Love, Friendship, and the Self: Intimacy, Identification, and the Social Nature of Persons


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Oxford University Press UK Helm Franklin and Marshall College. Love, Friendship, and the Self presents a reexamination of our common understanding of ourselves as persons in light of the phenomena of love and friendship. It argues that the individualism that is implicit in that understanding cannot be sustained if we are to understand the kind of distinctively personal intimacy that love and friendship essentially involve.

For love is a matter of identifying with someone: sharing for his sake the concerns and values that make up his identity as the person he is. Moreover, in friendship the friends share not only a concern for each other but also their activity, their lives, and even potentially their selves.

By providing a detailed analysis of these notions, Bennett Helm argues for an understanding of persons as essentially social. Ethics in Value Theory, Miscellaneous. Friendship in Applied Ethics. Guilt and Shame in Normative Ethics. Moral Emotion in Normative Ethics. Pride in Normative Ethics. The Self in Metaphysics. Edit this record. Mark as duplicate. Find it on Scholar. Request removal from index. Revision history. Google Books no proxy Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server Configure custom proxy use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy.

Configure custom resolver. Love and Attachment. Monique Wonderly - - American Philosophical Quarterly 54 3 A Dispositional Theory of Love. Hichem Naar - - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 94 3 Justifying Partiality. Monique Wonderly - forthcoming - In Adrienne Martin ed.

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Claus Emmeche - - Biosemiotics 8 2 On Love and Friendship: Philosophical Readings. Clifford Williams ed. Helm - - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Love and Friendship in Plato and Aristotle. Price - - Oxford University Press. The Character of Friendship. Helm , tries to answer some of these questions in presenting an account of love as intimate identification.

To love another, Helm claims, is to care about him as the particular person he is and so, other things being equal, to value the things he values.


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However, Helm is careful to understand such sharing of values as for the sake of the beloved as robust concern accounts insist , and he spells this all out in terms of patterns of emotions. Thus, Helm claims, all emotions have not only a target and a formal object as indicated above , but also a focus : a background object the subject cares about in terms of which the implicit evaluation of the target is made intelligible. For example, if I am afraid of the approaching hailstorm, I thereby evaluate it as dangerous, and what explains this evaluation is the way that hailstorm bears on my vegetable garden, which I care about; my garden, therefore, is the focus of my fear.

Moreover, emotions normally come in patterns with a common focus: fearing the hailstorm is normally connected to other emotions as being relieved when it passes by harmlessly or disappointed or sad when it does not , being angry at the rabbits for killing the spinach, delighted at the productivity of the tomato plants, etc. Helm argues that a projectible pattern of such emotions with a common focus constitute caring about that focus. Consequently, we might say along the lines of Section 4. To exhibit a pattern of such emotions focused on oneself and subfocused on being a mother, for example, is to care about the place being a mother has in the kind of life you find worth living—in your identity as a person; to care in this way is to value being a mother as a part of your concern for your own identity.

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Bennett Helm, Love, Friendship, and the Self

Likewise, to exhibit a projectible pattern of such emotions focused on someone else and subfocused on his being a father is to value this as a part of your concern for his identity—to value it for his sake. Why do we love? It has been suggested above that any account of love needs to be able to answer some such justificatory question. Although the issue of the justification of love is important on its own, it is also important for the implications it has for understanding more clearly the precise object of love: how can we make sense of the intuitions not only that we love the individuals themselves rather than their properties, but also that my beloved is not fungible—that no one could simply take her place without loss.

Different theories approach these questions in different ways, but, as will become clear below, the question of justification is primary. One way to understand the question of why we love is as asking for what the value of love is: what do we get out of it? One kind of answer, which has its roots in Aristotle, is that having loving relationships promotes self-knowledge insofar as your beloved acts as a kind of mirror, reflecting your character back to you Badhwar, , p.

Of course, this answer presupposes that we cannot accurately know ourselves in other ways: that left alone, our sense of ourselves will be too imperfect, too biased, to help us grow and mature as persons. The metaphor of a mirror also suggests that our beloveds will be in the relevant respects similar to us, so that merely by observing them, we can come to know ourselves better in a way that is, if not free from bias, at least more objective than otherwise. Brink , pp. For if the aim is not just to know yourself better but to improve yourself, you ought also to interact with others who are not just like yourself: interacting with such diverse others can help you recognize alternative possibilities for how to live and so better assess the relative merits of these possibilities.

Nonetheless, we need not take the metaphor of the mirror quite so literally; rather, our beloveds can reflect our selves not through their inherent similarity to us but rather through the interpretations they offer of us, both explicitly and implicitly in their responses to us.


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In addition to this epistemic significance of love, LaFollette , Chapter 5 offers several other reasons why it is good to love, reasons derived in part from the psychological literature on love: love increases our sense of well-being, it elevates our sense of self-worth, and it serves to develop our character. It also, we might add, tends to lower stress and blood pressure and to increase health and longevity.

And Solomon , p. This is because, Solomon suggests, in loving someone, I want myself to be better so as to be worthy of his love for me. Each of these answers to the question of why we love understands it to be asking about love quite generally, abstracted away from details of particular relationships. It is also possible to understand the question as asking about particular loves. Here, there are several questions that are relevant:. These are importantly different questions. Velleman , for example, thinks we can answer 1 by appealing to the fact that my beloved is a person and so has a rational nature, yet he thinks 2 and 3 have no answers: the best we can do is offer causal explanations for our loving particular people.

And, as will become clear below , the distinction between 2 and 3 will become important in resolving puzzles concerning whether our beloveds are fungible, though it should be clear that 3 potentially raises questions concerning personal identity which will not be addressed here. It is important not to misconstrue these justificatory questions.

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This is because, Thomas claims p. That is, reasons for love are pro tanto : they are a part of the overall reasons we have for acting, and it is up to us in exercising our capacity for agency to decide what on balance we have reason to do or even whether we shall act contrary to our reasons. To construe the notion of a reason for love as compelling us to love, as Thomas does, is to misconstrue the place such reasons have within our agency. Most philosophical discussions of the justification of love focus on question 1 , thinking that answering this question will also, to the extent that we can, answer question 2 , which is typically not distinguished from 3.

The answers given to these questions vary in a way that turns on how the kind of evaluation implicit in love is construed. On the one hand, those who understand the evaluation implicit in love to be a matter of the bestowal of value such as Telfer —71; Friedman ; Singer typically claim that no justification can be given cf.

As indicated above, this seems problematic, especially given the importance love can have both in our lives and, especially, in shaping our identities as persons. To reject the idea that we can love for reasons may reduce the impact our agency can have in defining who we are. On the other hand, those who understand the evaluation implicit in love to be a matter of appraisal tend to answer the justificatory question by appeal to these valuable properties of the beloved.

This acceptance of the idea that love can be justified leads to two further, related worries about the object of love. Vlastos notes that these accounts focus on the properties of our beloveds: we are to love people, they say, only because and insofar as they are objectifications of the excellences. That is, Vlastos thinks that Plato and Aristotle provide an account of love that is really a love of properties rather than a love of persons—love of a type of person, rather than love of a particular person—thereby losing what is distinctive about love as an essentially personal attitude.

This worry about Plato and Aristotle might seem to apply just as well to other accounts that justify love in terms of the properties of the person: insofar as we love the person for the sake of her properties, it might seem that what we love is those properties and not the person. Here it is surely insufficient to say, as Solomon , p. The second worry concerns the fungibility of the object of love.

To be fungible is to be replaceable by another relevantly similar object without any loss of value. Is the object of love fungible? That is, can I simply switch from loving one person to loving another relevantly similar person without any loss? The worry about fungibility is commonly put this way: if we accept that love can be justified by appealing to properties of the beloved, then it may seem that in loving someone for certain reasons, I love him not simply as the individual he is, but as instantiating those properties.

And this may imply that any other person instantiating those same properties would do just as well: my beloved would be fungible. However, it seems clear that the objects of our loves are not fungible: love seems to involve a deeply personal commitment to a particular person, a commitment that is antithetical to the idea that our beloveds are fungible or to the idea that we ought to be willing to trade up when possible. In responding to these worries, Nozick appeals to the union view of love he endorses see the section on Love as Union :.

Insofar as my love is disinterested — not a means to antecedent ends of my own—it would be senseless to think that my beloved could be replaced by someone who is able to satisfy my ends equally well or better. Consequently, my beloved is in this way irreplaceable. However, this is only a partial response to the worry about fungibility, as Badhwar herself seems to acknowledge.

For the concern over fungibility arises not merely for those cases in which we think of love as justified instrumentally, but also for those cases in which the love is justified by the intrinsic value of the properties of my beloved. Confronted with cases like this, Badhwar concludes that the object of love is fungible after all though she insists that it is very unlikely in practice.

Soble , Chapter 13 draws similar conclusions. Love can be such that we sometimes desire to be with this particular person whom we love, not another whom we also love, for our loves are qualitatively different. But why is this? It seems as though the typical reason I now want to spend time with Amy rather than Bob is, for example, that Amy is funny but Bob is not.

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I love Amy in part for her humor, and I love Bob for other reasons, and these qualitative differences between them is what makes them not fungible. However, this reply does not address the worry about the possibility of trading up: if Bob were to be at least as funny charming, kind, etc. A somewhat different approach is taken by Whiting In response to the first worry concerning the object of love, Whiting argues that Vlastos offers a false dichotomy: having disinterested affection for someone—for her sake rather than my own—essentially involves an appreciation of her excellences as such.

Indeed, Whiting says, my appreciation of these as excellences, and so the underlying commitment I have to their value, just is a disinterested commitment to her because these excellences constitute her identity as the person she is. The person, therefore, really is the object of love. Of course, more needs to be said about what it is that makes a particular person be the object of love.

To respond to the fungibility worry, Whiting and Delaney appeal explicitly to the historical relationship. Thus, Whiting claims, although there may be a relatively large pool of people who have the kind of excellences of character that would justify my loving them, and so although there can be no answer to question 2 about why I come to love this rather than that person within this pool, once I have come to love this person and so have developed a historical relation with her, this history of concern justifies my continuing to love this person rather than someone else , p.

In each case, the appeal to both such historical relations and the excellences of character of my friend is intended to provide an answer to question 3 , and this explains why the objects of love are not fungible. There seems to be something very much right with this response. Relationships grounded in love are essentially personal, and it would be odd to think of what justifies that love to be merely non-relational properties of the beloved. Brink The mere fact that I have loved her in the past does not seem to justify my continuing to love her in the future.

Intuitively unless the change she undergoes makes her in some important sense no longer the same person she was , we think I should not dump her, but the appeal to the mere fact that I loved her in the past is surely not enough. Yet what historical-relational properties could do the trick?

For an interesting attempt at an answer, see Kolodny If we think that love can be justified, then it may seem that the appeal to particular historical facts about a loving relationship to justify that love is inadequate, for such idiosyncratic and subjective properties might explain but cannot justify love.

Rather, it may seem, justification in general requires appealing to universal, objective properties. But such properties are ones that others might share, which leads to the problem of fungibility. Consequently it may seem that love cannot be justified. In the face of this predicament, accounts of love that understand love to be an attitude towards value that is intermediate between appraisal and bestowal, between recognizing already existing value and creating that value see Section 4.

For once we reject the thought that the value of our beloveds must be either the precondition or the consequence of our love, we have room to acknowledge that the deeply personal, historically grounded, creative nature of love central to bestowal accounts and the understanding of love as responsive to valuable properties of the beloved that can justify that love central to appraisal accounts are not mutually exclusive Helm ; Bagley Preliminary Distinctions 2.

Love as Union 3. Love as Robust Concern 4. Love as Valuing 4. Emotion Views 5. Preliminary Distinctions In ordinary conversations, we often say things like the following: I love chocolate or skiing. I love doing philosophy or being a father. I love my dog or cat.

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I love my wife or mother or child or friend. Along these lines, Friedman , taking her inspiration in part from Delaney , argues that we should understand the sort of union at issue in love to be a kind of federation of selves: On the federation model, a third unified entity is constituted by the interaction of the lovers, one which involves the lovers acting in concert across a range of conditions and for a range of purposes.

This concerted action, however, does not erase the existence of the two lovers as separable and separate agents with continuing possibilities for the exercise of their own respective agencies. Love as Robust Concern As this criticism of the union view indicates, many find caring about your beloved for her sake to be a part of what it is to love her.

As Taylor puts it: To summarize: if x loves y then x wants to benefit and be with y etc. He regards satisfaction of these wants as an end and not as a means towards some other end. Frankfurt continues: That a person cares about or that he loves something has less to do with how things make him feel, or with his opinions about them, than with the more or less stable motivational structures that shape his preferences and that guide and limit his conduct. Love as Valuing A third kind of view of love understands love to be a distinctive mode of valuing a person.

For love arrests not our self-love but rather our tendencies toward emotional self-protection from another person, tendencies to draw ourselves in and close ourselves off from being affected by him. Love disarms our emotional defenses; it makes us vulnerable to the other.

Emotion Views Given these problems with the accounts of love as valuing, perhaps we should turn to the emotions. I have heard this said, but it does seem to me a desperate move to make. If love and hate are not emotions what is? My thesis is that there is nothing of this kind that must be so, and that this differentiates it and hate from the other emotions.

The Value and Justification of Love Why do we love? Here, there are several questions that are relevant: What, if anything, justifies my loving rather than not loving this particular person? What, if anything, justifies my coming to love this particular person rather than someone else? What, if anything, justifies my continuing to love this particular person given the changes—both in him and me and in the overall circumstances—that have occurred since I began loving him? Or, there is no irrationality involved in ceasing to love a person whom one once loved immensely, although the person has not changed.

However, as LaFollette , p. Nonetheless, reason is vital in determining whom we love and why we love them. A willingness to trade up, to destroy the very we you largely identify with, would then be a willingness to destroy your self in the form of your own extended self. Bibliography Annas, J. Badhwar, N. LaFollette ed. Bagley, B. Baier, A. Blum, L. Bransen, J.

Intimacy, Identification, and the Social Nature of Persons

Bratman, M. Brentlinger, J. Brink, D. Brown, R. Cocking, D. Cooper, J. Delaney, N.


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Ebels-Duggan, K. Fisher, M. Frankfurt, H. Friedman, M. Gilbert, M. Hamlyn, D. Hegel, G. Helm, B. Kolodny, N. LaFollette, H. Lamb, R. Liddell, H. Montaigne, M. Naar, H. Newton-Smith, W. Nozick, R. Nussbaum, M. Nygren, A. Price, A. Rorty, A. Rorty ed. Scruton, R.

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Whiting, J. Willigenburg, T. Wollheim, R. Academic Tools How to cite this entry. Enhanced bibliography for this entry at PhilPapers , with links to its database. Moseley, A. Fieser ed. Related Entries character, moral emotion friendship impartiality obligations: special personal identity Plato: ethics Plato: rhetoric and poetry respect value: intrinsic vs.

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Love, Friendship, and the Self: Intimacy, Identification, and the Social Nature of Persons Love, Friendship, and the Self: Intimacy, Identification, and the Social Nature of Persons
Love, Friendship, and the Self: Intimacy, Identification, and the Social Nature of Persons Love, Friendship, and the Self: Intimacy, Identification, and the Social Nature of Persons
Love, Friendship, and the Self: Intimacy, Identification, and the Social Nature of Persons Love, Friendship, and the Self: Intimacy, Identification, and the Social Nature of Persons
Love, Friendship, and the Self: Intimacy, Identification, and the Social Nature of Persons Love, Friendship, and the Self: Intimacy, Identification, and the Social Nature of Persons
Love, Friendship, and the Self: Intimacy, Identification, and the Social Nature of Persons Love, Friendship, and the Self: Intimacy, Identification, and the Social Nature of Persons
Love, Friendship, and the Self: Intimacy, Identification, and the Social Nature of Persons Love, Friendship, and the Self: Intimacy, Identification, and the Social Nature of Persons
Love, Friendship, and the Self: Intimacy, Identification, and the Social Nature of Persons Love, Friendship, and the Self: Intimacy, Identification, and the Social Nature of Persons
Love, Friendship, and the Self: Intimacy, Identification, and the Social Nature of Persons Love, Friendship, and the Self: Intimacy, Identification, and the Social Nature of Persons

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