Monday, March 18, 2019


It is a staple of sermons on love that we are required to love our neighbor, not like them. I think this is true. But it seems to me that in many cases, perhaps even most cases, _dis_liking people is a moral flaw. My argument below has holes, but I still think there is something to the line of thought. I am sharing it because it has helped me identify what seems to be a flaw in myself, and it may be a flaw that you share.

Just about everyone has some dislikable feature. After all, just about everyone has a moral flaw, and every moral flaw is dislikable. Moreover, there are many dislikable features that are not moral flaws: a voice that is too hoarse, a face that is too asymmetrical, an intellect that is too slow, etc. However, that Alice has a dislikable feature F need not justify my disliking Alice: on its face it only justifies my disliking F. For the feature to justify disliking Alice, it would have to be a feature sufficiently central to Alice as a person. And only moral flaws or faults would have the relevant centrality, I think.

If I dislike persons because they have a disability or because of their gender or their race, that is a moral flaw in me, even if I act justly towards them. This suggests that dislikes cannot have an arbitrary basis. There must be a good reason for disliking. And it is hard to see how anything other than a moral flaw could form the right kind of basis.

Moreover, not just any moral flaw is sufficient to justify dislike of the person. It has to be a flaw that goes significantly beyond the degree of flawedness that people ordinarily exhibit. Here is a quick line of thought. Few people should dislike themselves. (Maybe Hitler should. And I don’t deny that almost everyone should be dissatisfied with themselves.) Hence few people are dislikable. Granted, there is a leap here: a move from being dislikable to self and being dislikable to another. But if the basis of dislikability is moral flaws, it seems to me that there would be something objectionably arbitrary about disliking someone who isn’t dislikable simpliciter.

Yet I find myself disliking people on the basis of features that aren’t moral flaws or at least aren’t moral flaws significantly bigger than flaws I myself have. Indeed, often the basis is a flaw smaller than flaws I know myself to have, and sometimes it is a flaw I myself share. This disliking is itself a flaw.

I may love the people I unfairly dislike. But I don’t love them enough. For unfair disliking goes against the appreciative aspect of love (unless, of course, the person is so flawed as to be really dislikable—in which case the appreciative aspect may be largely limited to an appreciation of what they ought to be rather than what they now are).

I used to be rather lessez-faire about my dislikes, on the fallacious ground that love is not the same thing as liking. Enough. Time to fight the good fight against dislike of persons and hence for a more appreciative love. Pray for me.

That said, there is nothing wrong in disliking particular dislikable features in others. But when they are dislikable, one should also dislike them in oneself.


steve said...

"Just about everyone has some dislikable feature. After all, just about everyone has a moral flaw, and every moral is dislikable."

Assuming that's theologically true, it is, by no means socially or psychologically true in general. In a fallen world, many people are liked for their moral flaws. Take women who like bad boys. Or take people who admire strongman dictators. The entertainment industry thrives on the popularity of performers with moral flaws. Fans like them not in spite of their moral flaws, but because of them.

Alexander R Pruss said...

The dislikable is what is *appropriately* disliked.

Wesley C. said...

If one dislikes the taste of brussel sprouts, then in common parlance we say that one dislikes brussel sprouts.

Similarly, if one dislikes a certain non-moral quality a person has, say the trait of being a natural leader and liking to boss others around, then one in common parlance would say that one dislikes that particular person.

Now, because we aren't God, we can't delight in everything in an universal fashion. Because we are creatures we have the capacity to have natural likes and dislikes. And that is actually a good thing since it shows the principle of plurality and that God likes diversity.

When it comes to food and differences in taste, the source of these is the tongue and the peculiar differences unique to that person when it comes to what he likes and dislikes in terms of bodily pleasure.

When it comes to preferences with regards to what facial features one prefers, or what voice or personality traits one prefers, they too most likely come from one's natural dispositions that are unique to oneself.

Therefore, if it is not sinful to dislike a certain food because of a certain quality the food has that one happens to naturally dislike, it is therefore not sinful to dislike certain people because of a quality that one happens to naturally dislike either.

At least that's my way of thinking about it.