Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. How Is Desire Healed?

 

Yes, desire needs to be healed. Or, at least, that’s what people like Augustine of Hippo thought. (Here is the background conversation about that.)

So, how is desire healed? Here are a few pointers on eight neat books where Augustine discusses it. I go into more detail in my new book, Reason, Authority, and the Healing of Desire in the Writings of Augustine. These eight books make a great cross-section of Augustine’s writings:

TOPIC: –>

METHOD: ↓

Apologetics Ethics The Problem of Evil God and the Soul
Reason De Vera Religione

On the True Religion

De Natura Boni

On the Nature of the Good

De Libero Arbitrio

On the Free Choice of the Will

De Magistro

On the Teacher

Authority De Utilitate Credendi

On the Usefulness of Believing

De Bono Coniugali

On the Good of Marriage

Enchiridion

Enchiridion / Handbook

Confessiones

Confessions

De Vera Religione, On the True Religion, is an early book refuting the Manicheans. In it, Augustine explains that orthodox Christianity completes what Platonism began—the redirection of our desires towards God. This renovation of the heart is accomplished by the Incarnation. Augustine explains these things, urges us to follow Christ as well, and leads us in some first steps towards learning to love as we ought.

De Natura Boni, On the Nature of Good, is another refutation of Manicheanism. The main idea here is to develop a metaethics, to explain why what is right is right. Goodness is built into the structure of reality. Evil is not a thing in itself, but a lack of the goodness a thing is meant to have. There is an order to goodness, a hierarchy—God is the greatest good, rational spirits (such as human souls) great goods, and other things lesser goods. We should love things in proportion to their goodness. Sin is desiring a lesser good in place of a higher.

De Libero Arbitrio Voluntatis, On Free Choice of the Will, is another anti-Manichean book. Evil comes from the misuse of free will by created beings. God is innocent of evil and orders the universe in the best way possible. Evil includes the usual desire for lesser goods instead of greater ones, and also includes the just punishment of disordered desires. Evil is marked by pride, and the healing of our desires requires grace—the Incarnation of Christ, whose humility we must imitate in order to have our loves straightened out.

De Magistro, On the Teacher, is a conversation between Augustine and his son Adeodatus presenting the theory that signs are important for reminding us of the truth, but are powerless to teach us anything. A sign is useless unless I know what it signifies. We get knowledge directly from God; Jesus Christ dwells in the soul and teaches us there. To know Him should be our greatest desire, and He our greatest love. To know and love Him is the happy life.

In De Utilitate Credendi, The Advantage of Believing, Augustine tries to persuade his old friend Honoratus to abandon the Manicheans. Augustine argues that religious belief, accepting the authority of Christ and his church, is reasonable. Trusting testimony is rational, and we all do it — for example, accepting who our parents are on the basis of their testimony. And the authority of Christ is necessary for renovating our desires, helping us love what we ought.

In De Bono Coniugali, On the Good of Marriage, Augustine considers the place of marriage in rightly ordered loves. A greater good is holy celibacy, but marriage is a real good. Marriage treats our disordered desire, turning it towards good ends. Marriage is good mainly for three reasons: procreation, fidelity and friendship of husband and wife, and symbolism of Christ.

In Enchiridion, the Handbook, Augustine overviews Christian theology. Among other topics, he explains that evil involves a love of created realities with the love due to God. Only God’s grace can redeem desire. Christ’s human nature is unsullied by evil desire because of his virgin conception. We must pray and look to the church for desires’ healing. Our desires will only be fully healed at the coming resurrection of the dead. Right desire conforms to the love of God and neighbor.

Confessions is the paradigmatic reflection on God and the soul, relying largely on biblical authority. Confessions is about the reordering of our loves — from a desire for carnal objects to a desire for, and ultimately a delight in, God. Augustine’s theology of desire is meant to help us love God properly, and thereby to restore order to ourselves and to creation by loving things properly as what they are — finite goods created by God.

This material is drawn from the introduction to Reason, Authority, and the Healing of Desire in the Writings of Augustine. For a more direct summary of how desire is healed according to Augustine, buy the book and see the next bit of the intro.

This post is (as far as I know) the last of a three-part series on the new book. Earlier installments are here and here.

Published in General
This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s growing community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

There are 21 comments.

  1. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Healed? I don’t like the term. It implies that there is something wrong with desire. “Sublimated” is better. The desire is still there, but it is for something else.

    • #1
    • January 15, 2020, at 5:04 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  2. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine

    Percival (View Comment):

    Healed? I don’t like the term. It implies that there is something wrong with desire. “Sublimated” is better. The desire is still there, but it is for something else.

    Desire is not healed like a disease is healed–and made to go away. Desire is healed like a diseased organ is healed–made well again and restored to proper function.

    • #2
    • January 15, 2020, at 5:25 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  3. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    Healed? I don’t like the term. It implies that there is something wrong with desire. “Sublimated” is better. The desire is still there, but it is for something else.

    Desire is not healed like a disease is healed–and made to go away. Desire is healed like a diseased organ is healed–made well again and restored to proper function.

    So… rehabilitated? Restored?… Reanimated?… Just plain saved?

    Once you explain how “healed” is meant, it makes sense, and in a book there’s time to explain it. In casual conversation, though, it does sound quite odd!

    • #3
    • January 15, 2020, at 6:58 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  4. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    Healed? I don’t like the term. It implies that there is something wrong with desire. “Sublimated” is better. The desire is still there, but it is for something else.

    Desire is not healed like a disease is healed–and made to go away. Desire is healed like a diseased organ is healed–made well again and restored to proper function.

    So… rehabilitated? Restored?… Reanimated?… Just plain saved?

    Once you explain how “healed” is meant, it makes sense, and in a book there’s time to explain it. In casual conversation, though, it does sound quite odd!

    All those words work. Also renewed. And converted.

    Now I’m worried the title will be misleading for some people.

    • #4
    • January 15, 2020, at 7:00 PM PST
    • 1 like
  5. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Sublimated. Rectified. Purified.

    • #5
    • January 15, 2020, at 7:24 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  6. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I strongly recommend this book. It argues that “good” cannot be ordered hierarchically, which is a counter to one of Plato’s core conceits.

    From the author’s summary:

    The failure of revolutionary utopian experiments is often blamed on a lack of commitment, courage, or self-sacrifice. This book shows that such failures are inevitable irrespective of particular theories of human nature. These societies must fail, in part because no single overarching theory of the good is either possible or desirable. And these societies must fail, in part, because social systems are adaptive systems. The mathematics of adaptive systems is entirely general and does not distinguish between mechanical, electronic, biological, or social systems. In complex adaptive systems, multiple automatic control mechanisms are essential to survival and any single central plan, no matter how benevolent, rational or enlightened that single source of control, will fail.

    The stability and the health of human communities must be achieved by checks and balances, agonists and antagonists, forces and counter-forces, and multiple decision makers rather than by central guidance and near perfect cooperation.

    Reflections on the Logic of the Good provides a powerful metaphysical and philosophical foundation for those who argue against the micromanagement of the individual, the economy, and the society. What emerges from this analysis is a non-relativistic ethical pluralism, an entirely general invisible hand theory, and a defense of the open mind, the open society, and the open universe.

    We are in the process of republishing the book to make it inexpensive – Amazon wants $100 apiece.

    • #6
    • January 16, 2020, at 6:56 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  7. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine

    iWe (View Comment):

    I strongly recommend this book. It argues that “good” cannot be ordered hierarchically, which is a counter to one of Plato’s core conceits.

    It looks like a good book. Your mother, or do I misremember?

    You’ve lost me on hierarchy.

    More likely, I lost you. It looks like you’re talking about the sort of hierarchy one finds in a carelessly literal reading of Plato’s Republic. The only hierarchy I mention is the one I mentioned: G-d is more valuable than anything else, humans are more valuable than anything else after that.

    • #7
    • January 16, 2020, at 1:49 PM PST
    • Like
  8. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):

    I strongly recommend this book. It argues that “good” cannot be ordered hierarchically, which is a counter to one of Plato’s core conceits.

    You’ve lost me on hierarchy.

    More likely, I lost you. It looks like you’re talking about the sort of hierarchy one finds in a dubiously literal reading of Plato’s Republic.

    I am a simple person. So are most totalitarians, especially those who believe in philosopher kings, and who thus believe that society can be ordered, with all things ranked according to an objective metric of the good.

    The only hierarchy I mention is the one I mentioned: G-d is more valuable than anything else, humans are more valuable than anything else after that.

    You write of greater goods and lesser goods. You talk of love that is proportional with goodness, and “rightly ordered loves.” I read this as assigning everything its own level, which I call a hierarchy. It is the basis for every planned society/economy since Plato.

     

    • #8
    • January 16, 2020, at 2:16 PM PST
    • Like
  9. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine

    iWe (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):

    I strongly recommend this book. It argues that “good” cannot be ordered hierarchically, which is a counter to one of Plato’s core conceits.

    You’ve lost me on hierarchy.

    More likely, I lost you. It looks like you’re talking about the sort of hierarchy one finds in a dubiously literal reading of Plato’s Republic.

    I am a simple person. So are most totalitarians, especially those who believe in philosopher kings, and who thus believe that society can be ordered, with all things ranked according to an objective metric of the good.

    Ok, but what has that to do with Plato?

    The only hierarchy I mention is the one I mentioned: G-d is more valuable than anything else, humans are more valuable than anything else after that.

    You write of greater goods and lesser goods. Youtalk of love that is proportional with goodness, and “rightly ordered loves.” I read this as assigning everything its own level, which I call a hierarchy. It is the basis for every planned society/economy since Plato.

    Well, you’re reading it wrong. No one’s assigning everything its own level here. This has precisely nothing at all to do with planned economies.

    • #9
    • January 16, 2020, at 2:28 PM PST
    • Like
  10. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    I am a simple person. So are most totalitarians, especially those who believe in philosopher kings, and who thus believe that society can be ordered, with all things ranked according to an objective metric of the good.

    Ok, but what has that to do with Plato?

    Seriously? Have you read The Republic?

     

    • #10
    • January 16, 2020, at 4:36 PM PST
    • Like
  11. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine

    iWe (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    I am a simple person. So are most totalitarians, especially those who believe in philosopher kings, and who thus believe that society can be ordered, with all things ranked according to an objective metric of the good.

    Ok, but what has that to do with Plato?

    Seriously? Have you read The Republic?

    Of course. I’m the nearest thing Ricochet has to an expert on the Republic.

    You don’t know how to read the Republic.

    Not that there’s any shame in that. But if you want to learn, this playlist would be a good place to start.

    • #11
    • January 16, 2020, at 4:53 PM PST
    • Like
  12. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    I am a simple person. So are most totalitarians, especially those who believe in philosopher kings, and who thus believe that society can be ordered, with all things ranked according to an objective metric of the good.

    Ok, but what has that to do with Plato?

    Seriously? Have you read The Republic?

    Of course. I’m the nearest thing Ricochet has to an expert on the Republic.

    This is an Appeal to Authority. I don’t reflexively accept authorities in any subject whatsoever, so my refusal to accept you as being correct is not personal.

    You don’t know how to read the Republic.

    I read the text. I was raised by a pretty superb student of philosophy. I make the perhaps-fatal error of reading Plato’s words, and not assuming that he could not have meant what he wrote.

    And yes, Plato created the Philosopher King. And in order for his world to work, all goods had to be ordered, hierarchically. At least if you think the text means what it says.

    • #12
    • January 16, 2020, at 5:04 PM PST
    • Like
  13. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine

    iWe (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    I’m the nearest thing Ricochet has to an expert on the Republic.

    This is an Appeal to Authority. I don’t reflexively accept authorities in any subject whatsoever, so my refusal to accept you as being correct is not personal.

    It would be an appeal to authority if I had given a conclusion based on my expertise.

    As it is, I only linked you to a YouTube playlist. That playlist appeals to nothing more than the text of the Republic.

    • #13
    • January 16, 2020, at 5:12 PM PST
    • Like
  14. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine

    iWe (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    You don’t know how to read the Republic.

    I read the text. I was raised by a pretty superb student of philosophy. I make the perhaps-fatal error of reading Plato’s words, and not assuming that he could not have meant what he wrote.

    And yes, Plato created the Philosopher King. And in order for his world to work, all goods had to be ordered, hierarchically. At least if you think the text means what it says.

    Of course the text means what it says. It says Socrates had a conversation with Glaucon about whether justice is worth it, and in that conversation some ideas in politics were discussed explicitly as an image of the soul.

    It is at best unclear whether the politics has an extra layer of meaning concerned with real-world politics; it is entirely clear that it is meant as a way of looking at a person’s soul.

    All in the playlist.

    • #14
    • January 16, 2020, at 5:12 PM PST
    • 1 like
  15. Chris Hutchinson Coolidge

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    Healed? I don’t like the term. It implies that there is something wrong with desire. “Sublimated” is better. The desire is still there, but it is for something else.

    Desire is not healed like a disease is healed–and made to go away. Desire is healed like a diseased organ is healed–made well again and restored to proper function.

    So… rehabilitated? Restored?… Reanimated?… Just plain saved?

    Once you explain how “healed” is meant, it makes sense, and in a book there’s time to explain it. In casual conversation, though, it does sound quite odd!

    All those words work. Also renewed. And converted.

    Now I’m worried the title will be misleading for some people.

    I definitely may not be the norm, and I’m surely no expert, but I strongly disagree with them. For what it’s worth, I think “healing” is perfect. I think it provokes more thought and self-introspection as well as being a bit more eye-catching in the title.

    • #15
    • January 17, 2020, at 12:50 AM PST
    • 1 like
  16. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Auggie, here’s the thing:

    I am an historian, not a philosopher. From the perspective of a historian, it does not matter whether Plato was really only writing a satirical exposition of the soul or a comic book. What matters is how people read it.

    For thousands of years, people have read Plato as an argument for objective reality, for a Philosopher King, for never admitting flaws in gods or heroes, for a hierarchy of the good which enables a totalitarian, top-down state of command-and-control. Hayek’s Road to Serfdom is a direct response to the kind of conclusions that Plato set in motion.

    • #16
    • January 17, 2020, at 5:59 AM PST
    • Like
  17. Henry Castaigne Member

    Buddhists would say that desire is healed by an ambitious lifetime of meditation.

    • #17
    • January 17, 2020, at 2:51 PM PST
    • 1 like
  18. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine

    iWe (View Comment):

    From the perspective of a historian, it does not matter whether Plato was really only writing a satirical exposition of the soul or a comic book. What matters is how people read it.

    Sure. That does matter. But they could learn to read it better. (Not that I’m doing anything new here; people have also read Republic the way I do–which is not as a satire!–for thousands of years.)

    • #18
    • January 17, 2020, at 3:27 PM PST
    • Like
  19. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    Buddhists would say that desire is healed by an ambitious lifetime of meditation.

    Yep. Some similarities to Stoicism there, and some similar stuff will turn up in Augustine. But a lot more prayer and church in Augustine than you find in Stoicism.

    • #19
    • January 17, 2020, at 3:28 PM PST
    • Like
  20. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Percival (View Comment):

    Healed? I don’t like the term. It implies that there is something wrong with desire. “Sublimated” is better. The desire is still there, but it is for something else.

    Realign ?

    • #20
    • January 17, 2020, at 8:26 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  21. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine

    Ansonia (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    Healed? I don’t like the term. It implies that there is something wrong with desire. “Sublimated” is better. The desire is still there, but it is for something else.

    Realign ?

    I think all those words work!

    • #21
    • January 17, 2020, at 8:29 PM PST
    • 1 like