Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Bad lovin’


To love, on the Aristotelian-Thomistic analysis, is essentially to will the good of another.  Of course, there’s more to be said.  Aquinas elaborates as follows:

As the Philosopher says (Rhet. ii, 4), “to love is to wish good to someone.”  Hence the movement of love has a twofold tendency: towards the good which a man wishes to someone (to himself or to another) and towards that to which he wishes some good.  Accordingly, man has love of concupiscence towards the good that he wishes to another, and love of friendship towards him to whom he wishes good.

Now the members of this division are related as primary and secondary: since that which is loved with the love of friendship is loved simply and for itself; whereas that which is loved with the love of concupiscence, is loved, not simply and for itself, but for something else. (Summa Theologiae I-II.26.4)

Take, for example, your love of Italian food, and your desire to cheer up a depressed friend by taking him out to dinner at an Italian restaurant.  Your love of the food would be an instance of what Aquinas calls the “love of concupiscence,” for the food is loved for the sake of some benefit it provides, such as the pleasure it gives you.  But your intention to cheer up your friend reflects the “love of friendship” insofar as you love your friend for his own sake, and not merely for the sake of some benefit he provides.

Note that the term “concupiscence” is not being used here in a pejorative way.  The “love of concupiscence” is, though “secondary” to the love of friendship, nevertheless by itself perfectly innocent.  (“Concupiscence” in the narrower, pejorative sense is not love of a thing for the sake of the benefit it provides one per se, but rather love of that sort which has become disordered.) 

Obviously, a person can also be the object of the love of concupiscence.  Sexual desire would be a standard example, but we can take pleasure in other people in other ways too, such as when we enjoy being around someone because he is funny, or want to maintain a good relationship with someone because he is a good business contact.  Aquinas continues:

When friendship is based on usefulness or pleasure, a man does indeed wish his friend some good: and in this respect the character of friendship is preserved.  But since he refers this good further to his own pleasure or use, the result is that friendship of the useful or pleasant, in so far as it is connected with love of concupiscence, loses the character to true friendship. (Summa Theologiae I-II.26.4)

Notice that Aquinas does not say that friendships based on pleasure or usefulness are bad, any more than the love of concupiscence in general is per se bad.  His point is that they are not friendships in the strictest sense, because the friend is not loved for his own sake.

Now of course, even when we do love someone for his own sake, we still typically take pleasure in the friendship, we desire to be with the person, and so forth.  But it is nevertheless the willing of the other’s good that is what is truly essential to the love.  Aquinas says that “love is spoken of as being… joy [or] desire… not essentially but causally” (Summa Theologiae I-II.26.1).  In other words, the pleasure or joy you take in the person, and the desire you have to be with him, are not themselves the love, but rather the effect of the love. 

A related point is that, since to love is to will the good of another, it is essentially active and within our power, rather than entirely passive the way an emotion is passive, even though in us (unlike in God) it has a passive aspect.  Writes Aquinas:

 [I]n ourselves the intellectual appetite, or the will as it is called, moves through the medium of the sensitive appetite. Hence, in us the sensitive appetite is the proximate motive-force of our bodies.  Some bodily change therefore always accompanies an act of the sensitive appetite... Therefore acts of the sensitive appetite, inasmuch as they have annexed to them some bodily change, are called passions; whereas acts of the will are not so called.  Love, therefore, and joy and delight are passions; in so far as they denote acts of the intellective appetite, they are not passions. (Summa Theologiae I.20.1)

While pleasant emotions are typically associated with love, then, love can exist without them insofar as one can will another’s good even if that person generates in us no pleasant affective response.  This is what happens when, for example, we follow Christ’s command to love our enemies.  Christ is not demanding that we have warm feelings toward someone who does us wrong, or even necessarily that we somehow get rid of the negative feelings he generates in us.  Those negative feelings are perfectly natural, after all, and often impossible to extirpate.  Rather, Christ is saying that, whatever it is we feel, what we will should be the enemy’s good -- which might, by the way, include his being punished (since punishment is in general good for the offender), though always also his repentance.

To summarize, then, we have four main points: First, love is primarily a matter of will rather than passion.  Second, pleasant feelings are therefore not of its essence, even if they are usually associated with it.  Third, love is a matter of willing what is good for the beloved.  Fourth, love of another for his own sake has priority over love of another merely for some benefit he provides. 

That much is standard classical and medieval wisdom. But modern people tend to get love badly wrong on all four counts.  Not always and consistently, of course, but very often both in practice and notionally.

Perhaps the root error is to confuse the desires and emotional effects or concomitants of love with love itself.  Hence modern people almost always characterize love as a “feeling” of a certain sort, and when the feeling is gone conclude that love is gone.  Needless to say, this happens most often in the case of marriage, but can occur also with friendships and relations with siblings and other relatives.  Hence when the feelings wither or die the relationships often wither and die with them.

Now, feelings of the sort in question are indeed natural and important, and there is no point in denying or minimizing that importance.  Nature puts the feelings in us as an aid to the will, and while they are bound to fade to a significant extent, when they have entirely disappeared or even turned negative, something is wrong.  It is, perhaps, at least in part in overreaction to too bloodless a conception of marital love that modern people have tended to overemphasize the affective side of things. 

All the same, love is primarily a matter of will rather than feeling, so that the modern attitude is simply superficial -- indeed, it is childish, since it is characteristic of childhood to be moved more by feeling than by reason and will, and a mark of maturity to reverse this tendency.

De-emphasizing will and overemphasizing pleasant feelings, it is no surprise that modern people tend also to overemphasize what Aquinas calls the “love of concupiscence,” even to the point of reversing its subordination to the “love of friendship.”  For if love is thought to be essentially about having certain pleasant feelings, then the quest for love naturally comes to be understood as essentially a matter of finding someone who will generate in oneself pleasant feelings of the sort in question, and showing love to others comes to be understood as essentially a matter of generating in them pleasant feelings of the sort in question.  And insofar as the quest for love is seen as a matter of finding someone who will benefit oneself in this way, love comes to be seen as a matter of self-fulfillment.

Of course, love is indeed in part a matter of self-fulfillment.  Spouses fulfill themselves in being good husbands and wives, parents fulfill themselves in being good parents, friends fulfill themselves in being good friends.  But such self-fulfillment is an effect or byproduct of love rather than the aim of love.  When it becomes the aim, the beloved is no longer loved for his own sake, and the concupiscent tail begins to wag the dog. 

Thus do we have the sentimentalization (or Burt Bacharachization) of love, on which a “loving” community or society comes to be understood as a society in which pleasant feelings of a certain sort are widespread.  Unsurprisingly, loving one’s enemies comes to seem incompatible with punishing them.  For isn’t the will to inflict punishment typically associated with negative feelings toward the one being punished?  And doesn’t its infliction cause unpleasant feelings in the one being punished?

Furthermore, where matters of sex are concerned, if pleasant feelings of a romantic or affectionate sort exist between any two people, how could this fail to count as “love,” and thus something any Christian ought to celebrate?  And if disapproval of people’s sexual behavior causes in them unpleasant feelings (for example, feelings of guilt, or the unpleasantness associated with being judged), how could such disapproval fail to count as “hatred”? 

This is all quite silly given an analysis like Aquinas’s, on which unpleasant feelings can be associated with what is good (for example, getting the punishment one deserves) and pleasant feelings can be associated with what is bad (for example, sexually immoral behavior), and on which love is essentially a matter of the will rather than a matter of having certain feelings.  Hence, since love is essentially a matter of willing what is good for someone, it is perfectly possible to love someone while affirming that some behavior that gives him pleasant feelings is bad (as when one disapproves of an adulterous relationship), or while harboring negative feelings about him (as when one finds it agreeable to see a criminal getting his just deserts, even though one also sincerely hopes and prays for that criminal’s repentance). 

But that brings us to the last and most grave respect in which modern people go wrong where love is concerned.  Love, again, is essentially a matter of willing for someone what is good for him.  But modern people often deny that goodness is an objective feature of reality; rather, following thinkers like Hobbes and Hume, they often locate goodness in the subjective valuations of the agent, valuations we tend to project onto reality and thus wrongly regard as objective features of the world.  (Here too, the claim isn’t that all modern people take this view or do so consistently, but only that this way of thinking is very common in the modern world.) 

Now, moral subjectivism and moral relativism are not the same thing, but they are closely related.  For one thing, it is difficult to be a moral relativist without being a subjectivist about moral value.  For example, if X is good relative to culture A but not good relative to some other culture B, then it is hard to see how the goodness of X could be an objective feature of the world.  For if it were, then it seems we’d have to say that culture B is simply wrong about X, and that is just what the moral relativist does not allow for.  So it is hard to see how moral relativism can fail to be committed to the view that moral goodness exists only in the subjective valuations of individuals or groups of individuals.

It is also difficult to be a subjectivist about moral value without being a kind of moral relativist.  For human beings do not in fact agree in their subjective valuations, and even if they did, there could always in principle have been human beings who had very different ones.  Moreover, if moral subjectivism is right, there could be no objective criterion by which to determine which sets of subjective valuations were the “right” ones.  So, given moral subjectivism, it is hard to see how to avoid the conclusion that what is morally good is relative to the valuations of individuals and groups of individuals, or at best (if all actual individuals happened as a matter of contingent fact to agree in their subjective valuations) relative to the valuations that all human beings happened as a matter of merely contingent fact to share.

Now, as I argued in a post on relativism, moral relativism is really a kind of eliminativism about morality in disguise.  At the end of the day, if moral relativism were true, then it wouldn’t be that moral goodness is a real feature of the world, but is relative to cultures or the like; rather, it would be the case that there simply is no such thing as moral goodness at all, but only the illusion of moral goodness.  Now, for reasons like the ones just indicated, I would say that the same thing is true of moral subjectivism.  If moral subjectivism were true, then this would entail, not that moral goodness is real, but really something subjective; rather, it would be the case that there simply is no such thing as moral goodness at all, but only the illusion of moral goodness.

When we add subjectivism about goodness to the mix, we can see that the sentimentalization of love in modern times is doubly assured.  To love, again, is to will the good of another.  But in place of the will, the modern tends to emphasize pleasant feelings and desires; and in place of the good, he tends to put subjective feelings of approval, which can vary from individual to individual.  Add in too the radical egalitarianism about feelings and desires toward which democracies tend -- so penetratingly described by Plato in Book VIII of the Republic -- and we have a recipe for the idea that love is pretty much anything anyone wants it to be.  Which, come to think of it, pretty much sums up the jurisprudence of Justice Anthony Kennedy (of “sweet mystery of life” fame).

But here’s the kicker.  If there really is no such thing as goodness, but only the illusion of it, then -- given that to love is to will the good -- there can really be no such thing as love either, but only the illusion of it.  Goodness drops out, and will alone remains; or rather, what remains is will as guided by subjective feelings and desires rather than by any objective standard.  The lover becomes, in effect, the man who declares: I will this, period.  Or as Woody Allen famously put it, “the heart wants what it wants.”

So, from willing the good of another to the heart wants what it wants.  From Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas to Burt Bacharach, Anthony Kennedy, and Woody Allen.  That’s the story of -- not exactly the glory of -- modern love.

Further reading:

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

Please take this as a sincere question.

To love is to will the good of another. In order to will a good for someone surely it must be possible for that someone to not have that good, otherwise there would be no need to will the good for that someone. Given that it is not possible for God to lack any good how then can one love God?

Clearly the false premise is that willing someones good requires that it be possible for them not to have it. But why is this wrong?

Philip Alawonde said...

Willing someone's good essentially has nothing to do with whether they possess that good or not, for if you suppose otherwise is absurd since it negates experience.

Glenn said...

Anonymous,

Later in the Summa, Aquinas says that, The Philosopher, by thus defining "to love" [as to wish a person well (or to will the good of another)], does not describe it fully, but mentions only that part of its definition in which the act of love is chiefly manifested. (Summa Theologiae II-II.27.2)

Since the purpose of the OP isn't to give an exhaustive survey of what is or might be meant by "to love", and since the OP is speaking primarily or to a large extent on what pertains to creatures and creaturely things, it is perfectly fine, fitting and proper that the OP should be guided by the chief manifestation of the act of love as identified.

In response to "it must be possible for that someone to not have that good, otherwise there would be no need to will the good for that someone", I suggest it would be impossible for one to will that the good in another should be better than it presently is -- i.e., that that good should be better developed, more mature, more deeply nourished, more perfect, less imperfect, etc. -- if that other did not already have that good.

BB said...

I've always felt that loving God entails having a desire for what God desires; so even though God in Himself is perfect, He wills goodness for creation, and creation is not as good as it could be. So, in some sense God's will is unfulfilled, and thus to love God implies a desire for goodness in general (as opposed to agapeing someone meaning desiring goodness for that someone). Also, I note that agape also implies a desire to maintain whatever goodness something has, as well as to desire good for it.

I have always found it useful to follow CS Lewis and split the English word "love" into several different senses, so we have agape love (or true love, to will goodness), affectionate love (the affection one feels towards a family member or pet; i.e. contains some emotion as well as the rational desire), friendship love, romantic love, 'love' for the sake of pleasure, and so on. Do others find this distinction useful?

John said...

"I have always found it useful to follow CS Lewis and split the English word "love" into several different senses."
100% agree with you, at least in philosophical discussions. When we read The Symposium in college, everyone would go on and on about "Is what Plato's saying here really love?" (because very often the speakers describe a form of love that does not involve willing the good for the other) and I would keep on thinking, "He's discussing eros. This conversation would be so much clearer if you realized that."

Unknown said...

Just saying the first thing that popped into my head, but you can love God by keeping his commandments, for example, which is a surefire way of proclaiming his glory. The fact that God does't need us to be doing so seems irrelevant.

Jonathan Watson said...

Speaking of Lewis, this analysis is very similar to his analysis of subjectivist accounts of natural law in Abolition of Man.

DNW said...



"If there really is no such thing as goodness, but only the illusion of it, then -- given that to love is to will the good -- there can really be no such thing as love either, but only the illusion of it. Goodness drops out, and will alone remains; or rather, what remains is will as guided by subjective feelings and desires ..."


"Desiring machines", I think some Frenchman called them.

DNW said...

" Now, as I argued in a post on relativism, moral relativism is really a kind of eliminativism about morality in disguise. At the end of the day, if moral relativism were true, then it wouldn’t be that moral goodness is a real feature of the world, but is relative to cultures or the like; rather, it would be the case that there simply is no such thing as moral goodness at all, but only the illusion of moral goodness. Now, for reasons like the ones just indicated, I would say that the same thing is true of moral subjectivism. If moral subjectivism were true, then this would entail, not that moral goodness is real, but really something subjective; rather, it would be the case that there simply is no such thing as moral goodness at all, but only the illusion of moral goodness."


Failure to track along with this logic is one of the things that drives me up the wall with some writers, usually moderate and increasingly perceptive modern liberals, such as psychologist Jon Haidt.

An outcome of his moral foundations theory, which to its credit attempts to root moral sense in some objective facts of nature, is that as with Harris and his attempt to come up with an "objective" system of moral evaluation, it is essentially radically relativistic nonetheless, because of the Rortian style dynamic of historical contingency and pure chance which underlies whatever physical facts these two authors purport to rely on.

For them, teleology, is reduced at best to a kind of local teleonomy, and therefore no valid pan-species moral imperatives can be inferred. "Species" here, meaning no more - apparently - than a specified population of individuals which in aggregate may successfully produce living offspring after mating, and therefore imply nothing else. That would be nothing else in the way of mores.

So yeah, X experiences pain and anxiety when denied affirmations by Y. But, you know, so what?

Well, you see, comes the reply, niceness and blah blah lead to trust and more niceness and cappuccinos on the boulevard, and an appreciation for those formerly too sensitive to live soft-handed types. So what else do you need to know in order to see the self-evident universal goodness of it? All the skeptic needs to do in order to understand the superior value of these values, is to value them more than other outcomes. Obviously a much better way of life than hunting cabins, and stock car racing, and keeping walking horses out in the paddock.

And we know this how? Because we "feel" it.

Good posting, Prof.

Some time back, I asked Santi if it was not true that all we got in return for underwriting (i.e., politically "loving") the annoying, was not just more of the annoyances we wished to avoid in the first place. He graciously, and somewhat amused, granted the point. But he didn't see any real problem - apparently because of the wisdom of blind, mindless, evolution (when it is assisted by government imposed wealth transfers), and the glorious, fecund, diversity-to-the-point-of-self-contradiction orgasmic wonderfulness of creative nihilism. When, that is, tax supported and enjoyed from the comfort of an easy chair of course.

What fun! What an adventure, this indulgent "love" is! Too bad everyone cannot appreciate it.

Skyliner said...

Greetings, Ed,

I greatly appreciated this post and I think that you are spot on with regard to your critique of our cultural moment and its wide scale petty sentimentalism and intellectual, spiritual poverty. That said, a question: Would you affirm that the apprehension itself of the good *as such* obtains in way that is wholly devoid of affectivity? I myself believe that affectivity is a mode of perception--a manner in which we evaluatively construe a given thing or state of affairs. As such, emotions are like lenses--at times they render transparent (e.g., the joy one feels when witnessing a noble moral deed or a beautiful landscape), and at times they skew things (e.g., the examples you point out). In contemporary popular culture, the latter seems most pronounced. A reclamation of the sovereignty of reason is much needed. But, even so, I would argue that affectivity is possessed of an irreducible cognitive significance and that, when properly functioning, it is ingredient to the successful exercise of reason itself.

(By the way, a friend and mentor of mine recently pointed out to me that my own position on affectivity, according to which it is a mode of perception, has strong resonances with Aquinas' doctrine of "connatural knowledge." On this point, see, e.g., Jacques Maritain, "On Knowledge Through Connaturality," Review of Metaphysics 4 (1951): 473-81; Taki Suto, "Virtue and Knowledge: Connatural Knowledge according to Thomas Aquinas," Review of Metaphysics 58 (Sept. 2004): 61-79.

Best in Christ, and thanks again for the excellent post,

Skyliner

DNW said...



I should probably have earlier said "intra-species" or "across the membership of the species" or "categorically applying with regard to the species", rather than the awkward "pan-[the]species"; which could be understood or misunderstood I guess, as nonsensically referring to a moral imperative supposedly common to, and incumbent upon all the world's various species.

Anonymous said...

I am reading The Heart by Dietrich von Hildebrand.* It ties into this topic perfectly. Have you read it Prof. Feser?

I think von Hildebrand expands on the concept of "willing the good" of the other, while adding a greater degree of nuance to the concept of passions, affectivity and feelings than may be found in St. Thomas's writing.

*[Personally I am disinterested in what influenced von Hildebrand (i.e. phenomenology). I do however think his thought compliments Aquinas. There is a slight divergence of views I'm sure in relation to affectivity between the two, since they came at things from different angles and questions.]

Paul said...

What is the definition of goodness and moral goodness?

How can we demonstrate rigorously that moral goodness or goodness in general is an objective feature of the world (that it exists)?

Why should we love in Aquinas' sense? Can non-Christians love in this sense? Isn't it an infused theological virtue, so that those without faith cannot have it, and only love in the emotional sense?

Don Jindra said...

I hesitate to comment on this. What can I possibly know about love? I've only been married 41 years. It takes at least 42 before one begins to understand love.

When I lived in Texas, my daily 4 mile run took me past the University of North Texas art building. The MFA sculptors would haul their latest creations out to the back lawn. Some of these projects would be on display for days, some for months. None had any meaning. None excited an appetite. None provided a perceivable benefit. Therefore none were any good. There was no apparent standard by which one could separate the bad from the good. This, I believe, was intentional. It was an act of will. It was art for art's sake.

Reactionary that I am, I refused to love those objects for the sake of the objects. All I saw was a lowering (if not total abandonment) of standards. So I'd run past and chuckle to myself.

Now I'm wondering what objects of love lie on the lawn outside the residence of The Philosopher? First, let's be clear. To love a man for his own sake rules out any effort to reform him, just as to love art for its own sake rules out any effort to judge art by an objective standard. When one claims inflicting pain on the beloved is no different than inflicting pleasure, truly "love is pretty much anything anyone wants it to be." Modern notions of love are no more relativistic than that. It would be hard for such a person to prove his "tough love" was not merely about how the object affects him emotionally, that is, about his subjective feelings about how the world should be. This can only happen when love toward an object is not for its own sake, but for the sake of the observer.

So once we understand and reject this contradiction, we're left with love truly for its own sake, a love devoid of judgment. It denies a love based on behavior. Love, then, is not "essentially a matter of finding someone who will generate in oneself pleasant feelings." Neither is it a matter of generating in others those same pleasant feelings.

Therefore it's a socialism of love. It's a love in which all are entitled an equal share no matter how much they contribute to the pot. The individual becomes an autonomous love sponge, soaking it all in, never having to be bound by mutually beneficial behavioral ties.

I can't help but think that this love lawn is going to be strewn with quite a few mediocre, meaningless objects. Perhaps after 42 years I'll feel differently.


Fred said...

D.J., A love that rules out desire to reform someone and "is pretty much anything anyone wants it to be" is precisely the kind of shallow, empty modernist version of love Feser is criticizing. To will the good for someone may well mean willing for him or her to stop doing something self-destructive or start doing something beneficial. A love that rules out reform from the beginning is not a love that wills the good for another. As for those sculptures, there has been a move in the last thirty or forty years to claim there are no objective standards by which to judge art, but that is a very recent development. Before that, going back at least to Aristotle, aesthetics has been a well-respected branch of philosophy exploring, explaining, and justifying such standards. Hamlet's speech to the players contains a set of objective standards by which an actor's performance can be judged. Pope's Essay on Criticism is a set of objective standards for judging poetry, as is much of the work of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelly. In the later nineteenth century, Balzac, Zola, and Henry James set forth standards by which to judge the novel. Most of the High Modernist poets and novelists were also critics who wrote aesthetic manifestos as well as poetry and fiction. I would bet if you asked enough students and teachers of sculpture which sculptures they liked and why, despite some disagreements you would find remarkable consensus about which sculptures are better and what makes them so.

Glenn said...

DJ,

Reactionary that I am, I refused to love those objects for the sake of the objects. All I saw was a lowering (if not total abandonment) of standards. So I'd run past and chuckle to myself.

1. I never did see those objects myself, so all I have in the way of that which would enable me to come to my own conclusion (as to whether those objects of years ago really did represent a lowering of standards) is your recent hearsay testimony.

That said, let it be supposed that those objects were genuinely awful. The question, then, is why were those objects so awful?

Some speculations:

a) They were the work of people who have a poor artistic sense.

b) They were the work of people who have a good artistic sense, yet lack the means or skills to adequately express it.

c) They were works which, awful as they were, actually were improvements over the prior efforts of their creators.

d) They were works put on display as examples of what not to strive to produce.

e) They were works which might have come out good, except for one or more missteps or mishaps which led to their coming out bad.

f) They were works recognized as being bad, and put out for the archery or rifle team to utilize, or to claim for the purpose of utilization, during their practice sessions.

g) They were works displayed with an accompanying sense of (misguided) pride regarding the advancements made in furthering of the decline of standards.

h) They were works which, to make room inside, were put outside (and which were slated to be carted away later to the town dump or for recycling).

i) Etc., etc., so on and so forth.

2. Whatever the reason for why those objects were so awful, and whatever the reason for why those awful objects were put on display, or merely were just placed outside, the fact remains:

It is good not to approve of or encourage the lowering of standards (when those standards are standards for that which is good)). So, out of a love for the good of maintaining standards (in lieu of lowering them), you engaged in an act of will directed towards a good end. That is, you exercised your will for a purpose which is a good purpose. Or, to put it yet another way, your intentional refusal to approve, encourage or 'reward' the (alleged/supposed) lowering of standards -- by feigning a non-existent love for either the objects or their creators -- was an intentional act born of the existent love you have for the good of maintaining standards (in lieu of lowering them).

3. Of course, maybe those objects weren't genuinely awful.

Maybe they were actually quite good; maybe it was the artistic sense of a certain viewer which was deficient; and maybe it was that deficient artistic sense which led to the misguided notion that those objects truly represented a lowering of standards.

Hard to tell.

Or, at least, it is hard to tell when all one has to go on is the hearsay testimony of one who has insisted that only that which can be empirically verified is worthy of one's trust or confidence.

jmhenry said...

Some of these projects would be on display for days, some for months. None had any meaning. None excited an appetite. None provided a perceivable benefit. Therefore none were any good.

Maybe this is where our society is headed in the decades and centuries to come. In the future, we'll think of people no differently than how we think of works of art. We'll put them on display and ask ourselves: "Do they excite my appetites? Do they have any perceivable [social or economic] benefit?" The question then becomes what to do with the people for whom the answer is no -- those who fail to satisfy whatever appetites we happen to have at that time, and who fail to pass our cost-benefit analysis. We don't have to love them, so what is to be done with them? Does it matter? Since they are ontologically no different than objects of art, maybe we can put such people in a field somewhere (per one of Glenn's speculations) and let the local archery or rifle team use them as target practice.

Don Jindra said...

Fred,

"A love that rules out reform from the beginning is not a love that wills the good for another."

That's debatable. But my point was not about that. If I claim to love my wife for her own sake, I cannot then say I don't love her the way she is now (the end of Bridget Jones's Diary comes to mind). To speak of reform is to speak about change. The change is to some ideal. The object of love is not the reality, but rather an ideal form of reality. Therefore the love is not actually for the person. The love is for a supposed, "platonic" ideal. Our gracious host interprets "for her sake" in a way that I don't believe the average English speaker means. I'm not convince an ancient speaker would interpret the language different than I do. Look at Glaucon's challenge to Socrates, for example. Glaucon begins by asking Socrates, "How would you arrange goods -- are there not some which we welcome for their own sakes, and independently of their consequences, as, for example, harmless pleasures and enjoyments, which delight us at the time, although nothing follows from them?"

This is not a modern "for their own sakes," yet there's no implication of a need to change the good itself. There's not even an implication that the good can be detached from the pleasure it brings. Of course this is a translation, so it could be that the translator got things wrong. But the context seems to be pretty clear. And I'll note that the remainder of the work is an attempt to argue that justice should be loved for its own sake, yet the argument fails.

Don Jindra said...

Glenn,

"So, out of a love for the good of maintaining standards (in lieu of lowering them), you engaged in an act of will directed towards a good end."

That's a love for the standard, not a love for the object that fall short of the standard.

jmhenry,

I wouldn't phrase the issue in terms consumption, one exploiting the other. Love is a mutual arrangement. It's bidirectional, mutually and equally beneficial.

Anonymous said...

Willing the good of the other must first have the other as it's real object before a perfection for their good can be willed (since it is a good to which their particular person is ordered). I doubt you are being fair to Edward Feser, or that you are representing him accurately Don Jindra.

By the way I am the same Anonymous that spoke about affectivity above.

scbrownlhrm said...

The evidence shows: If one starts young enough with a child in sex trafficking one can produce a child loyal to her owner. Pleasant feelings amid a job well done, amid providing more help to her family/owner. Serotonin and all that.

To love the child and her adult owner for themselves reduces to the irreducible value and worth of said souls, which lands in the immutable lap of love's timeless reciprocity within "Trinity"..... to God. Full stop.

Not to feelings.

To assert that said love is void of the will towards the abolition of both minds/souls, void of love's reformation of both irreducibly valuable minds/souls, is to commit category errors amid irreducible value, love, and our final felicity, our true good. Love moves within and among all of the above, and all while loving the (irreducibly precious) beloved.

One has to take the Christian on his own terms. Otherwise one isn't debating Christianity.

scbrownlhrm said...

Misspoke:

....the abolition of good-minus-something (in those two minds/souls).... Etc....

Curio said...

Has anyone here read Chastek's take on the subject?

https://thomism.wordpress.com/2016/07/15/love-as-primarily-willed-or-emotional/

John Collinson said...

Don Jindra,

>If I claim to love my wife for her own sake, I cannot then say I don't love her the way she is now (the end of Bridget Jones's Diary comes to mind). To speak of reform is to speak about change. The change is to some ideal. The object of love is not the reality, but rather an ideal form of reality. Therefore the love is not actually for the person. The love is for a supposed, "platonic" ideal.

Aristotle divides being into act and potency, i.e. a thing is not just what it is in act, but also what it is in potency. When you love someone, you don't just love what they are actually, but also what they are potentially. This is most obvious in the case of children. Furthermore, if you see your child dirty, don't you want to clean it? If you see your spouse ill, don't you want to see them cured? Should we leave beggars starving without anything to eat because, "we should love them as they are"? Wanting to leave someone in their dirtiness, illness, and poverty is not loving them as they are, but a kind of neglect and lack of love. When we talk about loving someone in order to "reform them" or "change them" or "make them better", we are talking about helping them to overcome their faults and weaknesses so that they might realise more fully their potential and live more happily.

Fred said...

That's exactly what I was getting at. Thank you.

Don Jindra said...

John Collinson,

"Furthermore, if you see your child dirty, don't you want to clean it?"

I changed quite a few diapers in my day. When I did so, my primary concern wasn't to improve the child but to improve the atmosphere. :)

The child raising issue is slippery. There's a difference between nurturing and molding. It's one thing to give a child the opportunity to be a gymnast if that's the child's desire. It's another to assume the child's best interest is in becoming a gymnast. What you describe could be a supportive parent or a nightmare parent. Nightmare parents are not motivated by a superior love. The same can be said of meddling people and the nanny state. At some point efforts to "improve" others is not love at all.

But remember, the issue is where or if "modern people go wrong where love is concerned." Is it your contention that moderns don't clean their children? They don't take them to the doctor? They aren't interested in educating them? It seems to me that if we look at modern parenting versus ancient parenting, the moderns are more concerned -- maybe overly concerned -- with the health and well-being of their young.

Also, please don't assume I think people should love unconditionally. I don't give money to beggars, I don't love them, and I don't think I should. My opinion is that that sort of love can be very superficial too. The naive check-writer who sends $20 to his favorite cause is not practicing much love, IMO.

Glenn said...

DJ,

You to John Collison:

There's a difference between nurturing and molding. It's one thing to give a child the opportunity to be a gymnast if that's the child's desire. It's another to assume the child's best interest is in becoming a gymnast. What you describe could be a supportive parent or a nightmare parent.

In recognition of your perspicacity, a modified excerpt from the script for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre:

- - - - -
Dobbs' hasn't had a haircut in months and there is several days growth of beard on his face. Dobbs pulls his belt in a couple of notches and walks up the street. Something Dobbs sees causes him to increase his pace. He catches up with an American who is dressed in a white suit.

DOBBS: Brother, can you spare a dime?

White Suit fishes in his pocket, takes out a toston and gives it to Dobbs who is so surprised by this act of generosity that he doesn't even say thanks. For several moments he stands rooted looking at the coin in his palm. The he closes his hand around it, making a fist. Putting the fist in his pocket, he cuts across the street.

Dobbs now can afford to pay for a meal, which he does. Later, Dobbs is sitting on a bench.

A man in a white suit passes the bench. Dobbs' eyes follow him speculatively.

Dobbs gets to his feet, and turns away from the bench.

DOBBS: Brother, can you spare a dime?

White Suit takes a toston out of his pocket, gives it to Dobbs. For the second time this day, Dobbs is surprised into speechlessness. Dobbs thrusts the coin into his pants pocket, turns on his heel and marches off.

Dobbs now can afford to pay for a haircut, which he does. Later, Dobbs is walking down the street.

Reaching the corner, he observes a man in a white suit about to step off the curb. Dobbs goes directly up to him.

DOBBS: Can you spare a dime, mister?

White Suit reaches in his pocket, takes out a toston. Dobbs reaches for it. But White Suit keeps the piece between his fingers.

WHITE SUIT: Listen, you. Such impudence never came my way as long as I can remember.

Dobbs stands utterly perplexed while the stranger continues.

WHITE SUIT: Early this afternoon I gave you a toston. Later, I gave you another toston. Now, once again. This is beginning to get tiresome.

DOBBS: Excuse me, mister. I never realized that it was you all the time.
- - - - -

To baffle you further... a quote from the OP, and a question:

OP: "Of course, love is indeed in part a matter of self-fulfillment. Spouses fulfill themselves in being good husbands and wives, parents fulfill themselves in being good parents, friends fulfill themselves in being good friends. But such self-fulfillment is an effect or byproduct of love rather than the aim of love. When it becomes the aim, the beloved is no longer loved for his own sake, and the concupiscent tail begins to wag the dog."

Question: Given two cases, one of a supportive parent, and one of a nightmare parent, would it be more likely that the concupiscent tail has begun to wag the dog in the case of the supportive parent, or in the case of the nightmare parent?

Glenn said...

Btw, although it wasn't something I myself had tried to say, I too thank Mr. Collinson.

Don Jindra said...

Glenn,

"Given two cases, one of a supportive parent, and one of a nightmare parent, would it be more likely that the concupiscent tail has begun to wag the dog in the case of the supportive parent, or in the case of the nightmare parent?"

With the understanding that there's a sliding scale of degrees, the nightmare parent is motivated to a greater extent and by a lower type of self-love or self-interest. But in the context of the OP, how would you say the relative numbers differ from ancient times? Were Plato's suggestions on education on the supportive or nightmare end of the scale? From my POV, I vote for nightmare.

Btw, I'm going to have to read The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. I'm in a screenwriting group so I read a lot of amateur scripts. It's a pleasure to read a well-written pro script, even though I don't care for the movie.

Glenn said...

DJ,

With the understanding that there's a sliding scale of degrees, the nightmare parent is motivated to a greater extent and by a lower type of self-love or self-interest. But in the context of the OP, how would you say the relative numbers differ from ancient times?

For ease of comprehension, my response is two parts:

1. Data.

2. Sufficiency.

Were Plato's suggestions on education on the supportive or nightmare end of the scale? From my POV, I vote for nightmare.

Since Plato thought the individual should be developed / educated re the physical, mental and, let us say, 'extra-mental', and you deny the reality of anything 'extra-mental', it is understandable that your vote should be as has been cast.

Btw, I'm going to have to read The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. I'm in a screenwriting group so I read a lot of amateur scripts. It's a pleasure to read a well-written pro script, even though I don't care for the movie.

I like the movie, but prefer the book.

Anyway, good luck with the screenwriting.

scbrownlhrm said...



Interesting segues:

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/love-and-justice-in-the-trinity

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-mercy-an-essential-property-of-god

Mr. Green said...

Curio: Has anyone here read Chastek's take on the subject?

In belated response, I did read it, but he shouldn't say that love is not a choice; he has a point about emotions, but it would be better to say that while love is indeed "merely" a choice, human beings are not merely wills, and thus a proper human response must integrate our emotions as well as our will. Our feelings provide data upon which we act; and our actions in turn provoke other feelings; but neither is part of the act of willing itself. As James points out, our emotional responses are imperfect, and one reason it's so important to understand that love is matter of willing is so that we can take into account the (un)developed state of our emotions and act accordingly.