Friday, December 5, 2014

Love as the whole of morality

After a disaster, there are two people left in the world, A and B. Each fully loves the other, and each fully loves herself. However, they hear noises in the woods occasionally, and come to form a justified false belief that there is a human being in the woods. In fact, there isn't—there is just wind. Now, A comes to love the alleged person, exhibiting the love by leaving food out. On the other hand, B comes to hate the alleged person, exhibiting the hatred by setting traps.

Both A and B love each human being. Yet, clearly, B is doing something wrong. So, it seems, loving each human being is not sufficient for morality.

Yet the New Testament suggests that it is. It seems part of the message of the New Testament that love of God and neighbor fulfills the moral law. And the First Letter of John suggests that one loves God to the extent that one loves one's neighbor.

I think there are two moves here. One is to take the claims in 1 John as applying to typical cases. Typically, one loves God to the extent that one loves one's neighbor. Cases like that of B are too out of the way to be what the author of the text was talking about. And then one can argue that B by failing to love someone that he takes to be a creature of God is failing to love God. So on this view, the foundation of Christian ethics is not just love for neighbor, but either both love for God and love for neighbor, or just love for God, though typically love for neighbor is indicative of this.

The second move would be that to love one's neighbor requires not just that one love each individual neighbor, but that one have a disposition to love all possible people, should they be actual. This seems right to me, actually. For another kind of case would be this. Suppose that the world is down to two people, and they are virulent racists, but they are both of each other's preferred race. They love every human being who exists. But they don't have a disposition to love all possible people.

6 comments:

Heath White said...

I like your second move. Part of the issue seems to be that they are not loving all people "from virtue" as Aristotle might put it--as such, for its own sake, and from a stable disposition to do so. The fact that they love all people is a highly contingent accident.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

I think it would be helpful, in assessing the question, to know what you take love to be. Without a clear definition it is presumably impossible to come up with a clear answer.

M.E. Lastrilla said...

Hi Dr. Pruss,

Sorry, this is off-topic, but I've been wondering if your account of possibility implies God doesn't exist.

For suppose God exists. Then it's possible for a self-existent being to exist. But on your account, that means something can initiate a causal chain leading to that self-existent being's existence, which is impossible.

Perhaps I'm missing out on something here. I would appreciate any correction on this matter, as I am attracted to your account of possibility. Thank you.

Alexander R Pruss said...

On my account, something is possible provided that it is actual OR something can initiate a chain of causes to it. So the actual is automatically possible.

Gorod said...

1. There is a nice paradox here: that love has to be particular to be real love (you have to love real persons, one by one), but on the other hand your post explores the fact that love also has to be general to be real love...

2. At third possible "move" (as you call it in your post) is through human solidarity. If I don't love the possible stranger in the woods, there might be a part of the people I actually love that I don't fully love, because all human beings share a common humanity (or more: they are connected through the communion of the saints).

I could even argue that there is a part of God that they don't love because God is the creator of all (or more: because he is connected to all through His Incarnation).

= MJA said...

One loves One, and One is all there is. =