Archive for February, 2006

The Lecture

by Jason Stotts

Tonight Allan Gotthelf gave his lecture “Love and Philosophy: Aristotelian vs. Platonic” here at DU. The lecture was amazing – everything I could have hoped for from a world-ranked Aristotelian and Objectivist. I think he did an excellent job of laying out the fundamental distinction between the two schools and showing the consequences of this. He also did a great job of incorporating Rand into the discussion and showing how she’s both similar to, and different from, Aristotle.

Here’s some important points that I got, although since they’re out of context they may not be as meaningful:

* Love of others is an expression of self love.
* The driving force of love is one’s pride and love of himself.
* Love requires an enormous commitment such that one could not truly love two people (in a romantic sense) because it would be impossible to have this level of commitment with two people.
* The basis of Love is “Sense of Life” which is an expression of one’s fundamental character.

Below are a couple good quotes from the lecture:

A good man is his own best friend and therefore would have the greatest affection for himself. (NE IX.8)

All love for others is an extension of the love one has for oneself. (NE IX.4)

The self-sufficient man will need someone to love…[for] it is both a most difficult thing, as some of the sages have said, to attain a knowledge of oneself, and also a most pleasant thing…And so, as when we wish to see our own face, we do so by looking into the mirror, in the same way when we wish to know ourselves we can obtain that knowledge by looking at the one we love. For the one we love is, as we say, another self. If, then, it is pleasant to contemplate oneself, and it is not possible to do this without having someone else whom one loves, the self-sufficient man will need someone to love. (MM II.15)

Love is a response to values. It is with a person’s sense of life that one falls in love – with that essential sum, that fundamental stand or way of facing existence, which is the essence of a personality. One falls in love with the embodiment of the values that formed a person’s character, which are reflected in his midest goals or smallest gestures, which create the style of his soul – the individual styel of a unique, unrepeatable, irreplaceable consciousness. It is one’s own sense of life that acts as the selector, and responds to what it recognizes as one’s own basic values in the person of another. It is not a matter of professed convictions (though these are not irrelevant); it is a matter of much more profound, conscious and subconscious harmony. (The Romantic Manifesto – Ch. 2)

There’s more to come on this later, but I must get some sleep…


On Relationships

by Jason Stotts

This essay took much longer than I anticipated to write and I ended up cutting out three sections that I had wanted to include just so I could finally put it online – so look for those in the future. Most of the main pieces of this essay are revisions of earlier essays, most of which contain substantial changes and reformulations. Consider this a draft copy until I add the last couple of sections and finally fully integrate it. If you notice any problems or have any suggestions, please leave a comment and let me know.

I. What is a Relationship?

There are many different types of human relationships, such as acquaintances, family, friends, and lovers. Each of these is important in life: one is typically raised and influenced by one’s family, one has many acquaintances throughout life, one has friends, and one should have a lover. It is this last one that we shall focus on here, the connection between human nature and the relationships of lovers.

“Lover” is a concept that denotes a relationship between two individuals who are more than friends and who love each other. Now, in order to be precise and clear, I shall have to first define what I mean by all of the underlying concepts so that you can fully understand the context from which I am writing.

To be brief, “friend” is a concept that denotes a relationship between two individuals who hold each other as a value. It follows from the idea that friends hold each other as a value that they enjoy each others company and sincerely wish the other well. Now, there are limits to what can constitute friendship: a person who you rarely see and do not value is not your friend, they are your acquaintance, a person whom you love and share physical intimacy also is not your friend, they are something more. Yet here I go talking about “something more than a friend” again, when my purpose was to explain this…

A lover is more than a friend; a lover is someone you value greatly – conjoined with love. A lover is someone you love? Do tell! Now, by “Love” I mean that emotion which expresses one’s conviction that another is a high value to you, with which comes a strong emotive response. Yet Love is a bi-faceted concept, consisting of a spiritual and a physical aspect which are inexorably intertwined so that neither can exist independently (for any period of time). Now, of course this does not mean that one should immediately have sex with anyone that one feels love for nor does it mean that one will necessarily love anyone one has sex with; yet neither of these situations could go on indefinitely. Love without any physical aspect would lose its connection (think if you could not even kiss or hug your beloved) and sex without love would only be meaningless hedonistic indulgence, devoid of its true meaning.

So, to re-examine our position on our path to knowledge of a loving relationship: we have established a rudimentary definition of lover (that of someone who is “more than a friend”, who is a high value, and for whom you feel “love”) and we have started to flesh out the meaning of these underlying concepts. This leaves us in the position of defining a “lover” as “a person who is a high value (subsuming the “more than friends” aspect) and whom one loves”. But, we have already seen that Love is a harder concept to define than we originally anticipated, so perhaps we should revise our definition to reflect that fact.

Our new definition will be that a lover is “someone who is a high value and for whom one feels a strong emotive response of love conjoined with physical intimacy.” The only problem so far is that as our definition gets more precise, it continues to grow in length and what we really need are only the essential characteristics. Perhaps then we rushed into our endeavor too quickly, let us take a step back and examine what we would mean if we were just to say “this is my lover”.

Upon saying those words, I would mean that this is a person whom I care deeply about, who I trust, who I respect, who I value, who I wish the best for, with whom I am intimate, and who seems to “complete me”. Now, it seems that our definition has taken care of some of these aspects, yet the final one gives us pause on our path as our definition did not cover that aspect at all. Perhaps then, we should examine what that means, if it means anything at all, and see if it is essential to the concept which we are trying to define.

If I were to say that someone else “completed me”, I would mean that without this other person I would feel less than “whole”. I wish to pause and note that these terms are analogous, not to be mistaken for literal metaphysical arguments. Continuing on, does this mean then that any individual is incomplete and unwhole if they are not able to find a lover? No, of course it does not. It is an argument from Man’s nature and part of Man’s nature is that he naturally desires to be in love and have someone who can be there for him. When you’re in love you feel a deep connection with the other person and it makes you feel as though what was empty before in your heart is now full. It is this sense of “complete” that I mean when I say that your lover “completes you”.

Now that we have a more fleshed out understanding of what we mean, let us make another attempt at forming a proper definition of lover, which we shall define as “the person with whom one is in love.” Now this is a good definition of lover, given that we understand what “Love” entails.

By “Love”, of course, I mean your emotional response to your values personified in another person – but the definition also needs to acknowledge the duality of love, that love is not just spiritual but also physical. Our definition needs to include 1) the emotive response, 2) values, and 3) the dual nature of love. So, let us try to define “Love” as “a spiritual/physical response to your values personified in another.”

While our new definition does say basically what we want it too, it seems to be literally saying that love is a physical response…which it is, but we don’t want to say that when you see your values personified in another, the first thing that happens is that you feel love and get sexually aroused! So perhaps we should rephrase our definition to be “a spiritual response to your values personified in another conjoined with physical intimacy.”

Now this definition seems to subsume everything we want, given that it’s understood in the context of relationship love and not any of the other kinds of love. But we’ve done a lot of work just to arrive at the mere definition of Love, which is of course integral to a loving relationship, but we haven’t said much of what such a relationship itself entails. Nor have we spoken of what the ambiguous, and perhaps troubling, phrase “completes me” mean. So, let us turn to this as the next step on our path.

II. Independent Parts of a Whole

I’ve said before that it is the proper role for people to be with someone of the opposite sex whom they Love (see section “IX” below for the implications on homosexuality [note – this was one of the cut sections]). People will often look at me when I say this and ask: “But aren’t you an individualist?”, of course implying that individualism is incompatible with romance and being part of a committed relationship. They, however, could be no more wrong.

It is only an individualist who can be in a relationship, it is only someone who can value themselves who has the ability to value another, and it is only someone who truly knows what “I” means that can truly say: “I Love you.”

What these people, who ask this kind of question, miss though – is the fact that it is part of human nature to want someone to call one’s own, to want someone to Love and who loves you in return, someone to cherish you and who cherishes you in return, to want someone to value you who you value in return.

The loving relationship must be a relationship of two individuals, but it becomes more than that – through the concerted efforts of those in the relationship it grows and so do the people in it. In a proper relationship both the people support one another, but more importantly their desire to see the best for their significant others helps to drive them to heights which they could not reach alone.

Being an individualist does not mean you must do everything for yourself and by yourself, it means that you must be rational and objective and work for your values and your significant other should be one of, if not the, highest of your values. Your significant other should be a personification of your values as well as a flame in your heart.

When two individualists are in a relationship together, they can help each other achieve that which neither could achieve alone and their very existence brings value to small moments that lacked them outside of the relationship – a good relationship makes the world a brighter place, the colors richer, the smiles warmer, and the happiness more profound.

I always find it amazing that when you are in a relationship, even something as simple as cooking dinner can go from a chore to something that is special because you are doing it, or for, with the person you Love. This is not because you are altruistic and are sacrificing for this other person, it is because they are a value to you that you are able to connect so closely and pursue their ends as your ends, making any action you do for them selfish, because you selfishly value them and want to see them happy and doing so makes you happy as well.

Clearly not all relationships are the same and that is to be expected because no two individuals are the same, yet they all must share fundamental characteristics if we are to even call them relationships (in the sense of loving relationships). Without two individuals, there can be no relationship – try having a relationship by yourself. Without two individualists there can be no true relationship, who would want to be in a relationship without Love? Without selfishness, there could be no lasting relationships – you must place your significant other as one of your highest values and act in their interest for that reason, if you sacrifice for each other, you will find that you have a “relationship” of two people who would rather not be in a relationship.

When I said it was part of human nature, I truly mean it as much as I mean that man is the rational animal and that we need air to survive. Sure, we can live without Love, but we can never be happy without Love – not in the sense of complete human flourishing. Happiness results from achieving your values, to have the most complete happiness possible you must achieve your highest value. Now this may not be your significant other or you may not even have a significant other, but if it is your significant other you can expand the scope of your happiness in ways unimaginable to those who are ignorant of this.

What’s the point of all this? Well, I guess it’s to say that Love is important, it is a word that I capitalize when I don’t even capitalize the word god, because Love is more important that a fantasy of our imaginations, Love is real and it has the potential to make our lives so much better. Let us then all act with Justice and go out and find (or refind) our love and make our lives more complete – because we only have one life and there is no reason to spend it without being happy.

However, there have been times when I and others have questioned the necessity of relationships and if the foregoing hasn’t been persuading, then perhaps the following will be.

III. Why Would We Even Want Relationships?

So, while in one of these darker moments, there were times when I had to pose the very question “Why would we even want relationships anyway?” But while I’ve had to seriously ponder this question in my darker moments, the answer is truly quite simple.

We want relationships because we want what any normal person wants, we want to be happy. This is why we seek companionship – there is great pleasure in being with a good person.

We want a significant other who is our best friend, who means the world to us, and is a good kisser as well. We want love – we want to find someone who upholds our values and who loves us in return for the same reasons. We want someone who makes the world seem brighter and more fun, who makes the mundane extraordinary, who makes going even someplace dull into an adventure. We want someone with whom we feel completely comfortable, as if they were the other half of us that we had been missing. We want someone to give our hearts to and who will hold ours safely as we hold theirs. We want all this because there is of course great selfish pleasure in having someone to call your own, someone who is there for you, someone to love and who loves you in return.

I shall end with a quote from me, which I just came up with and happen to like:

Let us not fear for the future and instead be happy in the present, for it is eternally the present and what better time is there to be happy than now?

So, let us now turn our minds to something which comes naturally to them anyway: sex.

IV. Thoughts on Love and Sex

I think sex is a necessary condition of an intimate relationship.

Personally, I think that the Platonic/christian relationship (a relationship that is asexual) is inherently deficient for true love: true love should involve a person’s entire being and we are of course creatures of mind and body – to neglect one or the other is to have an incomplete relationship. Now having said that, I think it is further necessary that a proper relationship be built on mutual values and virtues (e.g. independence, rationality, integrity). This is important because we desire perfection as people, both in ourselves and in others – we desire that not only does our partner share our conception of the Good, but also that they strive for this Good (apparent or real). Further a relationship of two virtuous individuals is the only way to have a proper flourishing relationship – one in which both partners are benefited and made more excellent.

A relationship in which one person is dominant and the other submissive – whether because of power issues, differences in character, or a deficiency in one of the partners – leads to a relationship in which neither partner can be truly satisfied because one partner will be forced to carry the other and the other will be forced to be carried, the first of which is foolhardy and the second ignoble and the combination ergo insufficient as a basis for a proper relationship.

A proper romantic relationship must be of two strong individuals (as we just saw) who are dedicated to one another (through mutual interests, virtues, desires) and who desire to be with one another both in everyday life and erotically. A romantic relationship necessitates sexual intimacy. To be complete, love must be spiritual and physical – of mind and of body.

Now, this is not to say that sexual encounters are per se wrong outside of romantic relationships, I do not believe that to be the case. However I do believe sexual relationships qua sexual relationships without any sort of love or shared values is improper – it is ignobly acting as no better than a beast. Having said that I certainly don’t believe sexual relationships amongst close friends are wrong, but neither do I believe they are necessary. I would hesitate to use “necessary” because I can think of many relationships in which there could be very close friends, but where it would be inappropriate and wrong for them to have sexual relations (i.e. one of the friends was dating someone else who was not comfortable with an open relationship). But given that there are no external considerations, I see no reason which would preclude two close friends from being intimate – as long as each was fully aware of the nature and extent of the relationship. By this I mean that one person isn’t expecting it to develop into a romantic relationship and the other person not wanting it to, this would destroy the original friendship.

For all of these reasons and more I would say that Platonic/christian love IS WRONG – it is acting against the proper nature of people and of love. This condemnation is not to say that you cannot love someone who you do not have sex with, but the Platonic/christian ideal is fundamentally mistaken, although we shall have to go into the issues of “justice in love” and “conditional love vs. unconditional love”, for the distinction to be fully apparent.

V. Love at First Sight?

It’s an interesting phenomenon, that of “love at first sight” – a phenomenon that seems quite silly to me in all but one circumstance.

I say that love at first sight is silly because of my beliefs about the nature of love; I believe that love is something like a spiritual response to the values you hold dear personified in another person (see above for the more formal definition). Since the response is not primarily derived from sight, it would be hard to for me to believe in love at “first sight”. Realistically, it seems to me that the phenomenon is something more akin to “lust at first sight” or at least something like a fondness for the aesthetic quality of the other person.

Personally, I think that the best kind of love is the kind that develops from a deep friendship and shared values – a kind of “metaphysical alignment of the souls” (this is metaphorical, not to be taken literally). The best kind of love comes from finding the kind of person who is essentially like you: someone who shares your fundamental values, your outlook on life, and your passions. Therefore it doesn’t seem possible that you could find true love just from seeing someone.

Having said all of this, the one circumstance that I alluded to earlier – in which I might grant plausibility to love at first sight – is a situation whereby you have come to know someone very well through correspondence (be it either phone, e-mail, letters, or a combination of all of these) so that the first time you do actually meet them in person, you are struck by their beauty and with the knowledge that their character is virtuous and beautiful as well, you fall in love with them in that instant.

Although I don’t find this situation to be likely, I do grant that it is possible.

It’s not that I’m hostile to the idea of love at first sight, in fact I think it’s quite romantic and it shows a benevolent sense of life that seeks happiness, but I just don’t find the idea probable

VI. Unconditional Love?

I often hear people pine for “unconditional love”, hear them plead to be loved “for themselves” and not for what they do – yet I must confess I do not understand what they mean nor do I understand their desire for that kind of affection.

It seems to me that when someone expresses this kind of feeling, they are asking not to be judged – they want a moral “get out of jail free card” to be as lazy or immoral as they wish and to still have the love and respect of another.

Yet that’s not how love works!

You fall in love with another person because you judge them to be a good person – you assess their moral character and find it to be virtuous, you assess their values and find them to be rational and proper, you assess their habits and find them to actively engaged in bettering themselves, and you assess their mind to see whether you’re on the same level. The whole process of falling in love, and staying in love, is a process of judgment on a myriad of levels – both explicitly and implicitly. When you are with someone else, you are constantly judging them to see whether they’re still compatible with you and whether they are on a moral ascent or descent.

To ask either to be loved for “yourself” and not your actions or to be loved without being judged betrays a desire to be loved for no reason – to be loved arbitrarily. But what would that even mean?

How would that person respond if you acquiesced and told them that: “I love you for no reason whatsoever – I find no value in you, nor do you fulfill any sexual, intellectual, or emotional needs.” It may just be me…but I’d find this particular “compliment” to be disgusting.

Worse though is that someone who is asking to be loved for themselves and not their choices and actions is asking to be loved regardless of who they are! What does it mean to be loved “for yourself”? What is a person besides their character, besides their choices and actions? It’s pretty clear they’re not asking to be loved just for their bodies (at least I hope they’re not), but it’s not clear that their claim isn’t vacuous.

Personally, I want conditional love – I want to be loved for what I do, because that is who I am. I want to be judged to be a good person and I want to be valued and respected for that. I want someone to critically evaluate me and if I make mistakes point them out to me so that I can correct them. I want someone to push me to be the best person I can be, to push me to achieve my potential and then further to increase my potential.

Love is conditional!

Ayn Rand said that love is “the emotional response of one man to the virtues of another, the spiritual payment given in exchange for the personal, selfish pleasure which one man derives from the virtues of another man’s character” and I completely agree. As she says, the love of one person for another is completely dependent upon the value and good moral character of the other.

To love is to be selfish, to love is value another person for being a good person, to love is to judge another worthy of your affection.

And, although true love is rare (mostly given to the lack of truly virtuous people), I still agree with the old adage: “The Greatest Happiness in life is to love and be loved in return.”