A book on ethics and philosophy of values

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1/ Extension of the domain of love


What is love? First of all, we would like to answer simply that it is a feeling of pleasure experienced at the thought or proximity of the beloved. We then ask: what is the nature of the 'beloved' we are talking about? Or: what can be loved?

For Kant, things cannot be loved; insofar as they are only means, they do not have the dignity required to be the object of such a feeling; on the other hand, persons, insofar as they are ends in themselves, can be loved.

The idea I would like to support is, on the contrary, that things can be loved, and that ultimately any content of meaning=X can be accepted as a potential object of love. I will give a few examples. We can think, for example, that nature, which is not a person, can be loved; it is loved by the walker who gazes in wonder at the forest he walks through, it is loved by the ecologist who tries to take action to protect it, and so on... In the same way, music can be loved, by the child who squeaks a bow on the violin in his clumsy hand, by the virtuoso pianist who gives us his interpretation of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, and by his audience, etc.
Nothing is more banal than this phenomenon: an infinite number of things seem to be loved by us, as we have already seen 1: everything, including the absurd and immoral, seems to be loved by at least some people.

We can therefore propose this idea: love is not a relationship between two human beings, or at least two minds, but between a mind and any content of meaning=X.

What might the nature of this relationship be? We said that at first sight it was a feeling of pleasure: this seems to bring love closer to desire. Can we equate these two concepts? I do not think so, and I will try to show why.


2/ The reduction of love to desire


Love and desire are explicitly equated by Hobbes: Pleasure, love, and appetite, which is also called desire, are divers names for divers considerations of the same thing ; nevertheless, Hobbes proposes a slight nuance between the two concepts: That which men desire they are said to love, and to hate those things for which they have aversion. So that desire and love are the same thing; save that by desire, we signify the absence of the object; by love, most commonly the presence of the same 2.

We could sum up this idea by saying that love is nothing other than a desire that has succeeded in being fulfilled. In any case, we can see that the small nuance proposed by Hobbes is not really enough to distinguish two concepts, where the author, as he explicitly states, sees only one. What is more, Hobbes' definition of love does not distinguish it from desire: Of love, by which is understood the joy man takes in the fruition of any present good 3.

It is conceivable that it is a feature of subjectivism, as we have deemed it relevant to define it 4, to give great importance to desire on the one hand, and to reduce love to desire on the other.

Indeed, Spinoza makes desire the actual essence of man 5. Yet it is not love and desire that Spinoza explicitly links, but desire and appetite. Love, for its part, is defined as follows: Love is nothing but joy accompanied with the idea of an external cause 6.
This does, however, equate desire with love, if we remember that joy comes from moving on to greater perfection, and that it is what I desire that I call good, evil, perfection, etc.
Love, then, seems to be nothing other than desire, but desire insofar as we focus our attention particularly on the desired object.


1. Book II, I, B
2. Human Nature, Ch. VII
3. Leviathan, I, VI
4. Human Nature, Ch IX
5. Ethics, III, « Definitions of the emotions », 1
6. Ethics, III, prop. XIII, note