Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Thou Shalt Love

My assertion of absolutes does not have the purpose of proposing a deity, but rather to provide a foundation for the ethics I see necessary to the survival of humanity in the 21st century. In so doing, and in no small part thanks to Tom Head's comment, I stumbled upon George Edward Moore's Principia Ethica, in which the author proposes two possible instances of the absolute "good" without relying on an overarching deity to ground them.

The heading of this essay gives away the one that interests me today: disinterested, unstinting love of everything and everyone.

Earlier, in my criticism of the pope's sole encyclical letter so far, Deus Caritas Est (see here), I attempted to do battle against the classic Western boxes into which love is put, in order to diminish it. The pope's cry that God is love (per the encyclical's title) claims love for the Judaeo-Christian deity, with all that implies.

Other authors focus on a typology of love -- of family, of friends, of romance and altruism -- focused on to whom and in what manner love is dispensed. In the West we do not even like to think of these loves jumbled up in, for example, romantic love of kin or altruistic love of friends; we have a strong taboo against incest and a free market interpretation of friendship that requires mutuality.

Indeed, in my journeys in the middle-aged world of dating I have discovered many people's lists of qualifications and their a priori model of the "Right" mate; and given the industry with which they construct the image of what they want, they might as well be perusing consumer magazines to prepare for shopping for detergent.

They say they want love, but they don't; they want a human object that performs certain functions and fulfills certain needs and they want to seal the deal with a contract commonly known as marriage, or maybe something more ambiguous, such as cohabitation. A little honesty with oneself about this might spare everyone a great deal of wasted time and anguish.

So much for what love is not. As to what love is, as an absolute ethical good, I think it is best described as an emotional appreciation of others and other things for themselves that leads to disinterested caring.

Let's break this down.

Appreciation involves a recognition of the quality, value, significance, or magnitude of another or another thing, resulting in a favorable judgment or opinion -- including the aesthetic -- of whom or what we are perceiving in this way, a gratitude for the existence of such a person or thing and a assignment of rising value or price to the person or thing over time. Note the combination of awareness, esteem, gratitude and rising valuation.

Love begins in the emotions and this appreciation is emotional. We feel love. We feel awareness, esteem, gratitude and our feeling cascades into a stronger stream of appreciation as we continue to love.

For it to be an absolute good, love must be directed at all people and things -- even beggars and cockroaches -- and it must be directed at them for who or what they are, independently of their usefulness to us, or the way they fit into the criteria for judgment we have employed before becoming aware of them.

Finally, while love begins as emotion, it fulfills itself in a continuing action -- this need not be a Western laundry list of tasks, but may include the action to be, as in "don't just do something, sit there."


Anonymous said...

I try to use love as a guiding light for all my decisions regarding my conduct--love of myself and/or others. Why does it not come up more in a discussion of ethics?

Thailand Gal said...

This is so very well written! Several of us have been tackling this topic for a while, trying to sort through all the western crap and come up with some sort of consensus.

Won't likely happen!

I agree overall with what you've said here ~ and especially your description of what many here do to find mates. That is what finally turned me off completely. No more dating.. at all...



Geneviève said...
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Anonymous said...

"founded on nothing convincing.", Genevieve???

I consider caring for each other, which includes abiding by laws and respecting others, a pretty convincing reason. Life would be in chaos, with the strongest ruling over the weak, w/o love. Why do we have to invent some amorphous being to justify loving each other?

Geneviève said...
This comment has been removed by the author.