Love and Sensibility

by Dwight Furrow

Abstract artIn matters of love we have a Euthyphro problem (so-called because an early version of the problem is raised by Plato in his dialogue Euthyphro). Do I love my wife because I think she's beautiful or do I think she's beautiful because I love her? Replace beauty with any other virtue and the question remains. If I think my wife is beautiful (or kind or smart) because I love her, then what explains my loving her? It can't be her beauty, kindness, or intelligence because my belief that she possesses these virtues is antecedent to the love, not a prior judgment. It is peculiar to think there is no reason why we love what we love. However the second horn of the dilemma is no more promising. If I love my wife for her beauty, kindness, or intelligence, it would seem that I should love someone else who is equally virtuous. But, of course, I don't. Those particular general qualities seem inadequate as explanations for love since there are any number of people possessing them that I do not love.

Philosophers have come down on either side of the dilemma. Luminaries such as Plato, St. Thomas Aquinas, Hume, and Kant have tried to argue without much success that beauty or sexual attraction are the precursors of love. But we can surely love things that are not beautiful or sexually attractive; in fact we often love what is ugly. More recently, Harry Frankfurt has argued that love is a kind of brute fact. We love things for no reason—it's just a fact that we do so and bestow value then on the things we love. For Frankfurt, things have value because we care about them and thus their value cannot be a justification of why we care on pain of circularity.

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