“In heeding the command of the unconditional we effect a choice.  A decision becomes the substance of the man.  He has chosen what he understands as the good in the decision between good and evil.  Good and evil are differentiated on three levels.

1. We regard as evil the immediate and unrestrained surrender to passions and sensual impulses, to the pleasure and happiness of this world, to empirical existence as such; in short, evil is the life of the man who remains in the sphere of the contingent, who merely lives from day to day like an animal, well or badly, in the unrest of change—a life in which there is no decision.  Good in contradistinction is the life of the man who does not reject the happiness of this world but subordinates it to the morally admissible, seen as the universal law of just action.  This morally admissible is the absolute.

2. True evil, as distinguished from mere weakness, which surrenders to the natural bent, consists in what Kant called perversion:  I do good only if it does me no harm or does not cost me too much; or stated abstractly: although I will the unconditional embodied in the moral imperative, I follow the law of good only in so far as it is compatible with undisturbed sensual pleasure; only on this condition, and in no unconditional sense, do I wish to be good.  This pseudo-virtue might be called a luxury of fortunate circumstances in which I can afford to be good.  In the case of conflict between moral imperative and my vital interest, I may, according to the magnitude of this interest, be secretly capable of any villainy.  In order to avert my own death, I may obey orders to commit murder.  Or I may allow my favored position, which saves me from conflict to blind me to my evil.  It is good, in contradiction, to lift oneself out of this condition of contingency, wherein the unconditional is subordinated to the requirements of vial happiness, and return to an authentic life in the unconditional.  This is a conversion from continuous self-betrayal and impurity of motives to the seriousness of the unconditional.

3. On this level, evil is only the will to evil—the will to destruction as such, the urge to inflict torture, cruelty, annihilation, the nihilistic will to ruin everything that is and has value. Good, in contradiction, is the unconditional, which is love and hence the will to reality.

Let us compare these three levels.

On the first level, the relation between good and evil is moral: the question is whether our natural inclinations are governed by a will subservient to moral laws.  In Kant’s words, duty is opposed to inclination.

On the second level, the relation is ethical: the essential is the authenticity of our motives.  The purity of the unconditional is opposed to an impurity, which consists in the reversal of the relation of contingency, in which the unconditional is made contingent on practical conditions.

On the third level, the relation becomes metaphysical: here the essential lies in the motives themselves.  Love is opposed to hate.  Love impels to being, hate to nonbeing.  Love grows in bond with transcendence; hate, severed from transcendence, dwindles into the abstract punctuality of the ego.  Love works as a quiet building in the world; hate as a loud catastrophe, submerging being in empirical existence and destroying empirical existence itself.

On each level an alternative is revealed, a decision is called for.  A man can only want one thing or the other, if he is authentic.  He follows inclination or duty, he lives in perversion or in purity of motive, he lives out of hate or out of love.  But he can fail to decide.  Instead of deciding, we vacillate and stumble through life, combine the one with the other and even accept such a state of things as a necessary contradiction.  This indecision is in itself evil. Man awakens only when he distinguishes between good and evil.  He becomes himself when he decides which way he is going and acts accordingly.  We must all continuously recapture ourselves from indecision.  We are so little capable of fulfilling ourselves in goodness that the very force of the passions that drive us headlong through life is indispensable to the lucidity of duty; when we really love we cannot help hating whatever threatens our love; and it is precisely when we fell certain that our motives are pure that we succumb to the perversion of impurity.

The decision has its special character on each of the three levels.  Morally, man seeks to base his decision on though.  Ethically, he rehabilitates himself from perversion through a rebirth of his good will.  Metaphysically, he achieves awareness of being given to himself in his ability to love.  He chooses the right, his motives become authentic, and he lives out of love.  Only when the three levels become one is the unconditional realized.

To live out of love seems to include all the rest.  True love gives certainty regarding the ethical truth of its acts.  St. Augustine says: Love and do what thou wilt.  But it is impossible for us men to live solely by love, this force of the highest level, for we fall constantly into errors and misunderstandings.  Hence we must not rely blindly in our love at every moment but must elucidate it.  And for the same reason we finite beings need the discipline by which we conquer our passions, and because of the impurity of our motives we require distrust of ourselves.  When we feel sure of ourselves, that is precisely when we are going astray.

Only the unconditional character of the good fills mere duties with content, purifies our ethical motives, and dissolves the destructive will of hatred.

But the foundation of love, in which the unconditional is grounded, is identical with the will to authentic reality.  I want what I love to be.  And I cannot perceive what authentically is without loving it.”

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