On Love

In honor of St. Valentine’s Day, I thought it would be fitting to post the abstract for the paper I will present at the upcoming ‘Reasons of Love’ conference in Louven, entitled ‘Love and Order’.

No form of human society, be it a family or a nation (or, indeed, a solitary individual whose present and future welfare can be self-consciously connected to past intentions), seems possible without the order that a normative structure can supply and of which justice is the ultimate expression.   Some sense of appropriate, fitting, or correct engagement is essential for fruitful coordination among individuals that differ to varying degrees.   Whatever the substance of the sense adopted, that it apply objectively, impartially, and necessarily is paramount.   Yet such a relentlessly demanding standard, as justice is required to be, is difficult to repeatedly satisfy.  Fortunately we have a very powerful inducement to be just in love.  Love inspires extraordinary efforts to meet the most exacting standards of behavior.   But love is much more than a ladder enabling us to scale normative peaks, justly celebrated for that role though it is.   Rather, love provides respite from normativity’s inescapable demands.   Where justice is impersonal and unforgiving, love is merciful and uniquely tailored to each individual.   Love provides us with the sense of worth and wellbeing that ebbs away with every failure to do as we ought.   Being loved we are taken as we are, not as we ought to be.   Here we find the measure of love: a sanctuary from an often oppressive, though ultimately necessary, normative structure.

Not exactly Dickinson, Shelley, or Keats, it is true. Let me then leave you with this.

P. B. Shelley
Love’s Philosophy
THE fountains mingle with the river
And the rivers with the ocean,
The winds of heaven mix for ever
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single, 5
All things by a law divine
In one another’s being mingle—
Why not I with thine?
See the mountains kiss high heaven,
And the waves clasp one another; 10
No sister-flower would be forgiven
If it disdain’d its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth,
And the moonbeams kiss the sea—
What are all these kissings worth, 15
If thou kiss not me?

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