The Reasons of Love
Harry G. Frankfurt
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This beautifully written book by one of the world's leading moral philosophers argues that the key to a fulfilled life is to pursue wholeheartedly what one cares about, that love is the most authoritative form of caring, and that the purest form of love is, in a complicated way, self-love.
Harry Frankfurt writes that it is through caring that we infuse the world with meaning. Caring provides us with stable ambitions and concerns; it shapes the framework of aims and interests within which we lead our lives. The most basic and essential question for a person to raise about the conduct of his or her life is not what he or she should care about but what, in fact, he or she cannot help caring about.
The most important form of caring, Frankfurt writes, is love, a nonvoluntary, disinterested concern for the flourishing of what is loved. Love is so important because meaningful practical reasoning must be grounded in ends that we do not seek only to attain other ends, and because it is in loving that we become bound to final ends desired for their own sakes.
Frankfurt argues that the purest form of love is self-love. This sounds perverse, but self-love--as distinct from self-indulgence--is at heart a disinterested concern for whatever it is that the person loves. The most elementary form of self-love is nothing more than the desire of a person to love. Insofar as this is true, self-love is simply a commitment to finding meaning in our lives.
caring. In the next chapter, I will attempt to explain more fully what I have in mind. The category of love is, of course, notoriously difﬁcult to elucidate.12 My task will be relatively manageable, however, since I will not endeavor to provide anything like a compre- 13 12 The prospect of undertaking to identify it with some precision makes me think of a rather unsettling bit of advice that I understand was offered by Niels Bohr. He is said to have cautioned that one should never speak more
possessiveness, and dependency in their various forms. In particular, relationships that are primarily romantic or sexual do not provide very authentic or illuminating paradigms of love as I am construing it. Relationships of those kinds typically include a number of vividly distracting elements, which do not belong to the essential nature of love as a mode of disinterested concern, but that are so confusing that they make it nearly impossible for anyone to be clear about just what is going on.
the will.” People are not only complicated and obscure. They are also deceptive. It is not at all uncommon for us to misread others, nor do we enjoy any reliable immunity to illusion and error concerning ourselves. Kant is not cynical, but he wants to be realistic. His considered judgment is that a “cool observer . . . [is bound] to be doubtful sometimes whether true virtue can really be found anywhere in the world.” In saying this, Kant is not being derisive. His basic attitude toward human
noble or that it reﬂects especially well upon a person’s character. Rather, the claim is that love of oneself is purer than other sorts of love because it is in cases of self-love that the love is most likely to be unequivocal and unalloyed. Instances of self-love conform more closely than instances of other kinds of love, in other words, to the criteria that identify what loving essentially is. Love of self may strike us offhand as a degenerate type of love, which is perhaps not altogether
require us to give up our plan. The friend is embarrassed. He is reluctant to take advantage of our good nature. In fact, however, we would like to do him the favor; and we want to make it easier for him to ask. So we tell him that doing what we had been planning to do is not anything that we really care about. 6 The Question: “How Should We Live?” 15 When we give up going ahead with a certain plan, we may do so with either of two attitudes. On the one hand, we may give up the plan without