Wednesday 2/6

Contemporary Views on Love I

Readings

Texts

Quiz Questions

  • What is Singer's distinction between objective value, individual value, and bestowed value, and what is love on his account?
  • What is Firestone's theory of love?
  • How do the reasons women have for seeking love differ from the reasons men have for seeking love according to Firestone?

Synopsis

Singer's article, "The Nature of Love", is a nice transition piece from our discussion of the historical trajectory of romantic love because he devotes the first section to discussing two philosophical traditions on love: The Idealist Tradition, beginning with Plato and continuing through what Singer calls the 'Christian Mystics', and the Realist Tradition, which seeks to understand love in terms of the biological, neurological, and social natures selected for us by evolution.

Clearly, the Idealist Tradition is the one we've been following in our readings. Singer unfortunately doesn't say much about the Realist Tradition, although we can begin to appreciate the tradition by considering the wealth of studies on the neurophysiology of sex and love. That is, we are learning quite a bit about things like mirror neurons, hormonal response mechanisms, and the neurochemical basis of emotions.

No doubt, these are all very important things to understand.

Let us suppose, though, that we know all the facts of the neurophysiology of sex and love. In fact, let us go so far as to presume that we know the neurophysiological facts so well and so thoroughly we are able to induce the feelings of erotic love in any human subject in such a way that those feelings will exactly replicate ordinary--although, we should say 'ordinary', since there is nothing ordinary about such feelings--feelings of erotic love.

In light of all these facts, will we then have a complete theory of love? I have argued that the answer is a decisive no. You see, it is impossible even given all these facts for us to know one all-important fact, which is what it is like to be in love. The experience of erotic love, the experience which is so powerful and important in our lives that much of our art, poetry, and music is wholly devoted to it, necessarily escapes any purely physical explanation. Enter philosophy, for it is in philosophy that we have the opportunity to explore that experience systematically and carefully in light of everything else we can and should learn about it.

That said, we turned to a discussion of Singer's understanding of love in terms of bestowed value. Singer distinguishes between three kinds of value:

1. Objective, 'market', or appraised value--the value a community will generally place on a thing.

2. Individual or subjective value--the value an individual, with specific needs, interests, desires, will place on a thing.

3. Bestowed value--the value an individual creates or that is caused by his or her valuing a thing.

Singer's analogy with buying a house is useful in understanding his point that love is a kind bestowed value, the value we bestow in valuing and attending to the needs and desires of our beloved.

To be sure, Singer's view raises a host of questions. First among them is this: Do we in fact individually or communally value a person in the same way we individually or communally value house? After all, if the concept of individual value does not apply to persons, then Singer's account cannot get off the ground.

Now, I find the idea that we place individual value on persons in the same way that we place individual value on houses or shoes difficult to comprehend. Maybe I'm just uncomfortable with the turn of mind required to view others as objects per se.

On the other hand, it can be argued that Singer's position is not prima facie absurd. If we consider, as we did, what might be called the 'individual value-making characteristics' often ascribed to men and women we find at least some consensus on the kinds of value-making characteristics a person might have. Just spend some time perusing the personals ads to see what people seek.

So it may be that Singer's account can get traction. A second puzzle is whether bestowed value has anything to do with love as we intuitively understand it.

That is, it seems that Singer's account could not be the whole story on love. For let us suppose that we assign values to people in much the way Singer's model requires. Thus we place individual value on other persons in such a way that we place objective value on persons by some unspecified function of our collective individual valuing. Let us further suppose that romantic attachments result in bestowed value, that in cherishing and loving another person additional value is created for us (or bestowed on us, to use Singer's terminology) quite beyond any individual or objective value we might otherwise enjoy.

Given all that, I argue we still don't have an account of love. Singer wants us to identify love with bestowed value, yet it should be clear from the above description that bestowed value, if such a thing exists, is a result of love, not love itself. At best Singer has located a necessary condition on love: If one loves, then one bestows value. I say "at best", because its not even clear that the bestowal of value is a necessary condition in the strong sense in which failure to bestow value implies that one does not love. It seems possible that one could love without bestowing additional value, perhaps because the individual value assigned completely exhausted any conceivable additional value. It also seems possible that bestowed value is a function of time, if we are to take is house-buying metaphor seriously. Thus value is bestowed only after having loved over a long period of time. Love that did not endure, I suppose it might be argued, is not true love, and true love is what Singer wants to capture in his Economic Model. That's all good and fine, but how then do we explain clear cases of love where the love fails to endure simply because the beloved suffers from some serious illness or disability? Think here of the tragic case of a spouse of, say, thirty years with whom a life has been made yet who, tragically, suffers from Alzheimers? Shall we say at that point it was never true love? It happens, and it's all the more tragic for love's loss regardless of bestowed value.

So, what again is love?

A Smidgen of Logic and a Few Important Terms

(The following should probably be in the notes section of the readings, but here goes anyway. Those new to philosophy may find it helpful. Old hands may find it a useful review of some basic concepts.)

Let us pause to make this last question a little more precise. One way to answer the question, "what is love?", is to go to the dictionary. A dictionary definition is bit odd, however. It gives a number of synonyms which, if we bothered to look them up, would themselves give a number of synonyms, 'love' among them. At most, then, a dictionary serves to identify terms which group together in a language, which is great if one already has purchase on the language and lacks familiarity with one or several members of a family of concepts. It's not circular per se so much as it is decidedly unilluminating if we want to go beyond family concepts and examine what it is in the first place, fundamentally.

In philosophical analysis we seek this more fundamental understanding in a way much more closely aligned with, say, the methods of mathematics or science than English or linguistics. (As with any proposition in philosophy, this one has long been hotly contested. We'll set those debates aside, however, to see just how far we can get.)

Consider for example the mathematical definition of a triangle:

X is a triangle iff (if, and only if)

i. X is a closed plane figure,
ii. X has three sides, and
iii. X's internal angles sum to 180°.

The 'if, and only if' bit here is important, as it combines two claims. We can break it apart as follows to see just how this works. You see, the bi-conditional 'P iff Q' is really two conditionals stuck together (conjoined, we would saw more formally). Thus,

'P iff Q' is true just in case both 'If P then Q' and 'If Q then P' are true.

Let's apply this to the above definition of a triangle.

(Individually) Necessary Conditions: The 'only if' part of 'if, and only if'

To assert that

X is a triangle iff (if, and only if)

i. X is a closed plane figure,
ii. X has three sides, and
iii. X's internal angles sum to 180°.

is to assert, in part, that

IF

X is a triangle

THEN

i. X is a closed plane figure,
ii. X has three sides, and
iii. X's internal angles sum to 180°.

Here we say that (i), (ii), and (iii) are necessary conditions on X's being a triangle--necessary in the sense that if any one of the fails, it follows that X is not a triangle. So we also say that they are individually necessary, because if the above 'IF... THEN..." is true, it is also true that

IF X is a triangle, THEN X is a closed plane figure.

IF X is a triangle, THEN X has three sides.

and,

IF X is a triangle, THEN X's internal angles sum to 180°.

That is to say, taken one-by-one X fails to be a triangle if X is not a closed plane figure, or if X does not have three sides, or if X's internal angles do not sum to 180°. Lacking any one of those necessary conditions entails we don't have a triangle, which is why we say they are individually necessary.

(Jointly) Sufficient Conditions: The 'if' part of 'if, and only if'

To assert that

X is a triangle iff (if, and only if)

i. X is a closed plane figure,
ii. X has three sides, and
iii. X's internal angles sum to 180°.

is also to assert, in the remaining part, that

IF

i. X is a closed plane figure,
ii. X has three sides, and
iii. X's internal angles sum to 180°.

THEN

X is a triangle

Here we say that (i), (ii), and (iii) are (jointly) sufficient conditions on X's being a triangle--sufficient in the sense that if all them obtain, it follows (suffices to conclude) that X is a triangle. We need all of them to obtain, however, to draw this inference, so we frequently add 'jointly' to 'sufficient conditions' just to highlight this.

The upshot as that in seeking an answer to the question, "What is love?", we are keen to find (individually) necessary and (jointly) sufficient conditions (or, just, necessary and sufficient conditions) on

J loves K

In other words, we want to supply the conditions C such that 'J loves K iff C'.

Now, if that isn't enough to drain any discussion of love of any interest whatsoever, I don't know what is. Nevertheless, we now have a way of understanding our criticisms of, for example, Singer's economic model of love:

J loves K iff J bestows value on K.

Thus our criticisms of Singer's account were two-fold. We argued that bestowing value is neither necessary nor sufficient for love. It is not necessary, because one can love without having bestowed value (love at first sight, the love of a parent for a new-born child, etc.), and it is not sufficient, because one can imagine cases where there is bestowal of value (great investment of time and energy and thought) without any love--Batman and the Joker, for example.

Next time we will start with Firestone's account, which we did not get to today. Given the quality of our discussion today, that is nothing to lament.