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Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Monday, May 20, 2013
Love and reason?
Recently I attended a talk by Ronnie de Sousa, a philosopher at The University of Toronto, by the somewhat unusual, almost oxymoronic, title of “Love and Reason” (as opposed to, say, Love or Reason). It turned out to be a fascinating tour de force ranging from the Countess of Champagne and her 1176 verdict on the nature of love, to cognitive scientist’s Helen Fisher studies of the chemical underpinning of different aspects of love. Here I will limit myself to a few aspects of de Sousa’s talk (who graciously provided me with his original slides), but Ronnie is finishing a paper on the subject, so stay tuned for much more if what follows happen to sufficiently stimulate your curiosity.
First off, though, I simply cannot resist the temptation to quote the above mentioned Countess of Champagne in full. The quote actually allows de Sousa to introduce the framework of his talk (the relationship and difference between reasons and causes of love), but it is worth reading in its entirety for its own sake.
Apparently, back in 1176, a “Court of Love” was established — presided by the Countess herself — to address the question of “Whether love can have a place between spouses,” i.e. whether the very concept of love is compatible with matrimony. Here is the verdict quoted by de Sousa:
We state and affirm that love cannot extend its power to a married couple, for lovers give one another everything freely, without obligation or any necessity; conjugal partners, by contrast, are committed to doing one another’s will and not to deny anything to one another.
So there you have it, apparently duty and inclination are not compatible in this instance, a very stern, Kantian view of things. And indeed, Kantian interpretations of love were a major target of ferocious criticism (even downright scorn) in de Sousa’s talk, which was delivered with humor and even theatricality (he quoted several passages from literature classics, such as the Cyrano, and he did so very engagingly).
Ronnie clearly distinguished reasons of love from reasons to love, as well as between positive and negative reasons, and finally between reasons seen from the point of view of the lover and from that of the loved. I do not want to get too far into this particular aspect of his talk, but some tidbits will give you an idea.
For instance, most people would not accept “I love her because she is rich” as a good reason for love, just like — and the parallel here does a good amount of work in de Sousa’s scheme — we would find weird, within the context of a work of art, if someone were to say “it’s beautiful because it’s expensive.” Or consider this: we would take it as a good reason for someone to stop loving someone else if the former object of love were to turn monstrously evil. But it is hard to imagine the traction one would get by saying something along the lines of “I love him because he is not monstrously evil.” (Though I have to admit that I’ve heard people on the New York dating scene lower their acceptance bar almost as far...)
In one of my favorite bits during the talk, de Sousa presented his version of the famous Euthyphro dilemma, which in its original Platonic context represents the most powerful argument for the irrelevance of gods to morality. The love-related version of the dilemma goes something like this: is what we love of value to us because we love it, or do we love it because it has value? Be careful how you answer it, because either horn of the dilemma carries pretty logical consequences. The first possibility is tautologically self-referential, and would lead us to admit, among other unsavory things, that it is perfectly sensible to love the above mentioned monstrously evil individual (or to love anyone, really). The second option, however, raises the question of fungibility: let’s say that I think I love someone because she is smart, beautiful, and of good character. Well, there is always the possibility of eventually meeting someone else who is even more so in any (or all!) of said dimensions. That being the case, wouldn’t it make sense to “trade up,” so to speak? Switch to the newer, better model? While a distressing number of people do in fact do so without a thought, it seems a bit callous (not to mention extremely un-Kantian!) to treat someone who we allegedly love as if s/he were a car or a television set, no?
Which brings us (skipping around the actual sequence of the talk a bit) to how de Sousa deals with the problem of fungibility. He introduces Helen Fisher’s famous studies on the cognitive science of three distinguishable kinds of love: lust, romantic love (which Ronnie calls “limerence”), and attachment. I referred to the same research in Answers for Aristotle, and I think the general findings are interesting if, of course, open to the usual caveats and potential future falsification of any neurobiological piece of research on humans.
Fisher has described three behavioral syndromes, as well as their correlated hormonal profiles, that characterize different types of “love” in humans. In some cases the three represent a temporal sequence within a given relationship, but this is by all means not a necessity. The first type, lust, is characterized by being fairly object-generic, meaning that we can lust after a (great) variety of people, though of course even lust is somewhat discriminating in its targets. Lust drives sexual intercourse, and at the hormonal level is underpinned by androgens (especially testosterone) and estrogens. It typically has a time span measured in hours or minutes...
Next we have limerence (a word de Sousa credits to psychologist Dorothy Tennov), what most of us call romantic love. Very much unlike lust, the object of romantic love is unique, indeed obsessively so. Its function is to focus one’s energy and time on a particularly good candidate for long-term attachment, and it is chemically underpinned by catecholamins, hormones such as norepinephrine and dopamine. This phase can continue for weeks or months, and up to 2-3 years, depending on the people and the circumstances.
Finally — if a couple gets that far — we have long-term attachment. This is not focused on sex, though it can in fact arouse intense emotional distress. It is what allows people to raise families, which means that it is evolutionarily crucial, in a species such as ours, where long-term parental investment is vital for the survival and well being of the offspring. The chemistry here is dominated by oxytocin and vasopressin, and the duration is indefinite, ranging from several years to a lifetime.
What has all of this to do with fungibility? de Sousa argues that the philosophically relevant differences among the three types of love are that only lust is really fungible, that only limerence seems to be exclusive, and that only attachment has a significant historical component (meaning the unique, shared history of the people involved). If he is right, what makes long-term love (i.e., the sort that leads to attachment) non-fungible is not the exclusivity of the love object (he notes, reasonably, that people are capable of feelings of attachment toward more than one person), but rather the uniquely historical, unrepeatable, series of events that characterize the relationship. From this perspective, the longer one’s history of love with another person, the less fungible that person becomes — even though there may be another individual around the corner who is smarter, more attractive, etc.
I like the general idea, though I’m not sure I buy every aspect of it. For instance, I think the object of romantic love is indeed fungible, only on a different temporal scale than the object of lust. True, romantic love is exclusive, but it may well turn out to be only temporarily so. Indeed, I think even long-term attachment is open to the threat of fungibility, as in the case of relationships that end after many years (and even a number of children), leading one or both former partners to start new long-term, and at least occasionally just as unique and valuable relationships with other people.
However, what I think does happen in the transition between lust, romance and attachment is that fungibility becomes less and less likely, varying on a sliding scale with a maximum value in the case of lust, an intermediate one for romance, and a very low magnitude (but not necessarily zero!) for attachment. Whether this should be cause for moral concern, of course, is another matter.
Ronnie concluded his talk — which is much richer than I managed to convey here — by noting the following (and I am here quoting mostly verbatim): (a) The contingency of the circumstances that give rise to relationships makes them deeply a-rational (so long, Kant!); (b) They derive from chance priority of acquaintance, pheromone compatibility, genetic fatality, transference, and habit (i.e., they have many causes); and (c) None of the above mentioned factors count as reasons. The distinction between causes and reasons in philosophy in general, and in the philosophy of human action in particular, has a long and complex history. Still, as a distinction it is both clear and, I think, useful. In de Sousa’s hands it pretty much kills any rationalist, Kantian approach to the philosophy of love. And that, my friends, is no small accomplishment.
Posted by Unknown at 7:00 AM
Labels: fungibility, Helen Fisher, Kant, love, Massimo Pigliucci, neuroscience, reason
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Blecch. This strikes me as the very worst kind of philosophy, because vague terms like "love" and "value" represent extremely complicated biological and social phenomena. Trying to reason about them as if they were more or less monolithic (e.g., something either "has value" or "doesn't have value" ?!?) is silly and a waste of time.ReplyDelete
>vague terms like "love" and "value" represent extremely complicated biological and social phenomena<Delete
There may be complex biological and social phenomena associated with these terms, but that does not mean that understanding these terms is a matter of understanding those complex phenomena.
As a rough analogy, the vague term 'chess' "represents" complex neurological and social phenomena; is understanding chess a matter of understanding neurology and sociology?
Without intending any reference to Massimo's post, good philosophy with respect to 'love' and 'value' is possible. These are ethical terms that have evolved in the context of ordinary communication. Understanding them is not principally a matter of empirical science but of explicating the logic of those terms. Further, philosophical understanding of such terms is a normative rather than a positive matter. The interest is primarily on what we ought to mean by 'love' and 'value' as opposed to what people have meant by the terms.
As with chess, if you reduce love and value to empirical phenomena, you have not an incomplete, but a categorically wrong, basis for understanding those phenomena.
It depends what you mean by "chess". If you mean the rules of the game only, then that's one matter that can be analyzed (in principle) relatively simply. By this I mean we know, in principle, how to decide whether any given position is a forced win or not.Delete
If, on the other hand, you mean by "chess" the whole history of human chess and chessplayers, then you're talking about a whole different level of complexity.
good philosophy with respect to 'love' and 'value' is possible.
No, I would dispute this. Philosophers can't even define these terms with any specificity.
if you reduce love and value to empirical phenomena, you have not an incomplete, but a categorically wrong, basis for understanding those phenomena.
If you resort to the "category error" defense, then you've already lost. I would say just the opposite: "love" and "value" will never be really understood until you understand, in detail, the chemical and physical basis for them.
The reason for love is unity,
And The Professor's unified field equation is =
When All is equal All is truly One.
UFT = TOE
Would you recommend any particular paper(s) for further reading on the theory of lust, limerence, and attachment? Models of love and attraction and love are an interest of mine.ReplyDelete
Helen Fisher has an article, "Lust, attraction and attachment in mammalian reproduction," in Human Nature 1998, vol. 9, No. 1, pp.23-52. She also has a book, Why we love: The nature and chemistry of romantic love. New York: Henry Holt, 2004
I'm not much of a theorist Mr. Miller, just a truest.Delete
Have you read Plato's Symposium, it was based on the concept of clarifying the thoughts of love? I wish I had been invited too.
Jeffrey Shallit: 'Blech', yes a quick reading may give this impression but I don't think it is a fair assessment.ReplyDelete
'worst kind of philosophy, because vague terms like "love" and "value" represent extremely complicated biological and social phenomena.'. Indeed, they are complicated terms but they represent very important concepts. So philosophy should grasp the thorny nettle, bringing precision and understanding to a difficult field.
Massimo's posting is not a carefully written paper and should not be evaluated as such. It is merely his off-the-cuff impressions of a talk by Ronnie De Sousa. The value of his article is that it is a thought starter, a stimulant to more reading, investigation and analysis. It is also an alert to the directions that others are taking.
Seen from this point of view his blog posting is very useful (as is your robust disagreement, I might add!). I might not always agree with Massimo, but I always find his posts provocative, stimulating and interesting.
> This strikes me as the very worst kind of philosophy, because vague terms like "love" and "value" represent extremely complicated biological and social phenomena. <
So one cannot do philosophy, or science for that matter, of complex phenomena? That’s news to me. And if you read the post you should have gotten a flavor for the fact that de Sousa’s paper was nuanced and did make several interesting distinctions about the phenomena of love. Moreover, the direct references to Fisher’s work — who also makes several distinctions — should have further alerted you that this is a serious piece of work. What, precisely, would you suggest as an alternative?
Fisher, H. The drive to love: The neural mechanism for mate selection. In: The New Psychology of Love, ed. by R.J. Stenberg and K. Weis, 2006.
Fisher, H. Lust, romance, attachment: Do the side effects of serotonin enhancing antidepressants jeopardize romantic love, marriage, and fertility? In: Evolutionary Cognitive Neuroscience, ed. by S.M. Platek et al., 2006.
So one cannot do philosophy, or science for that matter, of complex phenomena?Delete
It's much, much harder to do good science on complex phenomena. That's one reason why the conclusions of medicine are so much more tentative (and difficult to reproduce) than the conclusions of physics.
Frankly, I don't think philosophy and philosophers even have the tools yet to do any serious discussion of concepts like "love" and "value".
> Frankly, I don't think philosophy and philosophers even have the tools yet to do any serious discussion of concepts like "love" and "value". <
And yet, they have been doing just that since ancient Greece, producing a lot of valuable insights in the process.
I guess you and I differ on the "value" of these "valuable insights".Delete
Not until we understand the chemical basis for things like "love", and how this interacts with other systems of the body, are we likely to have any valuable insights at all. Just unverifiable babble, which is most likely judged on the basis of how much it agrees with the preconceptions of the reader.
It must be tough for anyone who loves you to convince you that you matter. After all it’s all unverifiable babble to you.
You’re right, the poets and philosophers talking about love are mouthing so much babble. We need to wait for the chemists to tell us what love really is. I have a feeling, however, the young men who wise up to this truth will find it hard to find young ladies (or in some cases other young men) who find them romantic. The moon in June will lose much of its charm and holding hands and touching cheek to cheek will cease to feel so sweet while whispering in her ear how meaningless it all really is.
What do you hope to accomplish with this understanding of the chemical basis for love (if we ever do find meaningful correlations between the chemicals of the body and feelings of love)? I guess you’d be able to tell when someone really does love you and when they’re faking it. That’d make you feel somewhat secure I imagine. Perhaps you could bring about world peace by injecting people with just the right chemicals so we all love one another. Whatever you’d concoct I imagine it’d bear a close resemblance to “soma” from Aldus Huxley’s “Brave New World”. A “gramme is better than a damn”, huh? We could be made to love Wal-Mart and everything the politicians running our government think we ought to love.
There is a short video of Bertrand Russell online offering a message to future generations. He gives us two pieces of advice, one intellectual and one moral. The intellectual one I imagine you would have no trouble with. The moral one he says is simple, “Love is wise and hatred is foolish”. Philosophy is more than a quest for facts; it is a search for the wisdom of how to live life and live it to the fullest. Some people think it’d be great if we could learn from each other and learn to live together in harmony without resorting to drugs and coercion by the rich and powerful. Perhaps an understanding of chemistry can help some people live in peace with their neighbors, but I’d put my money on a faith in the goodness of people and a universal desire to live in peace. It wouldn’t be easy, but it’d certainly be more satisfying than living in a Brave New World.
Jeffrey seems to be of the view that love is some sort of discrete module in the brain that establishes an empirical fact of the matter with respect to what people say about love.Delete
Paul: No, I am not of that view, so please don't make up things about what you think I think. I think "love" is shorthand for an extremely complicated chemical, physical, and social interaction that we do not understand very well at all. Because of this, any current philosophy about it is likely to be completely wrong.Delete
Patrick: What do you hope to accomplish with this understanding of the chemical basis for love...?
I hope to accomplish the very same thing that we do when we find the chemical basis for fire, or beta-agonists, or the light of the lightning bug.
Currently, philosophers talking about love are like alchemists talking about the transmutation of gold. They really have no idea how to do it, and they don't even have the tools to do it. They are awaiting the equivalent of physicists who figured out how to turn lead into gold by nuclear bombardment.
First off, the view you're expressing about love is a philosophical view; it's just that for some reason you don't regard other philosophical views about love as in the same league as yours.
It is possible to question your view without being unscientific or anti-scientific. It is arguable that 'love' is not a purely empirical term like 'water' and 'kidney' are, but a term with at least some ethical content.
Ethical content creates a problem for empirical enquiry because ethical truths are not a matter of empirical fact. If the empirical enquirer ignores ethical content either they end up building their own ethics into their science or distorting the term with respect to the way the term is ordinarily used. Note the impossibility of a purely objective and empirical inquiry into "justice."
It may be that when we use the term 'love' in ordinary life, we're not just describing a feeling but e.g. making promises, commitments, and so on. And generally, it seems there is latitude for people to define their own conception of love, one that fits in with their general ethical outlook.
Empirically speaking, it seems that people do have differing views of love that relate to their ethical outlook. Given this, might there not be a problem with a science that says that love is such-and-such and whoever disagrees is just wrong?
As your view of love is itself philosophical, it doesn't make sense for you to dismiss views you disagree with as "philosophy." What philosophical mistake do you see those views as making?
Thanks for the references! They will go on my reading list.ReplyDelete
I come at this from an asexual perspective, and asexuals tend to talk about models of attraction all the time (for fun and for practical needs). There are a few models that are very successful, like romantic orientation. In general, they're different from neuropsychological models of love, and that's very interesting to me.
But it makes sense that the models are different. Asexual models of attraction are formed through a non-scientific process, and they focus on the components of attraction that people with atypical experiences tend to be missing. Helen Fisher's model seems to be focused on the components of attraction with distinct hormonal profiles (?). It makes sense that these would lead to different categorizations, since it's not the hormones themselves which tend to be missing.
In fairness to the Kantians/rationalists, I doubt they are trying to give an accurate psychological account of what's going on in relationships that are typically viewed as instances of "love" (at least, I hope that's not what they're up to!) After all, you don't need much neuroscience or philosophy to know that loving relationships are highly contingent, highly a-rational, and highly capricious - even writers of Hollywood romantic comedies recognize this.ReplyDelete
It seems to me that what the rationalists are trying to do is articulate an attitude that has some kind of moral significance. For example, the moral teachings of some religions say "Love your neighbor/parents/spouse/children/etc." So it's natural to ask, "what does loving somebody consist of?" In this context, the kind of answer being sought after doesn't have to do with the biology or causal explanations that underlie romantic attachment. The kind of answer one is looking for is something like, "love is recognizing and respecting that person's autonomy" or "love is valuing that person's ends as your own" (those are two Kantian-flavored answers, but they don't have to be. I'm just trying to sketch the *kind* of answer that these people seem to be after. A non-Kantian answer might be something like, "love is worshiping that person as your master and valuing his needs over everything else.")
Where I think Kantians/rationalists go wrong is when they make a normative judgment about what kinds of "love" are genuinely valuable or morally significant. Kant would probably say that only "rational love" (of the kind I mentioned above) has any kind of moral worth, whereas a-rational love (of the kind most people experience) has no more moral significance than, say, liking somebody's fashion sense.
So it seems to me that the kinds of considerations mentioned in this article simply aren't relevant to the kind of thing the rationalists are doing. If they are, it's embarrassing that such obvious observations need to be pointed out.
Take a look at: "Love is not love which alters NOT when it alteration finds," philosopher Amelie Rorty's gloss on the bard's sonnet 116!ReplyDelete
Jacques Derrida On Love and BeingReplyDelete
Interviewer: "Whatever you want to say about 'love' ..."
Derrida: "I either have nothing to say, or I'd just be reciting cliches."
Love is as capable of rational analysis as any subjective experience, with the usual difficulties of objective analysis of a subjective state. It requires self-analysis and analysis of the world we are immersed in. We currently lack a sufficient neural-biological explanation for emotions and for our reasoning about them, so this piece is too speculative. As a narrative, one can argue this way and that, but I would concentrate on the hard scientific work if Love interests you, rather than relying on narratives from the outside (so to speak).ReplyDelete
To point a direction for progress, rather than merely criticizing external narratives, chemistry is the obvious answer. We have the valuable subjective experience; the valuable objective scientific analysis; and the less valuable objective narrative of the subjective narrator. The scientific explanation needs to consider the hyphen between neural-biological, as chemistry. Neurons serve an entirely chemical anatomy for enablement, and for awareness, of biological functions in the world.ReplyDelete
Our diverse chemical anatomy is entirely attuned to neurons as their facilitator for enablement, and for their awareness after inputs are finalized in the brain - as an experience of touch with thoughts of touch attending the feelings after say 200 milliseconds of processing (give or take - see Ben Libet's work). A latent anatomical "experience" in the world is finalized in the brain before the "experience" arises as a real neuronal experience across the brain.
Being attuned to a chemical anatomy points the way to a scientific explanation of feelings and thoughts attending them, as extensions of that anatomy finalized in the brain. We don't have great awareness by fortunate trial and error as to which neural connections give us breath, poetry etc. We have a chemical anatomy with all its functions and their feelings, including Love, finalized for the real subjective experience. Analyse the chemistry of the anatomy facilitated by neurons for the source of Love. You can read more about the real chemical anatomy in my free book at thehumandesign.net.
From the post "we would find weird, within the context of a work of art, if someone were to say “it’s beautiful because it’s expensive.”"ReplyDelete
While it sounds weird as a conscious statement, in practice the price seems to be part of the "beauty". I've seen studies that more expensive wines "taste" better (i.e. if you know the price, not in a double-blind study), or that more expensive sugar pills produce a stronger placebo affect. Taken in the context of the lust, limerence, attachment sequence, "I love her because she is rich" makes sense if it was the wealth that got the sequence started. (Not as a single factor, of course.)
Interesting post, overall, an not one I expected to find on RS ;-)
> Derrida: "I either have nothing to say, or I'd just be reciting cliches." <
If only Derrida has given that answer more often, we would have been spared a lot of philosophical nonsense...
> While it sounds weird as a conscious statement, in practice the price seems to be part of the "beauty". I've seen studies that more expensive wines "taste" better <
Yes, but the point is that we think of those instances as people making a mistake. We wouldn’t think that price, per se, is a good reason to think a particular wine is good, right?
> In fairness to the Kantians/rationalists, I doubt they are trying to give an accurate psychological account of what's going on in relationships that are typically viewed as instances of "love" <
I think you are correct, but I don’t think de Sousa’s criticism develops along those lines. He sees Kantian *philosophical* approaches as misguided, not because they make normative judgments, but because they make those judgments on the basis of a wrong characterization of human love. This, I think, is a general problem with Kant: his moral philosophy might make sense for a sentient robot, but it doesn’t take into sufficient account the realities of human nature (which is why I prefer the much more psychologically informed virtue ethics...).
I think this criticism still misses the mark. Or to be more precise, I don't see it as being dialectically effective against Kantians/rationalists. If you present rationalists with all this empirical evidence about the nature of human relationships, they're not going to say, "Ohhh! If only I had known these things before! Now I have to completely re-evaluate my thinking about love!" I expect the reaction to be more along the lines of, "Sure, I accept all the empirical data you've presented, but this just shows that the 'important' kind of love isn't as common as you think it is." The same is true in the case of morality - Kantians aren't ignorant of the fact that most recognizably "moral" behavior is the product of a-rational processes or self-interest. They just make the judgment that 'genuinely' moral actions aren't as common as people think.Delete
Heck, I've heard Chris Korsgaard say that, given her rationalist view of intentional action, it might turn out that no human has ever made an intentional action at all!
Of course, whether de Sousa's criticism is dialectically effective against the rationalists/Kantians doesn't entail that it's a faulty criticism. Maybe it's a perfectly fine criticism, but the rationalists/Kantians are beyond persuasion.
Long story short: your post makes it seem like the Kantians/rationalists hold the view that they do because they are ignorant of the facts de Sousa mentions (after all, the basic structure of your post is: (i) bunch of empirical facts (ii) Kantianism refuted!) But the conclusion strikes me as a complete non-sequitur unless you also specify what a Kantian theory of love is supposed to do, and exactly what sorts of facts it needs to be responsive too.
Some folks have a liking for anarchism and its freedom from rational duty, but we need to wait until more is known at a genuine scientific level. Swimming around Scholasticism is just a bit of fun compared to proper scientific enquiry. As for Kant, the context for Love might be as rational as any human context, but not necessarily penetrable to everyman narratives - it might even require a new nomenclature. There may be specific electro-chemical states of anatomy (and neural representations of anatomy) that place the experience of Love within a rational context, and discoveries might one day show the connection between the rational and its various emotional manifestations. Till then I suppose anyone can be anarchistic about emotions.Delete
> Yes, but the point is that we think of those instances as people making a mistake.
Not sure that is true, at least not in all case. Beauty lacks objective criteria, so price is often a reasonable proxy. Not all expensive wines are good and not all cheap wines bad, but if the correlation is positive and high enough, they are at least not making an obvious mistake. Even more so with art, where a high price will often guarantee that the friends of the buyer find it more beautiful (which might be the poitn of buying it ;-) )
You have been talking about the demarcation between philosophy and science. What you have given here is mostly a scientific analysis of what is going on chemically when people experience lust, romantic feelings for someone or when they experience a mature attachment to someone. It’s wild that some or your fellow skeptics here think this is a way forward. Like Alex Rosenberg and Sam Harris they want to somehow convert feelings into something else, so rather than having to interpret what they are feeling they can simply process them intellectually.
The irony in statements like, “it’s beautiful because it’s expensive” comes from the confusion between utilitarian value and intrinsic value. The artist creates a work in order to give form to his impression of his subject. It is both intellectual and emotional. It includes a valuation. Guernica was Picasso’s impression of war. He didn’t like it. The painting has great intrinsic value because it expresses so well the way so many people feel about the subject. Of course it’s worth a lot of dough. If I owned it, I wouldn’t have to work anymore to make a living.
Your generalizations about Kant’s moral philosophy don’t square with my understanding. I wish you would be more specific.
What you’ve written here regarding de Sousa’s lecture doesn’t seem to “take into sufficient account of the realities of human nature”, for there is a distinction between sexual attraction and lust. Lust is often an obsession with sexual attraction. Not only is it fungible, a man lusting after a woman can disregard the wishes, desires and the needs of the object of his lust. He pretty much treats her as an object, as a means to his own gratification, rather than a person who has value in her own right, with thoughts and desires that are worthy of respect. The sense of duty here is simply to not lose sight of the fact that this luscious creature before you (who Doctor Strangelove might describe as one whose sexual characteristics are “of a highly stimulating nature”) is also a person. It is not unreasonable to want these biological appetites to be disciplined to support relationships that in turn support the social life of the greater community. It’s also not unreasonable to treat someone with respect regardless of the how “hot” you think she is, because you want her to like you and not think of you as a lecherous creep.
I can verify my feelings and make them more objective in the same way I verify my thoughts. For instance I can accept the things I hear from Sam Harris about Muslims and think they are a particularly nasty and violent people. I can project these ideas and the feelings of fear that they evoke onto the Muslims I meet. But if I let myself get to know some of these people and discover that they aren’t so bad, then I’ll stop fearing them (at least these particular people who happen to be Muslims). I might even become friends and learn to love them. Who knows, it might even occur to me to question whether Sam Harris knows what he’s talking about when he talks about Muslims in general.
I can project my lust onto a woman or I can be open to really getting to know her and being her friend. I am not a slave to my biological appetites. Bucky Fuller said, “Love is omni-inclusive, progressively exquisite, understanding and compassionately attuned to other than self”. That is a poet’s understanding of love. He is not projecting his ideas and feelings onto the other; his interest is focused on the other, so he can know them in their reality and not as he might wish them to be.
Feelings ought to be congruent with one’s duty. The study of morality and ethics is in part a contemplation of ones feelings, weighing my feelings of attraction alongside my empathy, admiration and love for this person. I don’t think it’s a-rational to behave this way.
> The same is true in the case of morality - Kantians aren't ignorant of the fact that most recognizably "moral" behavior is the product of a-rational processes or self-interest. They just make the judgment that 'genuinely' moral actions aren't as common as people think. <
Yes, but the problem with the Kantian approach in both cases (love and morality) is that it is *entirely* rationalistic. The issue isn’t to bow to the brute facts of human nature and be done with it. that would be psychology, not philosophy. But it makes no sense to me to pluck oughts out of thin air either. That’s way the intermediate, virtue ethical approach, appeals to me: you take human nature as the starting point, and you strive to improve it.
> I've heard Chris Korsgaard say that, given her rationalist view of intentional action, it might turn out that no human has ever made an intentional action at all! <
Right, that sort of thing I consider pure and simple nonsense on stilts...
> your post makes it seem like the Kantians/rationalists hold the view that they do because they are ignorant of the facts de Sousa mentions <
Not at all. De Sousa is very clear about this: they know the facts, they just stubbornly insist in ignoring them.
> Like Alex Rosenberg and Sam Harris they want to somehow convert feelings into something else, so rather than having to interpret what they are feeling they can simply process them intellectually. <
I hope you are not imputing that attitude to me. I think I’ve been pretty consistent for a while now: *both* facts (including scientific facts) and analysis / valuations are necessary to talk seriously about issues like love, morality, etc.
> Your generalizations about Kant’s moral philosophy don’t square with my understanding. I wish you would be more specific. <
See above. Maybe I’ll devote a separate post to the issue.
> What you’ve written here regarding de Sousa’s lecture doesn’t seem to “take into sufficient account of the realities of human nature”, for there is a distinction between sexual attraction and lust. <
Yes, there is, but sexual attraction is common to all three phases identified by Fisher, so it doesn’t enter into De Sousa’s scheme, it’s a (frequent, not universal) background condition.
> It’s also not unreasonable to treat someone with respect regardless of the how “hot” you think she is, because you want her to like you and not think of you as a lecherous creep. <
I don’t think De Sousa would disagree, and certainly neither do I.
> I am not a slave to my biological appetites. <
No, but be careful not to make the mistake of underestimating them. They are an important part of who you are.
> The study of morality and ethics is in part a contemplation of ones feelings, weighing my feelings of attraction alongside my empathy, admiration and love for this person. I don’t think it’s a-rational to behave this way. <
Agreed, but De Sousa’s idea is that love doen’t have *reasons* because it is a-rational (which, of course, is different from irrational). Which is why Kantian accounts of love are hopeless. That does by no means imply that rationality (as in reasonable self-reflection) shouldn’t enter into it, in terms of how we ethically related to the object of our love.
As Patrick says, there is much more to our experience of love than would be suggested by hormones and the simple three way classification. That is because our mind is, in ways we still don't understand, much more than our biology. Our growing intellectual edifice is testimony to this as is the large literature on the experience of love.ReplyDelete
My small contribution here is to note the strong feelings of love that people can have for their pets, especially dogs. I have seen people shocked and grieving after the deaths of their pets. I have seen the intense loyalty, commitment and devotion that people can show to their pets. One can only call it love but it does not fit any of the three categories, nor is there any of the kind of progression that the article suggests. The categorisation and the mechanism described in the article does not seem to do justice to our experiences and observations of love.
>our mind is, in ways we still don't understand, much more than our biology<Delete
That's far too bold, and given your admission of a lack of knowledge, its probably self contradictory. Psychology is a subset of biology (anatomy in environment) - the key is to examine biology and its chemical structure. In fact, we might find that psychology merely represents the anatomy in its environment.
Neurons contribute significantly to mind, as the experience of mind arises after finalization of neuronal processing in the brain. However, these are finalizations of signals from the entire anatomy functioning in its environment, and not a brain as an independent Homunculus. Neurons are an intact facility to enable functions and provide a representation of those functions (as mind).
Neurons are completely tied to functions, being embedded throughout our anatomy for finalization in the brain and the experience of mind. Any supposed gap between biology and mind could easily be from a lack of knowledge of biology, rather than awe of the mind. Shift the awe to the chemical capacities of anatomies served by neurons - its not magical trial and error that creates effective neural connections - its a functioning anatomy with diverse chemical capacities represented by neurons.
Psychology is no more a subset of biology than biology is a subset of physics. Not only is your statement bold, it’s (as Massimo would say) “nonsense on stilts”. Do you know what the word subset means? What you’re saying is all of the concepts that make up psychology are essentially biological. But this isn’t true. Professional biologists need never, ever, study psychology to be competent in their discipline; and professional psychologists can get away with a relatively rudimentary knowledge of biology and still be competent in their field. Psychology is very much a separate discipline. As science develops it becomes more specialized, so a physicist like Sean Carroll may know a little about quantum wave functions, even less about physical chemistry, and have no more knowledge of psychology than anyone with a decent liberal arts education. You might get away with arguing that psychology belongs to a superset of biology and that psychology in some way is reducible to biology, but this is equally both “too bold” and wrong. Only the most scientistic science guys would buy it. It is dogma. It is a claim that does not emit verification and is not supported by any scientific enquiry. It is what Kant would characterize as an aesthetic judgment. It’s similar in character to your sense that the chemical analysis of people (when they are experiencing different emotions) is an area for progress. Obviously you really like this idea, but it is subjective, scientistic and unreal.
Rather than get all excited over the prospects of discovering which “neural connections give us breath, poetry, etc” (and the chemical analysis of emotion), why not try to better understand your own feelings? Write some poetry! The way you learn to understand your feelings is by trying to express them (not going into a laboratory to figure out how much dopamine is running through your veins when you feel a connection with another person). A work of art is an artist’s attempt to give form to her impression of the world (or a small part of it). It is also an effort to understand; for the expression is often unsatisfying and inadequate and so she is compelled to rework it, to look at her subject and contemplate, and rework it some more. We know a lot “about” the world. All science can give us is knowledge “about” the world (in contrast to knowledge gained through living in the world). The artist can give us the world in a more concrete way. She can take everything science has discovered and incorporate it into her art and add to this her love, insight and understanding. We know enough to destroy life on this planet, but we do not know how to get along. We are scientifically skilled and morally barbarians. This is because science and logic are easy compared with understanding feelings, values and learning how to get along. To think studying chemistry is the way forward is to have your head buried in books and to never get out into the world and have to struggle with a wife, a family, jealousy and fear, neighborhood bullies, street gangs, political bullies, etc. . . .
> I have seen the intense loyalty, commitment and devotion that people can show to their pets. One can only call it love but it does not fit any of the three categories, nor is there any of the kind of progression that the article suggests. The categorisation and the mechanism described in the article does not seem to do justice to our experiences and observations of love. <
I don't think you are being fair to the speaker. Obviously De Sousa referred only to love among humans, and even then only to a particular type of love, between adults that are involved as companions. He left out, for instance, love of one's children, love of ideals, and so forth. Aristotle talked about all of them, but made useful distinctions. The same goes for love for pets: it certainly is an important dimension of the human experience, but I think using the generic word "love" in all those cases is misleading (and peculiar to the English language: Greek, Latin, Italian and French at least have different terms to be used for specific categories of love).
I'm not sure I have a problem with the first horn of the dilemma there. While it is true that we'd say a person is wrong to love a monstrously evil person, we would not say that they are loving incorrectly, or that it's not really love.ReplyDelete
It is certainly pragmatically wrong to love a monstrously evil person, unless you are also monstrously evil, or at least totally amoral. It will almost certainly end badly for you, which is an excellent reason not to do something.
It may even be morally wrong to love a monstrously evil person, in some sense - perhaps because they don't deserve it, or because it is likely to lead to the perversion of your own character, for example.
None of these kinds of wrongness, however, seem to contradict the idea that things are valued because we love them, rather than the reverse. There is a reason we have sayings like "Love is blind" and "the heart wants what the heart wants." It may be a bad idea to love a bad person, but people do it all the time.
It’s true sexual attraction is a-rational, but it’s not completely so. The first time I saw Sarah Palin I thought she was pretty hot; but when I heard her simplistic, naïve, incompetent and even mean spirited ideas about our government and our world I found it difficult (if not impossible) to work up an effective lust for her.
My problem with the movie “American Beauty” (where a middle-aged man lusts after a friend of his daughter) is that it ignores a healthy feeling that I know well, where a woman (no matter how beautiful and mature she may be physically) feels more like a daughter, than someone who I can reasonably be interested in romantically. “Hitting on her” would feel off-centered and wrong. Of course many men can (and do) silence and ignore these feelings, but the feelings are evidence that sexual attraction is not completely a-rational.
I am a rational animal. I love being a man who loves women. However, I am not bound by my biology to merely behave as an organism. Ethics and morality imply freedom (while science and the study of biology imply determinism). It may be almost second nature to turn and look at a woman as she is walking by, but that doesn’t preclude me from regarding her as a person and caring about her thoughts and feelings. As I get to know her we may discover we share a similar outlook on the world and we may develop close, intimate feelings for each other. But more often than not I’ll discover that we see the world in very different terms (she may be in love with someone else and show little interest in getting to know me; she may be a racist or hate Muslims or Catholics and seem naïve and lacking in empathy), and when this happens sexual attraction feels less like a hunger and more like an aspect of the way she looks.