relationships among the objects; we make mistakes, when, for instance, two objects appear to be both the same color when actually they are different colors. Truth in this sense exists in our consciousness, not in reality; but there is another sense of truth, "ontological truth," which is analogous to the truth of making statements. I am "telling the truth" if I say what (I think) the reality is; otherwise, I am lying. Now insofar as being is deceptive, it can be said analogously to be "telling a lie"; and so it would be "ontologically false."

But really, the being can't lie; it is what it is. The "deception" comes from the fact that I was not astute enough to understand it as it really is; I misinterpreted the act that it made upon me. Hence, in this "communicative" or "ontological" sense, every being is true insofar as it exists (or is active).

Beauty is a kind of "truth" that uses the emotions instead of perceptions as the "receiving" instrument. Emotions are the conscious aspect of the "program" that assesses the information the senses receive and the state of the body and urges us to behave accordingly. But since the emotions have an objective aspect (the information received) as well as a subjective one, we can ignore the behavior aspect and use them as a kind of "sixth sense" for perceiving relationships. Thus, we understand the meadow as smiling because it makes us feel the same way as when someone smiles at us. Being as communicating these "aesthetic truths" is called ontological beauty. And since, whenever being acts on us, our emotions are operative, it follows that being is beautiful just because it exists. Note, however, that the degree of reality is no indication of the degree of beauty of the object, since the degree of beauty depends on how strong or complex the emotion it causes is, not on its level of being.

There are many theories about what goodness is, but the most reasonable seems to be that it is a kind of truth-relation (matching of understanding and the object) looked at in the reverse direction. We create (using our imagination) an ideal, which we then (arbitrarily) set as a standard for the way reality "ought" to be. When the object matches the ideal, it is good; if it falls short of the ideal, it is bad. Thus, goodness and badness are at base subjective (though it is an objective fact, of course, whether or not the object does live up to the subjective ideal).

In that case, goodness is not something reality "has," since it is just reality that isn't what you would like it to be. But it implies that if you understand reality correctly, your understanding matches the object (i.e. is true), but by the same token, the object matches your understanding, and so the object is by definition good. Therefore, just as every being, just because it exists, is true, every being, just because it exists, is good. Hence, goodness is another transcendental property of being.