Volume 83, 2009
Reason in Context
Bernard G. Prusak
Whither the “Offices of Nature”?
Kant and the Obligation to Love
Since Kant, the standard response to the commandment to love has been that our affections are not ours to command, and so an obligation to feel love
for another cannot reasonably be demanded. On this account, we must say that a parent who fails to love his or her child, in the sense of feeling affection for him
or her, has not violated any obligation toward that child. Maybe we could say still that the parent is deficient somehow, but we could not characterize this deficiency as a moral failing. Here, then, is the subject of this paper: In the specific context of the parent-child relationship, is the commandment to love reasonable? Are we warranted in saying that the “offices of nature” include an officium caritatis, in a sense exceeding benevolence? My answer is yes, but it is necessary then to come to terms with Kant’s reasons for answering no.