Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Loving without knowing

Fred is lost in the desert and dies. Without knowing this, Sally, his loving wife who is a presentist and thinks there is no afterlife spends weeks searching for Fred in the desert, in uncertainty whether Fred is still alive, despite great hardship and danger to her own life.

Observe that a presentist who disbelieves in an afterlife thinks that the dead are simply nonexistent. So Sally is not only uncertain whether Fred is alive, but she is uncertain whether Fred exists. Yet she acts out of love. Hence:

  • It is possible to love someone while being unsure whether he exists.

(Of course, one might also think that this case points to there being something defective in believing in presentism or in doubting an afterlife. )

6 comments:

Walker Page said...

I'm not sure if you're familiar with discussions about the possibility of posthumous harm, but this post bears some semblance to that discussion. The problem of posthumous harm arises from three apparently conflicting propositions:
(1) It is possible for a person p to be harmed by something that takes place after p’s death.
(2) A person p is harmed by something q that occurs at t, only if p exists at t.
(3) After a person p’s death, p ceases to exist.

Typically support for (1) appeals to cases like the case of End, who won the gold medal for the mile run at the last Olympics, and has since died. The judges of the race, who hate End, falsely accuse him of breaking some rule after he has died, and they take away his gold medal, giving it to Red, who came in second (example taken from Pitcher, 1984). Many think this provides intuitive support for (1).

As you describe it seems that an analogous problem arises for love. One might alter the three above propositions to present the problem as follows:
(1*) It is possible for a person p to be loved by someone after p’s death.
(2*) A person p can be loved by someone at t, only if p exists at t.
(3*) After a person p’s death, p ceases to exist.

Both problems raise questions and difficulties for presentism and an after-life.
If your curious, two articles on posthumous harm are: George Pitcher, "The Misfortunes of the Dead", and Douglas Portmore, "Desire Fulfillment and Posthumous Harm"

Mr. Green said...

Consider that loving someone is willing his good and desiring union with him. Surely one can desire something even if it's impossible for that desire to be fulfilled, so that part of love is possible even when the object of that love does not exist. However, you cannot do good for someone who does not exist. (Nor do evil, I would say; the judges' lies may be an act of injustice, an offence against God, but not against End if he really ceases to exist.) But willing someone's good end is not quite the same as actually doing good; perhaps it is more like a desire, and so can apply to someone who does not exist. I'm not sure about that, though; and if not, I'm happy to say that Sally was not truly loving Fred. (Or maybe it's "conditional love" in the sense that Sally is doing something that would be love if Fred existed; and if he didn't, it would be wasted, but better safe than sorry….)

Alexander R Pruss said...

Mr Green:

One doesn't need to *succeed* at doing good for one to have active love. If I sacrifice my life to save yours, but you die anyway, I have still made the ultimate sacrifice of love. Sally doesn't need to *succeed* in finding and saving Fred to count as loving him.

Mr Page:

Yeah, there are analogies here. However, I think there is no great difficulty about posthumous benefits once one has a broad notion of well-being that includes extrinsic properties. For instance, when something good happens to someone I love, I am the better off for it, even if I don't find out about it. And if I'm not going to find out about it, why would it matter whether I exist at that time?

Imagine that my best friend suffers horribly at noon, but I have a temporal gap in my existence from 11 am to 1 pm. Why should the temporal gap in my existence make any difference to whether I am worse off for his suffering?

Moreover, whether an event is simultaneous with my existence depends on the reference frame. Which reference frame would be the relevant one?

Mr. Green said...

If I sacrifice my life to save yours, but you die anyway, I have still made the ultimate sacrifice of love.

I agree that it counts, but without necessarily being actual love. Consider the opposite situation: you try to kill me, but happen to fail. You're just as guilty as if you had murdered me, morally speaking, but it would be wrong to say that you had actually murdered me. So if you (perhaps mistakenly) sacrifice your life, you have all the virtue of having loved me — even though you didn't actually love me (because I had ceased to exist).

At least, that seems to me to be the correct parallel. But referring back to your last statement in the post, I think that our instincts don't play well with this scenario because our instincts are geared toward the fact that people do not cease to exist when they die. This ties in with today's post too: since love of God and love of neighbour are tied together, your self-sacrifice is actual love of God whether I exist or not.

Walker Page said...

I like the appeal to extrinsic goods, but I'm not sure if it solves the problem for everyone. For example, some A-theorists claim that propositions about the future have no truth-value. Consider your example on such a view. Presumably, it wouldn't be true that you are worse off at 10:59 since your friend has not yet suffered, and it isn't even true (on such a view) that your friend *will* suffer. It also seems that you aren't worse off at anytime from 11-12:59 because *you* don't exist to be any worse off. So the only way you can actually be worse off is because when you come back into existence at 1 the past tense proposition that your friend suffered at noon is true, and this is extrinsically bad for you. But clearly this isn't an option in the case of death because you cease to exist at death and do not come back (at least according to the problem of posthumous harm).

Alexander R Pruss said...

very good point. that's a good reason to think there are truths about the future.