The Reasons of Love

Reposting, because I'm discussing this book in my class today. The title has become pleasantly fused in my mind with "The Hazards of Love" from The Decemberists--enjoy!

What a lovely book. The second chapter has a rather compelling objection to the sort of view of the good life that I defend in my book The Weight of Things. I defend what Parfit calls "the objective list view." There are intrinsically good ingredients, like happiness, autonomy, self-expression, morality, etc., that make a life good. Their goodness imbues a life with goodness.

Frankfurt points out that a person needn't care about those things, however intrinsically good they may be. Our lives don't go well unless we care about something, or (he goes further) in fact we love someone or something. It's not just for the pleasure that love is important, but because only with love do we view something as a "final end." That is, we view who and what we love as important for their own sake, and not just for the sake of something else.

Frankfurt takes loving children as the purest form of love. Parents love infants and young children (do my 12 year olds count? yes!) in this sort of ultimate way. Keeping your kids happy and healthy matters for itself, and for no other reason. Thus, it always seems unquestionably worth putting your energy into their well being. You're not pulled between that and other things, not uncertain of the worth of caring for your kids. In fact, he makes a surprising analogy between love and logic. Taking care of children is something we do "of necessity," like we draw a conclusion from a valid argument "of necessity." In both cases, there's an end of ambivalence. What must be thought, said, done, is completely clear.

I'm sticking to my guns and saying that a life cannot go well without the ingredients like happiness, autonomy, self-expression, morality, etc.--none of which are guaranteed just because we love someone or something. But I rather like the idea that love provides momentum.

It really does seem like love for children is in a class by itself. Frankfurt's analysis is required reading for parents who change their lives around to make more time for their children. I think women come under way too much fire for quitting or cutting back on jobs, to give their full attention to young kids. If the love we have for children has such a special quality and significance--and it does!--then why wouldn't it be perfectly rational to clear all the space you can to enjoy that period of your life? It makes sense when mothers do that, and when fathers do too.

Frankfurt only means to offer love for children as the paradigm case. There is also love for other people, things, and activities. That's what he says, anyway. I have a hard time coming up with other examples where love has that clarifying quality--giving unquestionable worth to efforts and activities. If you love playing the violin, or reading, or writing, or fighting for human rights...does any of that create the same feeling of unquestionable worth that caring for your own child does? Is loving the violin really anything like loving your child?

Maybe. I'm not sure. The second chapter of this book is a marvelous paean to the love of children. Whether it really succeeds in making the case that love is fundamental, the driving force in any good life, is something I'm going to have to think more about.


s. wallerstein said...

No, I don't think that loving to play the violin has much to do with loving a child, especially the experience of loving a real child who one is raising. Playing the violin is an activity that is pleasurable; a child is a person, not an activity and not an object of pleasure, although being with a child can be pleasant, but the goal of raising a child is not pleasure. Really loving a child is much more complex than loving to play the violin or loving to play tennis or even loving to study philosophy. Now, someone can derive his or her sense of worth from playing the violin just as someone can derive his or her sense of worth from raising a child, but that has nothing to do with any similarity in the love involved in both situations.

Jean Kazez said...

Maybe there are major differences between types of love, but I am taken with the idea that the major approaches to understanding the good life might leave out something important, because they don't give any centrality to caring about things and loving things. Frankfurt's quite right that they don't, and makes it very plausible that this is a problem. This is the first time since I finished the book (3 years ago) that I've thought--hmmm, here's something I wish I'd covered more.

s. wallerstein said...

I'm too lazy to search for my copy of Aristotle's Ethics, but doesn't Aristotle affirm that friendship is central to a good life? Aristotle's definition of a good friendship comes fairly close to what we might say about non-romantic forms of love today.

Linzi said...

The thread may have died, but I only recently saw this in my reader. :(

In the weighing of violin love vs child love, I'm wondering about the people who define themselves as objectum sexualists, such as the woman who married the Eiffel Tower.

'I married the Eiffel Tower'

Jean Kazez said...

Wow...how amazing! I hope we're not all susceptible, or I suppose I could find myself divorcing my husband and marrying my stapler. I need to see this movie!

Anonymous said...

The thing is... It needs to be specified the love in particular. I am incapable of feeling Agape, or Storge love. I am capable of Eros, and limited sense of Philia, and Xenia. If that person's idea of a meaningful life requires one to feel Agape, or Storge then they basically have declared my life meaningless. Obviously something to which I would take issue with.