When it comes to love, it seems to be the exception out of all emotions. After all, it makes sense to be angry, sad, or joyful for a few minutes, a couple hours, or even a full day. But with love, it sounds odd to say, “I love you, but this is only for a few minutes.” So why does love have this weird emotional status?
One famous reply is because happiness, joy, and anger deals with some event out there in the world, but love deals with some general term (such as “I love cake”) or it considers the person as a whole. Thus, people always say that they love someone because of who they are. There is something about that person that is lovable, and that is inherent in that person (or cake).
I find many problems with this view:
- If we love a person for who they are, then it seems that the loving attitude should stay no matter what happens. Well, what if that person does something so untrustworthy or so disrespectful? According to the “love who you are” philosophy, you should–or perhaps, can–still love that person. But this seems like a stretch that most people can do.
- The notion of loving someone because of who they are seems to consider the person as not being free. Someone is means that it pure being. But beings aren’t free. Things that become are free. Loving a being is like loving a rock or a pen: it stands still, without any movement. There is no action in what things are, only things that can do things can be praised or blamed. (This is coming from a Sartrean influence, if you can’t tell.) I’ll quote it that comes from my research paper I’m doing:
In short, it seems that Irigaray is saying, “I love you because of who you are.” But this goes against Sartre’s notion of humanity. I do not love you because of who you are. That would be loving a static in-itself. I love you because of what you do. I want a freedom (a for-itself) not a static being (in-itself). And frankly, sometimes I do not love what you are doing right now. Irigaray misses the point because she wants to focus on sexual differences, which focuses on one aspect of who that person is, but not on the actions. For Sartre, if one tries to explain away an action or denies a mode of behavior based on some circumstance beyond his or her control (such as sexual difference), then one is opening a door to a world of excuses; it is a way for that person to tell him- or herself that circumstances are beyond the individual’s control. It is a way to deny freedom by creating a way of shifting responsibility away from the individual. To love someone truly means that you love that person in his or her freedom. This means no possession, no faithfulness, and no obligations.
Instead, I propose that we love people because of what they do. I think it makes more sense because there’s no confusion and we can still make sense of how love can fit in with the rest of the paradigm of emotions. When we love people, it’s because those actions are deemed lovable. It’s impossible to love someone who they are when you first meet them because you don’t know who that person is; you can only judge them by their actions. But after getting to know them, you start to realize, “Hey, I like this person.” But I still think that you’re loving the actions. It’s just that these actions have established a habit and so you’re used to these particular actions from this person. Indeed, you can predict (usually) what this person is going to do. The reason why there’s conflict is because the other is doing something that you found disagreeable.
In the end, my stance on loving people stems from their actions, not on who that person is.