The General Features of Love
If you are a loving person, you will have at least five important interests in your loved ones as the intentional objects of your love. You will be interested (i) in their mutual affections, (ii) in a shared relationship with them, (iii) in their welfare, and (iv) in being their benefactor. The fifth interest, which I will argue for in the next section, is (v) in their being good persons. All these interests factor into how your loved ones appear as ends within your deliberative field as a loving person.
Consider the first of these interests. How do we make sense of you as a loving person where your dispositions toward your loved ones are completely devoid of any interests in their mutual affections. What would it be to be romantically in love with someone and have no interest in being the object of that person's sexual interests? What would it be to love someone as a friend and be altogether indifferent to your place in his or her affections and loyalties? And what would it be to love a child and not care at all about its feelings for you?
It is similarly difficult to make sense of not having an interest in a shared relationship with loved ones. The romantic lover has not only an interest in mutual sexual attraction, but also in sharing that interest in sexual activity. The interests mutually held between friends also find their satisfaction in the activities of a shared relationship, which is behind Aristotle's claim that friendship involves living together. And though the mutuality requirement is different for the parent /child relationship, it is puzzling how you could love your children and be indifferently disposed to any shared relationship with them.
Still there might be arguments that mutuality and sharedness are not requirements of the concept of love. The first might involve showing that sometimes as a lover you might have reasons for deciding to keep your love a secret from a loved one. The reasons I have in mind are not because you lack the character to reveal the vulnerability that love involves but because you think it best for the loved one that he or she not know of your affections. A teacher who falls in love with a student might feel this, as might a biological parent who loves a child given up for adoption. The second argument might involve showing that as a lover you might sometimes love someone despite the fact that the love is not reciprocated. No doubt, romantic love provides many examples. The third argument might try to show that sometimes external circumstances prevent you from sharing a relationship with a loved one. Physical distance might cause this in any form of love, and with romantic love the condition of AIDS sufferers certainly comes to mind. The claim behind all three arguments is that despite the undeniable presence of such phenomena it is still obvious in some cases that you truly love the loved one.
We can admit these observations, however, without undermining the thesis. In all these cases, it remains true that as a loving person you retain an interest in the mutual affections of and a shared relationship with your loved one. It is just that in these special circumstances it is rational for you not to pursue these interests. This is clear in our conception of what a person's dispositions must be like to be those of a loving person. If from the very start you are indifferent to the fact that the feelings of another are not reciprocated or that no shared relationship with another is possible, then surely this shows, if anything does, that you do not love the other person. Absent, then, a belief that stress occurs, at least initially, in these special circumstances, it is simply contrary to our conception of the dispositional state of love to think of someone with such indifference as a loving person. As was true with shared affection, loved ones appear within the deliberative field of the loving agent as someone with whom to share a relationship.
Another important interest you will have in your loved ones is an intrinsic interest in their welfare. Even where nothing can be done, indifference to the plight of another is not a disposition we attribute to a loving person of whatever variety. Of course, this interest does not always take priority over other interests you might have, but it is nonetheless there.
Moreover, this concern for the welfare of loved ones is by its very nature a stronger concern than that for other persons who appear within the loving person's deliberative field. One can be interested in the welfare of another in ways that are independent of personal love. Respect is one such way, as we have seen, but so are pity, sympathy, and generosity. As a loving person you might even be moved in some contexts by respect or pity to give priority to the welfare of someone other than your loved one, especially for someone whose plight you perceive as severe in a way that your loved one's is not. Nevertheless, where everything else is equal, two conditions are sufficient for saying that you do not love another person, B. They are that you know that you do not love C and you care about the welfare of B and C to the same degree, regardless of context. This is a fundamental fact about how loved ones appear within the loving person's deliberative field, and it is true even where C appears within your field as someone worthy of respect. Remember that we are concerned with an agent who is not only loving but respectful of self and others as well.
Equally important is the fact that your interest in the welfare of loved ones sometimes expresses itself in your subordinating some of your own interests to those you love. Without some disposition to put the interests of loved ones above your own, you are simply unrecognizable as a loving person. What would it be to love another and yet hesitate to make even the slightest sacrifice for the sake of some central concern of that person? Thus, if you are a loving person, it is another fact about how loved ones appear within your deliberative field that they are taken to be goods that are more important than the good of satisfying some of your other interests. Indeed, we hesitate to say that you love another unless we are willing to say that you are disposed in some contexts to subordinate some significant interests for the sake of that person. Among these significant interests are some that belong to you and some that belong to others. If you were disposed to subordinate only minor interests of yours and others for the sake of another's interests, we might be inclined to say that you liked the other person but never that you loved that person. This is especially true if the interests at stake for the other person are very important ones.
Of special significance to a loving person are the categorical interests of loved ones. First, they are among the loved ones' welfare interests, since they are what life is most about from their own point of view. Thus we can apply our previous point in the present context: If you know that you do not love C and you care about the categorical interests of B and C to the same degree, then, everything else being equal, you do not love B. Therefore, and this is the second point, the categorical interests of loved ones are more important to a loving person than the categorical interests of others, which is a fundamental fact about how loved ones appear within the loving person's deliberative field.
Finally, there is the loving person's interest in being the benefactor of his or her loved ones. Here I do not have in mind the truth that as a loving person you desire to give your affections and loyalties to your loved ones. Clearly you do want to bestow these goods on your loved ones in a way that is inconsistent with your being content with the fact that they already have the affections and loyalties of others. Rather, what I have in mind is another truth connected with the concept of the welfare of loved ones. There are some benefits that could be conferred on a person by a lover or a nonlover, and there are others that only a lover could confer. Some of the former are welfare benefits. The clearest case involves a parent's love for a child. Anyone can provide the welfare benefit of adequate shelter for a child, but only a parent can provide a child the benefit of parental affection. Also, the parent's love includes not only the interest in the child's welfare needs being met but also the interest in meeting at least some of these needs. This does not mean that the parent would oppose these needs being met by someone else when it is not possible for the parent to do so. After all, the primary interest the parent has in this regard is that the child's needs are met. However, it does mean that when the parent is unable to meet any of the child's welfare needs, the dispositions of parental love result in a sense of loss for the parent. The lack of any sense of loss where the child's needs are always met by someone other than the parent signifies a lack of love. Such indifference is simply inconsistent with the dispositions of a parent who loves her child, although a nonloving parent might have some other concern for the child's welfare.
Personal love includes an interest in being the benefactor of loved ones in this sense because personal love includes nurturing. This is true not only of parental love but of the other kinds of personal love as well. The romantic lover is not only concerned with the sexual interests and the welfare of her partner, she is also concerned with playing a nurturing role in his life. Absent such an interest, she is merely sexually attracted to him and has some impersonal concern for his welfare. Nor is there love for friends or neighborly love without nurturing, though it need not play the same role as in parental love.
To nurture is to be concerned with and to desire to contribute to the growth and development of another. In parental love, at least for the immature child, nurturing is not a part of the mutual affections of lover and loved one. But in friendship and other forms of peer love, it is. To love another as a friend is to be concerned with and to desire to contribute to the friend's growth and development. But here, unlike the case of parental love, the nurturing of love is mutual. It is the nurturing of peers. To see oneself as the friend of another, then, involves seeing oneself as both the beneficiary and the benefactor of the friend in terms of personal growth and development. It is, of course, many other things as well. The same can be said for other types of peer love. In this regard, it is one sign that patriotic talk is mere talk when there is no evidence of a nurturing disposition toward the welfare needs of fellow citizens. This is true, of course, unless the patriot is thought of as the staunch adherent of an ideology, who need not love his or her fellow citizens at all. In any event, if you are a loving person, loved ones appear within your deliberative field as others on whom you are to confer benefits of various sorts.
I conclude, then, that the intentional object of personal love is a person or persons and that, if you are a loving person, embedded in your loving dispositions toward your loved ones are the interests in their mutual affections, in a shared relationship with them, in their welfare, and in being their benefactor. Moreover, loved ones will appear within your deliberative field as persons whose welfare and categorical interests are significantly more important to you than the welfare and categorical interests of others, even those you respect but do not love. And as a loving person it will be especially important to you that some of the benefits that accrue to your loved ones come from you rather than from someone else.
The evaluative element of personal love is problematic, as is the role of beliefs in love. It is even unclear that there is an evaluative component to some kinds of love. One important issue, then, is this: Are there any kinds of evaluative beliefs that you must have regarding another person in order to make sense of our saying that you love that person?
It is certainly doubtful that you must, qua loving person, believe that the loved one is in some sense good. Romantic and parental love, especially, seem vulnerable to having intentional objects accompanied with negative evaluative beliefs regarding their goodness. It seems mere linguistic legislation to say that a romantic lover does not really love the person he or she clearly believes is despicable. This seems even more obvious in a parent's love for a wayward child. The love of friends and the love of fellow citizens seem less tolerant in this regard. Yet even here, the love for the friend or fellow citizen is certainly not proportionate to the belief that the friend or fellow citizen is good.
A more plausible candidate for such a belief is the evaluation of the loved one as capable of being good, on values reflected in the dispositions of a loving person. Embedded in this conception of love is a denial that anyone can love that which he or she evaluates as hopelessly without value. An argument in favor of this is the fact that those who obviously love despicable persons often must resort to self-deception concerning their loved ones' goodness to maintain the love. Such self-deception does not always yield the belief that loved ones are good. Rather, it sometimes yields the unfounded belief, despite ample contrary evidence, that loved ones are capable of being good as the grounds for false hope of their reform.
Still having an intrinsic concern for your loved ones does not entail that you believe that they are good or even capable of being good. The conclusion that it does needs an argument, and I do not see that the observations concerning self-deception are conclusive. Some seem to love their children, friends, and lovers, while clearly believing that their loved ones are hopelessly without merit and unworthy of even simple respect.
Two factors might motivate the intuition, for some, that love requires a positive evaluation of the loved one as good or as capable of being good. The first involves the fact that as a loving person you are concerned with your loved one's welfare. It is difficult to see how you could care about the welfare of a loved one and not care whether he has the good of self-respect. Yet if your loved one truly has the good of self-respect on values that you endorse, you see your loved one as at least minimally good. Also, it seems plausible that the good of self-respect is good for a person only if the person is capable of recognizing, appreciating, or having that good. Thus it seems that your concern for your loved one's welfare includes your having the evaluative belief that he is at least capable of being good. Here the sense of goodness is the minimally tolerable sense of being capable of being worthy of respect. It is also difficult to see how you could care about your loved one's welfare and not care whether he has the good of selfesteem. And by parity of reasoning, the same argument would apply to the relationships between welfare, the good of self-esteem, and your loved one's being good. Thus your evaluative belief that self-respect and self-esteem are goods for your loved one allegedly shows that as a loving person you have other implicit beliefs about your loved one. They are that your loved one is capable of the relevant respect-and esteem-conferring qualities and therefore capable of having good-making qualities.
Despite the apparent strength of this argument, it is only partially successful. The degree of both its success and its failure is reflected in the fact that it succeeds regarding some but not all kinds of personal love. It succeeds, in part, regarding love among persons who must be in some sense peers. The love of friends and the love of fellow community members require the notion of love among peers as a basis for mutual affections and shared relationships. As a part of this, peer love requires not just the ability to tolerate loved ones but the ability to hold them in esteem as well. Yet even here, the success is only partial. All that is required is that somewhere in the history of the love for the friend, say, was the implicit belief that he was worthy or capable of being worthy of respect and esteem. For you can meaningfully love a friend for whom you have lost respect. In these cases, the friend for whom one has lost respect appears within one's deliberative field as someone who was once good, which, of course, is one of life's saddest experiences.
That the argument does not work at all for some kinds of personal love reflects the degree of the argument's failure. It seems entirely clear that a parent could love a child, be concerned with the child's welfare, believe that the child would have a better life if it had and thus was capable of having the good of self-respect, and yet believe that the child was incapable of selfrespect. A parent's love for a severely retarded child is a good example. Another is the love for an elderly person in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's disease.
One response is that the objects of love in these cases are not really persons and thus the examples do not involve "personal" love. But this seems mere linguistic fiat that dictates that all personal love must be peer love to some degree. What we have in these cases is not love that includes the belief that the loved one is good or capable of being good. Rather, it is love that includes the desire that the loved one have these qualities. So we can add to the interests that loving persons have in their loved ones a fifth interest: the interest that they are of good character. But this is different from having the belief that they are good. It is one thing for your loved ones to appear within your deliberative field as good and quite another for you to desire this.
Now consider the second source that might motivate the intuition that loving persons must believe that their loved ones are good or at least capable of being good. It is the failure to distinguish, on the one hand, the evaluation of the lover's love and the loved one's goodness and, on the other, the belief that a person's loving another is always a good thing. It is very difficult for some people to say that love is ever a bad thing. One reason for this is that most people who disparage love are clearly either bitter or lack the character traits to face the risks that love involves. Combine this with some belief or hope that being loved will bring out the good in someone apparently devoid of any goodness, and this might lead some to assert that the lover must believe, however subconsciously, that the loved one is at least capable of being good.
Often appeals to subconsciously held beliefs are the last grasps of a view in trouble. It is one thing to have an implicit belief and quite another for the belief to be subconscious. An implicit belief can be made explicit to the believer by showing that his or her other beliefs logically require the "implicit" belief. But this cannot be what a subconscious belief is. For the claim is still unproven that there is anything contradictory about the beliefs of the lover, qua personal lover, who claims that the loved one is hopelessly without merit.
Rather than insist on a tight conceptual link between love and a positive evaluation of the loved one, we should simply deny that love is always a human good. In would-be peer love, it is not a human good, either for the lover or the loved one, when the lover correctly believes that the loved one is hopelessly without good qualities. Loving in such a case is not a good for the lover due to the recognition that the mutuality and sharedness of love are impossible with a contemptible loved one. Being loved is not good for the loved one, since it would be a sign of some goodness in him if he recognized love as a good. Thus it is not a part of the dispositional state of all forms of personal love that the lover believes that the loved one is either good or capable of being good. Later, we will see that a positive evaluation of loved ones is crucial to peer love in its central form, and this will prove crucial to an understanding of the normative thoughts generated by the various forms of personal love.
So far in the analysis of the intentionality of love and evaluative beliefs, we have been considering this: Does the proposition "A loves B" entail some proposition of the sort "A believes______about B" within an adequate account of personal love? Specifically, we have been considering whether "A loves B" entails "A believes that B is either good or capable of being good." Now, I want to focus on a different possibility regarding the beliefs that A must have if we are to say that A loves B. It is this: Does the proposition "A loves B" entail the proposition "A loves B because she believes______about B"? I confine myself to cases of peer love. These require that at some point in the history of the lover's dispositions the lover must believe that the loved one is good regarding the qualities of respect and esteem. I also will assume cases where such love is a human good, where the non-self-deceived and adequately informed lover unmistakenly finds that love for the loved one is a good thing.
In these cases, analysis requires that "A loves B" entails "A believes that B has the good-making qualities of being worthy of respect and esteem." But it seems mistaken to say that "A loves B" entails "A loves B because she believes that he has the good-making qualities of being worthy of respect and esteem." For it is clearly sensible to say that "A believes that B is worthy of respect and esteem and A does not love B."
Someone might maintain that it is not in terms of good-making qualities that A must be said to love B but some other qualities. These might be beloved-making qualities—B-qualities, let us call them—in terms of which A evaluates B as being "lovable." On this view, love is like respect in one regard. Beliefs about what qualities are the relevant B-qualities are evaluative beliefs, but beliefs about whether a person has the relevant B-qualities are factual beliefs. Whether these beliefs are true is discernible by those who do not share the evaluative beliefs.
The most plausible kind of peer love to which this analysis might apply is romantic love. It might indeed be true that A romantically loves B, only if A believes that B is lovable, where A has some conscious or subconscious evaluative beliefs about B-qualities. For the sake of argument, let us assume so. It is entirely unclear that this means that A loves B because A believes that B has these qualities. For it might be true that A finds that certain qualities are lovable in B, that C has the same qualities, that all other factors are equal, but that A does not love C. It is difficult to see, then, that there is some set of qualities that A believes B to possess that causes her to love him. In this regard, the dispositions of love and respect are quite different. For the belief that B has the relevant R-qualities will, under normal circumstances, cause A to respect him, if she is a respectful person.
The objection is not that the concept of B-qualities is mysterious, or vacuous, or lacks meaning. Such objections are mistaken, I believe. To have peer love for another, under normal circumstances, is to love another in some sense as an equal. This includes—however implicitly—the judgment that the loved one is a peer. Thus, in peer love, there are B-qualities in a limited sense. If you are a peer-loving person, there are some qualities you must, at some point in the history of your love for your loved one, believe him to possess. But there are no B-qualities in the stronger sense that your believing them to be present will cause you to love him. For you could have the evaluative belief that he is a peer and believe that he has all the relevant peer love interests in you, yet you could lack peer love for him.
Nor is love dispositionally sensitive to beliefs about the loved one's qualities in the same way that respect is. Where love need not include the peer evaluation, it is difficult to see that such love is necessarily sensitive to beliefs about the qualities of the loved one at all. The parent's love for the severely retarded child is a good example. Even in peer love, the love is not only disproportionate to the beliefs about some set of qualities of the loved one but also flexible regarding beliefs about the qualities of the intentional object in a way that simple respect is not. One can go on loving a friend long after coming to believe that he has undergone extensive changes in personal qualities. Sometimes this is long after coming to believe that he is no longer worthy of respect and esteem. This contrasts with the comparative rigidity of simple respect, which vanishes the moment one becomes convinced that the intentional object of respect no longer has the relevant R-qualities. These are fundamental differences in how the objects of love and respect appear within a loving and respectful agent's deliberative field.
There is one belief, however, that plays an essential role in your loving another, namely, your belief that the other is numerically identical to your loved one. The idea is that your dispositional state uniquely has your loved one as its object and not someone you perceive to be qualitatively similar but numerically distinct from him. In this way, personal love as a dispositional state is sensitive to identity beliefs regarding its intentional object. Thus you love another only if you are sensitive to the belief that the person perceived as your loved one is indeed your loved one. Your love for a third party, on the other hand, involves a different disposition toward that person, although it might be the same type of disposition. Rather, it is another disposition that is sensitive to the belief that the numerically distinct third party is its intentional object. Not only, then, does love differ from simple respect in terms of the dispositional sensitivity to beliefs about the qualities of the intentional object; it also differs from simple respect in terms of the dispositional sensitivity to beliefs about the identity of the intentional object.
If you believe that another person has the relevant R-qualities and discover that you are mistaken about the person's identity, then, under normal circumstances, you will still respect that person. But suppose you love another and mistake another person for your loved one. If you discover your mistaken identity belief and that this person is not your loved one, you will not have the same disposition toward the person you mistook for your loved one. This is true even if this person's set of qualities is indiscernible from your loved one's. You might in fact be indifferent or even hostile toward the person on such a discovery. In this way, beliefs about the identity of the intentional object of love play a causal role in love that they do not play in simple respect, and this is very crucial to understanding how others appear within the deliberative field of a respectful and loving agent. If I could magically produce multiple identical duplicates (including memory or quasi-memory experiences) of the person you love most, I would not have multiplied your benefits in life. Rather, I would have robbed you of one of life's most precious goods. I would have done this by rendering it impossible for you to identify your loved one within your deliberative field. Without an identity belief, there would be no way for your dispositions to find their expression, and thus a precious relationship would be lost.
We also must consider another causal role beliefs might play in love that they do not play in simple respect. It concerns the issue of whether beliefs about the identity of the lover play a causal role in the lover's love. Previous analysis shows that simple respect involves a disposition indifferent to identity beliefs regarding the agent of an action where concern for action arises from respect. But where there is indifference in simple respect, there is sensitivity in personal love. Your interests in the mutual affections of and a shared relationship with your loved ones establish this. So, too, does the interest in being their benefactor.
The romantic lover, for example, has an interest not only in the loved one having romantic interests but also in the focus of those interests. They must focus on the lover rather than someone else. Parental love for a child includes not only the interest in the child's welfare needs being met but also the interest in the parent being the one who meets these needs as the parental benefactor of the child. All this is made clear in the fact that the loved one appears within the deliberative field as "my lover," "my child," "my friend," and "my neighbor." There is no analogue with respect. We do not think of someone we respect as "my respectable one," even where we can think of another as "my respectable friend."
The goods of personal love, then, are agent-centered goods and objects of agent-centered interests. Because they involve identity beliefs in the way they do, they generate partial reasons for action. Because they involve an intrinsic interest in the interests of others, they are social rather than individual interests. Because they involve a desire for intimacy not found in impartial relationships, they are communal interests. When accompanied in our lives with the commitment of an agent of integrity, they generate many of our partial norms. Since it is clear that we relate to others differently through the partial norms of love and the impartial norms of simple respect, it remains to be seen how they are related in their regulative functions.