A Theory on Love

September 30, 2012

In contrast to my earlier post on love, which asserted the place of choice in loving, I’ve developed a new theory less alluring than the last. But at this time I find it more probable.

My original conception of love concerning people was divided into three types. One love is a general love for people which results in a desire for their well-being: the Unparticular Love. The actualization of this love does not necessarily result in intense feelings or a desire to be nice to everyone, but rather stems from the realization that each person is a self with thoughts and feelings of their own.* I used to give not a damn about this type of love because I saw love as a thing to be earned, a thing not to be applied to anyone without basis lest it lose its meaning. But self-interest led to the realization that other people, having selves of their own, have their own interests and their own potential  to achieve. In other words, out of my Self Love arose a second Unparticular Love for all selves universally. Not as a collective, but as individuals. The loss a single individual has to suffer from being unable to fulfill his potential is irreplaceable; yet this happens to the enslaved and poor as their lives go to shit and the world watches on. But if this love is personal, it is only to the degree that a person recognizes another as having a self  and a subjective world of his own.

Self Love is therefore the first love, Unparticular Love the second. The third love is the Selective. It is not universal, but personal. It is the love one has for a friend, sibling, parent, or paramour, which seemingly cannot be replaced by another, for it implies that the beloved is to the lover something no one is.** Many believe the Selective Love has a kind of meaning the Unparticular Love cannot in virtue of its exclusiveness.  This third love could be considered a transcendent love: in the eyes of the lover, the beloved has a value above the universal. The beloved is not just another person but “the person” that stands out among the crowd in the eyes of the lover.

Each of these types of love can be divided into feeling and action. The emotion of love inspires the act of love, yet one can act love without the emotion if they find it necessary to act in love, and one can seemingly feel love without following through and acting in that person’s interest. I may feel indifference or hate towards a person but decide to act with his well-being in mind, and this would be an act of love. Pure love could be seen in acting in the interests of another with more or less indifference to self-interest–for love can be generally defined as realization of the other’s worth.

Consider the basis for Selective Love. To define it we must know why it comes about. A person thinks he loves another because of who that person is–but how could he know who that person is except through what he perceives from outside? A person can evaluate another only by external characteristics. You  may say you love someone because of his bravery, or his kindness, or his eloquence, or his bluntness, or his talkativeness, or his quietness, and in reality it would be a number of characteristics entwined a certain way–but in loving by virtue of those characteristics, you show that the object of your love  is the characteristics themselves. To love another person because of who you think he is is not actually to love his self, but to love a conglomeration of characteristics.

In one sense a person is a collection of characteristics, because a person only becomes what he actualizes. Yet not only do you know merely a person’s characteristics, but you are ignorant of the reasons for those characteristics. You could ask why a person is kind, and a host of possible reasons appear. Insecurity, reasoned moral belief, upbringing, habit, manipulation, to “just get by”; to suggest any of these reasons as an adequate answer is to underestimate the complexity of human behavior. The disposition, personality, and actions of a person are manifestations spawned from the choices made by the agent self within. But these manifestations are all the outsider sees. After all, a person’s present and past context must be considered as factors. A person may have a certain view on the trustworthiness of others due to a certain social context a respond a number of ways to that belief, while a different context may have led to a different view, which might result in a different response.

It is not futile to attempt somewhat informed guesses as to the reasons a person asks and speak as he does, for to question his motives can do nothing but good for him. After all, there is a casual connection between external characteristics and the agent within–plausibly one between the externals and his conditioning. Yet how any given characteristics relates to the others and back to the self is uncertain to the outsider. This conclusion rests on an epistemology which holds that to think something and happen to be right is not to know it. Furthermore, there are multiple boundaries between people including 1) the ambiguity of language, 2) self-knowledge or lack thereof, 3) honesty, 4) inability to go into all the details, 5) the ability to interpret correctly and 6) one’s ability to express. Seeing no more than a wall of externals, how could you love a person personally if you don’t know her? There are no degrees of knowing; you cannot “know” a person, you can only make guesses which may or not be informed. Therefore, if you find yourself directing love towards a particular person exclusive to others, it means you love “a person” and not “the person.” The phenomenon of loving an individual is not really loving that particular individual but loving individuals as a universal. You love a nameless self perhaps for its being a self, perhaps for its external characteristics, perhaps for how his presence makes you feel, but not because of anything unique about this particular self. Again, this is not to say that particular self does not have anything unique about it–and the more unique a person appears by a study of their externals, the more unique he is in all likelihood. Yet my only means of judging another as an outsider is by expression through externals like speech, body language, and art. I never experience another’s emotions or ideas directly; an idea or an emotion is expressed, and that emotion or idea is something I identify with. I encounter the idea or emotion expressed, and empathize reflexively. No matter how close or far-off my interpretation of the emotion or idea is from what the other wants to express, I never really empathize with that person. I simply understand something as I experience it in myself; again, I empathize reflexively. It seems that while one thinks he understands and then loves another, he only understands and loves a mode of Being as he interprets it in the other. He may identify with one’s actions or even the expressed reasons for doing an action, but all he knows is his own attraction toward those characteristics, those modes of Being.

With Selective Love being based on the characteristics one sees in another, it is necessarily conditional. If the characteristics are the criteria for personal love, then when the characteristics are gone the love is gone. This can be seen in a wife who forsakes her husband because he lacks the characteristics he used to have or because she does not desire them any longer. But there are also those who love unconditionally, like a mother who loves her criminal son. Yet if love is not based on characteristics but is unconditional, it isn’t based on anything. It’s arbitrary. Consider the Unparticular Love: it is impartial to one person or another. All it knows is that for any particular human being it sees, that being has a self, hidden from view, which has potential as you yourself do and for whom you desire the opportunity to actualize herself. But because you can never “know” another person, you cannot selectively love another. To do so conditionally or unconditionally is impossible . We cannot know others except by what we see, and only the other may (or may not) know why he does what he does. As each person only experiences an emotion or idea through herself and never directly through someone else, she cannot know the self of the other and therefore cannot love the self for what it is. She could love “a self”, knowing one is there in the person, but she cannot love “this self” because she has never known that particular individual’s self.

As you drive down the highway you are surrounded by cars. Often you don’t see the drivers in the cars, particularly at a distance or at night. Yet you know by being yourself the driver of a car that each car you pass has its own driver. Your only way of judging the driver is by externals such as the car’s appearance and the car’s actions. And thus when a driver swerves in front of you, you can only guess why the driver did so. Maybe he was drunk, tired, rude, desperate to get to work, or is having a struggle with someone grabbing the wheel. In the same way you recognize that behind the outward person lies a self, and therein lie the reasons why a person has become what she has become.

By another analogy, the artist creates a work of art which another sees. In a gallery you may see a painting and identify with it. You identify with the ideas and feelings as you interpret them to be expressed and are moved by it. You may then think you know the artist, but you don’t. You know the painting as interpreted by you, but you don’t know the painting as intended by the artist. Similarly you observe a person and their expressions, but you can only guess as to what those expressions mean coming from the person.

With acceptance of this theory concerning Selective Love comes the realization that a personal connection with someone is distant, and the individual ultimately lives in isolation. This does not prevent people from influencing others or being influenced, because the ideas and emotions one conveys still enter the consciousness of perceivers. It only means that one cannot love or be loved on a personal level, that intimacy is illusory, but one still plays roles in the lives of others.

*Some people speak of another universal love for all life which is not partial to humans. This would go into a separate category; in writing this theory I don’t seek to name every kind of possible love but to generalize the kinds of love existing among people. I never found such a conception compelling, and more importantly its object is a non-personal one, which is not the subject of this post.

**“Beloved” here means only the person loved, “lover” the person loving, as terms to correspond with the differences in speaking of the verbs “to love” and “to be loved.” There is no romantic insinuation. Obviously two people can be both the lovers and the beloved. And I break down the second love to its essence: love between two individuals. If the love one feels is for a small group, then he clearly loves the atmosphere of the interactions, and the love is basic and impersonal. But if he loves a group because he loves the group of people themselves, then his love can be separately discussed in terms of his love for one person and his love for another.

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