Friday, June 20, 2008

The unitiveness of unreciprocated love

There is a myth that agape is not a unitive love because it does not seek reciprocation. This is mistaken in two ways. First, agape does seek reciprocation (God's love for us is exhibited precisely in his making it possible for us to love him back). Second, reciprocation is not needed for a loving union. This second point is what I will argue for here. According to Aquinas, a love that appreciates the other for her own sake always involves “ecstasy” and mutual “indwelling”. When I love someone, I enter within the beloved both by will and by intellect. By intellect, because I strive to understand that person, from the inside, seeing the person’s goals and nature from his or her own point of view. In love, this understanding leads to willing the other’s good, and not just the abstract good of the other, but particularly the other’s good as it is found in the goals that the other pursues. Thus, I leave myself and live outside of myself—this is ek-stasis. At the same time, the beloved comes to be in my mind, because I constantly think about the beloved rather than about other things. I delight in thinking about my beloved, a delight that is an activity of my will. Moreover the beloved’s good becomes mine, so the beloved lives in my heart or will. Hence simply by loving someone, I dwell inside the person intellectually and in will, and the person dwells in my intellect and will. Even unreciprocated love involves this four-fold indwelling union of lover with beloved.


Martin Cooke said...

Would you say that the unitive aspect was substantial, in that you actually get to know the other person directly, whence in love "understanding leads to willing the other's good" involuntarily? That's the only way I can make sense of this, anyway. And it would account for the particular pain of unreciprocated love, as a loss of self-love (rather than merely not getting what one wanted).

Alexander R Pruss said...

The unitive aspect cannot be separated from the aspect of benefiting the other. But I don't want to commit to any claims of involuntariness here.