A book on ethics and philosophy of values

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1/ Extension of the domain of love


What is love? First, I think that, simply, it is a sentiment of pleasure that we feel when we see or think of the beloved. Now what is the nature of the “beloved” I am talking about? Or again: what can be loved?

For Kant, things cannot be loved; as they are merely means, they cannot be object of this feeling; by contrast, persons, as ends in themselves, can be object of our love.

On the contrary, I would argue that things can be loved, and all in all, every content of meaning = X can be accepted as a potential object of love.
Let me give some examples. One can think that nature, though not being a person, can be loved: it is the case, when the walker is amazed by the forest he crosses, or when the ecologist takes actions to protect it, etc. Likewise, music can be loved, by the child badly playing violin as well as by the virtuoso pianist offering his interpretation of the Moonlight Sonata of Beethoven, or again by his audience, etc.
So, as we have already seen, an infinite number of things is loved by man: everything, including that which seems absurd or immoral, is loved by at least a few people.

It can be inferred that love is not a relation between a man and a woman, or two human beings, or at least two spirits, but between a spirit and any content of meaning = X. What is the nature of this relation? I have said that, at first sight, it appears as a feeling of pleasure, which would suggest that love and desire are closely related. Must we believe that these two concepts are one and the same? I do not think so, and here is 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 1; however, Hobbes suggests a slight distinction between them: 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.

It can be summarized as follows: love is nothing but a desire which is achieved. In any case, we see that the distinction proposed by Hobbes does not suffice to distinguish clearly between the two concepts. Furthermore, the definition of love he gives later on does not distinguish it from desire: Of love, by which is understood the joy man takes in the fruition of any present good 3.

More generally, it seems that in the doctrine of subjectivism, as defined above, desire has a great importance, and love is reduced to desire. Indeed, we see that Spinoza defines desire as the actual essence of man 4.

It is true that Spinoza takes care to distinguish desire from appetite, and not desire from love, which is defined as follows: Love is nothing but joy accompanied with the idea of an external cause 5.
However, by this definition, love and desire are considered as equivalent, if we remember that joy consists in the passage to a greater perfection, and that I call ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘perfection’, etc., precisely what I desire. Consequently, love is nothing but desire, as we particularly focus on the desired object.


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