A book on ethics and philosophy of values

(Note: this is a non-professional translation of the original text in French. Help improve this translation: please report any mistake!)


The laws of love traditionally recognized are either psychological laws (finding regular phenomena in love, as an emotion), or moral laws (providing a discipline to moralize love).

A clear example of a psychological law of love is the famous sentence of Tacitus: Omne ignorum pro magnifico 1, that could be translated as: “every unknown thing is taken for great”. It denotes a law of love, of the type “we love what we do not know”. On the contrary, Ovid opposed his famous Ignoti nulla cupido 2, which means: “we do not desire what we do not know”.

On the other hand, it is in the work of Augustine that we find something which could be a moral law of love.
Thus Augustine distinguishes two kinds of love (in parallel with his opposition of the two cities – earthly and heavenly-), in City of God: These two loves, of which one is holy, the other unclean, one social, the other private, one taking thought for the common good because of the companionship in the upper regions, the other putting even what is common at its own personal disposal because of its lordly arrogance; one of them God’s subject, the other his rival; one of them calm, the other turbulent; one peaceable, the other rebellious… 3.

This leads Augustine to define virtue as a certain kind of love, the one which is in the right direction: order: it seems to me that it is a brief but true definition of virtue to say, it is the order of love 4. It is a sort of discipline to which love must be submitted, and is like a ‘canon’ enabling us to establish the value of one love.

For my part, I seek something completely different from the laws of love given above. Three examples, taken from literature and philosophy, could illustrate what I mean by an essential condition of love:

First, Shakespeare:
Let me not to the marriage of true monds
Admit impediments; love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no, it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests an dis never shaken
5.


It can be summed up as follows: love is not love if it changes when its object changes, or, when rejected, rejects its object in turn.

1. The Agricola
2. The Art of love
3. The literal meaning of genesis, XI, 14, 19-15, 20
4. City of God, XV, 22
5. Sonnet 116