Saturday, August 12, 2023

The double nature of the good

Patrick Deneen has written of the two revolutions that liberalism brought to the West:

Liberalism...seeks to transform all of human life and the world. Its two revolutions - its anthropological individualism and the voluntarist conception of choice, and its insistence on the human separation from and opposition to nature - created its distinctive and new understanding of liberty as the most extensive possible expansion of the human sphere of autonomous activity.

This is an excellent summary of the changes wrought by liberalism. However, I have noticed in my recent reading that the anthropological individualism was not necessarily intentional, at least not from some of the early luminaries of modernist thought.

Descartes, for instance, was happy to accept that we exist not only at the individual level but also as members of larger bodies, such as the family, that we belong to not by choice but by birth:

though each of us is a person distinct from others, whose interests are accordingly in some way different from those of the rest of the world, we ought still to think that none of us could subsist alone and that each one of us is really one of the many parts of the universe, and more particularly a part of the earth, the state, the society and the family to which we belong by our domicile, our oath of allegiance and our birth.

As it happens, Francis Bacon had a similar outlook, which he called the double nature of the good. Bacon believed that matter was moved by "appetite". One of these appetites inclined objects toward self-preservation. But the second appetite was a "motion of connection", a force through which "bodies support each other by mutual connection and contact". 

Francis Bacon

In his book of 1605, The Advancement of Learning, Bacon writes that the appetites of self-preservation and union together form the double nature of the good:

Here, he argues that there "is formed in every thing a double nature of good": "the one, as every thing is a total or substantive in itself": the other, "as it is a part or member of a greater body".

Put differently, there are two kinds of goods found in material nature: the one, goodness per se, or any given objects intrinsic value; the other, goodness insofar as it belongs, and thus contributes to, a collective reality greater than itself.

The appetite for self-preservation corresponds naturally to the safeguarding of a material body's essential goodness, whereas the appetite of union facilitates a basic level of material conjunction for the purposes both of self-preservation and the greater good. [Francis Bacon on Motion and Power, pp.236-37]

There is one thing to add. Bacon believed that the Fall had weakened the summary law of nature:

What Bacon means is essentially that after Adam and Eve broke the moral law, matter reverted in part to its original state of chaos: a dose of recalcitrance to the summary law was introduced into nature...Bacon explains this through the appetites of matter...Left to themselves these appetites normally ‘attack, usurp, and slaughter one another in turn’ – a characteristic Bacon uses to explain the underlying cause of chaos. When influenced by the summary law, however, disorder is turned to order, and the universe acquires goodness, meaning and direction.

The power of the summary law is needed to keep the right balance between the appetite of self-preservation and that of connection:

The behaviour of even the minutest of natural bodies, then, is directed by a kind of moral code imbedded in the fabric of nature, a "double good" in which the greater good corresponds to the preservation of the whole...the existence of the greater good, says Bacon, is ultimately predicated upon an equilibrium which necessitates the existence of the summary law. For without the balancing power of the lex summaria to mitigate between the appetite of self-preservation and that of union there can only ever be chaos. [Francis Bacon on Motion and Power, p.237]

Bacon, then, was not radically individualistic in the way we now understand the term. In fact, he thought that too great an emphasis on individual self-preservation, insufficiently balanced by a concern for the greater good, signalled a loss of the law of nature originally intended by God to create order within the cosmos. It signalled, in other words, a decline into chaos.


  1. Francis Bacon and the Royal Society brought you the current Techno-Science Theocracy that arranged the Covid scam/lockdown, and ever so much more. Bacon was a Luciferian and a prime architect of the onrushing antichrist system and personage. His 'New Atlantis' was a guide for the globalist evil of our hour.

    Bacon was not, as you seem to imagine, your friend. Much less the friend of God.

    1. Ray, I am not endorsing the influence of Bacon on the history of the West. I am pointing out that he was not, intentionally at least, a radical individualist - he did not mean to create an "anthropological individualism" that Deneen identifies as one aspect of the modernist revolution. Nor did Descartes.

      To me, it is this anthropological individualism that is satanic, as it leads to a kind of spiritual desolation. And yet it is endorsed by all the institutions of modern society - even by many churches.

      If we are to trace back its origins, it is not so simple as saying that all of the progenitors of modernity endorsed it - clearly some of them did not.

    2. mark, all evil men are useful idiots, no matter how “high rank” they seemed.

    3. I just don't know enough about Bacon to give an assessment of his overall impact or to trace his influence on the history of ideas. But I do think in this one instance, with his idea of the double nature of the good, that he is enunciating an important truth that is now lost to us.

    4. he’s only saying this to push his gnosticism and freemasonry. he is setting the soil for which the rest of the evil you mention grows from.