Volume 12, Issue 1, January 2011
Love and Reasons
Love and Equal Value
This essay offers a way to avoid a clash between reasons of love and reasons of ethics that stems from a difference in the conception of the moral value of people. In moralities of lovers, the loved ones are due to be accorded a value superior to that of other people, whereas in ethics there is an inescapable presumption that people have a value that is equal among them. The usual way to avoid this clash has been either to make room in the ethical arsenal for reasons relating to particular agents, agent-relative reasons, or to acknowledge that love-grounded reasons legitimately compete with ethical reasons and that we need a method of negotiating them. Both escapes have serious problems. The essay proposes a third way. The first step is to reshape the notion of ’love,’ in a direction where important characteristics of our common understanding are kept, notably the loved ones’ uniqueness and incomparability, while the characteristic that is problematic in the present context would be eliminated, namely the you-and-me character of love that gives rise to reasons that are wholly personal and partial. The second step is to show how such a reformed notion of love coheres with the assumption of equal value. And the third step is, through this connection, to change our understanding of love as reason-giving, from generating reason directly to generating reason indirectly. This involves a shift of focus from reason to meta-reason, viz. that which makes our system of, or competence for, normative reasons reasonable. The advantage of the proposed solution would not only be that clash between reasons of love and reasons of ethics is avoided, but also that ethical reasons are seen as underpinned by love, which moreover offers the best ultimate explanation of them.