Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Particularity of Love

Now and again I hear or read something saying that we should or do love what we love “in its particularity.” This sometimes gets the implicitly metaphysical gloss that we should love people, especially, just for “who they are” and sometimes gets the explicitly metaphysical gloss that the reason why we love whom and what we love is that it possesses its own haecceity
. Since I don’t believe in haecceities yet, and since I don’t know what to do with “who they are” in this context, I never put much stock in this particularity idea.

Harry Frankfurt has cleared it up for me:

“The significance to the lover of what he loves is not that his beloved is an instance or exemplar… For a person who wants simply to help the sick or the poor, it would make perfectly good sense to choose his beneficiaries randomly from among those who are sick or poor enough to qualify. It does not matter who in particular the needy persons are. Since he does not really care about any of them as such, they are entirely acceptable substitutes for each other. The situation of a lover is very different. There can be no equivalent substitute for his beloved… It cannot possibly be all the same to the lover whether he is devoting himself disinterestedly to what he actually does love or – no matter how similar it might be – to something else instead.” (The Reasons of Love, 44)

I’m still not sure whether the particularity idea is true, but now I know roughly what would count as a counterexample to it.

My question here is: How does the particularity idea sit with the fact that there are such things as what we love about individuals? It sure seems that, if I love certain things about an individual, then, if the individual were not to have those things I love about it (or if I were to come to believe that the individual did not have those things), I would not love the individual. When I tell my girlfriend what I love about her – how funny she is, how affectionate she is – part of what I am telling her is why, in part, I have come to love her. My beloved’s having what I love about it, or my believing that it has what I love about it, is a necessary condition for my having come to love it, if not also for my continuing to love it.

But while this is a necessary condition, a consequence of the particularity idea is that it can’t be sufficient. What we love about an individual is not alone what makes us love it, either in fact or as a matter of duty. For what we love about individuals are properties, and properties are typically things that numerically distinct individuals can share. But if I need not, either in fact or as a matter of duty, love a numerically distinct qualitative duplicate of my beloved, then what I love about my beloved – certain properties of the sort shared by its doppelganger – is neither what causes me nor what obligates me to love it.

No comments: