A Rational View of Love

G. Stolyarov II
Issue CLXXIII - September 24, 2008
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The purpose of this essay is not to prove the truth of, but rather to outline, an original systematic approach to a long-contemplated and long-discussed concept - namely love. I understand that my analysis cannot be exhaustive, as it must of necessity be brief. Yet I hope that it will offer an alternative to certain prevalent views of love - which often result in tragic consequences for those enacting them.

Here, I take the view of a Neo-Enlightenment rationalist, atheist, materialist, and meliorist. The view I espouse is not necessarily philosophical rationalism, but it is commonsense - or practical - rationalism, in that while I do not believe that every aspect of the world can be deduced from first principles, I do believe that every aspect of the world can be comprehended by human reason and ought to be so comprehended. If love is a real aspect of the world, then it, too, can and ought to be comprehended by human reason. I will henceforth refer to the view I will outline and defend here as the practical rationalist view of love, and I will contrast it, where appropriate, with both the mystical view of love - the view that characterizes much traditional Western thinking on the subject - as well as a prevalent contemporary view, which for the sake of conciseness I will refer to as the entertainment view of love.

Love is an intellectual-emotional synthesis.

Contrary to the prevailing view of love as just a "feeling" that is largely beyond an individual's control, the practical rationalist view holds that multiple human faculties are simultaneously involved in the phenomenon of love. Love certainly does contain an extensive emotional dimension, but just as extensive is the intellectual dimension of love. Both the mystical and the entertainment views of love acknowledge this emotional component, but they largely neglect the intellectual aspect - which is antecedent to the emotional.

The human mind does not fathom the world through feelings - which are internalized and thoroughly automated normative evaluations. Before one can normatively evaluate anything, one must be aware of the thing which is to be evaluated. The raw data must come before the response to it. The raw data of the world comes to man through his senses. This data can come in the form of peaceful perceptions - such as observing a scene or hearing a sound - or through violent disruptions - such as pain or uncomfortably loud noise. After receiving the data, man evaluates it using his intellect and forms an opinion of what he ought to do regarding it. In order to liberate his conscious intellect for still further evaluations of new data, many of his former evaluations - especially if they are repeatedly performed - become automated in the form of emotions. Thus, an individual might come to relish the sight of a peaceful meadow while detesting the ruffian who drives through that meadow playing "gangsta rap" music at deafening volumes. Without first becoming aware of meadows or deafening "gangsta rap," it is impossible to have any feelings about them. Furthermore, that an emotion is formed is no guarantee that its underlying intellectual normative synthesis is correct. Rather, it is simply a sign that such a synthesis has been performed frequently and is persuasive to the individual.

In the course of his life, an individual's prior normative syntheses shape the manner in which he subsequently perceives the world. Prior experiences and his emotional responses to him channel his future courses of action and condition his interpretative framework. The intellect and the emotions interact by mutual feedback. While new emotional syntheses must necessarily first arise through the intellect, the intellect often uses past emotional syntheses as inputs in making decisions about the external world. This renders virtually impossible an analysis of man apart from his emotions, but it also implies the impossibility of any aspect of man existing segmented from his intellect. The same interrelationships that render man inextricably a creature of numerous emotions also render every aspect of him comprehensible via intellectual analysis and enable him to deploy such analysis to understand himself and the external world.

Love is a specific kind of intellectual-emotional synthesis. Namely, it is an intense emotional reaction to intellectually recognized goodness. The intellect recognizes that which is good - the object of love - and the emotions, if they have been previously conditioned to respond appropriately to the good - deliver a felt confirmation of that goodness. It is no exaggeration when an avid mathematician claims to love working with numbers or a connoisseur of classical music confesses a love to the symphonies of Mozart. What they feel corresponds to and arises from their evaluation of the objects of their love as good - good because of their own qualities. After all, if the symphonies of Mozart were not comprised of certain sound waves and were instead comprised of others - say, sound waves replicating the screech of metal against glass - the music connoisseur would not love them. Love is experienced by him who loves, but it occurs because of that which is loved. The following diagram summarizes the causal and temporal chain that occurs with respect to love.

The qualities of the perceived object

lead to

Intellectual appraisal of the perceived object as good

leads to

Emotional response of love to the object whose qualities are perceived as good.

In the most important kinds of love, the object of love is another human being. Call a human being the object of love is not meant to objectify that human being. Rather, it is simply meant to express a distinction from the subject of love - the person who experiences and displays love toward the object.

In most cases, the subject of love does not stop with a mere positive emotional appraisal of the object of love. Rather, that appraisal is followed by action taken to promote or advance the object of one's love. When the object of one's love is inanimate - such as an item or an activity - love of the object implies a desire to take possession or secure the perpetuation of the item or to engage in the activity. When the object of one's love is a person, love of the object implies a desire to take action to improve the well-being of that person in a material, emotional, and intellectual sense.

Thus, a complete causal chain with regard to love also includes the implications of love with regard to action.

The qualities of the perceived object

lead to

Intellectual appraisal of the perceived object as good

leads to

Emotional response of love to the object whose qualities are perceived as good

leads to

Action in the furtherance of the object whose qualities are perceived as good.

Thus far, I have outlined merely a positive view of love. Love by a particular subject for an object arises out of the qualities of the object that the subject perceives, but also is determined by whether the subject considers those qualities to be good. Two subjects, examining the same object and recognizing the same qualities, might have different normative evaluations of those qualities - arising from different prior intellectual and emotional syntheses. One's understanding of what is good will determine whether one loves the things, activities, and people one encounters. Hence, the spectrum of what humans love is as wide as the spectrum of human normative evaluations.

The remainder of this essay shall be devoted to a normative view of love - namely, what qualities of which objects an individual ought to perceive as good and therefore to love. How ought different kinds of love differ depending on the different objects of love? What errors can one make with regard to love, and how might they be avoided? The practical rationalist view contains an extensive normative component intended as a guide to everyday action. It not merely describes what love is in general, but also what love ought to be in particular and how one ought to approach it through one's own behaviors.

My view is not just rationalist; it is also individualist in ethics. The rational individualist considers his own life to be the foremost ethical value. Logic, however, precludes the rational individualist from claiming the possibility of sacrificing other people's lives in the furtherance of his own - unless it be in self-defense against direct aggression. Other people are fundamentally like oneself in that they are human and possess every basic human faculty. If I ought to value my own life as foremost, and this imperative is universal for every person from his own vantage point, then there is no consistent way of denying another person's ultimate value without denying one's own. If it is not legitimate for Person X to pursue his life as highest value, then why is it legitimate for me to pursue mine - given that Person X and I are fundamentally alike in that we are both human? If I deny Person X the right to pursue his life as his highest value, what consistent argument can I present against him denying me my right to pursue my life? Thus, the rational individualist believes that he ought to maximize his own long-term, fully-considered self-interest - given the stipulation that logical consistency requires that he not infringe on the natural rights of any other person.

Four Kinds of Love for Living Creatures

When the object of one's love is a living creature, four kinds of love are possible, depending on the qualities of the object. One of these kinds of love may coincide and overlap with the three others, but also may encompass objects outside the three other kinds of love. This is love for the innocent. The other three kinds of love - love for parents, love for children, and love for a spouse - may not be directed by a single subject at the same individuals, as these kinds of love entail fundamentally different relationships between the subject and the object. Each of the four different kinds of love arise from a recognition of and a desire to advance different kinds of goodness, as summarized in the following diagram.

Desire to preserve innocence

leads to

Love for the innocent.

Desire to express gratitude

leads to

Love for one's parents.

Desire to reward virtue

leads to

Love for one's spouse.

Desire to cultivate competence

leads to

Love for one's children.

Love for the Innocent

Innocence is today often conflated with inexperience or ignorance of the evils and problems present in the world. Yet, while many creatures that are inexperienced and ignorant are also innocent, this is not the defining characteristic of innocence. Rather, innocence is best described as a complete lack of malice toward any living creature, combined with a lack of severe unintended threats toward any human being. It is possible to be both aware of and to have experienced evil without wishing evil upon any living being. Thus, creatures of any age or degree of intelligence and knowledge have the potential for being innocent.

All infants and young children - of any species - are innocent in that they have neither developed any malice toward any living creature nor the ability to unintentionally harm any human being. While some adult humans may have ill intentions toward other creatures, no baby human has such intentions. While an adult leopard may be dangerous for human beings - even though he intends no malice and is simply acting on his instincts - a baby leopard does not have the ability to seriously harm a human being. Thus, both the baby human and the baby leopard are innocent creatures, whereas the adult human and adult leopard may or may not be. A benevolent adult human or a tame, gentle adult leopard can, too, be innocent.

The preservation of innocence is always in one's rational self-interest, because one cannot come to serious harm from an innocent creature. An innocent creature may unknowingly act to produce some degree of inconvenience - such as a cat might cause by scratching a piece of furniture - but this inconvenience is not motivated by the desire to inflict harm and can be easily averted by restructuring the innocent creature's environment. The more prevalent innocence is in the world, the safer the world will be and the easier it will be to flourish in it. Consequently, it is desirable for one to experience a profound emotional satisfaction upon observing innocent beings and their behaviors, because this satisfaction will render one much more inclined - in every immediate instance - to preserve innocence wherever one encounters it. An individual acts much more effectively in the furtherance of an object if that object is valued with the emotions as well as the intellect, provided that the emotions reinforce what the intellect resolves to be true and do not struggle against reason and prudence.

Innocent creatures encompass pets, infants of every species, many children whose motivations have not been corrupted by their more vulgar peers, and an unknown, but a minority, proportion of human adults. It is quite possible that one's own children, spouse, or parents are innocent - in which case they ought to be loved for their innocence in addition to the love which they deserve as good children, spouse, or parents.

Some innocent creatures are incapable of averting evil done to them by malicious persons or harm done to them by inanimate nature. Love for these creatures implies striving to create a benevolent environment for them, such that they do not need to encounter vicissitudes from which they cannot preserve themselves.

Love for One's Parents

One's parents have performed for one the invaluable service of having initiated one's life. If one values one's own life, one ought to value the act by which one's life was initiated and to respond with gratitude to the individuals who initiated one's life. Of course, beyond initiating one's life, parents have a responsibility to sustain it until one is capable of comfortably sustaining it on one's own. This is so because while one's life is the greatest possible value, the vicissitudes which endanger one's life as a child are not at all valuable. One's parents gave one life - for which they should be thanked - but they also enabled one to be vulnerable to such vicissitudes - for which they ought to compensate by eliminating or mitigating the vicissitudes whenever possible.

Thus, parents are responsible for supporting the lives of their children. Of course, different parents have different opinions of what this support ought to constitute, as well as different levels of devotion to carrying out their perceived obligations for their children. The parents who give their children an extensive amount of support and are consistent in delivering it should be esteemed and loved by their children, because they provide for their children a basis for flourishing in the material, intellectual, and emotional sense. If one's parents give one sufficient food of high quality, a reliable place to live, an intellectual upbringing suitable to one's capacities, and emotional support whenever justified, then one should, out of gratitude, love one's parents without reservation. If one's parents fail substantially in any of these areas to provide active support, they might still do enough in the others to merit a qualified love. If, however, one's parents act abusively - to the unambiguous severe detriment of one's flourishing in one or more of the above areas - then they should not be loved, but rather seen as obstacles to one's further flourishing. Particularly if one's parents intend to abuse their children, they should not be loved, but reviled. While their contribution to one's coming into existence should still be recognized and appreciated, one should consider oneself to have no further obligations to them besides expressing this abstract appreciation.

Love for One's Children

When one brings children into this world, one has an obligation to take care of them until keeping them under one's care would impede their further prospects rather than enhance them. This evaluation is necessarily grounded in the circumstances of time and place, as well as the specific variations in judgments among different parents. Yet while there is not necessarily a universal set duration of the parental obligation, such duration is still extensive under any legitimate interpretation. One's parental obligation alone should lead one to act in the best interests of one's children until they achieve full self-direction.

However, in addition to carrying out one's parental obligation, one should also love one's children as specific individuals and enjoy interacting with them and facilitating their transition to self-direction. Not only will each specific child have qualities that are good irrespective of his status as a child; the parent is also in a unique position to help develop these qualities so as to make them better. The parents' decisions will contribute greatly to whether the child becomes a prosperous, competent, happy person or a destitute, incompetent, unhappy one. If one valued the latter state over the former, one would value one's child's misery over his fulfillment - which is perverse. If one were indifferent between the flourishing or destitution of a human being under one's direct power, then this would reflect poorly on one's opinion of one's own importance, dignity, and agency in the world. If a parent is unable to substantively enhance the life of a being whom he/she created and who remains directly dependent on him/her, then what kind of powerless, resigned creature is he or she?

Love for one's children, then, arises from a desire to cultivate competencies in them. Every parent should experience the utmost pleasure in bestowing upon a young creature the skills and autonomy that the parent already enjoys.

Like love for one's parents, love for one's children is broadly conditional on those children having some kinds of meritorious qualities. These qualities are not merely physical or intellectual skills but also moral virtues - including traits such as the child's gentleness and love for his or her parents. Thus, it is possible to love a child who will never achieve the full set adult competencies - such as a severely disabled or autistic child - on account of redeeming personal qualities. But a child that commits severe moral transgressions - on the caliber of murder, rape, and sadism - should no longer be loved by his parents. There are no redeeming qualities or competencies that compensate for transgressions of that caliber. Parents may justifiably tolerate many lesser transgressions in their children - but only so long as those transgressions are reparable and efforts are made by the children to repair them.

Love for One's Spouse

Unlike any of the three other loves, love for one's spouse is symmetrical. It neither involves acknowledgment of the power of another nor the benevolent exertion of power on another. A child is under his parents' benevolent power, and the innocent are frequently under the benevolent protection of those capable of defending them. Spousal love is devoid of power asymmetries, and its participants are more akin to allies than to hegemons or protectorates.

The spousal relationship is not legitimately forced on anyone by either people or circumstances. Children do not choose their parents, and biological parents do not choose their specific children - although adoption and selection of foster parents by children does sometimes make these types of love dependent on choice. Moreover, if one encounters an innocent creature and one is a moral person, one has no immediate choice about whether to love that creature. The love follows from the innocence.

But spousal love is based purely on choice and entered into with no intention to exert or suffer asymmetrical power. Whence arises such a love?

The quality which elicits spousal love is the virtue of one's spouse - namely the ethical goodness of his or her behavior. Such virtue may include qualities such as honesty, gentleness, integrity, fidelity, rationality, productivity, prudence, foresightedness, benevolence, love of life, and the ability to improve and beautify the world around oneself. Not all of these qualities need to present in a spouse worthy of love, and not all need to be present at the same time. But there should exist a preponderance of such qualities - and those qualities which are deficient should be striven after to an appreciable extent.

The purpose of a spousal relationship is not primarily to cultivate virtue or even to reinforce it - though these often are desirable secondary consequences of the relationship. Rather, a spousal relationship aims at rewarding virtue already present. If one acknowledges certain moral qualities as highly desirable, then one should be willing to confer upon the holder of those qualities rewards of a sort that no one else would receive. Moreover, the enjoyment of the presence and company of a holder of those qualities is the natural consequence of considering such qualities as virtuous.

Spousal relationships may also serve as a highly conducive context for the successful upbringing of children. But this is neither a necessity of spousal relationships, nor even of the act which may sometimes result in procreation. To reward another for his or her virtue does not necessarily imply the need to create and raise other human beings with him or her. The latter object may be desirable in itself and may be best attained by an alliance with another highly virtuous, admirable, and competent being. But it is possible for spousal love to exist in separation from love for one's children, and vice versa. Moreover, the act of physical intercourse within a spousal relationship need not be conceived as solely procreational or solely recreational. The view of such an act as a reward for extraordinary virtue neither obliges one to use it reproductively nor diminishes it to "mere" entertainment.

The Exclusivity of Spousal Love

In a spousal relationship, rewarding on account of virtue occurs bilaterally, with each person seeking to reward the other to the best of his or her ability. But this kind of reward for virtue is unique in its necessary exclusivity. If a person directed it at more than one other, then neither of the others would be rewarded sufficiently.

One only has so many physical and mental resources to devote to spousal relationships in general. These resources can be channeled toward a variety of functions useful in cultivating the relationships. For instance, one could share information with one's spouse that would not be suited to the ears of others - not because it is shameful, but because it is private or deeply personal. One could engage in activities with one's spouse of both a physical and an intellectual nature. One could provide assistance, advice, and moral support to one's spouse. But if one had two spouses, one would need to share the same information with each of the spouses separately - for intimate information is not readily shared with an audience greater than one. Even greater difficulty would occur in the need to repeat the same activities with each spouse. After all, if each spouse only perceived a fraction of one's character and behaviors in the realm of spousal love, then it would be impossible for either spouse to fully ascertain one's virtues and therefore to determine which virtues deserve rewarding and how.

In any relationships other than spousal ones, individuals must necessarily be content with conveying less than a full impression of themselves. One's acquaintances, co-workers, friends, hierarchical superiors, children, and parents necessarily only perceive certain aspects of one's personality and actions - rather than the whole. This is not problematic, provided the aspects which are perceived are those without which the specific relationship in question would not be possible.

But a spousal relationship is not about accomplishing concrete goals, expressing gratitude, cultivating competence, or even enjoying good company. Rather, it is about rewarding virtue - and one can only understand a person's virtue by understanding the whole person, or as much as can be understood about him or her given spatiotemporal restrictions beyond one's control. Efforts at wholly understanding and rewarding one person can be combined with efforts at partially understanding and rewarding others - as everyone does outside of spousal relationships in friendships, working partnerships, and hierarchical family ties. But efforts at wholly understanding one person cannot be combined with efforts at wholly understanding any others. The intimate activities pertaining to spousal love cannot be fragmented in their objects, or else they necessarily become partially allocated and thus unfitting rewards for virtues that are constituted in the totality of each of one's spouses.

The necessity of unfragmented spousal love furnishes an explanation for both the exclusivity and permanence of desired spousal relationships. Exclusivity follows from the self-defeating nature of fragmenting spousal love in the present, while permanence follows from the undesirability of such fragmentation intertemporally. The argument for permanence follows from the fact that one's past interactions with a given spouse have already established an extensive context for mutual understanding, support, and activity - which would need to be built anew with another spouse if spouses were changed. To have multiple spouses serially is akin to building a skyscraper at great cost and exertion only to bulldoze it and start anew at the slightest thought of dissatisfaction with its design or construction. It is wasteful, imprudent, and self-sacrificial to abandon an existing relationship in the richness of its context simply because one is not pleased with all of its aspects.

To say that spousal love arises from a desire to reward virtue does not imply that there is only one person in the world who can be worthy of any individual's spousal love. But it does imply the need to pick one of possibly many such worthy persons and to invest oneself in wholly rewarding that person's virtue and not the virtue of other possibly worthy candidates. As the spousal relationship develops, however, the compatibility between the spouses increases - because such compatibility is in large part created, even though initial grounds for creating it might be present in the first place. One's spouse might initially be one contender among many for receiving rewards from one due to his or her virtue - but in the course of the relationship's unfolding, the spouse becomes the most worthy of such contenders by far.

Of course, the legal options for fully consensual breakups and divorces should remain open - for liberty to only engage in moral courses of action is no liberty at all. The realm of legality is of necessity broader than the realm of morality in a free society. However, divorce without good reason - divorce due to boredom, frustration, fatigue, or adventure-seeking rather than due to the severe moral transgressions of one's spouse - is morally unjustifiable. This does not mean that one should presume to judge the validity of the reasons for particular divorces whose specific context one does not know well. When one is in doubt, it is always best to assume that the parties to the divorce had some legitimacy to their actions. However, the general principle that divorce should not be taken lightly can be applied to one's own life far more stringently than it is applied when judging others. We should be civil and tactful, always presuming the best of our fellow human beings that the evidence permits, while striving with the greatest moral and intellectual rigor not to throw away valuable aspects of our own lives.

The Conditionality of Spousal Love

As is the case with all other kinds of love, spousal love is not exempt from conditionality. After all, one cannot reward for virtue a being that has no virtue. When a rational person enters into spousal love, he surely has a clear perception of the virtues of his beloved. At times, his beloved may depart from one or more of these virtues, but this per se is not a condition for severing the relationship or the love. Rather, if there is any possibility that the original virtues for which the love was initiated can be regained or still new ones found and adopted, then the relationship ought to continue. If participants in spousal love only commit reparable transgressions against one another, then the relationship is not lost and should be perpetuated with the utmost effort made on both sides. By definition, reparable transgressions can be compensated for or undone. Occasional callousness, dishonesty, misunderstanding, and neglect are, of course, highly undesirable, but their ill effects can be mitigated or eliminated. These are reparable transgressions - as is much of the "ordinary unhappiness" that is found in many spousal relationships. Instead of seeing such unhappiness as a sign of a lost cause, spouses should simply view it as a mess that needs cleaning up in order to restore their relationship to a more respectable state.

There are, however, transgressions which are irreparable in nature. Among these are murder (including infanticide), the infliction of permanent physical injury, the waste of large amounts of another's money (by one who cannot make it back), adultery, rape, and emotional abuse of the kind that scars a family member for life - whether that family member be a spouse or a child. To commit these transgressions is to abandon one's claim to virtue; it is to render one unworthy of that kind of love which arises out of a desire to reward virtue. Thus, it is not only perfectly legitimate but morally right to divorce or separate from a spouse who has committed an irreparable transgression of severe magnitude.

Hence, spousal love is broadly conditional on at least the possibility of recovering or replacing the virtue which originally motivated it. A rational exponent of spousal love is extremely tolerant and can forgive any offense that a rationally self-interested being can find forgivable. He or she is patient and does not demand immediate results - knowing that long-term improvements may often come in imperceptible increments. But as reason and common sense dictate, his or her tolerance and patience has its bounds. Giving a person a chance to display virtue does not mean giving that person a blank check to act as he or she pleases, without negative consequences for ill behavior.

If a spousal relationship is severed due to an irreparable transgression, it is perfectly legitimate for the innocent party in the relationship to attempt to find spousal love elsewhere. After all, the transgressions of the original spouse were not the innocent spouse's fault. The punishment for the offenses of the guilty should not be visited upon the innocent. Every manner of success, happiness, and fulfillment should remain available to a person whose spousal relationship failed for reasons outside his or her control. Moreover, the death of a spouse is likewise not the surviving spouse's fault, and the survivor is morally free to find another spouse to love - provided that this is done with respect and remembrance for the deceased spouse.

Love for a Disabled or Altered Spouse

Nothing said about the conditionality of spousal love should be taken to imply the moral legitimacy of separating from a spouse who has been deformed in the course of an accident or has suffered personality alterations due to physiological reasons - such as memory loss or loss of skills due to accidents or illnesses of the brain.

Only irreparable moral transgressions violate the conditions on which spousal love is established. But suffering from an accident or illness - however severe or irreparable - is not a moral transgression. Many aspects of a spouse's virtue can be retained following such a tragedy - even though all of them might not be - and some new aspects might even be cultivated. It has been well documented, for instance, that persons lacking one sense develop their remaining senses to a tremendous extent in order to partially compensate for their disability. Likewise, a spouse disabled in one area has at least the potential of cultivating other areas of his or her life more intensely to compensate for the disability. Spousal love rewards virtue, but the virtue it rewards can become re-channeled and altered over time without rendering itself unworthy of further reward.

Even when one's spouse has been so disabled as to lose basic functionality or even conscious awareness, the spousal relationship should continue for as long as the disabled spouse survives. Just as past monetary earnings provide one with a reserve of savings upon which to draw even if one is not working, so do past demonstrations of virtue furnish a reserve of virtue by which one can legitimately claim love even if one is unable to demonstrate virtue at present. Of course, reckless investments can eliminate one's savings in an instant, just as irreparable moral transgressions can empty one's reserve of virtue entirely. However, a person who has not committed irreparable moral transgressions and has been loved for unambiguous virtues in the past has accumulated a sufficient reserve of virtue to draw upon for the remainder of his or her life. If one carefully and honestly examines the list of virtues and occasions of virtuous behavior exhibited by a spouse prior to becoming disabled to the point of losing consciousness, one will certainly find enough to qualify that spouse for lifetime love and support.

The reserve of virtue is not, however, lifelong for a spouse who still has the capacity to engage in virtuous acts in the future - for someone who can act virtuously but does not do so exhibits the vices of passivity and fatalism. These are not irreparable transgressions, but they should be addressed and remedied in order to greatly improve a spousal relationship.

Views of Love: Rational versus Mystical

The rational view of love sees love as occurring solely between subject and object. No third parties are or need be involved. By contrast, the mystical view of love sees love as requiring a third supernatural party and necessarily arising from the participation of that third party.

The mystical view of love is not a necessary component of religious belief. One can believe in the existence of the supernatural and even a causal relationship of the supernatural to all natural things without believing that the natural is meaningless or insignificant without invocation and emphasis of the supernatural's role in it. Belief in the existence of the supernatural might be called religious - while belief in the indispensability of the supernatural to any important dimension of life - be it happiness, morality, success, wisdom, or love - might be called religionist. The mystical view is religionist, and many non-religionist religious persons rightly reject it.

My aim here is not to disprove or even give a complete exposition of the mystical view of love - for such a task cannot be adequately performed in a paper of this length. I merely propose to give several brief contrasts between the rational and the mystical view.

While the rational view of love sees love as arising solely out of desirable qualities of the beloved objects, the mystical view holds that it is possible to love an entity without desirable qualities and even to love an entity because it lacks desirable qualities. Love arising out of deficiency rather than out of any kind of merit is foreign to the rational view.

The rational view sees love as fundamentally self-interested, when the long-term view is taken into account and all things are considered. By contrast, the mystical view perceives no self-interest in at least the "highest" forms of love and conceives of those forms as self-sacrificial, albeit desirable. In the rational view, self-sacrifice cannot be desirable, as it opposes the unquestionable value of the individual's own life, without which neither morality nor talk of morality would be possible.

While the rational view sees love as conditional in all cases, the mystical view extols unconditional love as the "highest" form of love and sees conditionality as a breach of "true" love.

While the rational view sees love as an intellectual-emotional synthesis - to which reason and the intellectual component are indispensable - the mystical view perceives romantic love at least to be wholly emotional - a wild passion that threatens to run amok and destroy all unless kept in check by faith and tradition. The mystical view therefore emphasizes the necessity of injecting a god or gods into a relationship of love. It also often but not always supports the involvement of rest of "society" - including priests, government officials, and self-nominated busybodies - in personal affairs. Under the mystical view, these external interventions are necessary in order to uphold a love relationship from without, since love itself is not seen as sufficiently powerful to uphold it from within. And if romantic love is seen merely as wild, tumultuous passion or animal lust, then the mystic view is right, and it cannot suffice alone. But the rational view defines love differently - as an intellectual-emotional synthesis, whose intellectual part, reinforced by considerable patience and self-discipline, does suffice to maintain the love indefinitely.

Views of Love: Rational versus Entertainment

The entertainment view of love arose out of reaction to the mystical view, while adopting many of the underlying premises of that, against which it rebelled. Indeed, the entertainment view of love may be said to be the opposite side of the coin to the mystical view. It is generally more destructive than the mystical view, because it is not corrected by millennia of accumulated human experience or the frequent prudential elements in the counsel of authorities esteemed under the mystical view. Moreover, while the mystical view at least attempts to accomplish noble and permanent aims through love, the entertainment view revels in transience and has little regard for ill consequences arising from certain behaviors.

But the premise of the entertainment view regarding the nature of romantic love agrees with the mystical view. Love is a wild, uncontrolled outburst of emotion. An individual's mind has neither practical control nor moral responsibility over how that love is expressed, who is its object, or why.

Yet while the mystical view seeks to check or redirect the wild passion toward the "higher things," the entertainment view embraces the wild passion, unchecked, and views any possible checks as unnatural and worthy of contempt.

Under the entertainment view, love is an irresistible urge that demands to be sated, and will make one suffer miserably unless it is sated. The process of sating the urge is supposed to be "fun" - hence the entertainment view's emphasis on "spontaneous" or "imaginative" lovemaking. But once the urge is sated, it goes away, and life can return to its usual state. Love unfulfilled is suffering; love being fulfilled is a pleasant diversion; love, having been fulfilled, can be forgotten and its object discarded. The entertainment view vacillates between torment and oblivion, filling the gap between them with "fun."

While the rational view regards romantic or spousal love as arising out of the virtues of the object, the entertainment view could not care less for virtue. To the rational view, esthetics - even exquisite and refined esthetics - are secondary and dispensable. The entertainment view, however, emphasizes a certain vulgar esthetic above all. Physical attractiveness is a principal requirement of this esthetic, outranked only by "spontaneity" (i.e., unreliability) of personal appearance and behavior. A certain kind of plain-looking person might be forgiven under this view and still loved for a time, but to be steady and principled (under the entertainment view, "boring") in character and to insist on a permanent commitment from one's beloved is considered an unforgivable sin.

While the rational view believes that love arises out of the qualities of the object of love, the entertainment view defines love as fundamentally subjective - a passion within the subject that is often unexplained and inexplicable and that fades as readily as it is ignited. Because love is all about emotions in this view, when the emotions disappear, so should the love. The entertainment view sees no problem with serial relationships - provided that this is what makes all parties "happy." But the entertainment view defines happiness not as genuine fulfillment arising out of rearranging the external reality in accord with one's rational self-interest, but rather as a feeling - a combination of neuro-chemical states valuable for their own sake and not by virtue of their correspondence to states of the external reality that are conducive to human life and flourishing.

While the rational view is far-sighted and attempts to establish long-term stability and sustainably fulfilling interactions in a spousal relationship, the entertainment view does not look past the immediate term. Whatever economic, social, or biological consequences an act of love produces - the entertainment view cares not and does not take them into consideration when a decision regarding whether to perform that act is made. Rather, the entertainment view seeks to undo any inconvenient consequences of an act of love after the fact, even when undoing those consequences would cause far greater damage and suffering than simply coping with them would. This is why advocates of the entertainment view of love clamor loudly for legalized abortion. The urge must be sated, and it must be sated without consequence or burden, and if a human being must die for it afterward - then so be it.

The Three Views of Love With Regard to Birth Control

The issue of birth control can neatly illustrate the differences among the mystical, rational, and entertainment views of love in one area where these differences result in substantively distinct practical outcomes.

The mystical view tends to oppose birth control as "unnatural" or contrary to the will of a god or to the "purpose" of the sexual act. It also tends to oppose abortion and offers as a solution the problem of unintended pregnancy only self-restraint, fortified by faith.

The rational view recognizes the need to accommodate ill consequences after the fact if the damage from attempting to undo them is substantial. Thus, the rational view denounces abortion as the elimination of an innocent life (and therefore contrary to love for the innocent) and the destruction of human life (and therefore murder). By comparison to these horrific offenses, any financial burden of supporting a child is insignificant. However, the rational view seeks to prevent ill consequences before they occur, therefore emphasizing the desirability of reducing or eliminating the likelihood of a pregnancy occurring in the first place. Therefore, the rational view embraces the use of contraception which does not kill an already gestating fetus.

The entertainment view is not per se opposed to contraception, but it does not take foresight into account and therefore occasionally neglects to emphasize the use of contraception. Because it permits an ex post corrective to ill consequences arising from intercourse, the entertainment view is sometimes less stringent about ex ante preventative measures. If adherents of the entertainment view of love have thoughtless unprotected intercourse now, they are willing to abort the resulting human life later. Contraception might be useful to avoiding all that fuss altogether, but there exist ways out of responsibility even if the contraception fails or is neglected.


The brief outlines offered here are only a beginning for the coherent elaboration of the rational view of love and the corrective it offers to two commonplace views of love in our time. The rational view of love should be studied and developed primarily because it aids tremendously in avoiding suffering in numerous crucial dimensions of human life. The mystical view imposes standards of perfection and restraint that are not fulfillable by nor relevant to most human beings. The entertainment view does not care for standards or discipline at all. The rational view, however, pursues success, happiness, and fulfillment in this world, and seeks to so approach love as to render it a powerful instrument in this pursuit.

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Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's comprehensive treatise, A Rational Cosmology, explicating such terms as the universe, matter, space, time, sound, light, life, consciousness, and volition, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's four-act play, Implied Consent, a futuristic intellectual drama on the sanctity of human life, here.