affections affectivity

The Objectivity of Love

6:00:00 AMChase J. Cloutier

Earlier I wrote a post reflecting on how love bestows sight. For von Hildebrand, love is a value-response. One is struck by the beauty of the beloved. One begins to love the other in response to her unique and overall loveliness. In the act of love, the riches and splendor of the other person are revealed to us. Love affords a clearer sight of the other.

But, one might object, there is such an intensity of emotion in love that under its sway we cannot possibly see clearly. The experience of love is so subjectively colored that it must result in a distortion of the objective truth of the other person. The Stoics, a certain school of ancient Greek philosophers, would agree: I ought to avoid emotion at any cost, for emotion clouds my judgment. In order to achieve moral perfection, I must become totally detached from everything and everyone around me.

Consider a mother greatly saddened over the fact that her son is very sick. She wants him to recover but cannot do anything to help him. According to the Stoic, it would be better if the mother detached herself emotionally from her son. That way, she will not experience the sorrow. But this does not seem right. A mother and father ought to care for their children. A mother’s tears reveal a great love for her child. When a child is suffering, the parents will suffer along with him. Is this wrong? Or, rather, is it called for by the situation?

Or, take, for instance, the same parents who attend their son’s soccer game. He does exceedingly well during the game, scoring several goals for the first time. His parents are overjoyed for their son’s accomplishment. After the game, they run to embrace their smiling son, sharing in his excitement. But what if the parents had not acted excited at all? What if they had remained distant from the game, acknowledging their son’s accomplishment, but not showing any excitement? Obviously, the first reaction is more appropriate to the situation.
There are many situations which demand our emotional investment. In his work
The Nature of Love, von Hildebrand states “true objectivity consists in the adequacy of a response.” (1) Indeed, in order to do full justice to the object before us, we need to offer a response in keeping with its real importance. The stunning artwork deserves to be admired with awe, the son’s soccer victory warrants a joyful celebration, and the beloved other calls for an affectionate love.
Love calls for a donation of one's heart.

In these cases, it is the response of the subject -- a rich subjective dimension -- which ensures true objectivity. (2) These situations call for an investment of the subject’s heart, a flourishing of
spiritual affectivity. This is the only response which the object deserves. Thus, the affections play a key role in the objectivity of love. Love brings about powerful affections -- not arbitrarily but precisely in response to the beloved other. The Stoics overlooked this fundamental fact of human relationships: there are times when love calls for a deep affectivity. Indeed, love calls for a donation of one’s heart.

The Nature of Love (South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 2009) 43.
2. Cf. Ibid., 43: Love is “the most subjective value-response...which forms no contrast at all to true objectivity.”
Image: Ricard Canals. Sick Child (Octavi, the artist's son), 1903. Oil on canvas. Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. (original source)

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