Chapter 27 Modification of the Analysis of Love

Chapter 27 Learning Objectives

Upon reading this chapter, the student should be able to:

  • Explain the exception for when love does not require being good for the partner.


Watch this video or scan the QR code to learn ways to cope with your parents or in laws becoming to involved in your relationship.

The train case points out an interesting flaw, however, in my analysis of love as it is stated. My criteria is that for a relationship to be one of reciprocal love, it must be that both people are good for each other; and how good could it be for one to cause a train to run over his or her spouse? How good were the British officials being to their spouses when, if the story is true, they did not warn them to leave Coventry before the bombing? Yet we might, and I would, still want to say that the officials did love their families and would be loved by them even though they allowed harm to come to them, or allowed potential, yet avoidable, harm to befall them.

I wish to insert a necessary modification into my analysis of the ethical component or dimension of love, one which now can be understood without making the criteria seem difficult, unwieldy, or unnatural. The clause would exclude (from being unworthy of love) cases of causing or allowing harm (including even relatively minor things such as inconvenience or disappointment) to the loved or loving one if such harm is the result of overriding ethical obligations to others, or to self, when such overriding obligations are not unnecessarily brought on in the first place by the one doing the harm. For example, the Coventry case found those officials in that position; it was not as if they had known about it ahead of time and intentionally put their families in jeopardy. Consider the classic antagonistic mother-in-law, daughter-in-law conflict where each demands mutually exclusive behavior of the son/husband. A man, of course, does have obligations to his mother even after he is married, though he also has obligations to his wife as well. In the best of situations those obligations will not be mutually exclusive too often, and both women will understand the cases when the husband feels obligated to opt for the other, understanding that he has treated them both as fairly as possible overall in such situations. Love will not be the worse for it. The worst situation is when both make mutually exclusive demands often and one or both do not understand ever being denied. In this case, probably neither will feel loving for very long even though it is not the man’s fault. But consider a slightly different case. Suppose a man continually places himself in such conflict by promising his mother things he does not have to promise, and which he would have no obligation to do if he did not make such promises. And suppose he continually hurts his wife’s feelings by keeping his promises to his mother and thus fulfilling his unnecessary and self-imposed obligations to his mother while thereby neglecting what would otherwise be his obligations to his wife. I think there is a point in saying that such a man is not as good to his wife as he could be and as he should be since he himself keeps unnecessarily bringing about the very conditions under which he is obligated to disappoint her or let her down. This would also be like the train case if the spouse at the switch had also been the one who first tied the other to the track.

One other potential problem with the ethical aspect of the analysis of love is that it is stated in terms of the loving one’s good or welfare, not in terms of how it is right to treat them. I spent considerable time earlier showing that improving the welfare or good for the greatest number was not always ultimately the right thing to do, that there could be overriding factors. I am concerned that solely with regard to the loved one alone, and not because of some overriding obligation to another person or group, there might be some action which is right for them, but which diminishes their welfare or benefit, and not just temporarily (as when you have your ill child have an inoculation), but overall. I cannot think of any such cases but I cannot rule out the possibility. An example that comes close is that of punishing a child to teach it necessary behavior that all other means fail to teach. This is not a perfect example because teaching such behavior may be for the child’s own good in the long run anyway.

At any rate, if there are cases where diminishing another’s welfare is still for some reason the right way to treat them (and not just the right way for you to act because you have some overriding obligation to fulfill), then the ethics part of the analysis needs to be understood in terms of the lover’s being treated right rather than just having his or her good increased, bad decreased, or greatest amount of good over bad provided. If there are no cases where treating someone right is different from being good for them, then either “good” or “right” will do; but “right” is still the more general term.

Hence, the final version of the analysis would read: A loves B if and only if:

(1) A has strong feelings of attraction in general, or to some reasonable extent, for B,

(2) A, in general or to some reasonable extent, enjoys B (that is, A in general or to some reasonable extent is satisfied by B and by the things B does), particularly in areas of psychological importance (or meaningfulness) to A, and without particular disappointment or dissatisfaction in other such psychologically important (meaningful) areas, and

(3) the things B does are right for A, excluding cases where B diminishes A’s welfare because of acts B is obligated to do because of some overriding obligations (to self or others) which B did not unnecessarily or wrongfully bring on him or herself.

A and B would love each other if and only if, A loves B and B loves A; that is, if and only if they each had strong feelings of attraction for each other in general, enjoyed and satisfied each other in general, especially in areas of psychological importance (or meaningfulness), and in general did what was right for each other except in cases of overriding obligations to self or others that were not unnecessarily brought on by the one required to fulfill the obligation.

The briefer, originally stated version is more easily intelligible, more readily apparent, and in most cases is equally correct and useful.

Key Takeaways

  • A modification on the author’s analysis of the ethical component or dimension of love, is the clause that would exclude cases of causing or allowing harm to the loved or loving one if such harm is the result of overriding ethical obligations to others, or to self, when such overriding obligations are not unnecessarily brought on in the first place by the one doing the harm.
  • Another potential problem with the ethical aspect of the analysis of love is that it is stated in terms of the loving one’s good or welfare, not in terms of how it is right to treat them.

Key Terms

  • The classic antagonistic mother-in-law, daughter-in-law conflict where each demands mutually exclusive behavior of the son/husband.

Chapter Review Questions

  • Question: What are the author’s criterion for: a relationship to be one of reciprocal love?
  • Question: What is a potential problem with the initial ethical component of the analysis of love?

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Chapter 27 Modification of the Analysis of Love Copyright © 2017 by Richard Garlikov. All Rights Reserved.

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