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A Brief Sketch On Love

by Charles Taliaferro

An Ongoing Series of Sketches from the Contributors of Being Good: Christian Virtues for Everyday Life, co-edited by Michael W. Austin and R. Douglas Geivett (Eerdmans, 2012). More info can be found at www.beinggoodnews.com.

A philosophy of love is defended in which love has two aspects.  The most important is beneficent love, which is when the lover desires the good or well being of the beloved.  The second aspect of love is unitive love, the desire of the lover to be united with the lover.  In responding to some cases when it appears that a person may love someone too much, it is argued that true love cannot be in excess.  In other words, you cannot love a person too much --especially if the love is truly beneficent.  It is further argued that the love of another requires some self-love, and while it may be good to love the love of another, this is very dangerous.  It would mean that if the beloved withdraws her love, the object of love no longer exists.  

Belief in a loving, Triune God offers an enhanced, richer understanding of love and its endurance than in a secular context.  Some of the pressing issues that Christians face in thinking about love (some, but not all of which are addressed in the chapter) is the primacy of agape (selfless or unconditional love) versus loves that are particular (the love one has for one's spouse or child rather than a stranger).  When is impartial love to be preferred to particular loves (for example, in a Christian community is it important to love others impartially or is and when is preferential treatment good)?  When should love be unconditional?  Is love usually a response to value (the good of the beloved) or can love in some way create value?  Is love under your control?  

Some Christian philosophers today (Richard Swinburne, Stephen Davis) believe that the three highest loves are self-love, love of another, and the love of two for a third, and they see this (following the philosopher Richard of St. Victor) as part of the glory of God as Triune.  I believe they are right and am working on an account of love that would fill out this position.  If you enjoy the chapter, you might check out a book I wrote on love called: Love. Love. Love. And Other Essays (Cowley Press, 2005).  The title comes from the last essay in which I relate the last three words my father told me when he died at the age of 95; he held my hand and said "Love. Love. Love."

Charles Taliaferro

St. Olaf College

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