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Love as a Core Philosophical Issue, Part 2

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The word love is commonly applied to the personal experience of feeling affection for some other individual(s) - regardless of whether that affection is of a romantic or of a filial sort or a sort of friendship. Most often, and for most people, the term love is reserved for an extraordinarily intense or exceptional attraction - again, whether of a romantic or of a filial sort or a sort of friendship. However, the term love is not restricted to signifying only an intensity of feeling. After all, love can persist (the term love can apply to situations or conditions) beyond the brevity which afflicts the intensity of human feeling. Indeed, the most intense instances of such a feeling could be distinguished as occasions of infatuation, and it can be said that, whatever love is or whatever love entails, a test for the genuineness of love is that love does not depend on the intensity of feeling had with infatuation.

In response to the first part of this blog series, TGL member Peter puts forth the possibility of love as little more than a veritable respite from the travails of life in an essentially Hobbesian world:

one might, in the case of specific loved individuals, be seen to suspend normal competitive, exploitative or aggressive behaviours (or just plain indifference) in favour of indulgent behaviour.

On the face of it, this "indulgent behaviour" would seem to "not depend on the intensity of feeling had with infatuation." But is such a behavior actually love?

If the world is most accurately described in terms of the competition between personal interests, in terms of a perpetual struggle of all against all, where each and every individual seeks to alleviate an existential insecurity, then that behavior which indulges as but a respite from the perpetual competitiveness that is the world amounts to no more than a type of recreation. Recreation is undoubtedly necessary for human well-being, but, whatever love is, love is not recreation. Is love even an indulgence?

As a feeling, love has been expressed in terms of marriage or friendship, but, in a world of individual insecurity where all are against all or where all are in competition with all, marriages and friendships can very well be born of a perceived need for alliances rather than from love. In that case, it is the indulgence of others - not the alliance with others - which serves to provide the self with respite and recreation. Alliances or social relationships are arguably necessary for human well-being, but, whatever love is, love is surely not an indulgence. So, is there a place for love in a world of perpetual struggle between personal interests? If love is not recreation and if love is not an indulgence, is love anything other than a delusion?

In a world populated by individuals who are acutely aware of being relatively weak and susceptible while also having personal interests (including self-survival), the attainment of power is the primary and most basic goal of virtually all individuals. This is essentially the world as described by Thomas Hobbes in his work, Leviathan. As Hannah Arendt notes in discussing Hobbes, "if man is actually driven by nothing but his individual interests, desire for power must be the fundamental passion of man." 1

Arendt goes on to note that:

Hobbes points out that in the struggle for power, as in their native capacities for power, all men are equal; for the equality of men is based on the fact that each has by nature enough power to kill another. Weakness can be compensated for by guile. Their equality as potential murderers places all men in the same insecurity, from which arises the need for a state. The
raison d'etre
of the state is the need for some security of the individual, who feels himself menaced by all his fellow-men.

In such a world, love might seem to be something like an indulgence; it might seem to be something like a luxury available only to those who have succeeded in attaining enough power to mitigate susceptibility to others. However, as Arendt also says, what Hobbes gives is "an almost complete picture, not of Man but of the bourgeois man". 3

While Hobbes's depiction of the world was derived with "unequaled magnificence of ... logic" from the standards according to which the relatively new (at the time) bourgeois class operated (politically), a depiction and standards which set the stage for a ready acceptance of Darwinism some two centuries later, the distinction between "Man" and "bourgeois man" serves to indicate that Hobbes is not so much presenting the world as it naturally is as he is presenting it as it has been made by men. In the Hobbesian world,

membership in any form of community is ... a temporary and limited affair which essentially does not change the solitary and private character of the individual (who has "no pleasure, but on the contrary a great deale of griefe in keeping company, where there is no power to overawe them all") or create permanent bonds between him and his fellow-men ... The Commonwealth is based on the delegation of power, and not of rights. It acquires a monopoly on killing and provides in exchange a conditional guarantee against being killed. Security is provided by the law, which is a direct emanation from the power monopoly of the state (and is not established by man according to human standards of right and wrong) ... to the state the individual also delegates his social responsibilities ... he asks the state to relieve him of the burden of caring for the poor precisely as he asks for protection against criminals.

Clearly, love - whatever it is and if it exists at all - is anything except a core issue for the Hobbesian world. In such a world, the individual has, as Hobbes said, "no pleasure", and, in this world, love could well be a misnomer for certain types of indulgence or recreation.

Since Hobbes's time, there have, of course, arisen movements - even philosophies - which rebel against the Hobbesian world created by man. However, these rebellions, amounting to no more than reactions, effectively leave the Hobbesian conceptual limits in place. This means that just as love is anything but a core issue for the thinking that pervades the Hobbesian way of seeing the world and engaging with the world, love has turned out to be just as irrelevant to the countermanding philosophies and ways of engaging the world which have been subsequently put forth.

In general, what these alternative philosophies seem to have most often reacted to is the centrality that individual self-interest has in the Hobbesian view of the world. As a consequence, what many of the most prominent later philosophies (especially the political philosophies) have emphasized is the notion that self-interest is to be denied, eradicated, and replaced by selflessness.

Now, selflessness is commonly associated with love. But, just what is selflessness supposed to be? And, whatever love is, is there a love other than self-love absent selflessness?

To be continued ...


1 Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, (New York: Harcourt, 1976), p. 139.

2 Arendt, p. 140.

3 Arendt, p. 139.

4 Arendt, pp. 140-142.

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Are we eventually going to have to give up the idea that Love is something that plays a part in the life of man and instead accept that man is something that plays a part in the life of Love?

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Are we eventually going to have to give up the idea that Love is something that plays a part in the life of man and instead accept that man is something that plays a part in the life of Love?
If Kierkegaard is correct that men generally do not "know essentially what love is", then it may even be the case that love does not actually play a particularly significant part in human lives.There is no doubt that many of those people who think of love as nothing other than the love found in the romantic and the filial sorts as well as that had with friendship will insist that such loves are, in fact, absolutely of critical importance in their lives. However, if love is a core human issue, it is most likely of greatest significance as a basis for moral being. Kierkegaard has said that romantic love and friendship belong to the domain of "the poet" whose understanding of these loves "contain no ethical task."One might almost reflexively object and insist that such loves most definitely occasion their own responsibilities and requirements. The question then is whether it is romance or friendship (or the filial relationship) that effects these requirements, these demands, or do these tasks follow from some sort of more basic love, a love which does not depend on romantic or filial relationships or friendship?Some people might think of compassion (maybe especially that had for strangers) as a more basic -- and a more all-encompassing -- type of love, a type which they also regard as significant inasmuch as it is taken as necessary to moral being. In this blog series, we have not yet discussed compassion, but, in the meanwhile, it is certainly arguable that, if compassion is a type of love, it is a love the expression of which hardly seems to be particularly prominent amongst human acts. So, it is still doubtable that love is especially central to human being.From love follows works of love; these works are acts. These acts are not prescribed; accordingly, they must be the creations of men. When he acts creatively to effect a new instance or manifestation of love, man can indeed be said to "play a part in the life of Love", but this in no way eliminates "Love [a]s something that plays a part in the life of man". This is not an either-or situation; instead, it is a both-and situation.Michael

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"Works of Love" makes sense to me. If love is regarded as a feeling, something internal to the self, it is private and does nothing, means nothing. Someone can "say" they feel love for another. But love involves the "other," in addition to and outside of the self. Love, never expressed by outwardly objectively observable action, cannot be recognized as "love." I did not read Carl Sagan's "Contact," but I saw the film. I remember one scene in which the Matthew McConaghey character (the priest) is talking to the Jodi Foster character (the scientist), and they are considering the nature of evidence for things (such as God). McConaghey asks, "did your father love you?" (or "do you love your father?" I forget which way it went). Foster responds, "of course," and the priest says, "prove it." That's supposed to be some kind of argument to the effect that immaterial things (like "love" ... or God) are nevertheless real, I suppose. However, I think that seriously overlooks the idea that love is dependent upon acts or works of love. I know about love by experience, by what is done. If it remains internal to another, I can't know about it. If it remains internal to me, then it can hardly count as love.

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