A book on ethics and philosophy of values

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4/ The hidden face of love

If the conception we have just outlined is correct, then it appears that love is not just a subjective feeling of pleasure at the thought or proximity of the beloved, as we first suggested. Love is also an affirmation, a judgement, and even a thesis, which can be summed up as follows: "this, which I love, has value". Insofar as love attributes a value to the thing loved, it says something about something, which is the classic definition of a judgement. It postulates a reality (that of a value in the being or object loved), which makes it a kind of theory, a thesis.

Love is not, therefore, a blind feeling, devoid of meaning, which is merely the expression of the pure force of impulses or vital movement; it also has, beyond its obvious nature as a feeling, a cognitive aspect.

We can suppose that there exists in man a chaos of forces, inaccessible to any rationality, any meaning, any analysis; it would indeed be one of the classic errors of rationalism to deny it. For my part, I will call this irrational chaos, the existence of which I admit, 'desire', but at the same time I maintain that we must not deny the existence in man (as irrationalism can do) of an entirely different feeling, which has a cognitive nature: love.

If there really is, at the very heart of love, the presence of a judgement, we need to examine the ways in which it is expressed. First of all, it is a judgement that does not have to be formulated explicitly. It is absurd to imagine that we can only love something if we have said out loud: "You have a great value". Even if this explicit formulation is required, in a slightly different form, in the privileged form of love that is marriage, we cannot assume that this is the case for all other forms of love.

In fact, we can make a judgement instinctively or unconsciously, for example a new-born baby who is feeding instinctively embraces the idea that he must live (otherwise, he would not feed). This kind of judgement, which really has a cognitive character while only being the expression of a vital, instinctive process, seems difficult to think about to us, who tend to operate a reductive dualism between irrationality deprived of all meaning and all judgement, and logical, explicit, rational judgement, made in full awareness and the modalities of which are the subject of study in relatively austere treatises on logic.

This kind of judgement that I believe we can discern at the heart of love, this part of rationality coiled at the heart of the irrational, seems to me worthy of consideration.

My position can be summarised as follows: axiological judgement does exist, but it is in no way reducible to logical judgement. Or rather: the axiological judgement is precisely what shatters the classic dualisms: rational/irrational, reason/feeling, logical/illogical, cognitive/pathological... dualisms that are all too obvious and that contemporary thought is trying to unravel.

I therefore define love by the presence of a value judgement in a feeling of pleasure. We could object that love has been defined quite differently, and in its original sense, from a historical point of view. Plato, for example, defines love as the lack of the thing loved -Eros-, or Aristotle, as the enjoyment of the thing loved -Philia-? How can I just sweep aside everything that has been written about love without taking it into consideration?
I am ready to admit that love can also be lack, or enjoyment: this fits in perfectly with the idea of love as an affirmation of value. Only I would say that love as lack or enjoyment are only secondary aspects of love, since they do not concern love itself, strictly speaking, but its concrete realisation (a love that cannot be realised will be lack, or in the opposite case will be enjoyment).

So love now appears to us as both a feeling and a thesis; or rather, as a thesis buried at the heart of a feeling. However, it seems that the cognitive character of love has been ignored, or at any rate has been the subject of less attention than its irrational or sentimental side, as it may have been studied or celebrated by psychoanalysis, religion, poetry, philosophy and so on. The question arises: would we discover anything really interesting if we explored this cognitive side, i.e. what I call "the hidden face of love"?

To find out, we have to proceed negatively again, that is, examine what would happen if we denied the fact that love itself implies an axiological judgement that attributes a value to the object loved: our love, I think, would be transformed into contempt. If we remember that for us the meaning of a concept consists in its difference from other concepts, the meaning of the concept of love will certainly become clearer if we grasp its opposite: contempt.