What Is the Role of Love in Human Freedom?

Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan in The Shop Around the Corner (1940).Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan in The Shop Around the Corner (1940).Courtesy MGM

As human beings, love seems to have an important role in our lives: our lives go better when we are loved and when we love others. Yet the role that love plays is not simply that of an optional accessory or adornment it is nice to have, like icing on a cake. Love is more fundamental than that and seems to speak to our very humanity: without love, or at least the potential for love, we would be somehow less than human

There are, I believe, many ways in which this is so, ways that correspond to different types of love. Think about some ways we use the word, ‘love’. Although we sometimes say that we love chocolate or watching some TV show, meaning simply that we like it very much, I do not think such liking has the kind of “depth” or importance in our lives that our loves normally do. By contrast, such “depth” is evident, for example, in someone’s love for her job or being an amateur musician or volunteering at the local soup kitchen. In such cases we don’t merely like the objects of our love; we value them in the sense that we find them to be a part of what makes our lives worthwhile and so contributes to our sense of who we are. In other cases, the objects of our loves are other people. Such personal love is especially rich and interesting because of what its object is: if who we are is made up, at least in part, by what we value, then if I love someone, part of my concern must be for what he values: I must value what he values for his sake. This is, we might say, a matter of our intimately identifying with our beloveds, so that their identities become in this way a part of our own.

Clearly there is much more to be said here, but I hope this is enough to show how our loves, as a matter of finding things important in these various ways, shape our reasons and motivations for acting on behalf of things we find important in life, so that we are sometimes willing to sacrifice our own interests (or even ourselves!) for the sake of what we love. Love thus bears importantly on our agency in a way that helps define and shape it as distinctively human. Yet what I want to suggest here is that another form of love, which I will call love of humanity, is central to our agency in a different way that bears directly on our freedom and responsibility. This will require some explanation.

As philosophers understand it, to be an agent in general is not merely to be the cause of certain events in the world, as when the wind blows down a tree. Rather, it is to be a certain type of cause, namely one grounded in the reasons the agent has. In one paradigm case, such a reason will be that the agent perceives that acting in a certain way will help satisfy a desire. Nonetheless, it should be clear that having a desire is different from having a goal. Heat-seeking missiles and chess-playing computers have goals, and in some sense they “perceive” that acting a certain way—veering left or trading queens—will help them achieve those goals. Yet intuitively missiles and computers do not have desires and act for reasons: they are not genuine agents. The difference, I believe, is that desires (but not mere goals) involve one’s finding their objects to be worth pursuing—involve one’s caring about their objects. Moreover, to care about something in this sense is to be emotionally affected by what happens to it: to be afraid when it is threatened, to be relieved when the threat passes, to be disappointed or angry when it is harmed, and to be joyous when it is benefited. So dogs and cats, but not missiles and computers, are agents because they have emotional capacities that make it possible for them to care about their ends.

Nonetheless, human agency is distinctive, and I have already hinted at part of its distinctiveness in distinguishing mere liking from the “deeper” valuing or mere caring from genuine loving. We humans, but not “mere” animals, have a sense of our lives as worthwhile or meaningful in part through the things we value and the people we love. Like caring, such valuing and loving are attitudes that are also grounded in our emotional capacities, but these attitudes and the relevant emotions are “deeper”. Thus, we do not merely feel fear when something we value is threatened, we feel anxious about it; and we are not merely satisfied or frustrated with our accomplishments or failures or with those we love, we are proud or ashamed. Thus, valuing and loving involve being emotionally affected in these deeper ways connected to our sense of what is worthwhile in our lives, a sense that is partly grounded in our values and loves.

In addition to our capacities to value and love and our sense of personal worth, we humans are free and responsible agents that can be praised or blamed—held accountable—for what we do. Now there is a sense in which we praise or blame a dog for doing such things as scaring away an intruder or making a mess on the carpet. In doing so, we seem to be doing two things: (a) identifying him as the cause of the relevant events and (b) rewarding or punishing him as a way of making it more or less likely that he will do it again. This presupposes that there are certain ways we expect the dog to behave, but—and this is the crucial point—these expectations can be arbitrary in that they are ones we simply impose on the dog in a way that need not connected to any broader set of cares or concerns of the dog. In this way, I can train my dog to do a wide range of things from useful tasks to stupid pet tricks.

With us humans, things are different. For in praising or blaming you I am holding you responsible for upholding or violating a norm that I thereby recognize as binding on us, and I call on you as freely choosing your actions also to recognize both the norm as interpersonally binding and your compliance with or violation of that norm. Indeed, there is a whole range of emotions philosophers call the “reactive attitudes” by which we hold each other responsible to such interpersonal norms. These are emotions like gratitude and resentment (by the “victim” of some wrongdoing or rightdoing), approbation and indignation (by “witnesses” to it), and self-congratulation and guilt (by the “perpetrator”). For example, if you carelessly and without apology step on my foot, I might resent you, a resentment I express by saying, “Hey! Get off my foot!” In thus expressing my resentment, I am calling on you to recognize not just that you have been inconsiderate but also that you (and we more generally) ought not to be. But I am doing something more. I am recognizing you both as having a kind of standing as one of us who are bound by this norm and as having a kind of authority to hold the rest of us responsible to it as well. That is, I am recognizing you as a participant in a certain human community in which we hold each other to certain norms. (Note the contrast between this case and that of a dog that steps on my foot: while I might get angry at the dog, it would seem odd for me to resent him or hold him responsible, for the dog is not in this way a participant in human community.) Moreover, I am demanding that you likewise recognize my authority to hold you responsible (as well as my standing thus to be held responsible by you and others) and so to respond to my blame with apologies or reparations or excuses.

These mutual demands that we each recognize the standing and authority—the dignity—of others as participants in a human community are expressive of broader concerns we have for the community and for each other. It is precisely here in being embedded within such broader concerns that the expectations we have for each other as members of human communities differs from the expectations I have for my dog. Such a broader concern for the dignity we each have as members of human communities just is, I submit, our love of humanity, a love that is founded at least in major part by the reactive attitudes we feel in holding each other responsible to interpersonal norms. Being both the subject and object of such love of humanity is what makes us be members of these human communities and so the responsible agents we are.

If this is right, then we humans, as distinct from mere animals by virtue of the depth and responsibility that characterize our agency, are fundamentally constituted by our capacities to love.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Can dogs and cats love in the same sense we humans do?
  2. Should we understand our being responsible agents in terms of our standing to be held responsible and our authority to hold others responsible?
  3. Is “love of humanity” appropriately understood to be a kind of love? Or is it fundamentally different from the sort of personal love we have for our friends and family members?

Discussion Summary

The topic of my essay, “What is the Role of Love in Human Freedom?” generated many interesting questions, which focused around several themes. One prominent theme concerned the nature of self-love, which some thought — correctly — can be corrupting, leading to various forms of narcissism. This worry might seem to be compounded by my claim that self-love should be understood as essentially involving dispositions to feel pride, for, it might be thought, pride involves an excessive concern with oneself, potentially blinding oneself to the needs and interests of others and resulting in self-conceit or hubris. Consequently, it may seem as though such self-conceit or even narcissism is a normal consequence of self-love, a conclusion I would want to resist. While it is true that we sometimes think of pride as involving an excessive concern for oneself, on my account the sort of pride at issue in self-love is pride that is properly responsive to one’s success in living the kind of life one finds worth living. Here we must recognize that while there are risks to excessive pride, there are risks as well to feeling pride — and self-love — too little. Moreover, we should recognize that we can be proud not only of ourselves but also of others, and our pride in others plays an important role in our love for them. Consequently, our capacity for self-love develops together with our capacity to love others, a point that speaks to our essentially social nature.

Another theme of the discussion concerned animal love. It was pointed out — again correctly — that in some sense animals like dogs are capable of love, and their love seems to be instinctive and unconditional, perhaps more pure and less self-interested than personal love. Yet while it does make good sense to acknowledge the affection and concern of animals as a kind of love, we must also recognize that this affection and concern is distinct in kind from the sort of love of which we humans are capable. Personal love can be deeper and richer because it is a responsiveness to the beloved’s sense of personal values, of the kind of life worth her living, such that the lover comes to value these things for her sake. Because animals are not capable of such a responsiveness, their affection and concern is distinct in kind from personal love.

This depth and richness of human love points to a third theme of our discussion: the potentially transformative character of love. In one way, the deeply intimate character of the sort of personal love just described has the power to transform both the lover’s and beloved’s sense of what is important in life and thereby to shape their identities. Yet, as I suggested in the article, love can transform our very capacities for agency themselves. For we each come to have the standing to be held responsible and the authority to hold others responsible — we come to have this dignity as responsible agents — by being recognized as having such dignity by both ourselves and others. In thus recognizing ourselves and being recognized as participants in a human community, we come to identify (and be identified) with that community itself. Such identificatory concern with the community and with others as its members is what I have called the love of humanity, and it is such love that transforms us into being the potentially responsible human agents that we are. Or so I have claimed.

New Big Questions:

Although the discussion here is officially closed, the broader philosophical discussion remains wide open. One direction the broader conversation might go is to thinking about the possibility of conflicts of value, both intrapersonal and interpersonal, and how we might resolve them. In identifying with communities via our love of humanity, we in part come to be bound by the norms and values of those communities. Yet we can belong to many communities simultaneously, and the various values of these different communities might conflict with each other and with our personal values. How, then, should we think about such conflicts in relation to our identities as persons, and how can they be resolved? What does this tell us about the relationships between us as individuals and the communities of which we are a part?

Another set of questions raised by this discussion concerns the way love of one person might differ from love of another — an issue raised by wondering14’s appeal to “gradients” of love but was unfortunately not pursued. Clearly love comes in “degrees”: you might love one person “more” than you love another person. But this appeal to degrees does not capture the variety of dimensions in which one’s life can be affected by one’s love for someone, dimensions that can vary significantly from one relationship to another.

14 Responses

  1. wondering14 says:

    Love imposes costs, such as having to deal with the others’ nonconformities that are unlike ours.  If a loved one hides from the police would it be responsible to turn the loved one in? 

    Love is limited by number.  Can we love 5, 10, 100 people equally? Love may look for reciprocity.  Can this be done meaningfully with many?

    Love has gradients.  Parents love their children to different extents.  Why? 

    We feel deeply for the Kurdish people stranded on the mountaintop this morning, out of love of humanity, but don’t help directly even if we could, out of risk for our safety.  Must we be safe to show love?  Does risk enter into love?

    • Bennett Helm says:

      To wondering14: These are all difficult and important questions. (I’d actually like to hear more about what you had in mind with your appeal to “gradients”. Certainly love comes in degrees, which is what you seem to have in mind in talking about loving different people to different “extents”. But talk of degrees seems to imply a single dimension, while talk of gradients allows for the possibility of multiple dimensions. Did you have something more complicated in mind here?)

      By way of reply, I’d like to focus on the first question, which is most directly related to the topic of my essay. You ask whether it would be responsible to turn a loved one in to the police. Well, it depends: real life is never so simple as this very quick description of a situation would suggest. (Is the loved one hiding from unjust prosecution, for example?) What makes the type of question you’re asking difficult and important is that it makes salient that we have responsibilities to multiple people and communities (to this beloved and possibly others, to one’s society, etc.). These responsibilities can, of course, pull in opposite directions, and it can turn out that sometimes one and sometimes another of these responsibilities can be more important in particular situations. Recognizing this, as you do, considerably complicates the relatively simple picture I presented in the essay of the relationship between the individual and the community. For in addition to the individual’s love for and commitment to one community, a love and commitment that, I suggested, ground our standing as responsible agents, we must consider not only (a) the individual’s other loves for and commitments to other people or other communities and how these can fit into a more-or-less consistent sense of priorities, but also (b) the way the relevant communities can or even must recognize the multiplicity of concerns that individuals normally have and so appropriately regulate their responsiveness to those individuals (by holding them responsible or excusing them from responsibility, say). Fleshing this all out in theoretical detail is a challenging philosophical problem that I haven’t yet managed to wrap my head around, though of course it is a practical problem that we each encounter regularly in our everyday lives.

      • wondering14 says:

        Yes, please take “gradients” to be “degrees”.  The question about the Kurdish people, and the question of “love is limited by number” came out of the third Discussion question about “love of humanity”, which implied to me a distinction by distance of and type of love.

  2. George Gantz says:

    Bennett – If I follow your categorization of love, it begins as a strong like or affection, then moves to a sense of binding or commitment.  Beyond that we gain value in the feeling that our life has value, and finally, we achieve intimate identification through loving relationships.  Love of humanity participates in all of these through a mutual commitment to shared cultural norms by which we judge and are joined to a community and from which we gain social bonds, value, intimacy and affection.  This global love requires individual freedom – the capacity to act as free and responsible agents.

    This is a complex topic, and the analysis brings up a number of thoughts.  One is the importance of agency to the understanding of love.  Emmanuel Swedenborg taught that our loves power the intentionality of our will and are the true measure of our eternal soul, which we shape by the choices we make throughout our lives.  If we follow our natural love of the self and the world and our dominion of others we become demons consigned to the communities of hell – outcasts from humanity.  If we choose rather to follow the ten commandments (or the golden rule) and to practice charity and love to the neighbor, then we join the angelic communities of heaven.  Indeed, as you point out, “we humans… are fundamentally constituted by our capacities to love.”

    Yet these formulations may be missing something.  I have a powerful memory of my dearest pet, a happy and affectionate dog, in the final throws of bone cancer before she was euthanized.  In spite of the pain, she continued to offer the warmest of greetings and display a deep affection for our family members.  Perhaps this was instinctively driven and lacked the intentionality of a conscious human, but her love was powerfully transformative, nevertheless.  Similarly, the experience of human love, whether in private intimacy or grand acts of selflessness, participates in something transcendent – something that demands acknowledgement and gratitude – something that changes us and that demands we change in response – something that connects us not just to the human community, but to the universal community of life and being.

    • Bennett Helm says:

      To George Gantz: I wasn’t intending to offer an account of how we come to love, either in the sense of coming to love a particular person or community or in the sense of acquiring the capacity to love in the first place. I was merely trying to distinguish types of attitudes we can take towards various objects. Indeed, I think it quite likely that developing the capacity for personal love goes hand-in-hand with developing the capacity for love for humanity inasmuch as both are important, albeit in different ways, to our becoming fully human.

      You point to the potentially corrupting influence of self-love, and I agree that excessive (as well as deficient) self-love can be problematic. Nonetheless, I would argue that the capacity for self-love is fundamentally important to the sort of transcendent experience you refer to. Let me explain a bit more what I mean here.

      Loving oneself means having a sense of what one stands for and so what one finds one must or must not do or be. It is here that emotions like pride and shame are important to self-love, as I suggested in the essay. Yet while in many cases pride and shame are focused on oneself, we should not think that they are exclusively self-focused. My personal love for my wife involves my being proud or ashamed of her for her sake (not for mine), and it is in part in this way that I come to identify with her in loving her. Moreover, pride and shame play an important role in a love of humanity, as when we feel proud or ashamed of upholding or failing to uphold communal values, thereby coming to recognize the importance for us (as community members) of living a certain kind of life. This is, I think, a matter of identifying with the community in a way that transcends our self-love or our personal loves. When the community is the moral community, that itself values not just certain attitudes and relations to other humans (including ourselves) but also life and the environment more broadly, I think we get a kind of identification with or connection to what I think you mean by “the universal community of life and being”. Yet this is possible only through certain sorts of emotional capacities that simultaneously make possible self-love, whether that self-love is appropriate, excessive, or deficient.

      By the way, if we understand the relevant sorts of emotional capacities underlying love, such as those for pride and shame, as involving a sense of the kind of life worth someone’s living, then I think we should not understand animals like dogs and cats as loving in this sense. In saying this, I don’t mean to deny that animals can care about each other or us; indeed, I think it is plain that they do, as your example illustrates. Nonetheless, I think there are good theoretical reasons to maintain a distinction between the kind of caring that is possible for mere animals and the “deeper” love that is possible for us humans. Whether we call such animal caring “love” or not I don’t think matters, so long as we recognize the distinction. … Or so I would argue.

      • George Gantz says:

        Many thanks for the thoughtful reply.  Yes, a capacity for self-love, or a sense of self-worth, would seem to be a necessary base from which a love of others can grow, and both pride and shame will help shape that process of growth.  All of these capacities and factors would seem to have both positive and negative polarities.  Shame and pride can be narcisistic – or they can be “reformative”.  Is the difference a matter of degree and balance – or is there a discrete dividing line between negative and affirmative.  It may be that if our deepest inner drive is self-oriented, rather than other-oriented, then we will inevitably be growing in the wrong direction.

        I agree these considerations are moral or spiritual in character, and require degrees of freedom and responsibility that do not apply, as far as we can tell, to living entities other than humans.  And perhaps it is our own capacity that embues our relationship with animals, or the world, with transcendent meaning.  Yet I would also suggest that these capacities cannot be not self-emergent but derive from a deeper universal structure – one which provides the ground of “life and being.”

        • Bennett Helm says:

          George: Again, let me quibble about the way you describe my view. I’m not saying that “self-love … [is] a necessary base from which love of others can grow”. To the contrary, part of what I think is important about the kind of account I am offering is that it sees us humans as essentially social animals — in part because the ties between self-love and love of others (including love of humanity) are bi-directional. Thus, I claim, we cannot acquire the capacity to love ourselves apart from simultaneously acquiring the capacity to love others, and vice versa. That is because the capacities for self-love, personal love of others, and love of humanity all are constituted by our emotional capacities, including especially our capacities for pride and shame. Moreover, to acquire the capacity to feel pride or shame is to acquire a capacity to feel it in response to any appropriate object, whether oneself, another person, or a human community.

          That said, I agree about the risks of narcissism — of excessive self-love. Nonetheless, it is important to recognize that the mere fact that there is a continuum between (a) a self-love that achieves a proper balance between self-regard and other-regard and (b) excessive self-love in which that balance is thrown out of whack, doesn’t show that there aren’t differences of kind between the two. Put another way, we can accept that proper self-love and narcissistic love are different in kind (and not merely different in degree) without thereby accepting that there must be a discrete dividing line between them. (Being bald and having a full head of hair are similarly different in kind, but there is no sharp line between them: there can be intermediate cases in which there is no fact of the matter about whether the person is bald or not.) Is that the right way to think about the difference?

          I should say that I suspect that you and I disagree about the source of values and meaningfulness: I take it that your suggestion is that our values have some transcendent source, whereas I think its source can be found, roughly, in the rational structure of our emotions. Both views have a lot to be said for them; however, I think discussing this issue will distract us from the central issues I raise in this essay. Nonetheless, if you’re interested in why I think this, take a look at this paper, though I should warn you that it is a hardcore and difficult philosophy paper.

          • George Gantz says:

            Bennett:  Thanks again for the thoughtful response.  You are correct – it would be impossible for even self-love to develop without a social context.  I this sense, there is a simultaneity in the development of self-love, love of others, and universal love – these arise in a complex emotional/psychological ecology.  If they get out of balance, for example if self-love begins to dominate and the individual fails to adjust based on the negative feedback in the social context, then a dysfunction (narcissism) is the result.

            I like the “baldness” analogy you offer, but would note that at the fine-grained level of the follicles, there is still a discrete difference – hair will grow or it will not.  Similarly, we exercise our freedom to make choices to be selfish or not at a fine-grained level – at a moment in time (and often without benefit of careful thought) we make a choice to gratify ourself at another’s expense, or not.  The cumulative effect of the multiplicity of choices we make in our lives determines our final trajectory.

            Thanks for the reference to your paper – perhaps it will help me understand what you mean in the phrase “rational structure of our emotions.”  Normally, “rational” and “emotional” describe alternative modes of experience – thinking or feeling.  Yet there are structures for both.   Jonathon Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind” (2014) explores the structure of human moral choices – but postulates that these almost exclusively intuitive or pre-rational.  I believe we still have to opportunity to rationally influence our choices – but this requires self-awareness and reflection that we rarely apply.

            As to the “source” of our values, my sense is that our empirical experience and our spiritual experience, when fully and completely understood, reveal the same truth – that love is at the center of being.

      • michal54 says:

        Love is a natural force that fosters our survival.  Giving and assisting o thers allows them to become stronger.  Authentic self love gives one the capacity to love others more completely and by giving love to others, it promotes their survival.  If they too are commited to giving love back to you, that, of course, fosters your survival. In contrast to authentic self love, the conceited person is limilted in their capacity to love others, as well as himself.  He or she actually hates themself and compensates with an over exaggerated sense of self.  It is seen in  the cardinal sin of Vanity.

        “Pride is excessive belief in one’s own abilities.  It interferes with the individual’s recognition of the grace of God. It has been called the sin from which all others arise. Pride is also known as Vanity.”

        In the view of many psychologists the term for this is ‘secondary narcissism’.   It is commonly seen by most as ‘conceit’.  Eric Fromm, in his 1957 book, “The Art of Loving”, asserts that conceited persons actually hate themselves and out of self-doubt and self-loathing, defend against it by pumping up their self-worth by over exaggerating their level of importance relative to the next person.  This creates an attitude that puts the needs of the self over the needs of others and consequently people like this take from the world (and those in it) without any sense of fairness, ethics, or common sense.  In fact, they are able to take to such a degree that in so doing, they allow themselves to destroy the world in which they live, and then perish in the end.

        • Bennett Helm says:

          Michal54: I agree that there is something to the thought that love fosters our survival, though I think it would be a mistake to think that the value of love lies only here. My aim in the essay was in part to try to broaden our perspective on the value of love.

          Mostly, though, I wanted to respond to your understanding of pride as being identical with vanity or conceit. While it is certainly true that we sometimes understand pride in this way, where such excessive pride is a vice, we should also recognize that one can be justly and even humbly proud of one’s accomplishments, with no hint of egotism. Such proper pride — pride that is appropriately responsive to one’s own or others’ accomplishments or virtues — can be contrasted with proper shame, which is an appropriate responsiveness to one’s own or others’ failures or vices. My claim, then, is that both proper pride and proper shame are relevant to understanding personal love, including self-love.

          • michal54 says:

            Thank you for your comments.  I did not intend to convey the idea that the only value that love  provides is that of survival.  I believe that it is one fundamental value among many.  To be sure, love not only fosters survival for an indvidual and species, it also provides the individual with a higher quality of life and an enhanced subjective feeling about how good life is – to be sure.  

            Your comment on pride and vanity rings true.  First, let me clarity that the definition I submitted was in quotes and relayed the wikipedia definition of that particular ‘cardinal sin’.  I see these as flaws in human nature that we all possess to some degree. I tried to explain that vanity, or ‘excessive pride’ was actually a defense generated by an individual to overcome feelings of shame and a sense one is not lovable.  That is to be differentiated with what I call healthy self-love.  It has also been termed primary narcissism. It is that trait that allows us to remain alive by taking care of one’s visceral needs and psychological needs.  It involves an accurate assessment of one’s capabilities and an acceptance that flaws also exist.  So hopefully you will see that we do not differ in our understanding of what you have termed excessive pride and proper pride. I appreciate thiis opportunity to share my thoughts.  Thank you  sinccerly for this excellent site.

  3. abed.peerally says:

    A good attempt to talk about fundamental cum transcendial love. I wish to add just a point about animals and about dog. I first quote the author:

    Nonetheless, I think there are good theoretical reasons to maintain a distinction between the kind of caring that is possible for mere animals and the “deeper” love that is possible for us humans. Whether we call such animal caring “love” or not I don’t think matters, so long as we recognize the distinction. … Or so I would argue.

    His doubt is justified in my opinion. I will surprise many if I say that maybe dogs have deeper and stronger love than humans. Basically this is due to the fact that we are much more evolved than dogs. Man has the mental capacity to be subjective or objective, to analyse, premeditate and decide as he pleases. I don’t think that dogs have developed such complicated attitudes. Having observed dogs, occasionally, I have been struck of the fact that once they love they are capable of eternal love. We humans do not have this quality. I cannot think of any human who does.

    • Bennett Helm says:

      To abed.peerally: Part of what I hoped to bring out in the essay is the interconnection between distinctively human love and distinctively human agency. We can come to see this connection, I believe, by thinking about the relationship between loving oneself and having certain values that make up one’s sense of the kind of life worth living. The idea is that insofar as someone finds there to be certain personal values that are binding on her, she is responsible to herself (as having a kind of authority over herself), and her emotional responses of pride or shame just are ways of feeling responsible for living up to her values or failing to do so. We can find this same relationship between one’s love of humanity and communal values: insofar as certain communal values are binding on someone, he is thereby responsible to fellow members of the community, who have a kind of authority over him. In each case, distinctively human love (whether self-love or love of humanity) involves this recognition of oneself or others as authorities to whom one is responsible. It is this connection between love, values, responsibility, and authority that I think makes human love be “deep” in a way that animal love — animal caring — is not. It is in part for this reason that I think human love and animal caring are distinct in kind.

      Nonetheless, I agree that in a different sense animals such as dogs can have a “deeper and stronger love than humans”. As I understand you (and please correct me if I’m wrong), the “depth” and “strength” here lie in the way the sort of attachment dogs have for us can be uncorrupted by self-interest and can persist even when we display various flaws that might properly undermine the love of another person. Furthermore, I agree that the reason for this lies (perhaps somewhat paradoxically) in the dog’s less developed mental capacities that, we might say, blinds them to questions of whether we are worthy of that attachment and devotion. By contrast, our more developed mental capacities mean that we are not blind to these questions of worth. This, I think, marks another way in which human love is distinct in kind from animal caring. (One might wonder what the connection is between such questions of worth and the issues of values, resonsibility, and authority that I raised in the previous paragraph. That is a difficult problem which I’ll set aside at least for now.)

  4. Meyer1953 says:

    The author asks: “Should we understand our being responsible agents in terms of our standing to be held responsible and our authority to hold others responsible?

    The question hinges on the word, “responsible.” To be responsible, means to make response to an outside assertion (this can include a technical assertion, such as “don’t speed on the highway”) and implies that the response is valid and effective. Otherwise, response that is not valid and effective is either a traducing of the outside assertion, or simply an ignoring of it. The whole question of responsibility is thus a question of living and responsive relationship, especially in the sense of relationship that is ever-widening as time develops its features.

    Now we must add the “outside assertion” into discussion. There are many assertions that are themselves inherently destructive, such as those between cultures that precipitate war senselessly. The proof of an outside assertion’s validity is only found in a living context: family is typically taken as the very model for such. Then one living context serves to validate other context as also alive, and the living context also serves up ways and means of how we may actually achieve life with and through one another.

    So to be “held responsible” is found in valid and living context: that such context is rare makes it precious. In fine and whole days, valid context is on every front porch – but in evil times, evil takes root on every street corner and drives whole life away from open concourse. In such rough times, valid life is especially precious and, as we see in Jesus and his movement, valid life is often killed outright for simply being valid. But the preciousness of life is its only validity, so the seeing by us of life’s valid and living context – even though that precious life is killed – establishes every tomorrow however rough those times may become.