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Love & Romance
The Unlovable Parts of a Loving Society
Matei Tanasă asks if we should love the unlovable.
Do all people deserve to be loved? To be able to answer such a question, we must first understand its meaning. So first, what is love? The common view regarding love meets Plato’s view on it quite nicely. His view as elaborated in his dialogues Phaedo and Symposium is that love for someone or something is a type of desire. Specifically it is a desire for beauty. Yet by desiring a certain person or thing, we must also desire its conservation, its protection, and its general wellbeing – by which I simply mean, lack of pain or its non-destruction. If on the contrary, we want a certain thing or person to change, that would necessarily mean that we want it to be different from the way it is, implying that we do not love it, at least as it is. Defining love in this way does satisfy a common belief on the subject, which is that if someone truly loves you then they will accept you as you are and will not desire your alteration. Counting all this in, then, my initial question could be rephrased as: Do all people deserve to be desired just as they are?
Evidently, the term ‘deserve’ is an ethical term. If person A does deserves thing B, then it is morally correct for A to have B. So in order to answer our question, we must now also find out what we morally ought to desire. The question then becomes: is it morally right for all people to be desired just as they are?
Love the Planet by Friedrich Farshaad Razmjouie, 2022
If something should exist, we call it ‘good’, and contrarily, we call something that should not exist ‘bad’. So the desire for something good should itself exist, since it promotes something that should exist. For a similar reason, the desire for something bad should not exist, or be encouraged to exist. We can also clearly see that love is not always good, since it can form for bad things. So such sayings as ‘Love is love’ (which now we hear more often than ever) in fact hold no meaning, for they grow from the assumption that love is always good, which it isn’t. More than that, we can also see from this that love is not an intrinsic virtue (as it is widely claimed to be), for it can be unhealthy if it is directed towards something unworthy – which is everything except what is good.
‘Perfect’ is what I call something that is precisely the way it should be – meaning that it is totally good. So if something is imperfect, this means that it is in part bad – which implies that it should change and not be as it is. Furthermore it is rather well known how rare perfection in humans is, and if one reaches perfection then they should be called God rather than human; so we will say that no human is entirely perfect; so all humans are in part bad.
Now we’re ready to draw some conclusions, which to some might seem outrageous. We have said that something should be desired only if it is good, not bad, and then we said that no human is entirely good. It would follow that no human should be desired as they are – meaning that no one should be loved.
This seems truly tragic. Do we all really deserve no love? I wouldn’t be so quick to conclude that.
St Augustine said: “Learn not to love so that you will learn to love.” This might sound obscure and contradictory, but his message suits our conclusions perfectly. Augustine is actually advising us to stop loving people, for they are all wicked in part, and to start loving the good itself, which too is present in all. Humans should not be the primary object of love – the good itself should be – but that also means that everyone does deserve a certain amount of love, for everyone does contain a certain amount of good within them, even though they’re not perfect. This also applies to love of self, which too should not be directed to ourselves, but to the good we contain (so the very term ‘self-love’ is misleading). Meister Eckhart seems to have arrived at the same conclusion when he said that God, who in the Judeo-Christian tradition is morally perfect, ultimately loves only Himself. As Eckhart’s theology itself explicitly states, God Himself is ultimately all the good and all the beauty. So our original question has been answered: yes, all people deserve to be loved, at least insofar as they are good.
To sum up the argument: love is a type of desire, so if something should not be desired, something should not be loved. Everything that should exist we call ‘good’, so the good is everything that should be desired. Humans are imperfect, so they are not entirely good, which means that they should not be desired – or loved – for precisely who they are. But they all contain some good, so they should be loved for the sake of loving the good that is in them.
I want to underline that this view – which might not be seen favourably by the romantics among us – is by no means sad or ugly, but progressive and just, pushing all people towards becoming better people. One must remember: evil is not loved by the one who is righteous, but by the one who is wicked, and in need of moral repair.
© Matei Tanasă 2022
Matei Tanasă is a student at August Treboniu Laurian National College in Romania. He was first philosophically challenged by Plato’s Apology, which he read during train rides to school in Sweden.