More than Justified

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.

If the process of being were reducible to isolated existent things (as if those things were fundamentally self-contained, which is to say fundamentally non-relational), it would be impossible for those existents to account for processual being. In order to account for being as a process, there would have to be something about the existents (such as tendencies, propensities, or probabilities – all of which would be reducible to possibilities) which was fundamentally relational. In that case, even existents would be fundamentally relational or fundamentally interactive, and, rather than existents, what would be rendered as fundamental is the interactive relationality – the functioning – which is (or gives rise to) process.

Yet, even if being-as-process is fundamental, it does not necessarily follow that value is itself non-relational or in any way apart from the relationships – the functionings – which give rise to and occur within the process of being. Indeed, both living and non-living things can operate within the process of being without dependence upon any sorts of values that stand apart from preferences regarding functionality within the process of being. This is simply to note that being apparently can process without any need of value(s) – certainly the sort of value that is alleged to be distinct from and independent of preference.

Certain living things typically evidence, as Levinas notes, “a concern with being” which is often evident as what is commonly referred to as “a ‘survival instinct’”. This concern is closely tied to awareness about other things operating within being, but both living and non-living things can operate within the process of being – they can exist – “’without regard’ for one another in their concern to be.” Both living and non-living things can process in being without concern about the concern which an other might have about its own continuing-to-be, its own survival.

This lack of regard or concern for an other (thing) is not necessarily identical to an unawareness that the other (thing) is itself operative within the process of being. This lack of concern about the concern which an other might have certainly does not preclude an awareness that the other (thing) is operative within the process of being, and this type of lack of concern does not preclude a caring about the other (thing). However, this caring can be entirely characterizable in terms of whether and how the other (thing) affects the operation of the caring existent – particularly whether and how the other (thing) is relevant to the continuing-to-be of the caring existent.

This type of caring can well be sufficient to effect gregariousness, co-operation, or sociability. This type of caring can even depend upon a responsiveness fashioned to accommodate the other, but this accommodation and the value attributable to the (relationship with the) other arise from the interest which the caring existent has for (the manner – which can include the quality of) its own continuing-to-be.

Concern, care, and value are all terms which, when used non-metaphorically, involve reference to existents that have non-metaphorical awareness, which is to say consciousness – particularly consciousness which the existent has of its own subjectivity or, alternatively, the awareness which the existent has of operating as a subject within being. This suggests that there is an ineliminable subjectivity to values and valuing, even if the subjectivity can be modified – or in some way mitigated – to result in a modified valuing.

But, even then, “the value of the other and [the value of] the kind of relationship that one stands in to the other”4 to which Pruss refers would indicate subjective preferences and would not be “apart from” the state of the person defined or described in terms of having those very preferences. This suggests that if apartness from subjectivity were necessary for justification, then valuing would never be justified.

This, of course, brings into question the very nature of justification, including questions about whether – or maybe under just what conditions – justification is necessary (or important), and what purpose justification serves.

Justification does not seem at all necessary to the process of being. It certainly seems to be the case that non-living things operate in the process of being without any need of justification for anything about their own processual being. In the case of living things (certainly those which are conscious of and concerned with their own processual being), if the consciousness and the valuing which occurs with consciousness have an effect on the processing in being of those living things, then the basis for value(s)-justification can simply be the survival, the continuation-in-being of the existent which values its continuing-to-be as part of its operation. Co-operation, sociability, and any valuing are justified to the extent that these activities contribute in any way to some particular continuation-in-being.

Of course, it can be the case that these activities are regarded as justified simply to the extent that it is reasonable (where reasonable is defined in part by attempts to minimize uncertainty) to expect that the activities will contribute to the continuation-in-being which is of concern. Yet, those activities might not in fact succeed in producing the anticipated contribution to continuation-in-being. In that case, if the ultimate justification is the fact of how continuation-in-being turns out to have been affected, then valuing in itself is seldom if ever justified (which is to say prior to the fact of what results because of the activity). This is to say that there is a necessary distinction between facts and values.5

If being is the process of continuing to be, then values and valuing are certainly not necessary to the process of continuing-to-be. This is clearly the case with the continuation-in-being of non-living existents. A living existent with an awareness of operating as a subject within the process of being evidences – and seems to require – a concern with being in the form of a concern for its own continuation-in-being. If this concern is at all effectual rather than merely epiphenomenal, it does not appear to be necessary for the continuation-in-being of the living existent that its concern bother to regard an other existent’s concern for its own continuation-in-being.

Even if co-operation with other existents were necessary to the continuation-in-being of an individual existent, co-operation does not require a concern for any other existent’s individual concern about its own continuation-in-being. Co-operation certainly requires accommodation, but that accommodation is not one which depends on being concerned with the concern which an other has about its own continuation-in-being. Indeed, all that such an accommodation requires – all that it need be concerned with – is that the other remain if not of benefit then at least not deleterious.

Such is the concern of the self with its own self, with its own continuation-in-being, and such is the devotion of the self to its own self that, even in the context of co-operation, individuals can, as Levinas notes, “affirm themselves ‘without regard’ for one another in their concern to be.” This, he says, is:

the reality of things. The life of the living in the struggle for life; the natural history of human beings in the blood and tears of wars between individuals, nations, and classes; the matter of things, hard matter; solidity; the closed-in-upon-self, all the way down to the level of the subatomic particles of which physicists speak.

This is being, a process of and for continuation-in-being. It is a process which itself has no need of value; it is a process populated by beings which, for the sake of their own continuation-in-being, have no need of concern other than, apparently in some cases, concern for their own individual self’s continuation-in-being. It is a process of and in facts.

“But behold!”, writes Levinas, “The emergence … of the devoting-of-oneself-to-the-other … a preoccupation with the other, even to the point of sacrifice, even to the possibility of dying for him or her; a responsibility for the other.” This is a concern for the other without reference to one’s own concern for one’s own continuation-in-being, and it is a concern with and for the other’s concern with his or her own continuation-in-being. But it is not just a concern. It is a devotion; it is a responsibility. It is a devotion to being responsible to and for the other, and it occurs without concern about remuneration.

This concern which is characteristic of the sort of love which itself is not necessarily a preference for the beloved emerges as “Otherwise than being!” As such it is not justified inasmuch as justification which occurs within the process of being is cast in terms related to the continuation of being itself. In this way, love – otherwise than being – is more than justified or is beyond justification insofar as it is more than merely a matter of processual being.

Love is, as Hannah Arendt said in The Human Condition, “by its very nature … unworldly”. This, of course, does not mean that such love is never to be found in the world; rather, this sort of love can be seen as interrupting or even rupturing the process of being. Levinas notes that “even if indifference is statistically dominant” within the process of being, “responsibility for the other” is the “shattering of indifference”; it is “this shattering … this possibility of one-for-the-other, that constitutes the ethical event.” Otherwise than being; perhaps more than justified; certainly beyond justification.


1 For example, in A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press, 1971, p. 191) John Rawls says “that love and benevolence are second-order notions: they seek to further the good of beloved individuals that is already given.” According to Rawls (p. 148), “the combination of mutual disinterest and the veil of ignorance achieves the same purpose as benevolence. For this combination of conditions forces each person in the original position to take the good of others into account. In justice as fairness, then, the effects of good will are brought about by several conditions working jointly” and without need of recourse to benevolence or love. Furthermore, whereas benevolence and love – according to Rawls – “do not include principles of right to adjudicate … conflicts” (p. 191), justice as fairness does. With regards to benevolence and love, Rawls goes on to say that “a love of mankind that wishes to preserve the distinction of persons … is more comprehensive than the sense of justice and prompts to acts of supererogation, whereas the [sense of justice] does not” (pp. 191-192).

2 Indeed, loving and valuing are explicitly associated by Dietrich von Hildebrand in The Nature of Love (South Bend, Indiana: St. Augustine Press, 2009) where he says, “Love is a value response” (p. 17).

3 Emmanuel Levinas, Entre Nous (New York: Continuum, 1998).

4 It is to be noted that, when he says “the value of the other and the kind of relationship”, Pruss does not necessarily have “[the value of] the kind of relationship” in mind. It can be that the kind of relationship is supposed to provide the justification at issue. However, on the face of it, a simple reference to a kind provides no deeper justification than does (reference to) love not only where love indicates a strictly affective state but also where love is recognized not just as an affective state but as a relationship which does not depend upon – or is not defined by – a certain amount or intensity of affectivity. This is to say that if love is not identified as a strictly affective state, then, contrary to what Pruss might be asserting, the kind of relationship which provides justification can very well be love.

5 One condition under which there would not be a (processually relevant) distinction between facts and values would be where, at the level of valuing, the process of being is fully determinate (which is to say perfectly mechanistic and utterly predictable in principle). There are, however, other consequences which themselves inescapably follow from such a condition of unremitting determinateness. Alternative tracks which the process of being could seem to take would be strictly logical and strictly imaginary – entirely illusionary – alternatives. This, in turn, leaves no place for decisions within the process of being. Decisions – choices made between alternatives – clearly seem to occur within the process of being in the case of some conscious existents; however, the sense which those existents have of choosing between alternatives would be epiphenomenal by-products of, or appendages to, the process of being inasmuch as being would process as it does apart from however that processing is perceived by any conscious existent. If there is no distinction between facts and values, then values are at least semantically redundant in that all talk in terms of values is (in principle) reducible to talk in terms of facts. Then again, until values are, in practice, reduced to those facts from which they are in principle not distinct, values only indicate an epistemic uncertainty which existents have about the process of being itself – an uncertainty which does not itself affect (or describe) the course along which being processes. With regards to the matter of justification, given an utterly determinate processing of being which renders values indistinguishable from facts (in principle although not yet in practice), justification simply indicates that epistemic uncertainty has been eliminated to then make talk in terms of values wholly redundant. However, given utter determinateness, justification is in principle and in practice redundant inasmuch as it does not affect the process of being. Justification in such a circumstance is a result of that process which can be used to describe something about the process, but justification, in itself and in a context of utter determinateness, is processually inert; it is a veritable vestige of the epistemic appendage to the process of being.

This entry was posted in Arendt, Ethics, Morality, Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion, Religion and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to More than Justified

  1. Pingback: Graham Harman and the Levinas Challenge | The Kindly Ones

  2. Pingback: The Priority of Ethics and the Relevance of Subjectivity | The Kindly Ones

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