Looking at Kirk Kanzelberger’s Essay (2020) “Reality and the Meaning of Evil” (Part 1 of 18)

0001 What is Reality?

Reality is a journal for philosophical discourse.

It is worthy of financial support by people of good will.

Reality is the only journal, to date, closing the gap between Thomistic philosophy and Peircean semiotics.

0002 John Deely (1942-2017) finds the loops through which a thread of reality now runs.  The two loops?  A thread of reality?  John Poinsot (1589-1644), a Baroque scholastic in the tradition of Thomism, and Charles Peirce (1839-1914), an American philosopher, chemist and intellectual voyager, formulate the same definition of sign.  One marks the end of the Latin Age, the second age of understanding.  The other starts the Age of Triadic Relations, the fourth age of understanding.  The thread is the realness of sign-relations.

Reality is the only journal, to date, running more threads through these loops.

0003 In contrast, Razie Mah builds little figures, illuminating triadic relations.  He constructs a grand theodramatic narrative, The Human NicheAn Archaeology of the Fall and How To Define the Word “Religion”, where these triadic diagrams shine.  They glimmer in the darkness of the current Age of Ideas.

The same darkness shrouds Reality.

0004 With this said, I open the pages of Kirk Kanzelberger’s essay, titled, “Reality and the Meaning of Evil” published in the inaugural issue of Reality (volume 1(1) (2020) pages 146-204).

0005 I also have, in hand, A Primer on the Category-Based Nested Form and A Primer on Sensible and Social Construction.

Perhaps, these triadic structures will serve as guides.


Looking at Kirk Kanzelberger’s Essay (2020) “Reality and the Meaning of Evil” (Part 2 of 18)

0006 Section one of Kanzelberger’s article, “Reality and the Meaning of Evil“, opens with a conversation between a party animal and a graduate student.

The exchange begins with the idea that evil is privation.  As such, evil does not make sense.

The discourse ends with the idea that evil is real and, as such, evil makes sense.

Clearly, the conversation starts on one level and ends on another.  Plus, the conversation wrestles with a very important caveat.

If evil is a positive entity, then it must have been created by God.  But if God is good, and His creation is called “good” in Genesis, then evil must be privation, a lack of good.  God does not create evil.  We do.

0007 Does this fit into a category-based nested form?

Yes, it fits two of them.

On a content levela, the level below morality, evil is privation and does not make sense.

On a situation levelb, the moral level, evil is real and makes sense.

0008 On the content levela, we ask, “What is happening?3a”  This is the platform for things and events2a, situating the potential of ‘something’ subjective1a.  Here, evil is privation and does not make sense because it is subjective.

On the situation levelb, we think, “What does it mean to me?3b”  This is where phantasms2b emerge from the potential of constructing objects, mind-dependent beings1b.  Here is where evil is real and sensible, because it is objective.

0009 Objective?

Something’ objective can also be shared.  It can be intersubjective. In order to become intersubjective, the phantasm2bmust be actualized.  Intersubjective beings are objective and subject to rational judgment by oneself and others.


Looking at Kirk Kanzelberger’s Essay (2020) “Reality and the Meaning of Evil” (Part 3 of 18)

0010 Here is a diagram of the previous blog.

Figure 1

0011 In section two, Kanzelberger follows Aquinas (who follows Aristotle) by starting with the content levela.

Nature is subjective.  Good is the potential of a whole subject.  Evil is a privation, a compromise of the whole.  A bird’s wing is broken.  Poor thing.  Since each subject is good in itself, conflicts between perfections (wholenesses) may be seen as loss (for one subject) and success (for the other subject).

0012 A cat breaks the wing of a bird.  In doing so, the cat (a subject) acts as if the bird is an object (here, a mind-independent actuality held as a mind-dependent being).  Such is the cat’s perfection.  If the cat cannot perform this way, it cannot track reality.

The content level buzzes with a hodge-podge of subjects, some of which may objectify other subjects.  Evil, as privation, depends on each subject.  Since all subjects are different, natural biological evil has no consistency, no potential for appearing intersubjective, and therefore, makes no sense.

0013 Or, does it?

We (humans) are watching, doesn’t that count for ‘something1b’?


Looking at Kirk Kanzelberger’s Essay (2020) “Reality and the Meaning of Evil” (Part 4 of 18)

0014 The human, Kanzelberger writes, “aspires to know more and more of the being of nature in its natural constitution.”  Humans are always busy trying to figure out what is happening3a.  What does it mean to me3b?  Our objective potential1btries to make sense of each subjective potential1a, resulting in our fallible phantasms2b.

The human sees the cat strike the bird2a, witnessing perfection in the cat and privation in the bird.

The cat subjectively1a wants to objectively1b wound the bird.

The human throws a guess2b as surely as the cat throws its paw.

0015 A phantasm2b does not gain the full potential of its objectivity1b until it becomes intersubjective1b.  In order to become intersubjective, it must be constellated2b.

0016 An objective phantasm2b can become intersubjective1b, in two, non-exclusive ways, through judgment2c and through discourse2a.

In the first option, the intersubjective1b stands at the gates of the suprasubjective1c.  Passage leads to a judgment2c.

In the second option, the object2b stands at the gates of human blather1a.

0017 Blather?

An event2a gives rise to a phantasm2b, in the mind of a beholder, who, without delay, decides to release that phantasm2bfor someone else to hear2a.  The decision3c casts the phantasm2b down, like a bolt of lightning, into an event2a, born of human subjectivity1a.

0018 The observer says, “Did you see that? That cat broke the bird’s wing.”

To which the graduate student replies, “Say what?”

“That cat is evil!”, the observer declares.

“Oh no, God made all cats in His goodness. But, still, the cat’s action may be a symbol of an evil, murderous and immoral spirit.  The symbol doesn’t apply to the cat.  The cat becomes a symbol to us.”


Looking at Kirk Kanzelberger’s Essay (2020) “Reality and the Meaning of Evil” (Part 5 of 18)

0019 Here is a picture of the ongoing conversation between observer and graduate student.

Figure 02

0020 The party animal says what pops into “her” head.  The graduate student replies that the declaration turns one actor in the event2a into a symbol of evil2b.

0021 The observer scratches “her” head, asking, “Did God create the symbol?”

Ah, the mind-dependent reality of a symbol2b may enter into the slot of the phantasm2b as a stand-in for the mind-independent reality of the cat’s action2a.

Or so, the graduate student judges2c.

0022 Clearly, the cat cannot be evil, since the cat acts out its perfection. The cat is what it is. But, if the cat were human, then such injurious action would be immoral, if not illegal.  Thus, the cat’s action becomes a symbol of what ought not to be.  The graduate student’s well-trained intellect brings what is into relation with what ought to be.

The phantasm2b, first objective1b in the observer3b, then intersubjective1b in both observer3a and student3a, supports the formation of a suprasubjective judgment2c.  If the observer3b follows the rules of reason, agreement1a resonates with truth1c.  The same agreement1a might happen if the observer3b is enthralled by the graduate student3b, or visa versa. 


Looking at Kirk Kanzelberger’s Essay (2020) “Reality and the Meaning of Evil” (Part 6 of 18)

0023 What is a judgment2c?

A judgment2c is a triadic relation composed of three elements: relationwhat is and what ought to be.

0024 Here is a picture of the observer’s utterance, spoken without reflection.

Figure 3

0025 In this, a cat stands for ‘something’ evil, even though God created the cat in goodness.  Somehow, the observer plucks a symbol of the cat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, then declares that symbol to be relevant, without a second thought.  That symbol describes a person, who breaks the wings of another person.

Surely, such a person is evil.

0026 The observer’s declaration has all the ingredients that go into a judgment.

However, it comes out as blather2a, a subjective1a event, pretending to be intersubjective2b, and therefore carries the weight of judgment2c.

The party animal anticipates that the graduate student will agree with the statement.

If “he” does not, then “she” will look foolish.

No one wants that.

0027 Is there a privation here?

The observer’s impression2b claims to be true, as opposed to false, or maybe, deceptive.  It2b appears to be sensible.  It2bcoheres with the structure of judgment.  Yet, it2b really is just a way of saying that people can be like cats.  It2b is an object2b that does not express the fullness of its intersubjective potential because it makes sense1b.  More or less. No judgment is really needed.  Only agreement.  Humans are cats.


Looking at Kirk Kanzelberger’s Essay (2020) “Reality and the Meaning of Evil” (Part 7 of 18)

0028  Our spoken words2a weave the fabric of our subjective reality1a by telling us what is happening3a.

The observer states her impression that the cat is evil.  The statement would be accurate if the cat is a person.  However, the cat is just a cat.  The cat is not a symbol of a person.  It is a natural being.

0029 In section three, Kanzelberger states that no living animal or plant strives for privation.  Each strives for its own good, its own fullness of being.  Since the fullness of one may conflict with the fullness of another, privation is proportioned according to the food chain.  The bird knows that.  The cat knows that.  Well, if they don’t, they certainly behave as if they do. The bird flits nervously. The cat stalks its prey.  

In nature, agents for privation and death stand ready at hand.  They carry the aura of inevitability.  Not even the mountains stand forever.  Is there a cosmic beauty to this pervasive evil?  Everything is tested, horribly, relentlessly and in reality, by conflicts among diverse goods and forces.

Yes, outcomes vary.  Some conflicts end as win-win.  Some end as lose-lose.  Most end as win-lose.  In these win-lose contests, the agent who wins is satisfied, but may symbolize “evil”.  The unsatisfied agent may escape the label of “evil”, but at what cost?  Starvation?  The sufferer loses and may be granted the symbol of “victim”.  The one who avoids danger becomes “happy go lucky”.

0030 What does this imply?

First, obviously, a lot of energy flows through biological systems.  An animal or plant cannot rest in the fullness of its being.  Metabolism demands fuel.  Metabolism drives many of these conflicts.

0031 What if I declare that metabolism is evil?

Surely, it is a common denominator in the good of all living things.  Without it, there would be no conflict.  The lion would lie with the lamb.

Yes, both would be dead.

0033 Natural evil does not make sense.  Surely, we need not imagine that rocks or photons suffer when annihilated, but the same cannot be said for animals and plants.  Natural evil, the conflict among subjective goods and the playing out of privations, makes no sense, in a world where each subject has its own metabolism.

It makes far more sense to imagine that all the actors are human.


Looking at Kirk Kanzelberger’s Essay (2020) “Reality and the Meaning of Evil” (Part 8 of 18)

0034 On the situation level, animals prepare to act2b.

In contrast, humans generate phantasms2b.  What does the thing or event2a mean to me3b?

0035 But, I am not alone.

Therefore, moral meaning plays out in my phantasm2b. The objective object2b may not necessarily trigger action.  But, it2b activates a moral order.  It triggers an intersubjective being2b.

On one hand, the intersubjective being2b is contiguous with the objective mind-dependent being2b and may be willing to face the test of suprasubjectivity1c.

A phantasm2b will not suffer privation, when its intersubjective reality1b seeks to be contextualized by suprasubjective potential1c.

On the other hand, a phantasm2b may be stated as blather2a.  Instead of facing the test of suprasubjectivity1c, the phantasm2b comes out as an event, a statement2a, that seeks to be objectified1b as agreement1a.  Agreement1a coordinates perceptions2b and appears to support an intersubjective reality2b that does not need to face the test of suprasubjectivity1c.

After all, if we all agree1a, it2b must be true1c, doesn’t it2b?

This phantasm2b suffers privation, because intersubjective reality1b should be elevated to its suprasubjective potential1c.

Instead, it2b seeks agreement1a, through its own expression2a, in the presence of others.

The observer plans to go to law school.

0036 The graduate student, in some capacity (remember, alcohol is consumed at these parties), knows this.

So, inadvertently, “he” brings what the observer says to generate agreement1a into the suprasubjective realm1c, by questioning “her” opinion.

0037 Here is a picture of the resulting judgment2c.


Looking at Kirk Kanzelberger’s Essay (2020) “Reality and the Meaning of Evil” (Part 9 of 18)

0038 I see what is happening3a, I ask, “What does this mean to me3b?”.

This business about phantasms2b is crucial.  If our mind-dependent beings, our phantasms2b, are to stand the trial of the suprasubjective1c, then their symbols2b must be true1c.  Plus, they must be able to be subjectively1a communicated.  They must be witnessed as things and events2a.

0039 There is a profoundly biological reason for this.  Our genus evolves by cooperating in teams.  Each team is like the cat.  It disposes privations to others, in order to achieve its perfection.  One team hunts rabbits.  Another team digs up tubers.  Human teams hunt and gather, all in the pursuit of their fullness of being.  The One Who Gives, Without Us Knowing Why, provides in many different ways.

Just as metabolism resides in every living being, the One Who Gives, resides in each social circle.  As noted in Comments on Clive Gamble, John Gowlett and Robin Dunbar’s Book (2014) Thinking Big, the One Who Gives is an object that brings all teams into relation. Otherwise, teams might come into conflict. Like metabolism, this relational object stands undifferentiated from the organization objectives of each team.  This relational object sustains them all.

0040 We choose our teams based on disposition and natural abilities.  Or maybe, our teams choose us.  After all, if a prosperous team lasts long enough, generation after generation, our kind will adapt to its challenges.  The tasks will become more intuitively natural.  Evolutionary psychologists will call these adaptations, “mental modules”.

0041 In the Lebenswelt that we evolved in, there is no contradiction between the phantasm2b simultaneously touching base with the potential of truth1c and the potential of subjective agreement1a.  That is because hand talk2a and hand-speech talk2a image and indicate their referents1a.  A referent1a defines the objectivity1b of each gesture word2a.  The referent1a is also suprasubjectively evident1c.  If it1a were not real1c, it1a could not be imaged or indicated2a.

In our current Lebenswelt, there is a contradiction.  Speech-alone2a talk is purely symbolic.  It2a does not image or point to anything1c.  So, the phantasm2b suffers a privation, opening the door to a condition where the potential of subjective agreement1a may be actualized without the simultaneous realization of the potential consilience1cunderlying the One Who Gives, Without Us Knowing Why3c.


Looking at Kirk Kanzelberger’s Essay (2020) “Reality and the Meaning of Evil” (Part 10 of 18)

0043 How do teams work?

In the Lebenswelt that we evolved in, we join a team and our commitments2c are plain to see.  Each person has a role1cand communicates that role1c through behavior, including manual-brachial gestures2a. These gestures2a are natural signs.  They are icons and indexes.  They are subjectively experienced as images and indications1a.

0044 But, there is a caveat, the more obvious the gesture, the more distinct from any other gesture, the more likely the gesture will be instantly understood.  So, each gesture-word2a becomes more and more distinct from every other gesture-word.  Language consists in systems of differences.

0045 Word-gestures2a are symbols, purely relational beings, striving for fullness within an ever more effective system of differences.  Language evolves within each team.  Humans, as a kind, adapt to what each team does2b.

0046 What does this mean in regards the prior interscope?

Here is a diagram of the social construction where the situational phantasm2b (including its manifestation as langue2b) aligns with both things and events2a (including parole2a, hand and hand-speech talk2a) and a judgment2c (which cannot be symbolized, so is expressed as a commitment2c).