One-third of one's time should be spent in pondering.

Gurdjieff International Review

Discussion on "Good and Evil"

with A. R. Orage

November 12th [1927] — Part 2 of 3

Orage: We will continue with Good and Evil in order to try to reach firmer conclusions than we arrived at last week. Our present views are wholly subjective; tell me your family income for two generations, the schools you have gone to and so on and I will tell you your real ideas on good and evil. Does there exist in the objective world any element corresponding to our subjective good or evil? It's too bad that the stimulation of these evenings so often fades leaving nothing. First let's have questions.

Alan Brown: I remember once we were given three stages of morals, and eventually right and wrong. These weren't mentioned last week except when it was said that until we have objective conscience we have no sense of good and evil, but only of right and wrong, as though these latter were lower states. It seemed to me that much of our discussion was of right and wrong.

Orage: Right and wrong are subject to pragmatic proof.

Brown: But in seeking for an absolute, can't we say that pragmatic judgment may come from objective understanding?

Orage: Oh no. Any result in a world that is perpetually becoming may depend on where you draw your line and say that at that point something is right or wrong; but later on this judgment may be reversed. The only center in which absolute judgments are possible is the one where we feel our absolute identity—in the emotional center. Instinctive judgments are based on like and dislike; the intellect says right or wrong. They are both based on the absolute center—the emotional. This says if the thing is good or evil. Hugh: Are our emotional centers capable of such absolute judgments?

Orage: Capable of them potentially.

Man: This gives the emotional center some element of timelessness.

Milliken: What about the activity of discrimination—isn't this intellectual?

Orage: Discrimination of likeness and unlikeness is intellectual, and without moral value. The development of what we call reason has no connection with what the book calls reason. Any elongation of a single line of the triangle does not increase its triangularity.

Hugh: Is essence in that absolute center?

Orage: Essence is a particle of the center of conscience of the Universal Being. It is the voice of God in the individual—that is, objective conscience.

Sherman: How can we know that the values of this Being are absolute?

Orage: You use absolute too metaphysically. Absolute means taking all things as one. All suns collectively are said to be Sun Absolute; all planets are taken as one absolute planet.

Solon: If we assume then that the emotional opinion is non-educatable—a native response—it makes an absolute judgment?

Orage: Yes.

Man: Isn't emotional education possible?

Orage: Oh yes, but its judgment wouldn't come from discussion; it would not be derivative, though it would naturally be similar to other judgments.

Man: Do we ever have such experiences?

Orage: If emotional center were not distorted by the education of the other two centers, we would have such experiences. All essential impulses arise in the emotional center. Our natural likes and dislikes are not related to essence; but at the moment of experiencing them we can be aware of them as good or evil.

Daly: Why isn't this just a conflict of emotions?

Orage: There is no element of discrimination in pure emotion. We simply find an internal monitor that condemns what we like.

Daly: It seems to me like external training.

Orage: That is so. In the absence of objective conscience in essence, judgments of emotional center are influenced by sociological training.

Sherman: My judgments seem to be based on a feeling of safety or peril.

Orage: Purely instinctive, Sherman.

Sherman: Isn't a sense of death—such as Gurdjieff advises us to cultivate—a sense of peril?

Orage: It was never meant as a bogey; it was meant to evoke objective conscience by a sense of duty undone.

Sherman: How does this differ from a mechanical urge?

Orage: It doesn't except in so far as it is conscious. Animals are said to be without sin because they have no choice in the matter; men who are conscious of the possibility of choice are under the same obligation to fulfill their objective duty. They have both mechanical and conscious obligation—parallel. The question of evil arises only when this possibility of split occurs. And it is perfectly easy to discriminate between sociological guilt and being shame.

Hugh: I don't see why acting according to essence wouldn't be according to unrealised essence.

Orage: Essence is part of the absolute as a drop of water is of the sea. Insofar as it is capable, it goes through the process of self-understanding and development.

Sherman: Then there is a difference between essence and 'I'?

Orage: Yes. Essence is a particle of the active principle of life; 'I' is forever non-participant in the life of essence—untouchable.

Milliken: We ought to say that a judgment is absolute relative to its part in a group—of one universe. We know there may be more than one universe.

Mary J.: You can't speak of the 'relative absolute!'

Orage: Maybe in one sense you can. Imagine you are nothing externally—just a point of consciousness. Recollections remain but have no use to you. You are not now existing, you could not be perceived, are not phenomenal. You can't be said to occupy space, but you do occupy time. This point is 'I', persisting in time, not in space. It has a field limited by recollections and possible states of consciousness. The world it then inhabits is its absolute world, having lost all possibility of contact with other processes. There is no growth, no shrinkage.

Louise: Can't it create out of its memories?

Orage: We come to that. Assuming it has imagination, its world is spun from its own subjectivity.

Nat: It makes new combinations of recollections?

Orage: Yes. What happens in its isolation—

Solon: Why isolation. I think that means it is bounded—not absolute. It has to be actualised to be isolated.

Orage: It is isolated by its limits of recollecting, its self limitations are absolute. This comes to Mr. Milliken's question of whether an absolute can be relative.

Daly: I think we use the terms absolute and relative in unusual ways. Relativity in Einstein isn't used in this sense.

Milliken: Relativity existed before Einstein.

Orage: The question of relativity inheres even in the concept of the whole and its parts. In this sense we use relative. Absolute is the whole taken as one; relation of the parts is relativity. There may be a relation of two absolute suns. An absolute may still develop.

Solon: You said it could shrink but not grow.

Orage: I'm not speaking now of the 'I' point of consciousness. Since it does not exist, it has no possibility of relation with anything else.

Larry: There is nothing, then, but imagination?

Orage: That is all.

Solon: In this case imagination is the only reality?

Orage: Yes—periods of pure imagination between manifestations.

Larry: What are we to suppose happened to this 'I' that evidently once had experiences?

Orage: Death.

Larry: Then we are all brain cells of a ghost?

Orage: Exactly!

Larry: Very amusing!

Orage: Being in a state of pure imagination which was beginning to decline, the Being had to make an effort to arrange his world. To arrange images in a cosmos instead of having them a chance series of recollections. I hope you see where this leads us in the question of good and evil. The existence of pattern presupposes a value on its actualisation. To the extent to which the pattern is recognizable to its parts, the cosmos becomes awake—conscious. It is implicit in the plan that this world shall be His body with three brains, in one of which we shall live, and that He shall become concretely conscious.

Daly: If a body is to be created, what will its environment be?

Orage: Read the last chapters of Eddington, or Whitehead's Process and Reality. We have to use "body" as Whitehead does—as any organization of knowledge, an ordered relation of parts.

Solon: As twelve units make a dozen?

Orage: Yes.

Larry: Did He discover this pattern or devise it?

Orage: He devised it—it might have been another.

Man: Where did God get his recollections? Was He part of another cosmic system?

Orage: Yes—it might have been that there were many other universes, and they may be existing now.

Man: We might eventually have cosmic systems of our own?

Orage: Well, eventually! Every wish we experience can be regarded as a psychological entity—every impression a unit, playing the same role in our psychical being as we as individuals play in the life of the planet. Gurdjieff said that if one could be anatomised psychologically, he would see myriads of beings—wishes, thinking organisms. He would see his entire population.

Mary J.: Isn't that personalising the passions, as the Elizabethans did?

Orage: This is a bit more subtle. This is projecting on a screen the concretised contents of mind. In this way we are one of the ideas in God's mind. Conflicts in our minds represent internecine conflicts in His mind. We defined good as whatever design God had in composing his pattern as he did. In one sense this is arbitrary, in another it is absolute since no other pattern is possible for the constituents. Evil is the failure on His part to realise progressively, or dynamically, this pattern.

Solon: Then God alone is capable of evil?

Orage: We'll come to that. The question arises of the degree of participation in that plan and the possibility of participating in good and evil.

Man: Then he does good catalytically and evil when he interferes.

Orage: No—when he fails to interfere—fails to produce catalysis. Evil arises from the weaknesses of God; when these weaknesses manifest they are in the forms of beings. This is where religion comes in—divine service—to save God from "nodding".

Mary J.: Then Beelzebub was the manifestation of such an aspect?

Orage: Yes—a fallen angel.

Larry: Evil seems an odd word to use, since God's arrangement of the cosmic pattern was voluntary on His part; and if he sometimes nods he pays the penalty. Good and evil imply a sense of obligation imposed by the very nature of the case.

Orage: No—unless you use "nature of the case" as the totality of the world for us. He does evil in his own judgment. Evil is related to less-being, or non-being; good to more-being.

Daly: You said God preferred more-being; isn't this, then, just a like, not a good?

Orage: This judgment of God's is from emotional center; it is an absolute preference for absolute good. If the growing end of his pattern is toward more-being, then the being participating in it is on the side of absolute good.

Solon: This is much like St. Augustine's words on human responsibility, man as a channel for God's will.

Orage: Channel is a bad word from our point of view. Man should be an agent in God's will. This point led to Quietism and the heresy based on men as the servants rather than the sons of God.

Woman: Is God's failure our failure?

Orage: We are so constituted as to save him from His failure—this is our potentiality. Our failure is in not realising this potentiality. Any three-center being can be co-conscious with God.

Daly: I understand that absolute good or evil for the creature is participation in or failure to participate in consciously this pattern of God's. But isn't this simply like or dislike for God?

Orage: Well, maybe so.

Daly: Do you think so?

Orage: No, I don't. That is the same kind of good and evil—he has defined by his will absolute good as more-being, and absolute evil as less-being. For the original being this choice is arbitrary.

Daly: For us there is no such choice?

Orage: No. As an absolute being you could defy absolute good and call it evil for you. For subordinate being there is no choice.

Larry: It seems more likely that instead of preferring being over non-being, God was compelled to choose being as good.

Orage: Oh no, there was no compulsion.

Larry: But he was terrified—he must have been terrified at the possibility of non-being.

Orage: I once brought up this point with Gurdjieff. He said that God's mind was not compelled to follow His emotions; it was not a choice under necessity, though the stimulus to the choice was a necessity. So we cannot say anything compelled God to make this decision. Will is not in emotional center—he could have willed to choose evil. Will excludes wish.

Man: What would be the picture if God never nodded?

Orage: We wouldn't exist. We are one of his nods, and have a special lot of work to do to become normal.

Daly: Then God would be better off without us, since we are a mistake. He may get some value from us, I suppose, but I doubt it.

Orage: When no value is possible the being goes to that planet we spoke of. This is the ash heap of the universe. The third point I wanted to make tonight is that three centered beings have the possibility of understanding the universal plan, as God understands it. A private in an army can participate in any sphere of function provided he has a conscious appreciation of the fact that the particular status he occupies is unimportant.

Daly: And the being's absolute good or evil is determined by his part in the great absolute?

Orage: Yes—in modern terminology this is "relativity".

Copyright © 1998 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Summer 1998 Issue, Vol. I (4)
Revision: January 1, 2000