An essay regarding the natures of love, values, justification, and being with particular reference to Emmanuel Levinas
In an excerpt from his book, One Body, Alexander Pruss says,
It is not love … that justifies the general willingness to act lovingly, but the value of the other and the kind of relationship that one stands in to the other apart from the fact of love.
Love is commonly regarded as a strictly affective state which can be described in terms of certain sorts of strongly held preferences. These preferences, in themselves, provide the details about – and insight into – that willingness to act to which Pruss refers. However, if love is only an affective state which can be characterized entirely in terms of what is (for whatever reason and however strongly) preferred, then love is simply a type of preference, and to act lovingly is essentially to act in accord with what is preferred. That would be to say that to act lovingly is to act preferentially. In that case, Pruss would be correct to deny that the preference which is love justifies either the willingness or the acting preferentially inasmuch as any (significant or more deeply informative) justification would have to depend upon the basis for the preference at issue.
In itself, Pruss’ referenced statement suggests that it is the value of an other person which can justify the willingness to act and the act undertaken (and, presumably, the preference that is allegedly supposed to be associated with love). Were that the case, then love would be an essentially irrelevant matter (or love would be something redundant, or, to be generous, love would be of secondary or derivative importance at best).1 At the very least, love would be by its nature an always conditional matter wherein love is earned or deserved such that it properly follows from the value which is justifiably attributable to that which is loved/preferred.
Then again, it can well be said that to love or to prefer is to value, in which case referring to the value of the other provides no more justification than does referring to the fact that the other is loved or preferred.2 Consequently, this brings into question the very nature of value – specifically whether and how value could be a matter apart from preference and, accordingly, love.
There are two ways which come immediately to mind for considering the nature of value: Does value necessarily indicate something about the always contextual functioning of that which is valued? Or, is any thing or any person of value in and of itself, himself, or herself, simply for being?
If value is only a matter of contextual functioning, that which is (to be) valued is (to be) valued as a means which attains its value in accord with what results from its functioning. This seems an unproblematic way of regarding value for such things as transistors, for example. The transistor in itself can be thought of as being of potential value, but even this value depends upon some supposed functioning which would itself result in something else of value. In that case, it is the resultant value which is the basis (the justification) for assigning any value to the transistor, and the question still remains whether the value attributed to the result is justified apart from the fact that the resultant state is preferred over some other condition.
In other words, where value is a matter of functioning, value is still indicative of preference. Hence, where value is a matter of (or derives from) functioning, value is never apart from preference (even in the form of love, if love is simply an affective state indicating preferences).
The very notion that value might only be related to functioning has relevance to the alternative concept in which a thing or a person might have value in and of itself, himself, or herself, simply for being. The notion of functioning contrasts with the image of being-in-isolation brought to mind when it is suggested that a thing or a person might have value alone in itself, his self, or her self. This image of value in isolation suggests that being, at its most fundamental level, is non-relational – perhaps even inactive or inert.
Emmanuel Levinas takes up the topic of being in “the verbal sense of the word” whereby “being is suggested and understood … as a process of being” (see, for instance, the preface to Entre Nous).3 By this understanding, living things and non-living things are certainly beings. They exist as existents within the process of being. However, this does not mean that the existents within the process of being are necessarily more fundamental than the process of being. Continue reading