Wednesday, April 16, 2014

An argument for universal love

If you have full-blown love (not just be slightly fond of, but really love) someone, you should continue to love her. It is a serious moral defect to be open to discontinuing one's full-blown love. This can be discerned from the phenomenology of full-blown love.

But a failure to continue loving someone shouldn't get one out of the obligation to love her. It would be "too convenient" if simply by doing the wrong of ceasing to love one were to get out of the obligation to love our beloved.[note 1] So our principle that if you have a full-blown love then you should continue to love can be strengthened:

  1. If you had a full-blown love for someone, you should love her.

But why is (1) true? I propose that the best explanation for (1) is:

  1. You should love everyone you can love.

The best alternate explanation of (1) is that love is relevantly like a promise: by acquiring full-blown love for someone one commits to an obligation to love. But this view is not plausible. Think of the way that children come to deeply love their siblings. This love can grow on them early, before they have the kind of moral responsibility that would make them fit subjects for undertaking lifelong commitments.

Now, we could stick with (2) as the conclusion. But everyone is in principle lovable. But perhaps not lovable by me? But an inability to love someone who is in principle lovable is a moral defect in me, though perhaps not one that I am culpable for. And moral defects shouldn't get one out of moral obligations. So:

  1. You should love everyone.

And that completes the argument. Definitely not a knockdown argument, but still something that should give some credence to the conclusion.


Heath White said...

I think the step from 2 to 3 commits a fallacy of quantifier inversion. From "For each person, it is possible that I love them" one cannot get "It is possible that, for each person, I love them." In fact the empirical limits on my loving ability seem very real.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I meant 3 to mean: For each person, you should love her.

No inversion there.

I suppose if there are such empirical limits as you mention, then the conclusion will be to a set of duties that one cannot fulfill all of.

I don't think there are such limits, because the volitional and cognitive attitudes that constitute love can be had en masse. Just as one can distributively desire of each of the infinitely many interesting unknown truths that one know it, one can distributively have the attitudes of love to each child of God.

John Doe said...

"But an inability to love someone who is in principle lovable is a moral defect in me, though perhaps not one that I am culpable for."

Why is it a moral defect? It wouldn't be a moral defect if there were no obligation to love everyone who is lovable. So doesn't the assumption that it is a moral defect already presuppose conclusion 3?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Take a particular lovable person. Why would someone be unable to love her? Maybe due to an inability to appreciate her particular goods? That would be a character flaw.