Creative love

Man’s destiny on earth, as I am led to conceive it, consists in the realization of a perfect society, fellowship, or brotherhood among men, proceeding upon a complete Divine subjugation in the bosom of the race, first of self-love to brotherly love, and then of both loves to universal love or the love of God, as will amount to a regenerate nature in man, by converting first his merely natural consciousness, which is one of comparative isolation and impotence, into a social consciousness, which is one of comparative omnipresence and omnipotence; and then and thereby exalting his moral freedom, which is a purely negative one, into an aesthetic or positive form: so making spontaneity and not will, delight and no longer obligation, the spring of his activity.

Henry James the elder (1863, 6)

James was the father of Henry James the novelist and William James the philosopher and psychologist. Later (p. 10) in his book Substance and Shadow, he refers to the ‘perfect society, fellowship, or brotherhood among men’ as ‘the Social principle’ – which Peirce identified as the foundation of logic. Peirce also expanded on this theme in ‘Evolutionary Love’ (1893):

… We are to understand, then, that as darkness is merely the defect of light, so hatred and evil are mere imperfect stages of ἀγάπη and ἀγαθόν, love and loveliness. This concords with that utterance reported in John’s Gospel: “God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should through him be saved. He that believeth on him is not judged: he that believeth not hath been judged already.… And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and that men loved darkness rather than the light.” That is to say, God visits no punishment on them; they punish themselves, by their natural affinity for the defective. Thus, the love that God is, is not a love of which hatred is the contrary; otherwise Satan would be a coordinate power; but it is a love which embraces hatred as an imperfect stage of it, an Anteros—yea, even needs hatred and hatefulness as its object. For self-love is no love; so if God’s self is love, that which he loves must be defect of love; just as a luminary can light up only that which otherwise would be dark. Henry James, the Swedenborgian, says: “It is no doubt very tolerable finite or creaturely love to love one’s own in another, to love another for his conformity to oneself: but nothing can be in more flagrant contrast with the creative Love, all whose tenderness ex vi termini must be reserved only for what intrinsically is most bitterly hostile and negative to itself.” This is from Substance and Shadow: an Essay on the Physics of Creation.

— EP1:353-4, W8:184-5

What James calls ‘morality’ seems equivalent to Peirce’s ‘self-control,’ which enables taking responsibility for one’s actions. That this ‘moral freedom’ should ideally be ‘exalted’ into the form of ‘spontaneity’ and ‘delight’ sounds more like Blake than Peirce, but is reflected in Peirce’s classification of the ‘normative sciences,’ where ethics depends on esthetics, just as logic depends on the Social Principle.


Recognition of others as experiencing subjects is essential to the nature of the human animal (and probably other social animals as well: see for instance de Waal 1996, chapter 2). Michael Tomasello (1999) found the uniquely human way of life to be based on our ability to identify with other selves: through ‘joint attention’ you understand that other people use things to realize goals just as you do. He offered this account of what happens when humans deal with artifacts such as texts:

An individual confronts an artifact or cultural practice that she has inherited from others, along with a novel situation for which the artifact does not seem fully suited. She then assesses the way the artifact is intended to work (the intentionality of the inventor), relates this to the current situation, and then makes a modification to the artifact. In this case the collaboration is not actual, in the sense that two or more individuals are simultaneously present and collaborating, but rather virtual in the sense that it takes place across historical time as the current individual imagines the function the artifact was intended to fulfill by previous users, and how it must be modified to meet the current problem situation.

— Tomasello (1999, 41)

These imaginative acts of assessment need not be self-conscious acts – in fact they are often no more conscious than the act of constructing a sentence in conversation. In order to carry cultural traditions forward in this way, the subject must be conscious of the situation in a (perhaps) uniquely human way, but not necessarily meta-conscious of her acts as such. In some cases of ‘sociogenesis’, as Tomasello calls it, the collaboration is not virtual but actual, with two or more individuals interacting in ‘real time’. This is in fact the prototypical situation; virtual collaboration does not develop at all if a child is deprived of real-time collaboration with caregivers.

This is the essence of the human dialog which generates cultures and persons. Our collaborative practices of guided and guiding interaction with each other, or with artifacts as described above, are what i call intimologies. They weave the network of connections that we call a community.

The Permanent Assurance

Outside of specialist/esoteric circles, consensus about the meaning of general and abstract language is hard to establish. When the objects of joint attention are invisible and intangible, and we need to believe that we have consensus, we are likely to confabulate in order to ‘keep the party going’ – just as a patient with severe memory loss or agnosia, unable to recall his history, will invent a story to cover up the deficit. Such patients have no idea that they are confabulating, and may refuse to admit that they are doing so even when the evidence is obvious to all.

On a purely perceptual level, the brain does the same thing when it ‘fills in’ the blind spot which is inherent to the structure of the retina. Just as there is no blank area in your visual field, even when you close one eye, no discontinuity in the consensual world appears to you: the sense you make of the world must on the whole appear seamless. To the non-participating observer, it is clear that the construction of consensus is hard work and the results dubious and impermanent. It is not surprising then that an established order tends to rely on unquestioned and unquestionable authority as a short cut through, or substitute for, the hard work of consensus-building. An authority figure offers an anchor, a point of stability, when the world of experience threatens to slide into chaos.

Human beings, fearing their own transience, have always associated value with permanence and preferred to put their trust in those who were ready to claim an unchanging truth.

— M.C. Bateson (2000, 135)

But the value attached to permanence is ever at odds with the value attached to life and consciousness, for these are dynamic and impermanent.

Common time

Habits and conventions, once formed, tend to sink beneath our notice. We are primed to notice the unusual, the uncommon, the exceptional; we look for the un- or super-natural rather than the natural. What is common to all experience is the deepest component of the phaneron, but the most difficult to attend to. It takes a communal effort to construct a context in which our language (or any symbol system) can refer to it at all. In more ordinary circumstances we have to approach it indirectly, by creating sudden openings in the bubbles whose surfaces furnish the ground of our awareness. Such mindquakes, momentarily at least, reveal the bubbles as impermanent. Indeed impermanence is the very presence of the bubble, the continuity of time.

As a social being, the inhabitation of your time is the interhabitation of our time, communal time.


The geographic equivalent of Peirce’s commens is the commons, which is as essential to the well-being of a geographical community as the commens is to communication (Hess and Ostrom 2007).

The collective, communal belief system is organized by and for what we call common sense. But this consensus-building (or rebuilding) process depends crucially on the self-controlled efforts of community members: hence the dynamic tension between individual and communal belief systems.

The circumstance that each person is defined by and identified with a specific locus in a network of relations guarantees that selfishness is self-defeating. On the other hand, too much conformity to laws or patterns of behavior that ignore the specific circumstances of that locus can defeat (or at least anesthetize) the community guided or constituted by those laws.

The sacred tree

Black Elk
Black Elk
Heraclitus complained that although the Logos is common, the many live as though they had a private understanding. This has its counterpart in a scene from the vision of the Oglala Lakota prophet Black Elk: ‘all the animals and fowls that were the people ran here and there, for each one seemed to have his own little vision that he followed and his own rules; and all over the universe I could hear the winds at war like wild beasts fighting’ (Neihardt 1932, 29). Meanwhile the sacred tree at the center of the nation’s hoop had disappeared from the vision.