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Luigi Pareyson: good, evil, free will.

Personalistic Existentialism, Veritative Hermeneutic, Ontology of Free Will

The three main stages of Pareyson's philosophical itinerary--personalistic ontological existentialism, interpretative hermeneutic of inexhaustible truth, ontology of original free will through a hermeneutic of Christian religious experience--seem to push the investigation on free will from an existential and moral exploration to an ultimate ontological and theological one. Yet two themes are always inseparable in his thought: finite existence and free will.

Finite existence, situated in its concrete ethical choices, is the point of access for the comprehension of the ultimate origin of reality as liberty of Being itself and of the Christian God; vice versa, it is only original free will that can found, create, call, sustain and question the finite liberty of man as a being who exists and interprets. As we have anticipated, and according to a well-known self-interpretation of Pareyson himself, his thought develops in three stages. The first phase is the elaboration of a personalistic existentialism, or ontological personalism, developed as an alternative to the neo-idealistic philosophies then dominant (1930s-1940s) in the Italian cultural panorama. After the publication of his dissertation, La filosofia dell'esistenza e Carlo Jaspers (1939), Pareyson introduced his own existentialism, personalistic as distinguished from that of Heidegger, but also of Jaspers. Following Kierkegaard, existentialism is a philosophy whose reference point is the finitude of existence, cognitively, ethically, ontologically. For Pareyson, in any case, existence cannot be understood as a transcendental category, a priori abstract and anonymous, but rather as person, that is, as a single living person cast in concrete ethical-decisional, cultural, religious situations. Yet personalism cannot limit itself to the finite expression of the person and the person's needs and desires. In fact, it cannot understand and express the person except in taking it in its fundamental and existential opening of itself to the being that originates and transcends it. If existentialism needs to be interpreted personalistically, personalism in its turn must be understood ontologically.

The exigencies and even the motives for the successive stage in Pareyson's thought, the ontological one, are therefore amply present in the preceding existentialist one. In the phase that Estetica. Teoria della formativita (1954), Essere e liberta (1970), and Verita e interpretazione (1971) theoretically occupy, Pareyson elaborates a philosophy of interpretation, or hermeneutic, understood as ontology of the inexhaustible, of inexhaustible truth. He holds firm the two inevitable poles of his conception of reality (personal interpretation and inexhaustible truth), asserting that finite interpretations of the unique and inexhaustible truth are, if truly and authentically such, expressions of the historicity and "situationality" of the interpreting person and at the same time inevitable and finite revelation of the "ulteriority" of truth, exhausted and inexhaustible even if not ineffable or unattainable. Every existence or expression of it is interpretation. But the perspective that egotistically remains only expression of historicity, of determinate spatial-temporal particularisms--fixed once and for all in such finiteness--is not authentic interpretation. To the presumptuous myopia of ideology Pareyson opposes, on a higher plane, the revelativity of Being, that one inexhaustible truth, totally present, albeit also inexhausted in every single interpretation, that is also full expression of one's own finite point of view, of an historically situated interpretation.

The third stage of Pareyson's thought, the last one and most extreme, is expressed in Dostoyevsky (1993), Essere liberta ambiguita (1998), and Ontologia della liberta (1995). Here the hermeneutical ontology of being and inexhaustible truth transforms itself into ontology of free will, also understood, although not exclusively, as philosophical hermeneutic of Christian religious experience of the living and free God up to suffering on the cross. More than in its ontology of finite and original liberty, (1) it is in the metaphysical implications as well as in the existential hermeneutic of religious experience of God that Pareyson's ultimate philosophy reaffirms again the unavoidability (from the point of view of finitude and of finite and personal existence) of opening such transcendental space to the understanding of transcendence as original liberty, ultimately interpreted according to the narration of religion existentially and freely lived.

Finite Liberty and Original Liberty

In the three stages of Pareyson's philosophy we find the same dimension of thought, inherited from Kierkegaard, according to which existence is paradoxical coincidence of relation with oneself and relation with other, of temporality and eternity, of auto-relation and hetero-relation, of existence and transcendence, of interpretation and truth, of choosing itself and being chosen, that is to say, of liberty as beginning and at the same time choice. Human liberty is absolute starting point and self-determination, insofar as it is a choice with respect to a situation in which one finds oneself already existing, even with respect to the "calling to Being" that precedes choice temporally, from eternity. Therefore, and according to characteristics that only antinomically say the truth of it, existence is paradoxical in itself. But for human liberty the still more disconcerting situation concerning finite existence is that such a paradoxical truth is only a coincidence--certainly not fortuitous, but nonetheless the fruit of liberty, suspended and hinging abysmally on liberty.

Human liberty, in showing itself as liberty only in so far as both beginning and choice, reveals how far (finite) liberty precedes (original) liberty. Far from resolving itself on a finite, human, ethical plane, human liberty refers back and vertiginously opens upon liberty in its abysmal sense, original and divine. Liberty is liberty to itself. As liberty, existence is self-transcendence. Self-transcending itself, liberty finds liberty again. But which liberty finds liberty in the exercise of liberty? It does not simply find itself in its own finite liberty, but discovers how in the original liberty that makes it be liberty--even in finite, paradoxical coincidence of auto-relation and hetero-relation, beginning and choice--there is an eternal and irrevocable unity of beginning and choice, eternity and decision, absoluteness without absolution, and choice of being and of the good: a decision to be good without decision, at the same time signifying a victory over nothingness and an eternal defeat of evil, even though nothingness and evil did not precede at all their being refuted.

Finite liberty is a paradoxical coincidence of auto-relation and heterorelation --and also of time and eternity, beginning and choice--only because original and divine liberty makes it so. Above all, that is so because liberty auto-originates itself, timelessly, as beginning-choice, irrevocable unity and positivity that chooses to be good, eternally asserting itself as victory over nothingness and evil, which are instituted solely in the act of having already negated them and subjected and conquered them forever. Then, it is so because liberty chooses to create, and thereby to make exist an other than itself, free as itself. According to the principle of the indivisibility of liberty, finite liberty is as free as original liberty. Nevertheless, finite liberty is not (irrevocably) an identity of beginning and choice as in its own origin that eternally originates itself, but rather a dissolvable coincidence of that free choice that egotistically puts itself as absolute beginning and not a commenced initiative, making room thereby for the finite, mortal world far from the irrevocability of original liberty: a being mixed with non-being and more pervaded by evil than rich with good--as the myth of original sin relates to us when it describes the shameful choice of the original man that gave rise to the fall of mortal man far from God.

The ontology of liberty of Pareyson's last works digs deeper into the themes already incisively treated at the beginning of his philosophical path, in "Tempo ed eternita" (1943)--an essay subsequently collected in Esistenza e persona (1950)--where the concept of the irrelative asserts the relation between relative and irrelative, such that the irrelative remains in any case ulterior, transcendent, and irrelative with respect to the relation instituted by its very self. But what relation is such that, if instituted by the irrelative posing itself in relation to the relative (relative to the irrelative, in addition to the relation of itself with itself), does not exhaust and negate the irrelativity of the irrelative by the fact that it asserts the relation and places itself in relation? Only an act of liberty, only liberty is the relation that does not negate the related terms in the relating of them, even while it remains an ontological priority, superiority and super-essentiality of one term with respect to the other, of a term unlimited even in its own self-limitation. (2)

Liberty as Experience of Transcendence

Liberty for Pareyson is above all an experience of transcendence, and the existential experience of transcendence is above all liberty. Even evil can be this, but less originally and in a way more tied to the finite, to the world fallen far from God, and therefore incomprehensible without the "revelativity" of religious experience. Liberty is the paramount experience of transcendence in human existence because of the degree to which it is auto-transcendence, liberty that exceeds itself and finds even more liberty. If that is the case, then only free, hermeneutic-religious experience of the living and free God will be capable of understanding real evil. In so doing, it will also reveal to us the eternal mysteries of the living God in its self-origination, its defeat of evil and evil's remote and never manifested potentiality, in an eternal past--all in the very act with which God irrevocably chose itself as Being and Good. Indeed, this is what constitutes the mythic comprehension of the personal rapport between man and God as an active exercise of liberty, and thus a living realization of that space open to the possibility of religious experience--the experience of transcendence which in itself is existence as liberty, that is, auto-transcendence.

For, according to Pareyson, the fundamental experience of human existence is transcendence. Nature, the past, the unconscious, the moral law speak to man of his finitude and his being conditioned by that which nonetheless escapes his awareness and remains undetermined and unconditioned. All these experiences of boundaries that finite man lives through are summed up in the experience of fundamental transcendence, which is the experience of liberty. Liberty is experience of the transcendence that man is to oneself, or rather, experience of self-transcendence. Not that man succeeds in transcending oneself in the sense of superseding oneself, abandoning his proper finitude in a sort of self-divinization. Through the liberty that he inseparably is, man is self-transcendence in the sense that if he gets a deeper understanding of himself as liberty, he recognizes himself endlessly as that liberty that is not auto-originated; it was not given to itself or self-initiated, but precedes itself as the beginning of liberty and thus shows the origin of liberty in a greater, first, original liberty with respect to human liberty. But this is exactly the experience of transcendence, of experiencing that which is essentially and inalienably our own, i.e., liberty, as not totally ours, and instead as ulterior, other, and more primeval than our own existing as liberty. Man is an initiated initiative, a gift giving itself solely for having been given, a choosing and a "choosing himself' that is foremost or originally a "having-been-chosen."

The experience of transcendence is experience of the paradoxical coincidence proper to human existence of self-relation and hetero-relation, autonomy and dependence, initiating and initiated liberty, decision and listening, welcoming and openness to transcendence. For this reason every experience of transcendence is for finite man also the site open to religious experience. In fact, religious experience is that of the relation between man and God, between finitude and transcendence--not only originating from the finite itself--that opens itself to welcome that which transcends it, supersedes it, conditions it without being able to grasp its unpronounceable, unobjectifiable, unconditionable characteristics, according to what God himself has posited as content of the relation. Such relation is thereby rendered positive and rich with significance as opposed to the empty possibility of relation, as is the mere experience of transcendence mired in the empty despair of a nullity without clear determination. The religious experience is the reality that makes real and reveals as real what the experience of transcendence understands only as possible, that is, the free relation--in the meaningfulness of its person-to-person rapport--between God and man, between the irrelative and the relative established by the irrelative itself as relative self-relation and, at the same time, hetero-relation open to the understanding of the irrelative freely instituting the relation.

Evil and the Religious Experience

Evil as a human reality, as suffering, negativity, negation, rebellion, destruction, death, is certainly also an experience of transcendence for man. All the while, such experience is less directly open, with respect to the experience of liberty, to understanding that transcendence itself is the source of its own self-transcending --evil being presumptuously understood for the most part as autonomous in its own force or dereliction, egoistically closed to every ulterior truth. In the end it is only religious experience, only the relation between God and man (precisely only the experience of God that suits the Christian narration and revelation of a free rapport between persons, made up of actions, will, choice, acts of love and hate, trust and despair, and willingness to wait) that goes beyond the inevitably myopic surmise cast by man on evil. Christian narration and revelation also avoid the atheism and the nihilism of those who do not accept the insensibleness of the permanent and lacerating reality of the human dimension, as well as the facile ontological irenicisms, empirical or metaphysical, that decree the unreality of evil in conformity with their own abstract mental assumptions--all inhospitable, vain experiments. To sum up, only God can be and reveal to us the meaning of evil, up to the point where evil itself becomes a sign of the existence of God, of his being, as good chosen from eternity, victory over evil and therefore its original understanding.

The religious experience of God is therefore fundamental, more original than the experience of evil and even of the co-essential experience of liberty. The Christian religious experience of God mythically narrates his being liberty. The form chosen is declaredly anthropomorphic, across the distinction between physicality of the signifying symbol and the unobjectifiable transcendence of the signified Divinity, only ambiguously revealed and thus preserved in its unhumanizable otherness. To interpret philosophically such mythic content of Christian religious experience is the hermeneutically correct means to maintain the wealth of meaning of religious experience universally communicable and able to be participated in, without objectifying the unobjectifiable truth of it and nonetheless comprehending the revealed facts and signifieds. In fact hermeneutics succeeds in comprehending the transcendence of the unobjectifiable truth precisely in the act of existential interpretation--the unique experience that opens itself to its freely auto-revealing otherness in the historicity of its very person. The philosophical hermeneutic of Christian religious experience proposed by the late Pareyson consists therefore in an ontology of liberty, a comprehension of Being as liberty, which in the Christian God himself (Being supreme and supra-Being as original and bottomless liberty) interprets reality prior to every revealable truth.

Biblical Religious Experience and the Suffering of Christ

In Biblical revelation three passages are concerned with the Christian religious experience that Pareyson holds as fundamental and has interpreted philosophically. First, there is the well-known passage in Exodus 3:14, where God reveals his name to Moses, saying: " 'ejeh 'aser 'ejehf translated, according to Greek philosophical categories of the Septuagint, as: ego eimi ho on, and consequently by St. Jerome: ego sum qui sum. Following Schelling, Pareyson understands the same passage much more philologically as the self-revealing of God as inscrutable, personal, future and in the process of becoming, outright arbitrary liberty: I am who I am, I am who I wish to be, I will be that which I will be. Second, there is the myth of original sin, the free fall of the original man from a paradisiacal state of communion with God to a slavery to death and the transience proper to the atheistically human and temporal world. As it is narrated in Genesis, the original sin is the result of man's presumption to understand his own liberty as divine and therefore irrevocable and superior to evil and to the nothingness, as a decisional force equal to that of God. Finally, there is the narration of the human and divine life of Jesus Christ, up to the completion of his Incarnation on Good Friday with the death on the cross. Abandoned by God the Father, and in the full acceptance of human suffering and death only through love, on the cross Jesus Christ repeats God's theogony, the initially eternal auto-origination of God in his battle with and supersession over evil and non-being, decided by his own self-affirmation to be and to be good.

These are the three revelatory narrations of God as original and inscrutable liberty, of evil as the fruit of original human liberty, and of God the Son freely having sacrificed himself for the love of the good of man. They disclose to us, sinfully mortal men, the three theological understandings of faith, hope, and charity: first, faith in the existence of God as original positivity and liberty that eternally chooses to be good and to defeat in itself, irrevocably, evil and nothingness; second, hope that the evil originating from man's egoism (to which his liberty has turned) will end, even though that ruinous passage into the mortal world (decided in the self-willing of man to become God) will remain irreversible; and finally, charity, gratuitous love, through which Christically to redeem humanity from suffering through suffering--true union (copula mundi) that holds God and man and world together in an immense cosmotheandric tragedy. (3)

In particular, it is only through the suffering of Christ--the suffering concrucifixion with Jesus Christ--that it is possible to fully grasp revelation and the truth of Christian religious experience. The incarnation "until death" (usque ad mortem) of the Son of God casts light on three aspects of Christic suffering, through which it is possible to grasp the victory over evil proper to the Christian God: expiatory, redemptive, and revelatory. First of all, it throws light on the sinful state of humanity, on the death proper to temporal life as fruit of an original fall of man far from God. The just, if even sad, expiation of a timeless guilt institutes human time, giving all the while hope that the atheist cosmos of fallen humanity will close itself like a scar more than remaining an open wound in the eternity of the divine life. Second, by clarifying suffering as the sole way for the redemption of subjection to the real (the all-too-human forces of nonbeing and of evil), the Incarnation disposes to fraternal love and opens up to the divine grace of an absent suffering Father, set in the wilderness (eremia) by human egoism. (4) Finally, and even more deeply, the Incarnation illuminates man about God as original positivity, eternal auto-origination of liberty in the initial and irrevocable choice to be good, his victory over nothingness and defeat of evil in the timeless act of instituting them as superseded, in themselves conquered forever, and thus arousing faith in God, "Being" and "Good" as original liberty, positive choice with respect to non-being and to every eternally latent negativity.

Evil in God and the Victory of Good

The suffering of Christ is thus expiatory, redemptive and revelatory through a true and proper repetition on the cross of the theogony, the eternal and timeless auto-origination of God, through which God is God, Being and Good only in so far as He is simultaneously defeat of evil and rejection of non-being. On the cross God battles with God, God battles with himself, the Son screams out to the Father who remains silent about the reasons of the abandonment, perhaps crying, abandoning man precisely at the "atheist" moment of Divinity itself. In the abandonment on the cross the atheism of God reveals itself, the space without God in God that makes it possible for God to be God. On the cross the divine auto-origination is repeated temporally, the same auto-origination that God eternally lives as irrevocable self-affirmation of positivity, Being, Good, but only because such eternal and absolute initiality of divine liberty is simultaneously and indiscernibly choice of good in regard to evil and of Being as opposed to non-being. God is indiscernibly and antinomically "beginning" and "choice" for mortal man. His is the eternal and inscrutable initiality. He is the choice of Being and of Good without the terms of the choice preceding the choice itself, God instituting them himself in the eternal act of deciding them. If that is the case, God posits in himself evil as negated always and forever, instituting in himself the possibility, never realized, and the past, never having been present, of non-being. That God may be God: One, Being, Good, liberty; in that case evil and non-being must be, even if only in an eternally latent state, potentiality never realizable, in God himself.

But if, on the one hand, the evil in God remains possible and conquered eternally by God, on the other hand, for man, desired in God's creation to be free as God is through altruistic love of God, evil can become real. Original man exercises the liberty, created in him as powerful as that of God, yet created by God and not self-originating itself as it is in God. And if man exercises such liberty egoistically, instead of rejoining himself, reflectingly and lovingly, in the being and in the good that God irrevocably is, he will only manage, as our mortal life shows he has timelessly done, to make evil real, the same evil that exists only potentially in God but is ferociously and banally present in the human world. And man's will be an illusion of omnipotence as if he could nearly repeat the creation and even the auto-origination of God--that is, the battle and victory against non-being and evil--evoking into being nothingness from the shadows in which it reposed in God. Whence the necessity of the Incarnation of God to expiate, to redeem, to reveal the truth of the fallen state of man and the possibility, in the faith in God as original positivity, to have hope that evil will end and in the renewal of the free and gratuitous and good love between man and God and the entire created cosmos.

Here the radical questions of Pareyson's ultimate reflection lie open, the impossible and yet real avenues, and his way, more solitary but also ripe for the future, for him who would like to humbly retrace from the beginning the original, unique, innovative steps facing an extreme leap towards the most ultimate realities beyond every obstacle, whose simple thought is vertiginous enough. In fact, if on the cross it is theogony that repeats itself, the eternal and irrevocable auto-origination of God; and if Good Friday is not a simple comedy, aimed at the resurrection by means of appearances and merely spectacular representations, then the atheist moment of God's incarnation is truly a mysterious and indescribable risk, graver still for God creator than having entrusted the destiny of his work to the hands of man. For man is free as God in loving but also free to imprison himself in an inhospitable self-affirmation, thus indefinitely setting back the realization of the God's plan for him, though certainly without the possibility of revoking God's eternal positivity and the good elected, to the detriment of an evil that in God remains unrealized.

Pareyson articulates divine eternity historically and in "eons": autoorigination, creation, fall of man, judgment-separation, and apocatastasiseschatology. Each eon explains the leap of liberty among these diverse and even parallel realities, successive but eternally simultaneous, always recurring in their closed autonomy, and yet inscrutable in their alternatings, at least from the point of view of the only truly temporal eon, that of the fall of man into the mortal state. But does the conclusion of each eon not require conserving in God not only possible evil, eternally defeated before it was minimally real, but also real evil, freely wished and chosen by man in an egoistic act of myopia? Is not evil "realized" in the atheist world created by man in the image of the finite I, marked with suffering, irremediably drenched by death worthy of the voraciousness of Chronos? Does not this destine finite man to the inexorability of suffering and temporal death, concluded and renewed forever in the eon of the fall? And does not this destine the immense generosity of God to include in itself, as the very eon in which to develop its own eternal vitality, even that eon of human death, of insuperable radical evil, alongside--rather than left behind or preceded forever by--the protological and eschatological eons that tell us of the irrevocable positivity of God?

That true good is not found in innocence, but only in the choice of good with respect to the effective possibility of evil; it does not apply only to mortal man, but also to God. Good is only a good chosen, both for man as well as for God. But in that case does God choose eternally to be good, rejecting and yet retaining in himself an evil that is no longer only possible, as the protology tells us (self-origination and creation), and not even separable and then consumable as eschatology antinomically declares (judgment and apocatastasis)? Will evil be irrevocably realized by man and forever repeated in an eon that is insuperable in its own sealed conclusion? Is God "Being" and "Good" even in the eternal risk of this implosion, meaning the eon opened by man as the tragic response to the original liberty that God lavished on him altruistically in liberality and generosity towards his own free creature? Maybe it will be with these throbbing questions in our heart that we will learn, along our sleepless paths, in the most humble or celestial steps, bordering the abyss of nothingness or the most impregnable and unrecognizable evil, how to decide every instant for Being and Good, beginning not only our life, but even more, situating ourselves in the timeless leap of liberty.

Universita di Salerno

(Translated by Thomas Behr)

Works Cited

Pareyson, Luigi. Dostoevskij. Filosofia, romanzo ed esperienza religiosa. 1993. Second ed. Torino: Einaudi, 1994.

--. Esistenza e persona. Torino: Taylor, 1950.

--. Esistenza e persona. 4th ed. Genova: il melangolo, 1985.

--. Esistenza e persona. 7th ed. Genova: il melangolo, 2002.

--. Essere e liberta. Torino: Giappichelli, 1970.

--. Estetica. Teoria della formativita. Torino: Edizioni di Filosofia, 1954.

--. Estetica. Teoria della formativita. 7th ed. Milano: Bompiani, 2002.

--. La filosofia dell'esistenza e Carlo Jaspers. 1939. Napoli: Loffredo, 1940.

--. Ontologia della liberta. Il male e la sofferenza. 1995. 2nd ed. Torino: Einaudi, 2002.

--. Opere complete. Vol. 19. Essere liberta ambiguita. Milano: Mursia, 1998.

--. Verita e interpretazione. 1971. 4th ed. Milano: Mursia, 1991.

(1) In Pareyson's view of the human condition, as it is explained in the paragraph below, finite (human) liberty precedes original (transcendent) liberty (Editor's note).

(2) This complex paragraph refers to the logical contradictions that we face every time we try to determine the essence of an "irrelated" being, be it the Neoplatonic One or an idea of a totally unconditioned God. For example, if we say that the One is irrelated (totally independent from any relation) we cannot escape the fact that its irrelativity is nonetheless in relation with itself, and therefore is not entirely irrelated. That is why the Neoplatonists distinguished the One of which nothing can be said from the "One that Is" and that enters in a relation with that which is not one. Pareyson, in the wake of Schelling, works on the idea that liberty is the only being (or, better, act) that remains "free" (irrelated) even in its relation with relation itself (Editor's note).

(3) A tragedy, that is, that unites universe, God, and man (Editor's note).

(4) To clarify: in extreme existentialist fashion, man's sin (according to Pareyson) sends God into exile. Christ's time in the wilderness and his sufferings repeat the Father's sufferings. See also the next paragraph (Editor's note).
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Author:Tomatis, Francesco
Publication:Annali d'Italianistica
Date:Jan 1, 2011
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