I answer a lot of questions on Quora, a website where people can ask questions and receive answers from all kinds of people; whether it be from academics, blue collar workers or very scary Objectivist’s such as myself. It’s an enjoyable activity of mine, and I usually focus on the topics that are of biggest interest to me; one of those being the topic of love.
A question that is often requested of me to answer is the question of love, what it is, why we love people, and what “true” love is. There is also the question of unconditional love – which is the primary focus of my write up today. But first, let’s address the question of what love is, and why creating a dichotomy between “true” love and…love on its own is invalid.
What IS Love?
Love is a response to values. It is recognizing particular facts about someone who reflects your most sacred virtues. When we like certain people, we are recognizing particular traits in them that reflect who we are.
You can think of it as a mirror. Aristotle’s formulation of this was accurate, in that –and I am simplifying his formulation here– a friend is a “second self”. They are a reflection of your virtues and values, and through them we can improve ourselves.
When we look in a mirror, we can only see our physical attributes, and there is a certain sense of pleasure one can get from seeing ourselves. However, we cannot “see” our values and virtues. Those are in us as an abstraction, they don’t exist in the real world – until you meet a friend or partner that has those traits.
Those traits are precisely what attracts us to those people. You recognize aspects in them that you can relate to. Their way of speaking, integrity, honesty; movement, humor, etc. It can be an enormous amount of things. It’s the explicit recognition of your most important values outside of you.
Love – and I do mean in the romantic sense – is this same “reflection of values”, but on a much deeper level, as it involves the sexual desire, the spiritual reflection, and the overall “sense of life”.
A sense of life is our way of tackling existence: how we see it, how we want to take control of it and how we live it. When falling in love with someone, you are implicitly identifying their sense of life and how it is in sync with your own view. It is that same reflection of values, but amplified in the sense that you see one another in full for who you are, as well as taking on and seeing the world in the same way. It is total synchronization with one another.
However, this “sense of life” and love in itself can stem from life-affirming and life-negating aspects. This leads into the concept of “true” love, or rather why it is invalid.
Love is Always “True” – But Not Always “Good”
There is no fundamental difference between “love” and “true love”. They are one and the same, and one could remove the “true” aspect and just stay with the concept of “love”. It is always true, in that there is only one emotion in effect. More importantly though is the reason why someone falls in love.
A neurotic individual with significant self-esteem issues can fall in love and feel the same effective emotion as a healthy, rational individual – however from where the value response stems from is different, and this is extremely important.
A healthy individual is falling in love with a person who has values that reflect their own, as well as their sense of life. The response is harmonious, and both individuals not only are visible and reflective of one another, but complement and strengthen their weaker aspects – their vices are weakened and they benefit greatly from one another.
A neurotic, however, falls in love for very different reasons. A neurotic is plagued by vices, and they fall in love with other neurotics who reflect, and further justify that same “sense of life”, if you can call it “life”. On the other hand, a neurotic could be falling in love with a healthy, confident individual – but they are not falling in love because they reflect one another, but because they recognize the values they want, but don’t have in another person.
Both of these are parasitic – the former being each partner feeding off each others destructive energy, and the latter being a dependency state – they fill their own lack of virtues with someone else’s.
The emotion of love is the same, but ultimately only the love between two shared souls that reflect one another in a life affirming way is the sustainable one. Neuroticism eventually leads to destruction; whether it be a relationship devolving into chaos, or a rational individual leaving because the relationship is damaging to their self-esteem. Hence why it is so important to first work on yourself! A romantic relationship, to be sustainable, requires that each participant have a healthy self-esteem and virtues that are life-affirming.
Love is Always Conditional – and Selfish
This comes back to the final point: that love is always a conditional response.
As mentioned initially, love is a response to values – and values necessarily require a valuer. Something is not valuable in itself; this is the intrinsicist position. Values are always relational to a valuer, but they are not subjective; on the contrary, the Objectivist position is that they are objective and can be defined as such – but that is a different topic.
So taking this all in, consider the concept of “Unconditional Love”, and consider what it logically implies. It implies that one loves without any values or say in the matter. It’s removing all the value and virtue behind the emotion, and saying “It doesn’t matter how you see the world or what you think – I will love you.”
Consider this in practical terms – one marrying you unconditionally is saying that they marry you for your sake and without any standards of their own. They care not for your virtues or vices, just that they love you and without any condition. It is given and does not need to be earned. It is empty and without meaning.
On the other hand, consider: one marries you because they love you for what they see: your virtues, the actions you take, and they want to keep you in their lives for themselves – the selfish desire to have you and share your sense of life, helping you bring out and discover the radiant, life-serving values that you both hold and passionately sharing it.
That is love. It has conditions, and one must meet those conditions for the person they want.
Credit to Luiz Claudio for the gorgeous featured image. Instagram link here.