Is “love” enough around which to re-habilitate the necessary edifice of human self-understanding and normativity with any level of exactness and perspicacity?
I’d suggest yes, if, and only if, an exploration of love reveals something (1) intelligible, (2) normative, (3) structural, (4) self-referentially consistent, and (5) defining of our anthropology. To put it another way, I’m not suggesting we examine love abstractly, but that we examine our own concrete selves and subjectivity as the access point, and in so doing will discover human nature and human norms, but in a way less guilty of reifying our identity into “thinkers,” and without the tendency to force our own selves into correspondence with any theory about human nature. At the same time, it seems right to me that the basic impulse of the Western tradition—which is to identify a basic isomorphism between the way we are (our natures) and the way we ought to be (teleology)—is valuable and true. Ethics not rooted in the way we actually are is either groundless or ideological or both; politics out of keeping with our nature is either false or violent or both; accounts of flourishing unmoored from human nature tend to be unserious or oppressive or both.
The task, then, is to discover human nature as it actually is, and as it actually is in our own concrete empirical selves, and to rehabilitate normative accounts of our well-being and flourishing. And to do so by an analysis of love, but an analysis which is concrete, intelligible, and differentiated.
Something of a steep task, I suspect.
I have begun to describe work on this task:
- Does desire generate thought, or thought generate desire?
- What is mental substance?
- Trying to understand Spiritual Identity
- What is mind: Information or Substance?
- Can we conceive of mind-body dualism?
- Does Nondualism allow us to Love Others?
And Section 20.4 (Persons and their Identity) of my book (Starting Science From God):
The system of discrete degrees that comes from an analysis of theism suggests a possible solution to the problem of continued personal identity. In Section 6.5 we saw that, within an ontology of multiple generative levels, there was a sense in which the continued identity of a person could be attributed to some prior degree, especially if this prior degree were relatively unchanging. So, if the prior degree were strictly unchanging during a person’s lifetime, then we would have a means of identifying our personal identity both during our growth and changes in this life and possibly also after the death of our physical bodies. There would then be a core in us that would be the basis of our continued existence, and that could said to be our ‘true self’.
This core, according to our basic theism, is our most fundamental love. For God this core is the divine love. That is clearly his core and the basis of his continued divine identity. For us, it is the love that is the most prior generative degree that can be said to be ‘us’ rather than ‘someone else’. That love is the most constant underlying disposition in our life. It is like Plato’s ‘self-moving soul.’ Let us call this most constant underlying disposition our principal love. Because the principal love produces our life, it is recognizable by its effect of producing a ‘theme of our life’. We agree with Hume that this identity is not immediately apparent to our introspection, but that does not make it any less real. Along with dispositions in general, our principal love can be tested by examining skills, character, and performances when there are few or no external constraints, by examining affections in action and in the voice, and so on. Just as physicists test dispositions by experiments and not by mere inspection, so our own identities could be inferred by examining all our characteristic actions more easily than by introspection.
This concept of personal identity as principal love would be most useful to psychology and theology if that love were completely unchanged during our lifetime: from birth to death and even after bodily death. This would require it to keep all the same intrinsic properties even though its effects and relations may vary. Its relation to us will certainly vary as we grow up and later die. It would also be most useful if we could assume that no two people had the same principal love. Then we could be sure not to confuse any two people. Theistic religions claim that we have some kind of continued identity that survives bodily death. I offer the concept of principal love as a candidate for the needed kind of identity.